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M’LEOD, DONALD, soldier and journalist; b. at Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire, Scotland, 1 Jan. 1779; d. at Cleveland, Ohio, 22 July 1879.

Donald M’Leod was educated for the ministry at the University of Aberdeen. He served, however, in the Royal Navy, 1803–8, and then in the British army, fighting as a sergeant in the Peninsular campaign, then in Canada in the War of 1812–14 at Queenston Heights, Crysler’s Farm, and Lundy’s Lane, and again in Europe at Waterloo in 1815. In 1816, after his discharge, he returned to Canada and settled on land in Augusta Township. Unsuccessful in farming, he taught school in Brockville and then moved to Prescott where he opened a classical school and was appointed clerk of the Court of Requests.

In 1832 M’Leod purchased the Reform newspaper, the Grenville Gazette, in Prescott. He also took an active part as a journalist in the politics of Grenville County in opposition to Jonas Jones*, the Tory member for Leeds and Grenville. With the outbreak of the rebellion in Upper Canada, in December 1837, a Tory mob seized his printing office and destroyed his property. M’Leod, who had been a major in the Grenville militia; fled to the United States, made his way to Navy Island where the “Patriots” had massed for an invasion of Upper Canada, and became a brigadier-general in the Patriot army.

After the Patriot withdrawal from Navy Island, General Rensselaer Van Rensselaer, their military commander, directed M’Leod to lead the men to Detroit to join the western Patriots and their American supporters. His force occupied Fighting Island in the Detroit River on 24 Feb. 1838 but, being practically without arms, was forced to withdraw. M’Leod then went to the support of the Patriots who had occupied Pelee Island, only to learn that they had been defeated and driven off on 3 March. Later in March a committee of the Canadian refugees at Lockport, New York, including M’Leod, organized the party that burned the British vessel Sir Robert Peel in the St Lawrence River on 29 May. When the premature Short Hills affair of June threatened to render abortive a larger plan for coordinated Patriot raids on Canada on 4 July, M’Leod sent Linus Miller to Canada in an unsuccessful effort to get the participants to withdraw.

M’Leod then established himself at Cleveland, the headquarters of the western division of the Hunters’ Lodges, formed to transform Canada into a republic, and attempted to recruit men for the Patriot cause. He was now in financial need and resented the fact that the American Hunters kept control in their own hands and would give him no relief from the funds collected for the cause. M’Leod called the Cleveland committee a set of “speculators.” He also stated that he had quarrelled with them over their intention to resort to “the midnight assassin business,” by which leading Upper Canadian Tories would be seized and kept as hostages and their property burnt, and “threw . . . my commission . . . in their faces.”

M’Leod was arrested on a charge of violating the neutrality laws of the United States and tried at Detroit on 25 June 1838. The jury acquitted him after deliberating all night. In 1840, after William Lyon Mackenzie*’s release from jail, M’Leod quarrelled with him, disappointed at Mackenzie’s refusal to countenance more border warfare. M’Leod then announced his own withdrawal from Patriot activity.

In 1841, “driven by necessity,” M’Leod published A brief review of . . . Upper Canada . . . , writing it in six weeks and copying freely from Mackenzie’s Caroline Almanack and Mackenzie’s Gazette. In 1846 he published his History of Wiskonsan. . . . This book was under way in 1843 but M’Leod has been accused of plagiarizing from Increase Allen Lapham’s A geographical and topographical description of Wisconsin . . . (Milwaukee, 1844). He may have made free use of it, but he also gave considerable additional material on the soil and climate of Wisconsin; he praised its land system and constitution at the expense of Canada West.

M’Leod returned to Canada West in November 1846, after receiving a pardon, and settled in Sparta, Yarmouth Township. When Mackenzie was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1851, M’Leod promptly renewed his correspondence with him. In the same year John Rolph*, who had also been implicated in the rebellion, became commissioner of crown lands; M’Leod solicited an appointment through him and was given a post in the Patent Office. He supported Rolph in the “Flag of Truce” controversy, over whether Rolph had played a treacherous part in agreeing to be one of Francis Bond Head’s emissaries to the rebels in Toronto with a flag of truce, and while on this mission advising the rebels to march on Toronto without delay.

In his old age M’Leod was granted a pension for his services. Weakened by asthma and catarrh, but in possession of his faculties to the end, M’Leod died in Cleveland at the home of his daughter in 1879.

Lillian Francis Gates

Donald M’Leod, A brief review of the settlement of Upper Canada by the U.E. loyalists and Scotch Highlanders in 1783; and of the grievances which compelled the Canadas to have recourse to arms . . . (Cleveland, Ohio, 1841); History of Wiskonsan, from its first discovery to the present period; including a geological and topographical description of the territory with a correct catalogue of all its plants (Buffalo, N.Y., 1846).

PAC, MG 24, B24 (Dr John Rolph papers). PAO, Mackenzie-Lindsey collection. Wisconsin Hist. Soc., a.l.s., M’Leod to L. C. Draper, 18 May 1879. The Caroline Almanack, and American Freeman’s Chronicle . . . , ed. W. L. Mackenzie (Rochester, N.Y., [1840]). Cleveland Herald and Gazette, 5 Feb. 1838. Cleveland Leader, 19 July 1876. Detroit Daily Free Press, 28 July 1839. William Canniff, History of the settlement of Upper Canada (Ontario), with special reference to the Bay Quinté (Toronto, 1869). R. B. Ross, “The Patriot war,” Michigan Pioneer Collections (Lansing, Mich.), XXI (1892), 509–609. O. E. Tiffany, “The relation of the United States to the Canadian rebellion of 1837–1838,” Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pubs., VIII (1905), 7–147.

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Cite This Article

Lillian Francis Gates, “M’LEOD, DONALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 26, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/m_leod_donald_10E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/m_leod_donald_10E.html
Author of Article:   Lillian Francis Gates
Title of Article:   M’LEOD, DONALD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   February 26, 2024