OntarioGenWeb > back to Glengarry County GenWeb


The Story of John Macdonell of Greenfield as precised by Evelyn Goulet

A forgotten hero of the battle of Queenston Heights, and the War of 1812, is John Macdonell of Greenfield. As referenced by Stan Rogers in a song, few remember his exploits. John Sandfield Macdonald, later the 1st Premier of Ontario, was

the 1st child born after the battle and was christened John Brock Macdonald in honour of the two leaders who fell in that battle. Before I highlight the reasons for the fame gained in his short life, I should mention a bit of the families backgrounds.


Born in Greenfield, Scotland in 1785, the 2nd youngest son of Alexander Macdonell of Greenfield and his wife Janet Macdonell of Aberchalder (daughter of Alexander Macdonell of Aberchalder, brother to John Macdonell of the wadset of Leek,

and Allan Macdonell of Collachie), he was one of ten children.


His father Alexander followed his wifes family to Glengarry County in 1792, his wife having died after the birth of son Donald in 1788, leaving him with this large family.


Described by a Scottish authoress, Mrs. Grant of Laggan, the father Alexander is the epitome of a highlander. She wrote A few lingering instances of the old superior Highland dress continued to be seen as late as the end of the last century.

One of its latest examples being afforded by Macdonell of Greenfield Ceann Tighe of a cadet house of thee Glengarry family, who in the latter part of last century was celebrated for his handsome person, courtly dress, his exploits as a

deerstalker and general character as a model of the Highland gentlemen living in his time. He is described as dressed invariably in the Highland garba short round cota goirid, a bonnet plumed with a tuft of ostrich feathers, belted plaid worn

over the trews.


John arrived in Glengarry at the age of 7. At first the family resided with Alexander Macdonell of Aberchalder, the mothers father, but eventually settled at what was to be called Greenfield , in memory of their Scottish home.


Johns uncles, John and Hugh of Aberchalder had risen to prominence in the political and military network of early Canada.


John of Greenfield spent his boyhood days at Greenfield , and then attended Strachans school in Cornwall until he was about eighteen years of age.


An older cousin, Alexander Macdonell of Collachie, was a frequent visitor at Greenfield , and was very interested in John. This Alexander, son of Allan of Collachie, eventually brought John of Greenfield to York , where he was admitted as a

student at law, April 6, 1803 , and called to the bar at the Easter term 1808. His career was short but brilliant. He rose rapidly in his profession and at the age of 27, had become acting attorney-general for the province of Canada on

Nov. 28, 1811.


Perhaps jealousy caused Dr. William Warren Baldwin, to feel insulted and challenge young John to a duel. Baldwin wrote his will that day then met Greenfield at the chosen field. Greenfield attended but refused to raise his arm and pistol when

the time came. On Greenfields second telling Baldwin that Greenfield intended only to receive Baldwins fire and would not shoot, Baldwin took this as an apology and the matter was resolved.


By 1812, Isaac Brock, Administrator and British Army Officer had been promoted to Major-General, and in his hands was placed the protection of Canada . When the Americans began to incite along the borders, Brock moved to defend.

John Macdonell of Greenfield was appointed one of his two Aides-de-camp.


Their first battle was preemptive and resulted in the taking of Detroit and a vast American territory. Isaac Brock strategically had his small force march around Fort Detroit , and then turn their coats inside out to march again, making their force

look more numerous to the Americans. The Indians accompanying him made as much noise as possible. Brock sent a message to the Fort that if the forts force did not surrender, he might be unable to prevent a massacre. John Macdonell

received the sword when the commander of the fort surrendered. There were actually only about 1,030 men with Brock, against more than 2,500 men at the fort. 33 pieces of cannon were captured.


Brock wrote in a letter dated August 30, 1812 to Lord Liverpool:
My Lord:  the very important services which I have derived from John Macdonell, esq., both in his civil and military capacity, since my assuming the administration of the government of this province, induces me earnestly to entreat your lordship

 to move his Right Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, to be graciously pleased to confirm his appointment to the office of His Majestys Attorney-General, in which Lieutenant Governor Gore, upon his departure, nominated him to act.


Until Brock began the return trip to Canada he was not aware that the Governor, Sir George Prevost had signed an armistice with the American Col. Dearborn a week before Detroit was taken!

The armistice was a mistake as it allowed the Americans time to arm and organize and it was not long before there was new trouble at the border.


The Canadians and British adhering to the terms of the Armistice, were taken by surprise by the American attack at Queenston Heights . This was October 13, 1812. Brock, hearing heavy gunfire immediately mounted his horse and galloped towards Queenston, receiving a dispatch enroute which painted a grave picture. He stopped at the house of Capt. John Powell, father of John Macdonells fiance Mary Boyles Powell, where Brocks own fiance, Sophia Shaw was a visitor. Sophia brought him a coffee which he drank without dismounting, then spurring his horse on he rode away to death and distinction tenderly waving a broken good-bye to the sad eyed woman at the porch. Brock then met Lt. Jarvis on the road, a young twenty year old officer who served through many of the 1812 battles. The Jarvis family is associated with Cornwall as well as Toronto . Jarvis was told to proceed to Fort George and order up the reserves and the Indians to aid in Canada s defense. Jarvis had not travelled far before he met John Macdonell, riding hard to catch up with Brock, relaying the orders to John.


Then Brock joined the Battle of Queenston Heights.


Brock had fallen and when the news reached John Macdonell who had gathered a force of 190 men and was a few miles away, John hurried his men to the scene of action. By the time he arrived, 500 Americans had taken the Heights.

With his small force, John Macdonell rushed up the hill, while musketry poured down. At this time officers wore a distinctive uniform and attracted marksmen, and John Macdonell was soon shot and odying. Removed from the field by two

friends who miraculously survived the effort, John Macdonell lived a further 24 hours continually lamenting the death of his Chief.


The battle was won but the hearts of the heroic victors were heavy with the loss of their two beloved leaders.


It was fitting that this brave young highlander, twenty-five years old at his death, should repose in death by the side of the hero he loved so well.


Brock had asked to be buried in the York Battery (the garrison) and they were both buried there on the 17th of October, 1812.


They were moved to a monument built at Queenston Heights in 1824. This monument was destroyed in 1840 by an American miscreant and they were reinterred together in 1853 when a replacement monument was built.


The source for this article is a 36 page address by A. McLean Macdonell A Sketch of the Ancestry, Life and Death of Lieutenant Colonel John Macdonell given to the U.E.L. Association in 1924.


In 2002 some items referenced in the will of John A. Macdonell (5th of Greenfield ), lawyer in Alexandria for many years, were donated to the Norwesters and Loyalist Museum , a ceremony I was pleased to attend. One of the items was a

 silhouette of John A. Macdonell (Greenfield), the only image of this hero of Canada.

 Chart of John Macdonell of Greenfield

Greenfield Collection presentation 2002

Will of John A. Macdonell (Greenfield)

The Pedigree of Ian McLean Macdonell of Greenfield

Alexander Macdonell of Greenfield, 1st to Canada


This page is dedicated to the Macdonell's of Greenfield, a cadet line of Clan Donald. Pictures displayed here and below are from a Presentation of memorabilia of relics of this family to the Norwester's & Loyalist Museum in 2002. The above is the Colours of the 2nd Battalion, an important military unit during the defence of Canada's borders in 1812 (Queenston Heights, etc.)

I will be adding an article I wrote for Clan Donald Glengarry & Stormont Newsletter once it has appeared in their newsletter. It chronicles the short life of Brock's aid-de-camp John Macdonell of Greenfield, from Greenfield, Glengarry County, who died heroically, some might say recklessly, at Queenston Heights. He is buried in the monument at Queenston Heights with Brock, and was immortalized in a song by Stan Rogers.


MACDONELL, DONALD. soldier, politician. and public servant; b. 17 Jan. 1778 at Greenfield (Inverness-Shire. Scotland), son of Janet Mac­donell (Aberchalder) and Alexander Macdonell (Greenfield); d. 13 June 1861 at Quebec, Canada East.

Donald Macdonell. who came to Charlotten­burgh Township, Upper Canada. in 1792 with a group of Highlanders led by his father, was a member of a Scottish Catholic family long promi­nent in the military and political affairs of the Eastern District. The family included his father, Colonel Alexander Macdonell, w, his uncle John Macdonell* (Aberchalder), first speaker of the Upper Canadian House of Assembly, and his brothers Colonel Duncan Macdonell who in 1857 was to succeed his father in the command of the 2nd Regiment of Glengarry militia. Colonel John Macdonell, member of the assembly and aide-­de-camp to General Isaac Brock, and Alexander Greenfield Macdonell, member of the assembly and sheriff of the Ottawa District.

Donald Macdoncll (and his brother Duncan) attended John Strachans school at Cornwall. He served during the War of 1812 as captain. rising to lieutenant-colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Glengarry militia and assistant quartermaster-general of militia for the Midland District. He was present in October 1812 during the attack on Og­densburg, and in February 1813 was part of the force under the leadership of Colonel George MACDONELL which captured it. His own war service and that of his brother John. who died heroically with Brock at Queenston Heights. gained him an appointment as registrar of Glen­garry County immediately after the war. He re­signed in 1819. however, to become sheriff of the Eastern District. an office which he obtained through the influence of Chief Justice William Dummer Powell and which he retained until 1838. He was elected to represent Glengarry in the assembly in 1834 and sat until 1841 when he did not stand for re-election. His political views were solidly conservative.

During the rebellion years Macdonell raised and led a force of Glengarry Highlanders which was on active duty on the Lower Canadian fron­tier in 1837-38 and which in November 1838 took part in the relief of Beauharnois. where Patriote forces had taken over the seigneury of Edward ELLICE. He expected to receive the command of one of the incorporated militia corps which con­tinued in service after 1838. Despite frequent ap­plications he was unable to relieve his growing financial hardship by further government em­ployment until 1845, when he served briefly as superintendent of police for the Williamsburg canals on the St Lawrence River. The following year. having secured the recommendation of 57 members of the Legislative Assembly, he was appointed deputy adjutant-general of militia for Canada West. He filled this post until his death.

This government service meant following the provincial capital in its several moves. Previ­ously Macdonell had lived almost all of his life at Cornwall, Canada West. There he married Elizabeth Macdonell. daughter of Ranald Mac­donell (Leek), a Scottish loyalist. They had five sons and two daughters.

J. K. JOHNSON (Extracted from Dictionary of Canadian Biography which can be found online with sources cited.)

Greenfield Macdonell Collection at Norwester's Loyalist Museum, Williamstown

Collection includes pictures relating to Scotus, Aberchalder, Leek, Greenfield Macdonell Families (John A. Macdonell (Greenfield) of Alexandria Will

Pictures taken in 2002 by Evelyn Goulet except silhouette of John Macdonell of Greenfield and damaged Brock Monument sketch (1840) found on internet

Son and Grandson of Judge Ian McLean Macdonell, below donated these items, the subject of the Will of John A. Macdonell, Greenfield (Jack) of Alexandria. Extracts and description of  items bequeathed in this will appear in a document linked to this page.



              This site is part of OntarioGenWeb
              Last updated: 2010