MACDONELL, ARCHIBALD, office holder, jp, and militia officer; b. c. 1745, probably in the Scottish Highlands; d. 7 June 1830 in Mount Pleasant, Prince Edward County, Upper Canada.
Although it is known that an elder brother, Allan, emigrated to America in 1771, the timing of Archibald Macdonell’s arrival is obscure. In any event he received land in Tryon County, N.Y., from Sir John Johnson, and later stated that he had not served in His Majesty’s forces prior to 1775. In June of that year he was promised a commission in the Royal Highland Emigrants regiment then being raised to protect the king’s interests [see Allan Maclean*]. He was one of three brothers who joined the British side. Archibald raised recruits for the regiment until January 1776 when his superior, Captain Macdonell, was taken prisoner. The captain left orders for him to take charge of the recruits and link up with Governor Guy Carleton*’s forces, which he did, according to his own testimony, “after much misery and difficulty, through the woods from Johnston [Johnstown, N.Y.] to Canada, and joined the Regiment in June 76. “There he received a commission as ensign of the 1st Battalion Royal Highland Emigrants, which became the 84th Foot in 1778. For the remainder of the war, he served on the frontier of Quebec. He was promoted lieutenant in 1781.
In 1784 Macdonell was designated as a leader of the loyalist refugees settling west of Montreal. Thus he became involved in the attempt to found a loyal society in the wilderness by utilizing the connections and the hierarchy already present in the British and loyalist regiments. His duties were limited but important. He was responsible for the small, disparate group of settlers chosen to assemble in Township No.5, later called Marysburgh, which was the most westerly township above Cataraqui (Kingston). In the migration of 1784 these people were the leftovers, being attached to regiments other than the major units gathered in the region.
Marysburgh, now North and South Marysburgh townships, was to be Macdonell’s home for the rest of his life. Essentially he continued to fill the role defined for him in 1784. He was the local representative in a network of authority centred first in Quebec, and after 1792 in Upper Canada, a network contingent on an intricate system of paternalism and personal patronage. Within this system Macdonell’s scope was tightly circumscribed. Remote from the regional centre of Kingston, he had influence only in Prince Edward County. In 1800 he was appointed lieutenant of the county, its most prestigious position. This office, however, soon became obsolete in the evolution of regional government [see Hazelton Spencer*]. Instead Macdonell relied for his influence on his position as a large landowner, magistrate, and militia officer. An officer on half pay, he received more than 2,000 acres of land, mostly in Marysburgh, where he lived the life of a country squire. He was a justice of the peace, and between 1790 and 1818 appeared frequently at the meetings of the Court of Quarter Sessions, which comprised the local government of the Midland District. In 1797 he served as a member of the first Heir and Devisee Commission established to settle loyalist land claims. Finally, he was the senior officer of the militia in Prince Edward County from its inception until his death, a period of about 45 years. Like many loyalist officers, Macdonell emphasized service to the state as the basis of his leadership rather than involvement in commercial or industrial development. These pursuits, however, were the means of advancement for the men who began to challenge his power in the 1820s.
With the outbreak of war in 1812, Macdonell’s influence had started to wane. He declared himself ready to serve again, but failed to win a commission in the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion, a regular British unit. Perhaps because of advancing age, he was not involved with the flank companies of militia from Prince Edward on active duty in Kingston. Instead he remained in Marysburgh in command of the sedentary militia, which was to be mobilized only in the event of an emergency. After the war, he was employed in 1816 as a commissioner for militia pensions. In 1820 he was an officer of the district agricultural society. Finally, in 1829 he resigned his commission in the militia. “Age and infirmities,” he noted, “are the motives that have induced me to this step, worn out and not being able any longer to perform the necessary duties thereof.” On 7 June 1830 he died, “much and justly regretted, by an extensive circle of friends,” according to his obituary in the Kingston Chronicle. Macdonell apparently had no immediate family. The major beneficiaries of his will were his five nieces and a nephew. His passing marked a transition in leadership from that based on landownership and military service to one stressing entrepreneurial initiative.
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