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SULLIVAN, DANIEL (also known as Daniel Tim-Daniel OSullivan), blacksmith, innkeeper, and farmer; b. c. 1808 in Ireland; d.  on or about 5 Jan. 1887 at Norway (now part of Toronto), Ont.

Daniel Sullivan achieved notoriety in the mid 1830s as a storm-centre of Toronto “street politics.” Between 1832 and 1837 he was prosecuted for at least 13 offences involving individual or collective violence (assault and battery, riot, and affray), and appeared as prosecutor in at least four cases of a similar nature. In nearly every instance, Sullivan’s adversaries were Tory partisans or Orangemen and the violence was connected with parliamentary elections or Orange demonstrations.

Although the frequency of Sullivan’s court appearances attest to his pre-eminence as a practitioner of partisan rowdyism, his brothers, Jeremiah and Patrick, and a brother-in-law, Patrick Cassady, were also no mean performers. The Toronto Recorder and General Advertiser, an Orange organ, complained in July 1835: “The character of the Sullivan’s is well known in this city, and not a row of any consequence takes place but the name of Sullivan is connected with it . . . . This name carries terror along with it, to every peaceable and well-minded citizen.” William Lyon Mackenzie*, however, in a slighting reference to Robert Baldwin Sullivan*’s political tergiversations and upward social striving, asked: “Has not this same Mr. Sullivan . . . a few relatives in town, known as ‘the Sullivans,’ who have neither turned their coats, SOLD THEIR RELIGION, nor got ashamed of the hammer and anvil by which they earn their bread?” On another occasion Mackenzie referred to Daniel as R. B. Sullivan’s “Cousin Dan,” but there is no other evidence that they were related.

The nature of Sullivan’s relations with Mackenzie is obscure but interesting. One might expect the puritanical Scot to have disliked the riotous Irish blacksmith and his hard-drinking Catholic lower-class associates, but apparently their support in Toronto was vital to a politician as dependent on popular favour as Mackenzie. Two incidents which occurred during the provincial election of 1834 suggest this. One night in early October, after a brawl on the hustings in which Sullivan had figured prominently, a pro-Tory mob attacked his house, endangering those within. Mackenzie, as mayor of Toronto, later imposed on two participants in the riot sentences so severe that a petition signed by many leading citizens was mounted on behalf of one of the convicted men, while milder sentences awarded by Mackenzie to Sullivan at the same time provoked accusations of favouritism. The night after the attack on Sullivan’s house, a party of constables led by Toronto’s chief constable, or high bailiff, William Higgins, clashed with a gang of anti-Tory rioters, one of whom was Sullivan, and a rioter, Patrick Burns, was killed. Mackenzie, spurred by complaints from the victim’s friends, held a police court investigation of the incident and committed Higgins to stand trial for murder at the next assizes. The grand jury exonerated Higgins in April 1835 and returned a bill for riot against Sullivan and other companions of the dead man. Tory newspapers accused Mackenzie of collusion with the witnesses to create the case against Higgins, and stressed his friendly relations with Sullivan.

Mackenzie was not, however, the only prominent Reformer with whom Sullivan’s name is associated in contemporary records. In November 1834, Toronto’s Constitutional Reform Society named him to the St George’s Ward committee which was to prepare for the municipal elections of 1835; his fellow-members included Judge George Ridout* and two aldermen, Dr John E. Tims and Edward Wright. What part Sullivan may have taken in other elections is unknown, but a newspaper account of a brawl during the provincial election of 1836 reported that he visited the home of the Reform candidate, James Edward Small*, and left in the company of Ridout and a prominent Toronto radical, Charles Baker. Two of Sullivan’s petitions for remission of sentence, dating from 1837 and 1848 respectively, bear the supporting signatures of a number of leading Reformers (some of them Protestant), including several merchants, city councilmen, and justices of the peace. On the later petition, Charles Durand calls Sullivan “a good citizen and worthy man.” These petitions also contain Tory signatures, such as that of the former mla and ex-mayor of Toronto, George Monro*, and two city councilmen, James Trotter and James Browne.

Sullivan’s brief career as primus inter pares of the lower-class, anti-Tory Catholics of Toronto seems virtually to have ended in November 1837, when he was sentenced to three years in the Kingston Penitentiary for assault with intent to kill. The details of this case are unknown. Sullivan fared well in prison, labouring at his trade and avoiding disciplinary sanctions, and was released in March 1839. For the next ten years his whereabouts is unknown, but by September 1848 he was living in York Township. Here, but for a spell across the township line in Scarborough, he spent the rest of his life.

That Sullivan had not entirely abandoned his old ways as late as 1848 is shown by his trial for riot after he, his brother Patrick, and a third man attacked 14 armed Orangemen in a tavern. But he was becoming, in a small way, a man of property. Even in 1837 he had been tilling a small plot and employing men in stone-hauling. He now became both innkeeper and farmer, producing chiefly hay, potatoes, apples, and wool. The 1871 census shows him owning 157 acres and occupying 249 in all, although he possessed less at his death. In the 1870s he began to adopt the style of “yeoman.” City directories of 1884 and 1885 call him “labourer,” but his will styled him: “Daniel Tim-Daniel O’Sullivan, gentleman.”

Sullivan, a sort of petty tribal leader of the Irish Catholic labouring element, was an equivalent of such petty Orange chieftains of mid-19th-century Toronto as John “Tory” Earls, an innkeeper and carter, called “Prince of Loafers,” and William Davis, an innkeeper, minor civic official, and city councilman. His will, with its pious bequests (he left $50 each to Archbishop John Joseph Lynch, the Toronto House of Providence, and Father Michael McCartin O’Reilly of St Joseph’s Parish, Leslieville) and ban against his two nephews selling the land he left them outside the family, evinces the traditionalism of his outlook. If Sullivan was Irish and Catholic first and foremost, he did not, however, adhere to Bishop Alexander McDonell*’s anti-Reform entente with the Orange order in 1836 or shrink from marrying an Anglican Irishwoman in 1870. Nor did he conform to the stereotype of the 19th-century Irish Catholic manual labourer. Even in the 1830s he had rented quite a substantial house and always had the money to pay his fines and court costs. At his death he had risen modestly but significantly in the social scale.

Paul Romney

AO, RG 22, ser.7, 18, 15 May 1832, 8 May 1833; 19, 21 Nov. 1833, 19 Feb. 1834, 6 July 1837; 23, 5 Jan. 1849 (transcript at MTL). CTA, RG 7, F, 1834–46. Kingston Penitentiary Arch. (Kingston, Ont.), Punishment book, 1835–53; Work book, August 1837–March 1840. Land Registry Office for the Division of Toronto, Abstract index, 544–1, lot 4, concession 1, York Township; Instruments, nos.8563–66, 52049, 69204. PAC, RG 5, Cl, 7, file 803; 281, file 47; RG 31, A1, 1851, York (East) Township, District 2: 312–13; 1861, York Township, District 1: f.22; 1871, District 45 (East York), Subdistrict A (York Township), Division 1, Schedule 1: 7; Schedule 3: 2; Schedule 4: 2; Schedule 5: 2 (mfm. at AO). York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), no.6279, will of Daniel O’Sullivan, 25 Jan. 1887 (mfm. at AO). Constitution (Toronto), 27 July 1836, 22 Nov. 1837. Correspondent and Advocate (Toronto), 25 Nov., 11, 18 Dec. 1834; 14, 21 Sept. 1836. Courier of Upper Canada (Toronto), 21 April 1835. Patriot (Toronto), 24 July 1835, 21 Nov. 1837. Recorder and General Advertiser (Toronto), 10 Jan., 15, 18 July 1835.

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Cite This Article

Paul Romney, “SULLIVAN, DANIEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sullivan_daniel_11E.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/sullivan_daniel_11E.html
Author of Article:   Paul Romney
Title of Article:   SULLIVAN, DANIEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   November 28, 2023