SCHOULTZ, NILS VON (baptized Nils Gustaf Ulric), Patriot; b. 6 or 7 Oct. 1807 in Kuopio (Finland), second surviving child of Nils Fredrik von Schoultz and Johanna Henrica Gripenberg; m. 20 March 1834 Ann Cordelia Campbell in Florence (Italy), and they had two daughters; hanged 8 Dec. 1838 in Fort Henry, near Kingston, Upper Canada.
Surely no more delightful or respected scoundrel ever set foot in Canada or left as much of an impression there in such a short time as Nils von Schoultz. The son of a middle-rank official, Nils was taken to Sweden with the rest of the family when the Russians overran the province of Finland in 1808. After his father’s death in 1816, his mother took all but one child back to Finland, where her brother ran a school. Schoultz was educated there and, when the family returned to Sweden in 1821, at the military academy in Karlberg. The same year he entered the Royal Svea Artillery Regiment, and by 1825 he had become a warrant officer second class. He resigned his commission in November 1830, quite possibly after being asked to do so because of gambling debts, and worked for the army for a while.
In 1831 Schoultz began the semi-nomadic existence which was to characterize the remainder of his life. He went to Poland to fight against the Russians for Polish freedom. Captured, he escaped and made his way to France, where he joined the Foreign Legion, and he served in north Africa. The type of warfare was repugnant to him, and in 1832 he managed to leave the Legion. The next year he arrived in Florence to visit some members of his family. There he met and courted Ann Campbell, a young Scottish tourist. The newlyweds moved to Sweden in 1834, accompanied by Ann’s mother and sister, and with the small part of his mother-in-law’s estate that was immediately available to her Schoultz paid some of his debts and purchased a mill. However, he was without a continuing livelihood, and in addition to a wife, in-laws, and servants he soon had two young daughters to support. As a result he established a laboratory and began experimenting in the hope of discovering potentially valuable manufacturing processes.
In June 1836 Schoultz journeyed to England, both to find a buyer for a red dye he had invented and to obtain more of his mother-in-law’s estate. The dye proved unstable and Schoultz, who had much energy and enthusiasm but less patience, apparently became discouraged. He accepted a fellow Swede’s offer of passage to the United States in the hopes of becoming a success there. When he left England he told neither his wife nor his wife’s relatives in London, who had been entertaining him.
It was as Nils Scholtewskii von Schoultz, a 39-year-old Pole, that Schoultz introduced himself in the United States. Upon his arrival at New York in August 1836, his entrepreneurial instincts directed him to the salt works at Salina (Syracuse) and Syracuse in upstate New York, where considerable profits were to be made by extracting salt from brine. Schoultz soon devised an improved process for obtaining the salt, had it tested, and travelled to the American salt-producing areas interesting manufacturers in his process before applying to have it patented. Everywhere his courtly and charming manner won him new friends and even financial supporters. He acquired property in Virginia, applied for American citizenship, and settled temporarily in Salina with a new friend, Warren Green, to await the granting of his patent. Some contemporary accounts suggest that he was courting a local woman, possibly Emeline Field, Green’s niece. He wrote to his wife in June 1837 promising to send a large amount of money in the near future, but he had no further correspondence with Europe. These actions suggest that Schoultz was building a new life; however, his sudden death makes it impossible to establish his ultimate intentions.
Just as the Polish cause and life in the Foreign Legion had seemed romantic and heroic to Schoultz, so did the cause of the Canadian people in 1838. He was drawn into one of the Hunters’ Lodges, secret societies formed in the northern states following the rebellions of 1837 for the purpose of freeing the Canadas from British rule. After recruiting in New York City in the fall of 1838, Schoultz agreed to take part in an attack planned against Prescott, Upper Canada. On 11 Nov. 1838 the steamboat United States left Sackets Harbor, N.Y., and then towed two schooners full of men down the St Lawrence towards Prescott. One of the schooners, carrying Schoultz and between 150 and 200 men, landed a short distance east of Prescott. However, mishaps and the fire of a British war steamer [see William Newton Fowell*] prevented the other vessels from reaching the Upper Canadian side. Schoultz had only a minor rank, but with the senior officers on American soil he was elected leader. Using a stone windmill and several stone houses, he organized a defence which held for five days against a large British force of militia and regulars commanded in succession by colonels Plomer Young* and Henry Dundas, and supported by three armed steamers under Captain Williams Sandom*. Contact with the American side brought word of reinforcements and later of rescue, but neither was forthcoming. On the 16th the invaders, who by then were reduced to firing bolts, door hinges, and nails, succumbed to a mass attack.
Schoultz and his surviving men were taken to Fort Henry, where a court martial began on 26 November. At the suggestion of some British officers, who were impressed by his manner and his military background, he employed a young Kingston lawyer, John A. Macdonald*, as his counsel. However, Schoultz’s gallant nature worked against him. Despite Macdonald’s advice, he insisted that although he had invaded Upper Canada in a complete misunderstanding of the inhabitants’ desires he was still guilty of an attack and should pay for his crimes. Accordingly, he was condemned to hang, but since he was believed to have been a Polish officer it was decided to execute him at Fort Henry instead of at the district jail with the other nine condemned men from the Prescott invasion force. Sentence was carried out on 8 December.
To the end Schoultz remained a gallant romantic. His will divided the bulk of his estate, most of which was to come from the sale of the patent to his salt process. Some of the proceeds were to be used to support the widows of the four men killed on the British side during the battle and to assist the Roman Catholic Regiopolis College being built in Kingston. The remainder of his money was to be divided equally between his wife and his mother, Warren Green, and Green’s sister. Of Green’s share, $1,000 was to go to his niece. There is no evidence that money was ever received for the patent. In letters published after his death Schoultz asked the American people not to think of avenging him and acknowledged that the Canadians were not discontented. At the end of his hectic life he was 31 years old.
[The only source for the European portion of Schoultz’s life is a somewhat coy but solid biography: Ella Pipping, Soldier of fortune: the story of a nineteenth century adventurer, trans. Naomi Walford (Boston, 1971), originally published in Swedish as En orons legionär: Nils Gustaf von Schoultz, 1807–1838 ([Helsinki, Finland, 1967]). Written by a descendant, this work is largely based on family papers. It is not quite as good on North American events but is easily supplemented from a variety of sources. Official accounts of events near Prescott and of Schoultz’s trial are to be found in PAC, RG 1, E3, 3: 116–76, and PRO, CO 42/451: 553–61; 42/452: 115, 120–21, 321–23, 338–78. His will is reproduced in CO 42/462: 133–52. Accounts, often very different, of the battle of Windmill Point are given in various contemporary newspapers; see for example Mackenzie’s Gazette (New York), 17, 24 Nov., 15, 22 Dec. 1838; the Kingston Chronicle & Gazette, 14 Nov.–29 Dec. 1838; the Kingston Spectator, 30 Nov., 7 Dec. 1838; 11 Jan. 1839; the Upper Canada Herald, 13, 20 Nov. 1838; 1 Jan. 1839; and the Brockville Recorder, 15 Nov., 13, 27 Dec. 1838. These newspapers also reproduce several letters by Schoultz and a bogus biography (often edited or altered) of the “Pole” Schoultz, originally published in the Onondaga Standard (Onondaga, [Ont.]). Much of the above material also appears in Guillet, Lives and times of Patriots; O. A. Kinchen, The rise and fall of the Patriot Hunters (New York, 1956); and S. S. Wright, Narrative and recollections of Van Diemen’s Land, during a three years’ captivity of Stephen S. Wright . . . , ed. Caleb Lyon (New York, 1844). r.j.s.]
© 1988–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Ronald J. Stagg, “SCHOULTZ, NILS VON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/schoultz_nils_von_7E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Ronald J. Stagg|
|Title of Article:||SCHOULTZ, NILS VON|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||June 2, 2023|