Trump – Madison: Enemy Aliens – 1813 and 2017

The menacing President Trump with an equal, overlooking his left shoulder. That painting is of Andrew Jackson (see previous post).

As the Trump government begins to enforce its own racist policies against “illegal Immigrants”, I ask; will 1813 repeat itself? Will law abiding people be whisked away; deported or imprisoned? Will aggressive border agents and ICE agents take their own biases into play and decide who stays and who goes?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on February 7, 2017. Picture taken on February 7, 2017. Courtesy Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via REUTERS



President Madison, 4th President of the USA, from 1809 – 1817, declared war on Britain in 1812. As part of the war clamp down, he invoked the Enemy Aliens Act in April 1813. Eventually the 12,000 British subjects who had not become US citizens were limited to a 5 mile radius from a designated place (one’s home would be an option, if located 40 miles away from the coast or Canadian border). This was basically house arrest, eliminating one’s ability to work and communicate. District marshals were given discretionary authority to carry out the act. An unknown number were imprisoned. When I researched the civil arrest records for 1813, in the Montgomery County Archives, I found no record of Isaac’s arrest. A local historian, Scott Haefner suggested that such an arrest, however unlikely, would have been a military one and no records would have been made.


Now, in February 2017, local authorities have been given the right to arrest and deport. Minor misdemeanors, such as a DUI, could result in swift removal and deportation. Will 2017 be a repeat of 1813?

Now my story.

My ggg grandfather Isaac Preston became an Enemy Alien in 1813, while living in Amsterdam New York. He refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance. I surmise that as a former skilled cavalryman in the British Army, and maybe possessing a sharp tongue, he was removed from his wife, Sarah and his three sons, likely in June 1813 by a county marshall. Our family history has him in a Prisoner of War camp until release, likely in March 1815. From my research I am leaning to the Pittsfield Massachusetts Cantonment as his likely place of imprisonment with about 1300 other British POW’s.

Following his release, he was unable to obtain meaningful stone mason and contracting work. He was still labeled an Enemy Alien by locals. In 1816 he left his family for the Kingston Ontario area. Two years later, again a successful contractor, he returned to collect his beloved Sarah and now 5 boys. He was very bitter about his treatment by the US government. His “Loyalty” remained untarnished, unmoved and iron clad.

Because of politics, war, prejudice, the unfair application of law, plus my ancestor’s choice, I am a Canadian.



Laura Secord, Madelaine de Vercheres and Sarah Porter Preston

Laura Secord, heroine, yes. Madelaine de Vercheres is very much known for her heroism in Quebec. Sarah Porter Preston?

A little reminder of the first two.

Laura Secord is fondly remembered for her 20 mile trek through the bush to warn the British of an impending American attack in 1813. The ensuing engagement was the Battle of Beaver Dams. For most of Laura’s remaining life, she lived simply as she wished, her heroic deed, not figuring in her life. She was much of the wanting, living on the edge of poverty. Her fame really began in the 1880s when those still loyal to Britain in Canada wanted to raise her status. (sketch of Laura in later years)

Madelaine, a fourteen year old in 1692, lived with her family on the south shore of the St. Laurence River, just east of Montreal. This period of time was punctuated by raids of Iroquois, who regarded the Habitants as equal enemies to the Algonquin’s. She eluded the rushing Iroquois warriors to sound the alarm at the fort by firing a musket, followed by the cannon. Some settlers were captured. Those left within the small fort endured a short siege. The other inhabitants of the areas, arrived within a day.  The surprise attack had been thwarted, by Madelaine’s bravery.

In the years following the attack, Madelaine married a French army lieutenant, and together raised their family on their Seigneury.

My case, is to raise Sarah Jane Preston (nee Porter) to that equal to of these other two brave women. Both Madelaine and Laura were noted for one brave act. I argue that Sarah had at least three.

The story begins in 1801 in Donegal, Ireland. Sarah was being courted by the lower class Isaac Preston, a cavalryman and stone mason. That was not permitted by her overbearing father, Captain Matthew Porter. Sarah, chose to elope, leaving a life of privilege, likely with servants in a large home, to living in common within the Belfast Barracks. The first brave act, based on love.

The second event occurred over a four year span from 1813 to 1815 and again 1816 – 1818. This is the time period of the War of 1812 and aftermath. Isaac, her husband was imprisoned in 1813 as an Enemy Alien, who refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the USA.  How did a young mother with three young boys, survive with no husband, no income. A fourth son was born while Isaac was in prison. After his release in 1815, the locals in the Amsterdam New York area, still regarded him as an Enemy Alien, Work was hard to come by. In 1816 Isaac went to Kingston Ontario to seek employment. Sarah and her now five sons remained in Amsterdam. In the spring of 1818, Isaac returned to bring his family to Upper Canada. 1816 was also the “Year of No Summer”, due to the effects of volcano eruption in Indonesia. Crops froze – people starved. She and the boys survived, likely by their own efforts to feed themselves, the oldest son working? And by the generosity of some friends? And by the resilience of that woman.

The third event, recorded in Kingston history, involved the Bill Johnston pirate gang raid on the Preston home on June 8, 1838. About 30 raiders broke into the Preston home, ransacking the house and robbing the family of all valuables. Gun fire was exchanged, Isaac, his sons James and David; seriously wounded. Sarah with a pirate’s pistol to her face, eluded the guard, raised the neighbours and scared the raiders off the island. Her actions were described as “true heroic British courage” by the Kingston Chronicle. She stood up to death, outsmarted the raiders and saved her family.

Sarah was known as being fearless, very smart, resilient and passionate about all her causes.

We have no sketches or pictures of Sarah. It is said she was slight of build, dark almost black hair, fair skin and likely blue green eyes. I think she may have looked somewhat like the famous Donegal singer, Enya.

So; Laura, Madelaine and Sarah. You are all heroines.


Jackson vs Pakenham

Jackson vs Pakenham – Joining The Dots.

The photo over The President’s left shoulder is that of the 7th President of the United States, General Andrew Jackson. The other figure in red uniform, is General Sir Edward Pakenham. What do they have in common?

Those two generals met on January 8, 1815 at New Orleans. You may remember the song by Johnny Horton with the lines… “..We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’…”

These were the combatant leaders: Andrew Jackson the 47 year old militia and political veteran and Edward Pakenham, the 36 year old professional soldier, a veteran of the Irish Rebellion and Napoleonic Wars. The result: The American Army defeated the British Army. Pakenham was killed. Jackson became a populist war hero.

Their legacies: Jackson – 1000 acre plantation owner worked by 150 slaves, the removal and resultant deaths of thousands of American First Nations peoples. A Presidency full of graft, ego and hatreds. Pakenham – a revered leader, brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington, loved by his troops, respected from nobles and politicians alike, a generous person who placed honour, duty, courage, modesty and cheerfulness as his life code.

Now the dots to me …

My ggg grandfather, Isaac Preston served under Pakenham in the 23rd Light Dragoons. (1797 – 1800). They were the same age, and went to school 5 miles apart, likely crossing paths in Armagh and at church, as boys.  Isaac held Pakenham in high regard, always.


“Meeting with Sir John A.”

Sir John A Macdonald – the Letters – my family connection 

My Dear Sir John:

This may not have been the proper salutation to a Prime Minister in 1887, but if you were a personal friend, then, quite permissible.

Here I am in Macdonald’s East Block office on Parliament Hill, restored and maintained to 1891, as he left it. In my hand are family letters addressed to Sir John A. They are interesting as they tell of the times in Canada’s history, the little things that Macdonald encountered.

The Letters and notations are:

  1. A letter dated from 1887, from Isaac Preston Jr., asking Macdonald to influence the hiring of his niece into the civil service.
  2. A family history stating that Macdonald stayed at Isaac Preston’s home in Bethany Ontario, during the election campaign of 1887.
  3. Isaac Preston’s will from Winnipeg Free Press from 1895, in which it is stated “… It was at Wind Mill (Upper Canada Rebellion Battle of 1838) that the deceased again met John Alexander Macdonald, the companion of his boyhood…”
  4. David Preston’s letter to Sir John, full of gushing superlatives and praise, encouraging Macdonald to visit Amherst Island during the election of 1882.

The takeaways:

1 . Isaac Preston born in 1816 in Amsterdam NY, arrived in Bath Ontario in 1818. The Macdonalds arrived in 1820 to Kingston from Scotland. “Johnny” was age five. (The Prestons and Macdonalds were only about 8 miles apart. The Macdonalds moved to Hay Bay shortly after, a distance of about 7 miles from the Prestons. The population was strung out along dirt paths or roads, and people encounters were important. The two may have crossed paths at school, Isaac likely attended the Bath Academy. The two met again in the militia of 1837 – 1838 and I expect at Orange Lodge meetings. In 1866 Isaac participated in the Fenian Raids, important as the militias defended the country in Macdonald’s new Canada. The 1887 election is interesting as Macdonald wanted rest and a chance to see an old friend. He enjoyed children. The family story has Sir John bouncing the very young Eunice Preston on his lap. She remarked at his big nose. No harm done.

  1. David Preston, 5 years younger than Sir John was a political organizer and as chairman of the Conservative Electors of Amherst Island, was responsible for getting Sir John elected in Lennox Riding in 1882. They succeeded. David’s obituary too, cites a lifelong friendship to Macdonald.
  2. My connection – Isaac Jr., and David were younger brothers of Alexander Preston, my gg grandfather, also a staunch Macdonald supporter.

There was a strong, lifelong friendship between Isaac Jr. and Sir John. I believe there was also a sense of respect and of loyalty to each other. Sir John needed supporters, and defenders in Canada. Isaac provided that. Isaac needed a British-aligned leader, for his new Canada.

For me, this visit to Macdonald’s office was very special, a re-connection with my ancestors and their important roles in fashioning Canada in its early years. As the letters are part of the Library and Archives Canada collection, I expect those same letters actually crossed, Sir John’s desk.

So, as I reflect… My Dear Sir John:

Thank you.