MATHISON, JOHN AUGUSTUS, soldier; b. 25 Dec. 1781 in London, England; m. in Saint-André-Est, Lower Canada, Harriet Vandenburgh; d. 5 Nov. 1868 at Hudson, Que.
A veteran of the Peninsular campaign, John Augustus Mathison retired on half pay as lieutenant of the 77th Foot in 1817. Three years later he came to Canada and purchased a farm in the seigneury of Vaudreuil, at Pointe-à-Cavagnal (Hudson), where impoverished farmers from northern England had begun to buy farms. Compared to the folk of his community, Mathison was both well educated and, with a modest but steady income from his army pension, quite wealthy. In 1826 he was appointed commissioner of small causes and justice of the peace, and he began to assume the role of squire of the district, being “constantly applied to in matters of difficulty and doubt.”
Virtually every activity in this pioneer community was stimulated by Mathison’s organizational ability. In 1829 he built a schoolhouse and appointed a teacher at his own expense to serve “the children of very poor parents.” In 1832 he organized a campaign to collect money to construct an Anglican church. In 1846 he was the founder and first president of the Vaudreuil Agricultural Society. Mathison also held the ranks of major (1831) and lieutenant-colonel (1846) in the Vaudreuil militia and was the president of the British American League in the county in 1849.
Mathison’s local leadership was most clearly shown in 1837–38. Vaudreuil had many Patriote sympathizers and was represented in the assembly by Charles-Ovide Perrault*, killed in the battle of Saint-Denis in November 1837. Late in that same month when Patriote agitation seemed to threaten the security of the English speaking minority in Vaudreuil, Mathison formed “a refuge in the woods of Canada” for the women and children of the area and organized the men to meet an expected Patriote assault. Although the attack did not occur, in early December Sir John Colborne authorized Mathison to transform his ad hoc guard into an active unit of volunteer militia. Following the battle of Saint-Eustache, the Vaudreuil Loyal Volunteers under Mathison’s command disarmed the French inhabitants of the seigneury of Vaudreuil and patrolled it [see François-Xavier Desjardins]; “they . . . were fortunate,” noted bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain, “to have such an officer to head them as Major Mathison.”
Others had a less flattering view of Mathison’s leadership. One critic, William Whitlock, in 1838 called him “a petty tyrant”; another, Robert Unwin Harwood, seigneur of Vaudreuil, in the same year claimed he was “unjust, partial and arbitrary.” Autocratic Tory though he was, Mathison seems to have served his community well and was adept at obtaining governmental assistance for local needs such as in education and agriculture. No believer in democracy, Mathison was nevertheless popularly elected to several positions he held. Thus when his political adversaries caused him to lose his position as justice of the peace in 1847 because of a dispute about a new school law, the people of his community (about 100 English speaking families) responded by petitioning for his reappointment, and during the election of that year chose him as “a worthy and capable person to represent the county.” As in the election of 1831, when he was defeated, and in the election of 1841, when he was suggested as a candidate to Lord Sydenham [Thomson*] but was finally passed over, Mathison was luckless in 1847 and withdrew before the vote was held.
With the advent of responsible government and of the dominance of commercial men over the gentleman farmers, the power of Mathison – and other Tories like him – waned and eventually vanished. Changing times brought younger leaders with more sophisticated techniques of control.
ANQ-Q, QBC 25, Événements de 1837–1838, nos.1064, 3895. PAC, RG 4, A1, S-215, p.152; B30, 80; RG 8, I (C series), 1039, pp.106, 175; 1044, pp.3, 55, 175; RG 9, I, C2, 3; RG 19, E5, 3797, pp.1067–127. Private archives, Miss Ethel Kyte (Darien, Conn.), Mathison papers. PRO, WO 31/322. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1843, II, app.J.J.; 1850, I, app.J. Journal d’agriculture et transactions de la Société d’agriculture du Bas-Canada (Montréal), janvier 1848, mai 1849. La Minerve, 9 août, 27, 30 déc. 1847; 3 janv. 1848. Montreal Gazette, 10 Dec. 1831. Montreal Transcript, 28 Dec. 1837, 3 Jan. 1848. E. C. Royle, An historical study of the Anglican parish of Vaudreuil (Hudson Heights, Que., 1952). J. B. Thompson, Cavagnal, 1820–1867 (2nd ed., [Hudson, Que.], 1970).