Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site

Photo by Michael Kleen

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Rebels holed up in a stone gristmill held off the British Army for several days before being forced to surrender in this odd chapter in Canadian military history.

The Battle of the Windmill was a strange episode in North American history, when British and U.S. forces cooperated to put down a rebellion in Upper Canada, known as the “Patriot War”. The battle was fought from November 12 to November 16, 1838, between Nils von Schoultz and 250 rebels against 1,133 Canadian militia, 500 British regulars, and the British and U.S. Navy two miles east of Prescott, Ontario. The entire rebel force was killed, wounded, or captured.

On November 12, approximately 250 armed members of a “Hunters’ Lodge” attempted to land in Prescott, Ontario to touch off a war against the British ruling class. A show of force by the Prescott militia gave them second thoughts, so they occupied the nearby hamlet of Newport and Windmill Point, where they awaited reinforcements from the United States.

The next day, British infantry from the 83rd Regiment and around 600 Canadian militiamen attacked the rebels, who had holed up in and around an old gristmill. The short battle left 13 British killed and 70 wounded. The rebels lost approximately 18 killed and an unknown number wounded.

The standoff continued as Nils von Schoultz and his Hunters’ Lodge militia waited for help from across the river in Ogdensburg, however, a blockade by British and American naval forces and efforts by American authorities in Ogdensburg prevented any relief. The British Army decided to bombard them into submission, and they surrendered on November 16. The Hunter rebels lost 53 dead 61 wounded. Of the 136 who surrendered, 11 were later executed in Kingston, and 60 were exiled to Australia.

The Patriot War was fought from January 1838 to December 4, 1838 between the British Colony of Upper Canada and Canadian ex-patriots and American citizens hoping to overthrow British rule and establish a Canadian republic. The war ended in total defeat for the rebels, since they did not receive the expected support among Canadians, and U.S. forces worked with the British to actively opposed them.

The old gristmill was converted into a lighthouse called the Windmill Point Light in 1873. In 1996, Friends of Windmill Point rededicated it as Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site. There is a small parking lot across the street, and a trail leads across the railroad tracks to the lighthouse. Picnic benches are available, and interpretive signs tell the story of the battle. The lighthouse was unfortunately closed when I visited.

Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site is located on Windmill Road east of Prescott, Ontario, Canada, on the north bank of the Saint Lawrence River. The windmill is open irregularly: July 1st to September 1st, Thursday to Monday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday in June. Contact Friends of the Windmill at (613) 925-1838 or windmillfriends@gmail.com for more info.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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