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Monday, May 3, 2010

Arrival in Jackson, Michigan


As far as we know, James never returned to Toronto. Because he had escaped from Van Diemen's Land, he never received a pardon, and could have been arrested had he crossed into Canada:

Not being permitted to return home [Toronto], I will leave my address in the west with James Marshall, Youngstown, N.Y. and send it to W. L. Mackenzie, 401 Houston Street, in this city, (formerly of Toronto) and will be happy to reply to any post paid inquiries respecting my late comrades.(1)

Before he left New York City, James had distributed a sort of business card, telling about his escape and probably indicating his forwarding address. When Benjamin Wait arrived in New York a month later (July 1842), he was shown Gemmell’s card:

After arriving, I found that a Mr. Gemmel had likewise made his happy exit from V.D.L., a month after our [Wait and Chandler] escape, but had arrived a month before us. He ascribes his good fortune to the liberty he obtained with the ticket of leave, which in a handsome card to the public, he attributes to the exertions of Mrs. Wait.(2)

James didn’t stay in New York City for long. As he stated in his Plebeian letter, he headed back to the frontier: “I intend to stop at Salina on my way to Niagara frontier, in the course of a few days, and endeavor to see the friends of prisoners from that neighborhood.” Patriots from Salina, Onondaga County, New York, were Nelson and Jeremiah Griggs, Gideon Goodrich, Jacob Paddock, and Hiram Sharpe. (Salina is near Syracuse and located on the Erie Canal.) One account suggests that James may have ventured into Canada as well, to London, Ontario, the home of Elijah Woodman, to visit Elijah’s wife and family.(3)

From upstate New York, James went immediately to Michigan to find his fellow Patriots, to deliver messages from Patriots still in captivity, and to respond to inquiries from their friends and family. He may have traveled on a canal boat from Syracuse to Buffalo, and then boarded a Lake Erie steamer to Detroit. He could have easily made the last leg of his journey to the town of Jackson on the newly completed Michigan Central Railroad.(4)  From his chosen home base in Michigan, James could continue to support of his fellow Patriots and the Patriot cause:

Deeming it not safe to go back to Canada, and at the same time wishing to be near at hand to help the cause and a worthy fellow patriot, he went to Michigan…and was successful in business, his gains going mostly to help the Patriot cause and those poor deserving fellow-Canadians exiled like himself.(5)

We don’t know how long James spent traveling on the frontier, but a letter he wrote to Mackenzie indicates that he was settled in Jackson, Michigan, by January 1843.(6)  A few months later, on June 1st and 8th, 1843, the Michigan State Gazette in Jackson reprinted the New York Plebeian version of James’ story, “Two Years in Van Diemen’s Land”.
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  1. Gemmell, NY Plebeian, transcription, pp.11-12.
  2. Wait, p. 144, p. 9 (footnote #4,)  p. 120. Maria Wait sailed to England to obtain a pardon for her husband, but was denied an audience with the Queen.
  3. Scott, “A Frontier Spirit”, p. 65.
  4. Thomas, p.64. A railroad line from Detroit to Jackson began regular operation in December 1841.
  5. James Gemmell Obituary, The Dillon Tribune, April 9, 1881.
  6. James Gemmell, Letter to W.L. Mackenzie, January 24, 1843.

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