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LEWIS, ASAHEL BRADLEY, journalist; b. 1804 or 1805 in Whitehall, N.Y., son of Barnabas Lewis and Amy Bradley; m. 9 April 1827 Alma Hopkins Freeman in St Thomas, Upper Canada, and they had at least three children; d. there 13 or 14 Oct. 1833.

The date of Asahel Bradley Lewis’s arrival in Upper Canada is not known. At the time of his marriage in 1827 he was a “yeoman” living in Malahide Township. Later he edited the St Thomas Liberal, the organ of a so-called “Liberal” party, from its founding in September 1832 until his death the following year. In these few months the Liberal took advantage of changing reform politics at the provincial level to manipulate and organize local opinion perhaps more effectively, and certainly more originally, than had any other reform journal up to this time. Involved here was an attempt to unseat Mahlon Burwell* and Roswell Mount, representatives of Middlesex County in the House of Assembly, who were supported by Colonel Thomas Talbot*, the most formidable political figure in the county. Involved here too was an attempt to unite such factional, sectional, ethnic, and ideological opposition as already existed to these men with the object of establishing in place of Talbot’s political machinery a new machine controlled by a group of not very popular American merchants. Based in St Thomas, this group was interested in improving Kettle Creek and its outlet into Lake Erie.

According to Lewis, the Liberal was financed by 50 local stockholders of Middlesex County. They were probably scattered throughout townships where early in 1832 meetings had been called by agents of the radical York Central Committee seeking signatures to petitions. Lewis acted as secretary at the first meeting, held on 4 February in Malahide. Here resolutions were passed condemning Burwell and Mount for supporting the expulsion of William Lyon Mackenzie* from the assembly and for their stands on reporting the proceedings of the house, the intestate estates bill, the libel bill, and the clergy reserves. These were all provincial, as distinguished from local, issues; as such, they are the first on record for Middlesex.

More important, however, a framework for permanent party organization was laid down. Thus Lewis and eight others were named to a Malahide subcommittee to convene meetings and act in concert with other township organizations. Out of all this emerged a county committee of three – Lewis, George Lawton, a radical Englishman from Yarmouth, and Lucius Bigelow, a St Thomas merchant of American origin. In September 1832 the Liberal began publication. The next month George Gurnett*, editor of the Courier of Upper Canada (York [Toronto]), charged that the Liberal was “edited and owned by four individuals at St Thomas who are lately from the United States” – he probably had in mind Lewis, Bigelow, and two other St Thomas merchants also of American origin, Josiah C. Goodhue and Bela Shaw. (It was in denying this claim that Lewis referred to stockholders around the county.) Lewis and the reformers associated with the paper were a dominant force behind the party they called not “Reform” but “Liberal,” a label used nowhere else in Upper Canada.

The term is as significant as it is curious. It of course did not come from the British Liberal party, the father of which, William Ewart Gladstone, was then on the point of entering politics as a Tory. But it did come from Westminster, where in 1832 it meant a ministerialist too advanced to be called a Whig but not sufficiently advanced to be called a radical. Lewis and his friends were somewhat nativistic North American radical democrats who, hoping to shed their identification with American republicanism, represented themselves as standing in a tradition of moderate British reform.

In this they were prudent, if mendacious. From its origins the district had been torn by loyalist-republican conflict which had climaxed during the War of 1812. Just prior to that affray, Talbot had successfully contrived to elect Burwell in place of Benajah Mallory*, who soon turned traitor. Against the backdrop of this past history, a correspondent to the Liberal, expressing a view probably shared by Lewis and other like-minded reformers, argued that the homesick British immigrants now flooding the colony possessed “Liberal Principles and liberal feelings.” But “so nicely have the government and York gentry arranged matters, that they are able . . . effectually to smother all such sentiment.” This argument displayed no understanding of immigrant psychology and vastly exaggerated the government’s ability to bring official pressures to bear on such persons. The fact remains, however, that the Liberal bent itself to revivify reformist sentiment among Upper Canadian immigrants.

The success of the “quibbling Junto faction, who call themselves liberals” is suggested by the strength of the opposition organized by Colonel Talbot. The colonel’s followers were numerous; some were also violent. “Ripstavers and Gallbursters” broke up the liberals’ 4th of July celebrations of 1832, and an attempt to found a St Thomas political union was frustrated by “Loyal Guards” in January 1833. This same year the office of the Liberal was wrecked and its presses thrown down the hill on which it stood. Lewis, ill with typhus fever, rose from his sick-bed to view the damage. He then suffered a relapse and died, at the age of 28; an obituary in the Kingston Chronicle & Gazette gives the date of death as 13 Oct. 1833, but 14 October is the day given in another obituary in the Christian Guardian. In the election held the next year the liberal campaign was crowned with success, both Burwell and the other tory candidate, Joseph Brant Clench* of Muncey Town, being defeated by Elias Moore and Thomas Parke*.

G. H. Patterson

AO, MU 1128, Donald MacMillan, geneal. papers, biog. and geneal. notes on Amasa Lewis and family. “Register of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, at St. Thomas, U.C., commencing with the establishment of the mission in July, 1824,” OH, 9 (1910): 164. The Talbot papers, ed. J. H. Coyne (2v., Ottawa, 1908–9). Christian Guardian, 15 Feb. 1832, 30 Oct. 1833. Chronicle & Gazette, 2 Nov. 1833. Colonial Advocate, 26 Oct. 1833. Liberal (St Thomas, [Ont:]), 25 Oct., 15, 29 Nov. 1832. Illustrated historical atlas of the county of Elgin, Ont. (Toronto, 1877; repr. Port Elgin, Ont:, 1972). C. O. [Z.] Ermatinger, The Talbot regime; or the first half century of the Talbot settlement (St Thomas, 1904). Elie Halévy, A history of the English people . . . , trans. E. I. Watkin and D. A. Barker (6v., London, [1924]–34), 3. Patterson, “Studies in elections in U.C.” C. [F.] Read, The rising in western Upper Canada, 1837–8: the Duncombe revolt and after (Toronto, 1982). Ian MacPherson, “The Liberal of St. Thomas, Ontario, 1832–33,” Western Ontario Hist. Notes ([London]), 21 (1965), no.1: 10–29.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

G. H. Patterson, “LEWIS, ASAHEL BRADLEY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lewis_asahel_bradley_6E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lewis_asahel_bradley_6E.html
Author of Article: G. H. Patterson
Title of Article: LEWIS, ASAHEL BRADLEY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: October 1, 2014