Click on this image to order the book

Click on this image to order the book
The book version of James Gammell's life story is now available. Click on this image.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fort Henry

In accordance with British Home Office regulations, prisoners transported from the colonies were first sent to England and then to Australia.(1) August 23rd marked the beginning of the first leg of that long journey for James and his comrades. In a heartbreaking parting with Chandler, Wait, McLeod, and Beemer, still on death row,(2) Gemmell and the other prisoners, chained in pairs, boarded the steamer Traveler to be transported across Lake Ontario to Fort Henry.(3) Here they met up with other Patriot prisoners captured at Toronto the previous December, including John G. Parker and Leonard Watson, who still had not been tried. Sixteen of the Toronto group had earlier made a daring escape from Fort Henry; fourteen of them had succeeded in crossing the border to safety in the United States, but Parker and Watson had been recaptured. Many of the local townsfolk visited the interior of the fort “with no other motive than to witness the theatre of so noted an escape from such an impregnable fortress.” These men had successfully dug through a four-foot wall, using nothing but a ten-inch length of iron and a disk nail, and traversed nearly half of the underground rooms and an outside trench before reaching freedom.(4)

At the fort, living conditions were relatively good; best of all, the men were allowed to mingle outside in the open air of the prison yard for one hour a day. They were permitted to write and receive (censored) letters once every two weeks. But in spite of improved quarters, one of their own, David Taylor, age 26, died soon after arrival. He had a severe cold, made worse by the journey from Niagara. At Fort Henry he was too weak to leave his bed. The doctor visited him daily, but did little else; and in a few days he died, three of his comrades at his bedside. He was buried in the prison yard on August 27th. Then their grief turned to joy on August 29th when their companions who were left at Niagara marched into Fort Henry in chains, but still alive.(5) Benjamin Wait’s wife, Maria, had been successful in having their death sentence commuted to transportation.

The next two months of confinement at Fort Henry passed rather peacefully. This was not your usual gang of prisoners—there was no gambling, no swearing, no lewd conversation. The Patriots spent their hours in useful and uplifting activities, such as reading, writing, making wooden boxes(6) and other mementos for family and friends. Wait, Parker, McLeod, and a few others even met together “for the purpose of literary improvement and amusement for the long evenings.” Taking turns writing, delivering, or listening to original lectures, “the time rolled cheerfully and unheeded on.” Every Sabbath Randall Wixon delivered an interesting scriptural discourse. Of Wixon, Benjamin Wait wrote, “We had great reason to regard the presence of this very excellent man as contributing largely to our spiritual good and temporal quiet.”(7) Every day the sheriff and deputy, accompanied by a group of military officers and guards, entered the prisoner living quarters for a thorough inspection. All objects in the room were moved, so that every square inch of floor and wall could be seen and sounded. The men were lined up in single file for a roll call. They were counted and their names carefully checked against the list. Officials had been stunned by the recent daring escape of Patriot prisoners, and they weren’t about to let it happen again. (8)

Sir George Arthur
(in public domain)

 Sir George Arthur visited Fort Henry twice while Gammell and the others were imprisoned there. On his first visit, after reviewing the troops, he set up an office where he could interview each prisoner one by one. He promised Miller a free pardon if he would confess that he was sorry for what he had done and promise to take no further part in the rebellion, but Miller wrote that he declined the offer on those terms.(9) Gammell also refused to compromise his solemn oath to the Patriot cause:

Sir Geo. Arthur visited us occasionally while we were under sentence of death [or transportation], and when he told me I had been deluded by Mackenzie, I replied that it was not so - that we were in the right - that if ever there was a just cause it was ours and - that I had weighed the matter and was sincerely sorry we had failed. Sir George's behavior to us was polite, and affable. Of the justice of our cause, I have never since entertained nor expressed a different opinion…(10)
This confident, almost defiant, version of James’ interview with Sir George was reported in retrospect when James returned to the United States in 1842. There is a stark contrast between that version and the humble, apologetic petition James actually wrote to Arthur while still at Fort Henry. Given the desperate situation James found himself in, it isn’t hard to understand why he wrote this, and why he may have been ashamed that he did so:

I therefore beg to state that I have received a letter from James Reid _____Gore of Toronto – Mr. John Burgess Township of ____Toronto – Thomas McGill township of Etolescoke who will be security for my future good conduct in the event of Your Excellency’s pardoning me upon those considerations.

I would further desire to state that when I left the country last spring it was for the purpose of procuring medical aid upon a complaint which had baffled the skill of several physicians to whom I had applied in Brantford. It was through the advice of my friend that I went to Buffalo to apply to the celebrated German Physician who resides there – It was there that I became acquainted with the wicked and designing men who induced me to embark in this enterprise the just punishment for which I am now suffering.

I am deeply penitent for the crime I have been guilty of and hope your Excellency will pardon me upon the ________ of my never for the future meddling in any case with political affairs of the Country and becoming a good peaceable quiet & industrious Citizen – And as in duty bound I will ever pray –

Your Excellency's obdt. Humble Servant
/s/ James Gemmell
Fort Henry, Oct 18, 1838 (11)

In this letter we see evidence that Uncle James Reid was working behind the scenes, as a representative of James’ grieving mother and family, to secure a pardon for his nephew. James’ petitions were denied, or possibly just ignored, as were all the petitions on behalf of the Patriot prisoners.

For a virtual tour of Fort Henry, click on the link in footnote #3 below.
  1. Pybus, “Patriot Exiles,” p. 189.
  2. Miller, p. 98. These men were all highly esteemed, except for Beemer.
  3. Fort Henry is located in the city of Kingston and situated on a hill overlooking Lake Ontario. See
  4. Wait, p. 35-36. (See Lindsey, pp. 369-373, for John Montgomery’s first-hand account of the escape.)
  5. Miller, p. 102-105.
  6. Canadian Chris Raible has collected some of these surviving boxes, called “Rebellion boxes.” They were carved and engraved with a message and the name of the carver. He has recently written a book about them.
  7. Wait, p. 36, 113. Wixon “had but one leg, was a Baptist clergyman, and [his] only crime was, having acted as assistant editor of the “Correspondent and Advocate,” during the absence of Mr. [William Lyon] McKenzie, the proprietor…some years prior to the insurrection.”
  8. Wait, p. 36-37.
  9. Miller, p. 105.
  10. Gemmell, New York Plebian, transcription p. 11.
  11. Archive Office of Tasmania, document #114656.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Trial at Niagara (Part II)

In the days following Morreau’s execution, the trials continued. James Gammell and his fellow Patriots were indicted, convicted, and sentenced in the District Court of Niagara. Miller and the three other Americans were charged with a felony;(1) James and five others were charged with treason. Gammell, Grant, McPhaden, and McNulty pleaded guilty; Kemp and Yerks were acquitted. Although no lives were lost in the Short Hills raid, the men were tried as if lives had been taken. The original indictment reads as follows:

The Jurors for our Sovereign Lady the Queen upon their oath present that James Gammell late of the Township of Pelham in the District of Niagara, labourer. John Grant late of the same place labourer. Murdock McPhaden late of the same place labourer. John James McNulty late of the same place labourer. Solomon Kemp late of the same place labourer, and William Yerks late of the same place labourer, being subjects of our said Lady the Queen, not regarding the duty of their allegiance nor having the fear of God in their hearts, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, as false traitors against our said Lady the Queen and wholly withdrawing the allegiance, fidelity and obedience, which every true and faithful subject of our said Lady the Queen should and of right ought to bear towards our said Lady the Queen, on the twenty first day of June in the second year of the reign of our said Lady Victoria by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen Defender of the faith, with force and arms at the Township aforesaid in the district aforesaid, together with divers other false traitors, to the Jurors aforesaid unknown, armed and arrayed in a warlike manner, that is to say, with guns, muskets, pistols, blunderblusses, swords, bayonets, pikes, and other weapons being then and there unlawfully, maliciously and traitorously assembled and gathered together against our said Lady the Queen most wickedly, maliciously and traitorously did levy and make war against our said Lady the Queen within this province and did then and there maliciously and traitorously attempt and endeavor by force and arms to subvert and destroy the constitution and Government of this Province…(2)

On August 5, 1838, Justice Jonas Jones of Hamilton handed down a guilty verdict. Linus Miller, in his account, describes the sentence as it was pronounced in the courtroom to the four American citizens, and then to the twelve Canadians, including James, being tried as British subjects:

The sentence of the court is, that you, Linus Wilson Miller, George Cooley, Norman Mallory, and William Reynolds, be taken to the jail from whence you came, and that on Saturday the twenty-fifth day of this present month, you be taken to the place of execution, and be hanged by the neck until you are dead.(3)

Before pronouncing the next sentence, Justice Jones added that “in all probability mercy(4) would be extended to some of them, but to whom, no one then knew,” and he urged them all to make “immediate preparation for another world:”

The sentence of the court is, that you, Samuel Chandler, Benjamin Wait, Alexander McLeod, James Gemmell, John Grant, Murdoch McThaddon, John James McNulty, David Taylor, James Waggoner, Garret Van Camp, John Vernon, and George Buck, and each of you, be taken to the jail from whence you came, and that on the twenty-fifth day of this present month of August, you, and each of you, be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and that you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead; then your bodies are to be quartered; and may God have mercy on your souls!(5)

Miller reflected the emotional reaction of all the men after hearing the sentence:

No language can describe the anxious days and nights endured by our doomed party, while under sentence of death. As no one knew who, if any, would be spared, the excitement which all experienced, was greater than it would have been had it been expected that all would suffer. The men, in general, exerted themselves to appear cheerful; and while many a prayer was offered in secret to that Gracious Being who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, a casual observer would scarcely have dreamed, from the calm and cheerful looking countenances we wore, that our days on earth had been limited to so short a period.

We were daily visited by friends, and particularly clergymen, many of whom appeared deeply and sincerely to sympathize with us, and sometimes a solemn scene of weeping and prayer took place, in which some engaged who had perhaps scarcely wept or prayed before for many long years. We were encouraged by hundreds to hope for the best; but at the same time admonished to be prepared for the worst.(6)

Numerous petitions from both Canada and the United States were sent to Sir George Arthur pleading that mercy be granted the prisoners: William H. Seward,(7) governor-elect of New York, wrote a letter to Arthur in behalf of the parents of Linus Miller, the twenty-year-old law student from Stockton, New York; Maria Wait left her baby with friends and traveled 700 miles to Quebec by steamer in order to appeal personally to Lord Durham in behalf of her husband Benjamin Wait; and the lancers whose lives were spared at the Short Hills immediately swore an affidavit in defense of the condemned men.(8)

On August 22nd, just three days prior to the date of execution, the sheriff came to the jail and read a document stating that: “His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, has been graciously pleased, in consideration of some circumstances in your favor, to commute your sentence of death to transportation for life to her Majesty’s penal colony of Van Dieman’s Land [an island off the southern coast of Australia].”(9)

It may be human nature to prefer the unknown enemy, or even a short postponement of pain, to certain death. We can only imagine what James may have felt on hearing this news. Miller’s words may describe the reaction of all his comrades:

It would be difficult to say whether I rejoiced or mourned at this change in my prospects. Could I have then foreseen one-fourth part of the sufferings which that commutation entailed upon me, I should certainly have preferred immediate death; but the veil of uncertainty hid things from my view, and so long as I could hope even for a chance of escape from my enemies, so long I could wish to live.(10)

This “mercy,”(11) as the British called it, was extended to James Gemmell, Linus Miller, and eleven others, leaving Chandler, Wait, McLeod, and Beemer, still under sentence of death.(12) The apparent change of heart on the part of Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur was not what it seemed. He had intended all along to transport about a half of the condemned men as “a stern warning to any future Patriots”:(13)

The lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur, had extensive experience with penal transportation as the previous governor of VDL [Van Diemen’s Land], and he saw this option as the most effective way of curtailing further border disturbance. He was also urged to widespread use of this penalty by the British ambassador to Washington, who emphasized that ‘transportation is regarded with extreme terror by the Americans.’ Ninety percent of those transported to VDL were citizens of the United States, some eighty men [out of a total of 92].(14)


  1. Linus W. Miller, p. 64. The Lawless Aggressions Act had been passed in January 1838 to deal with United States citizens. This new law stated that foreigners could be tried for a felony offense in the criminal courts when they joined with British subjects in armed hostilities. (Read, p. 109.)
  2. Archives Office of Tasmania, document #114653. (Compare Miller, pp. 65-66.)
  3. Miller, p. 93.
  4. Mercy was, in effect, transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.
  5. Linus W. Miller, p. 94. Taylor died at Fort Henry. McThaddon, age 18, and Buck, age 17, were sentenced to Kingston Penitentiary for three years.
  6. Miller, pp. 95-96.
  7. William Henry Seward was later Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
  8. Miller, pp. 96-97.
  9. Miller, p. 97.
  10. Miller, p. 98.
  11. As Pybus explains: “…care was taken to avoid transportation as a direct sentence and again it was imposed only as a secondary punishment through the local exercise of the prerogative of mercy.” (Pybus, “Patriot Exiles,” p. 193.)
  12. Miller, pp. 97-98. Beemer had been tried a few days after the others.
  13. Pybus, Introduction to Snow’s narrative.
  14. Pybus, “Patriot Exiles,” p. 188.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Trial at Niagara (Part I)

Just a few days after James Gammell and the other captives were transported to the jail at Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), they were suddenly moved again—this time to Toronto, aboard the steamer Experiment. The British had gotten wind of a rumor that the Patriots were planning to attack on Independence Day, July 4th, and could possibly storm the jail in an attempt to rescue their captured comrades. The rumors proved to be false, so on July 14th the prisoners were transported back to Niagara to stand trial. While at the Toronto jail, they had been visited by Sir George Arthur, then the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. In a most severe tone, he had “advised us to make our peace with heaven, as our time on earth was short.”(1)

A special court session was quickly convened at the District Court of Niagara. Arthur was determined to execute someone quickly as an example and warning to all those on both sides of the border who were involved in the Patriot cause. He chose an American, Colonel James Morreau of Pennsylvania. He would be the first to be tried and executed under the new Lawless Aggressions Act, passed just six months earlier: (2)

The Lawless Aggressions Act was passed in January 1838 to deal with Patriot raiders. Lawless aggression was a rough equivalent to treasonable levying of war, and, although foreigners owed no allegiance, when they joined traitorous British subjects in armed hostilities, they could be tried for a felony offence in the criminal courts as several Short Hills prisoners were…Lieutenant Governor Arthur…decided to try the Short Hills prisoners indicted under the felony provision by regular criminal trial. Solicitor General Draper found himself justifying this decision to Lord Durham, who evidently wanted the raiders dealt with expeditiously…When the Court of Special Commission…opened on 18 July [1838] at Niagara amidst cries for blood, Arthur had already confided his opinion to Sir John Colborne, commander of the forces in the Canadas, that “the Ringleaders must be punished with severity.” He had already told Durham on 27 June that…at least four should be executed. Transportation of lesser convicts would subdue the like-minded. (3)

Morreau was tried without a proper legal defense and convicted in short order by a packed jury. Judge Jonas Jones presided at the trials, and William Henry Draper was prosecutor for the crown. Judge Jones delivered the sentence:

The sentence of the court is, that you, James Morrow [Morreau], be taken to the jail from whence you came, and from thence, on Monday, the thirtieth day of this present month, to the place of execution; and between the hours of eleven and one, you be hanged by the neck until you are dead; and may God have mercy on your soul.” (4)

The court granted Morreau’s final request that Linus Miller occupy the cell with him until the execution. For the next ten days Morreau determined to prepare himself, and Miller did his best to offer strength and comfort. Morreau was confident that as a Patriot he had done his duty in a righteous cause, but he also knew that in his personal life he had violated the laws of God. He and Miller spent many hours in prayer, scripture study, and conversation about the principles of Christianity. Born into a wealthy Irish family, most of his friends were Catholic, but “he was a stranger to the consolations of religion, which he now so much needed.” Clergymen of various denominations visited him, but he told them that time was too precious to argue points of doctrine. He asked them only “to point him to Christ.” For many days he suffered great mental distress. He told Linus Miller:

I have spent my whole life in the pursuit of pleasure, utterly regardless of the claims of the Savior of mankind to my affections and services, and now, when death is staring me in the face, can it be that He can forgive? …On the evening of the 27th, he told me he could not close his eyes again until assured that his sins were pardoned, and accordingly spent the whole time, until midnight, in earnest prayer. It was an affecting sight to see that man upon his knees in the condemned cell, beseeching the Almighty to wash and cleanse his heart from sin, and prepare him for the solemn event which was so soon to take place. (5)

About three o’clock in the morning, Miller awoke to find Colonel Morreau still on his knees. Tears of joy were streaming down his face. Having received an assurance of pardon for his own sins, he was asking God to forgive those who were about to take his life. He also prayed for the cause of liberty in Canada, for his brothers and sisters, and for his betrothed, and for his fellow captives. And then he fell asleep. The next night, his last one on earth, he slept peacefully. Monday, July 30, was a solemn and painful day for the entire group: “There was not one in our little company who did not esteem and love him [Morreau].” Miller knelt with him in prayer one last time in their cell. They embraced, and then the door was opened. As Morreau exited the cell, his comrades, Gammell, Grant, Reynolds, and all the others, were lined up double file in the hallway. They wept as he passed between them. He bid farewell with the wave of his handkerchief and disappeared from view: “About two minutes of the most painful silence ensued, when we heard the fatal drop! And without a struggle Colonel James Morrow passed from the gallows to Heaven!”(6)
  1. Linus W. Miller, pp. 61-63.
  2. Miller, p. 64.
  3. Colin Read, “The Treason Trials of 1838 in Western Upper Canada.” Canadian State Trials, Vol. II: Rebellion and Invasion in the Canadas, 1837-1839. Toronto, 2002, pp. 109-11. Read states: “The records for the Niagara trials are quite good…with at least three separate accounts extant of each—the judge’s notes, the report prepared for Sheriff Hamilton of Niagara, and stories in the Niagara Reporter.”
  4. Miller, p. 73.
  5. Miller, pp. 74-76.
  6. Miller, pp. 76-80.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Short Hills Raid

James made no mention of it in his 1842 letter to the New York Plebeian, but it is assumed that he was part of the group that fled to Navy Island in the Niagara River after the Toronto rebellion. He did admit in an October 1838 letter, written while at Fort Henry, that he went to Buffalo, New York. Most likely he also spent some time at the rebel base on Grand Island. In any case, he spent the next few months on the Niagara frontier and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the Patriot army.(1) He was captured after the battle at the Short Hills in June:

I was taken prisoner at the Short Hills,(2) carried before Sir George Arthur,(3) and promised a full and free pardon if I would tell all I knew of the conduct of Wm. Musson, Wm. Ketchum, and the Messrs. Mackintosh of Toronto, whom he said he suspected, but lacked the evidence to convict. I declined freedom on these terms, was tried before Judge Jones at Niagara in August 1838, with fifteen others, sentenced to be executed, but afterwards ordered to Van Dieman's Land.(4)

On the night of June 11, 1838, twenty-six armed rebels, Canadians and Americans, under the command of James Morreau of Pennsylvania, crossed the Niagara River on the steamer Red Jacket from their base on Grand Island (United States territory), and touched shore on the Canadian side. They hid in the woods under cover of darkness, careful to avoid the loyalist patrols. They had planned to join up with twenty-two supporters about twelve miles inland at the Short Hills(5) (now the town of Fonthill) on the Niagara Peninsula. James Gammell, age 23, was listed in the indictment as one of the local Patriot soldiers residing near the Short Hills in Pelham Township.(6)

The Short Hills raid was just one in a series of well intended, but loosely organized, inept cross-border raids, attempting to free Canada from the heavy hand of British rule. Colonel Morreau had expected to command a much larger group of local inhabitants, and, at the same time, the locals had been counting on a larger contingent from across the border. Morreau wanted to abort the planned attack. He advised the men to wait until July 4th, when they would have a better chance for success, but the rebels insisted that they had come to Canada to fight and wanted to strike a blow for freedom without delay.(7)

The night of June 20th they marched to the village of St. Johns, robbing a few homes of residents along the way. A small company of the Queen’s Lancers had stopped for the night at Osterhout’s Tavern. The Lancers had been forewarned of a Patriot invasion, and had stationed a sentry outside. At 2:00 am on June 21, he spied the rebels surrounding the inn. Some shots rang out, and the Lancers were awakened and started firing from inside. Half an hour of shooting did not force the surrender, so the rebels piled straw around the inn and set it on fire. The Lancers wisely fled the building and were marched into the woods, where they were forced to surrender their food, their arms and ammunition, and their horses. One of the rebels, Jacob Beamer, demanded that they be hanged on the spot to avenge the death of Patriots Lount and Matthews, who had been executed a few months earlier. The poor men insisted that they had had nothing to do with the execution, that they had wives and innocent children, and they tearfully pleaded for their lives. More rational and compassionate minds than Beamer’s prevailed, and the grateful troopers were released to go home. The Patriots quickly scattered in various directions.(8) Only one or two men on either side had been wounded, and not one had been killed. This fact seemed to have been completely ignored as the British moved quickly to capture and to severely punish the perpetrators.

Rumors of this insignificant victory at the Short Hills spread quickly and caused quite a stir. Sir George Arthur, newly appointed lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, received word that 1,500 Americans had launched a full-scale invasion of the Niagara Peninsula. For many months the British had feared such an invasion by Americans sympathetic to the Patriot cause. Arthur immediately called out the militia. Finding no battle to fight, the Tories turned their efforts to rounding up the rebels. They closed off the border crossings and scoured the area for a month. Within two days sixteen had been captured, and by the end of one week thirty-six of them were confined in the jail at Niagara-on-the-Lake.(9)

Like the others James fled into the woods after the raid, hoping to escape across the border into the United States, but on June 26th he was captured:

Garret Van Camp [who died later in Van Diemen’s Land]...turned traitor at the Short Hills, and was the cause of my banishment. Colonel Nelles had given me a pass to cross to the United States, as John M'Mullen, when a British Captain saw the mark of my sword-belt on the back of my coat. Van Camp, our comrade was sent for and was faithless enough to tell them that I was Lieut. Gemmell, of the insurgent service.(10)

James Morreau was caught within the first few days, and Benjamin Wait was captured on Navy Island and taken to Niagara Jail on June 25. Linus Miller and most of the others were rounded up by the end of the week.
  1. Gemmell, New York Plebeian, transcription, p. 9.
  2. Short Hills is now a Provincial Park near St. Catherines, Ontario (near Niagara Falls.) A plaque and a memorial now commemorate the spot: “The Battle of the Short Hills, 1838.”
  3. Sir George Arthur was Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. He had previously been Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, May 1824 – Oct. 1836.
  4. Gemmell, New York Plebeian, p. 1. Van Diemen’s Land was a British penal colony off the coast of Australia.
  5. Michael Cross, The Wait Letters, p. 145. The Short Hills refers to the hilly country on the escarpment behind St. Catherines.
  6. Indictment, see Linus Miller, pp. 65-66.
  7. Miller, p. 24.
  8. Michael Cross, The Wait Letters, p. 145; Miller, p. 27; Colin Read, p. 109-110.
  9. Cross, p. 146.
  10. Gemmell, New York Plebeian , transcription, p. 9. Van Camp was a “poor, innocent, simple, quiet Dutchman.” (Wait, p. 115.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Canada’s Patriot War

The Patriot War of 1837-38 was a series of battles between the “Patriots,” as they called themselves, and the British troops, who had the support of the local militias. The British government had ignored for too long the protests of struggling merchants and farmers against repressive economic policies and taxation, and finally the protests turned into armed revolt. The rebellion erupted on two separate fronts, first in Lower Canada (Quebec),(1) and then in Upper Canada (Ontario). The Lower Canadian rebellion, initiated by the native French residents, was met with a strong show of force from the British, who burned a church and one entire village (Saint-Eustache), and declared martial law. While the British troops were thus occupied in Lower Canada, the Upper Canadian “Patriots,” joined by United States citizens, seized the opportunity to stage their own revolt. Their goal was to detach the peninsula lying between the Michigan frontier and the Niagara frontier from Canada and attach it to the United States. Their base of operations was located in Michigan,(2) where they were organized into secret groups known as "Hunters Lodges."

See link to map in footnote #1 below.

Living on his uncle’s farm near Toronto, James found himself at the very center of this political turmoil. He was drawn to join the Upper Canadian movement started by his fellow Scot, William Lyon Mackenzie. (The general population of Canada, however, did not support the movement, and therefore, in the end, it failed to lead to a Republic of Canada, one free of British rule, like its neighbor to the south.)(3) Mackenzie founded a reformist newspaper, The Colonial Advocate (1824), in the Upper Canada capital of York, later called Toronto, and made outright calls for a republican form of government. He eventually became the first mayor of the newly-renamed Toronto in 1834. Mackenzie’s dream of a rural utopia appealed to the frustrated farmers of the Gore district after a bad harvest in 1835. This had led to a recession, and in the following years, the banks had begun to tighten credit and recall loans. With a heavy burden of debt, the farmers had little hope of fulfilling the dream to expand their farms for their sons:

The existing land system assured that they would never have their own property; it doomed them, in this age before trade unions, to low wages and bad working conditions. There were other characteristics which marked rebels, as well. They were more likely to be of American or Scottish origin, than to be English. They were more likely to be Presbyterians or Baptists than to be Anglicans…They were men who found themselves blocked from achieving the promise of the New World by a closed and oppressive economic system. They were men who found the levers of political power jammed by a time-worn constitutional structure. They were men who found that, to gain the liberty, economic and political, that they claimed by right, they had to take up guns.(4)

James, in his early twenties at the time, no doubt saw little hope, under the existing regime, of owning his own land. Most likely he had planned to spend his life in Canada, but his decision to join the rebellion set in motion a series of events that he never could have imagined, and eventually pushed him westward.

When the Lower Canada Rebellion broke out in the fall of 1837, Sir Francis Bond Head sent all the British troops stationed in Toronto to help suppress it. At this point James, with all his youthful vigor, “joined [Mackenzie’s] insurgents behind Toronto, of [his] own free will, and had long been anxious for such a movement.” With the regular troops gone Mackenzie and his followers seized a Toronto armoury and organized an armed march down Yonge Street, beginning at Montgomery's Tavern (Mackenzie’s headquarters) on December 4, 1837. As James further explains, he played a key role in the revolt:

I was behind Toronto with the insurgents the first night,Monday—was in the Tuesday night's skirmish in the suburbs—took Sheriff Jarvis's fine blood mare, which Mackenzie rode until all was over on Thursday. I also brought in the Captain of Sir Francis's [Head] Artillery, of which we had none ourselves, nor even a bayonet—was of the small party of Wednesday who went and took the mails [mail coach] and carriages—and in the final fight at Montgomery's on Thursday [7 December 1837.](5)

The Siege of Toronto
December 1837
Artist, Stanley F. Turner (1883-1953), in public domain

On December 7th Mackenzie’s military leader, Anthony van Egmond, advised immediate retreat. Mackenzie hesitated, and Head's force of about 1000 men and one cannon arrived the same day. They overpowered Mackenzie's approximately 400 rebels. In less than half an hour the confrontation was over, and the Patriot forces dispersed. Meanwhile, a group of Patriot rebels from London (Upper Canada), led by Charles Duncombe, marched toward Toronto to support Mackenzie. British troops under Colonel Allan MacNab met them near Hamilton, Ontario, on December 13, and again, the rebels fled. James said that he parted with Mackenzie after the defeat, and never saw him again until he met him at his home in New York City four and a half years later:

I parted with Mackenzie when he and Colonel Lount separated, after the Defeat, near Shepards mills, and never saw him again until one of the refugees directed me to his home in this city, a week ago.  I saw that he faithfully performed his duty behind Toronto, and if some who do not know, have blamed him in the United States, I am sure that those who were his companions cannot have done so.(6)

When the Patriots dispersed at Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie, with help of Samuel Chandler, fled to Buffalo, New York. There he made speeches to enlist American support for the Patriot cause. Nearly 200 of the other Toronto rebels fled to Navy Island, located in the Niagara River, three miles upstream from Horseshoe Falls.(7) There on December 13th they declared themselves the Republic of Canada. They received supplies and arms, shipped to them on the steamship Caroline by supporters across the river in the United States. The British then crossed into United States waters, seized the Caroline, towed the empty ship out into the current, set her afire, and pushed her over Niagara Falls. A few months later Americans retaliated by burning the British steamer Sir Robert Peel while it was in United States waters on the St. Lawrence River near Wells’ Island. On January 13, 1838, under attack by the British, the rebels on Navy Island fled. Mackenzie was arrested in New York, charged under the Neutrality Act,(8) and spent a few months in jail. The other major leaders, Van Egmond, Samuel Lount, and Peter Matthews, were arrested by the British; Van Egmond died in prison, and Lount and Matthews were executed on April 12, 1838 in Toronto.

Map of the Niagara Frontier 1812
in public domain

The Patriots continued their raids into Canada using the United States as a base of operations and cooperating with the U.S. Hunters Lodges, who were dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Canada. In 1838, armed Patriots engaged the British troops again, once in June at the Short Hills (James was involved in this raid), and again in November in a bloody battle at Prescott, Ontario. In December, a year after the initial battle at Montgomery’s Tavern (Toronto), another group of Patriot rebels crossed the Detroit River into Canada just above Windsor on a small steamboat. They planned to set up a temporary government in rebellion against the British crown. A battle ensued; a number of men on both sides were killed or wounded, and the Patriots scattered into the woods. Of those who were captured and tried, six were executed and eighteen transported to Van Diemen’s Land. The Battle of Windsor, as it was called, marked the end of the Patriot War. While the Patriot War itself was a failure, it did compel the British to recognize the failures of the colonial government. Political change quickly emerged, leading to a more modern representative form of government in Canada.(9)
    The Province of Lower Canada was a British colony on the lower Saint Lawrence River and the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (1791-1841).  It covered the southern portion of the modern-day Province of Quebec. The Province of Upper Canada was located in what is now the southern portion of the Province of Ontario.  Its name reflected its position closer to the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River than was Lower Canada (the same relationship as between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.)
  2. Following the “Toledo War,” Michigan became a state on January 26, 1837. In January 1838, despite the U.S. Neutrality Act, the state militia of Michigan became involved in the Patriot War.
  3. Linus Miller believed that the non-support by some Canadians was motivated by fear. An unsuspected Tory could report his rebel neighbor to the authorities and have him thrown in prison. As compared to the American rebellion, British forces in Canada had a strong presence in a much smaller area. Miller felt that many more Canadians might have joined the cause had they seen any hope for success. (Miller, p. 9) Pybus’ assessment is probably more accurate. She explains that for most Upper Canadians the rebellion was against corrupt Colonial officials, and never against the Crown. (Pybus, American Citizens, British Slaves, p. 14.)
  4. Michael S. Cross, “Afterword,” The Wait Letters, Ontario, 1976, p.154.
  5. Gemmell, New York Plebeian, transcription p. 11.
  6. Gemmell, New York Plebeian, transcription p. 11.
  7. Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Falls) is the most impressive of the three falls that make up Niagara Falls.
  8. The Neutrality Act of 1794 made it illegal for an American to wage war against another country at peace with the United States.
  9. Much of the information for this synopsis of the Patriot War came from

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The Young Victoria" (Movie, 2009)

This past week I took a short break from writing about James Gammell. Steve and I went to see the movie The Young Victoria. I loved it! It is the touching love story of Victoria and Albert…with beautiful cinematography, costumes, music, and good acting, I thought. (One scene did depart from the truth for dramatic effect: Albert was never shot. But critics say the rest is true to historical fact.)

Victoria became Queen in 1837 and died in 1901. She is the longest reigning of any British monarch. At her coronation in 1838, she was 19 years old. During that part of the movie I couldn’t help thinking of James. He was imprisoned in England from December 1838 to September 1839. When James died in 1881, Victoria would reign for twenty more years. There will be several references to Victoria in the continuing story of James Gammell.

Since I was born in England, I’ve always had a fascination with the British monarchy, especially Queen Victoria, and, of course, Elizabeth II. I remember watching her coronation on our first television set when I was a child. I don’t think James thought too highly of the British, though, or their monarchy, after all he suffered under their rule.

Take a break from reading my blog, and see this beautiful movie. You’ll get a feel for the Victorian period, the era when James Gammell lived.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Voyage to America (1821)

James’ aunt Margaret Dickie was married to James Reid.(1) Reid may have qualified for a land grant in Canada (200 acres located fifteen miles north of Toronto.)(2) According to ship records he and his family, along with James Gemmell Sr. sailed from the port at Sligo, Ireland, in 1820. A year later Jean (or Jane) Gemmell and her four children (William, James, Margaret Jane, and Robert) followed, sailing from the port at Greenock.

Ship Name – Ocean
Port of Arrival - New York, New York
Port of Departure – Sligo, Ireland
Date of Arrival – Aug 17, 1820
James Reed age 40 farmer Scotland
Margt. Reed 26
Thomas Reed 6
John Reed 2
James Gammell 32
Source citation: Year 1820, Microfilm M237–1, List #189.

Ship Name - Camillus
Port of Arrival – New York, New York
Port of Departure – Greenock, Scotland
Date of Arrival - Sep 10, 1821
Jane Gamble age 36 wife Kilmarnock
Wm Gamble 8
James Gamble 6
Janette Gamble 3
Robert Gamble 1
Source citation: Year 1821, Microfilm M237-2, List #263.

The ocean voyage itself took five or six weeks, not to mention the travel time from Kilmarnock to Greenock (and for James Sr. the sea voyage to Sligo.) Each ship had to carry all provisions of food and water for the whole journey, so we can imagine that the meals were often inadequate and the water stale. Several hundred passengers would have lived in close quarters without the luxury of toilets. Storms at sea could easily have caused sieges of seasickness on board the ship. Surely some passengers were not strong enough to survive the hardships of the voyage and were buried at sea. Gratefully, Jean and her children were among those who arrived safely in New York City.

Upon arrival James was not quite seven years old. We can imagine that his father was there to meet them when the ship made harbor, and that he had already found employment for himself and lodging for his family. Apparently James Sr. and Jean made their permanent home in New York City, where they ran the Rob Roy Hotel on Hammond Street(3) near the East River, “a hotel that was much frequented by Scotch and Irish Sailors whose long yarns filled his [James’] youthful mind with roving and adventurous desires.”(4)

James must have attended school in New York City, and may have even worked with his father at the hotel. His letters are evidence that he had been educated—taught to read and write, at least at a functional level—but in later years he was more inclined to enlist the help of someone else (i.e. Mackenzie or Wheeler) to write his story, rather than write it himself.

The family was still living in New York when the youngest child, Andrew, was born in 1829, and very shortly thereafter James Sr. died. Within the next year or two Jean married her second husband, a Scotsman, James H. Wylie, and moved with him to Dunstable Township (now Nashua), located on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. Dunstable, along with nearby Lowell, Massachusetts, (both cities are on the Merrimack River) had become a textile-manufacturing center. Margaret Jane and baby Andrew moved to New Hampshire with their mother and their stepfather, but Robert, only about twelve years old at the time, stayed behind in New York City and became an apprentice to a bookbinder.(5) The two oldest sons struck out on their own, James to Canada, and William eventually to Texas.

In his 17th year (1831) James moved to his uncle James Reid’s farm near Toronto. (This region of fertile farmland, known as Toronto Gore, or the Gore of Toronto, became a township in 1831 and is now part of Brampton, Ontario.) James stated in his 1842 letter to the New York Plebeian that from his 17th year he “continued as an inhabitant of Upper Canada until the troubles four years ago in which I took an active and decided part against Sir Francis Head, the agent of the British government.” Then he describes how he became involved in what is known as the Patriot War:

I was going on my 23rd year, [1837] and little disposed to quarrel about forms of government, but had witnessed an accumulation of real oppressions and acts of injustice which I could see no other way to get rid of—remonstrances to the legislature, or by it to the British power in the colony or England had long proved unavailing; deputation succeeded deputation to London with no success. The English government acknowledged the justice of our complaints, and said they had sent Sir Francis Head to redress them, and he proved a more corrupt and partial ruler than any of his predecessors. Lower Canada was still worse used than us, and as I had voted for the resolution to make common cause with her, I kept my word, our interests being the same. (6)


  1. See IGI extracted marriage record of James Reid and Margaret Dickie, 11 Jun 1816, Ochiltree, Ayr.
  2. James Gemmell Obituary, The Dillon Tribune, April 9, 1881.
  3. Stuart Scott discovered that Hammond Street, now called West 11th Street, is part of Greenwich Village. Originally Hammond Street in Manhattan ran east and west between Bank Street and Perry Street. (Stuart D. Scott, “A Frontier Spirit: The Life of James Gemmell,” Australasian Canadian Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2007, p. 105.)
  4. James Gemmell Obituary, The Dillon Tribune, April 9, 1881.
  5. Gemmell, New York Plebeian, transcription, p. 12.
  6. Gemmell, New York Plebeian, transcription, p. 1.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Nestled right next to Fenwick is the town of Kilmarnock, the home of farmer John Dickie. His nineteen-year-old daughter, Jean, married James Gemmell, Sr., age thirty-two, in the Kirk at Fenwick on April 4, 1812. They made their home near Jean’s family in Kilmarnock. (Both of James’ parents had died five years earlier.) Kilmarnock was a growing manufacturing town, which was beginning to attract many rural families seeking employment. "The streets and neuks of Killie" were celebrated in the poetry of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet, who was born in the county of Ayr. He published his first book of poems in 1786 at Kilmarnock. Another favorite son of Kilmarnock, educated at the academy there, is Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Here in “Killie” on October 26, 1814 (1), James Gammell (Gemmell) was born, the second child of James and Jean Gemmell. (2)

If we examine the town plan of Kilmarnock (3) drawn by John Wood in 1819, showing each house and the name of its occupant, we find the Dickie and Gemmell families that were living there at the time. The plan also shows the property of Ja’s [sic] Reid and John Reid. James Reid was the uncle that James referred to in the New York Plebeian:

I was born in Kilmarnock in Scotland, emigrated in infancy to this city with my father and his family, joined my uncle Mr. James Reid, (formerly Land Stewart Col. Wynn near Sligo,) at the Gore of Toronto, in my 17th year...(4)

The James Gemmell family lived in Kilmarnock about nine years before immigrating to America. At that time the Industrial Revolution was taking its toll on the lifestyle of the lower classes in the British Isles. Farmers, laborers, and craftsmen could no longer eke out a living from the land or in their homes, and they were forced to seek jobs in the larger towns, working twelve-hour days in factories with unhealthy working conditions. Large-scale emigration from Scotland began in the 18th century and increased in the beginning of the 19th century. While most Scots immigrated to Canada, many went to the United States—at least 250,000 were living in the U.S. by 1890. Many were able to qualify for assisted emigration, where they received passage money or even land grants in the destination country, as an alternative to “poor relief.” We don’t know whether the James Gemmell family was part this group of assisted emigrants, or whether they saved every penny and sold all that they had for the hope of a better life in America.

  1. The birth date given on James’ headstone is February 4, 1814, but early LDS Church documents record the date as October 26, 1814.
  2. Actual christening records have not yet been found. The names of the children come from a ship passenger record.
  3. The names compiled on this site have been transcribed from the John Wood 1819 'Plan of The Town of Kilmarnock'. See the web site for the map:
  4. James Gemmell, New York Plebeian. (Toronto Gore, a township formed in 1831, is now part of Brampton, Ontario.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Gemmill Covenanters

The county of Ayr was a hotbed of religious turmoil during Scotland’s Convenanter uprising, and the Gemmills were often at the center of the struggle. Family tradition indicates that the Fenwick Gemmills were staunch Covenanters. The term Covenanters refers to those Scots who signed the National Covenant (1638), a document that reaffirmed the Presbyterian faith and ritual, and the separation of church and state. In refusing to accept the royal decree that King Charles was the spiritual head of the Church of Scotland, they were, in effect, signing their own death warrant.

At Edinburgh, 60,000 Scots signed the Covenant, and copies were taken throughout the country for more signatures, “bringing the Scottish Kirk into direct conflict with the King and the rule of law.” Daniel Defoe estimated that during the fifty-year struggle 18,000 Covenanters were put to death for their beliefs. The period from 1680 to 1685 was one of the fiercest in terms of persecution, and a few months between 1684 and 1685 became forever known as the “Killing Times.” Charles’ brother, James II, had come to the throne. As a believer in the Divine Right of Kings and a supporter of the Roman Catholic faith, “it became his sworn intent to totally eradicate the Presbyterians.”(1)

At least two Gemmills gave their lives to the Covenanter cause. John Gemmill was killed along with Richard Cameron at Airsmoss on July 20, 1680. Then in 1685, dragoons captured twenty-one-year-old Peter Gemmell. Without any trial they led him a few yards into the corner of a field on Midland Farm, Fenwick, and shot him dead. (See gravestone inscription in the previous post.) That same year another John Gemmell and eleven other Covenanters were holding a prayer meeting one evening at a farm in Fenwick Parish. While they were on their knees in prayer, a party of soldiers burst open the door. One of the Covenanters, James White, was shot dead. John Gemmell was attacked, but he wrestled the bayonet from the soldier’s grasp, thrust it into his body, and escaped into the darkness. The next day the soldiers cut off the head from James White’s dead body and used it as a football for their sports at the town of Newmilns.(2)

Another recorded incident involved William Dickie of Kilmarnock (possibly a progenitor of James Gammell’s mother, Jean Dickie.) A group of nine soldiers, searching out suspected Covenanter sympathizers, were quartered in Dickie’s house for six weeks. He was required to house and feed them for nothing. When they finally left, they stole his possessions and his money. They also thrust a knife into the side of his pregnant wife and left her to die. They beat William, breaking two of his ribs. (3)

This bloody period of Scottish history finally ended in 1689 when William of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of King James II) jointly acceded to the throne of England, after a non-violent revolution that forced James II into exile. King William was persuaded by his advisors to accept Presbyterianism as the Church of Scotland, thus ending fifty years of persecution against the Covenanters.
  1. John Leiper Gemmil, pp. 32-35.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Origin of the Name Gemmill (Gammell)

The Scottish surname Gemmill is of Anglo-Saxon or Danish origin. The bearers of the name probably settled in Great Britain between the sixth and eighth century, when the Anglo-Saxons, and later the Danes, made frequent descents on Britain. The name Gemmill is believed to have come from the Anglo-Saxon word gamel or gamol, Danish gammel, and Norse gamal, all meaning old or ancient [i.e. gammal ‘the old one.’]

Another researcher goes further back in time to reveal that the third letter of the Greek alphabet is gamma and that of the Hebrew is gimel, both of which mean camel; an observation that leads that researcher to conclude that the names of Gemmill and Campbell share the same origin.

After the Norman Conquest (1066 A.D.), large numbers of the Anglo-Saxon freeholders in England were driven from their possessions, and many of them took refuge in Scotland, particularly in the southwest. It is uncertain when or where the Gamels or Gemmills first settled in Scotland, but circumstances point to a very early, if not the first, permanent settlement of Gemmills located in that upland portion of Ayrshire known as Fenwick. Soon after 1570 there are in the old Fenwick registers at least 23 properties held by different families with the name of Gemmill.(1) The progenitor of the Fenwick Gemmills probably first settled on the lands of Raith no later than 1100 or 1200. Most likely, the first of the Raith or Fenwick Gemmills was from one of the Anglo-Saxon Gamal families in the north of England.(2)

Fenwick Parish Church
built in 1643
taken December 2010 by Isabel Wilson of Glasgow

Here at Fenwick James Gammell’s great grandfather John Gemmell married Elizabeth Burns (April 25, 1745.) Their three sons, James, John, and Thomas, were all christened there. Many of the family members, including James’ grandparents, Thomas Gemmell and Alison Wallace, are buried in the Fenwick kirkyard. In this same kirkyard at Fenwick is the grave of a Peter Gemmell, who died as a martyr in the struggles of the Scottish Presbyterians. His gravestone bears this inscription:

Here lies the corps of Peter Gemmell,
Who was shot to death by Nisbet
and his party, 1685, for bearing his
faithful Testimony to the Cause of
Christ. Aged 21 years.

This man like holy anchorite of old,
For conscience sake was thrust from house and hold;
Bloodthirsty red-coats cut his prayers short,
And even his dying groans were made their sport.
Ah, Scotland! Breach of solemn vows repent,
Or blood thy crime will be thy punishment!(3)

Gravestone of Peter Gemmell (died 1685)
Fenwick Churchyard
Photo taken December 2010 by
Isabel Wilson of Glasgow (see her comment below.)

  1. "It is interesting to note the various spellings, and how Gamal and Gamel gradually changed to Gamyll, afterwards to Gemyl, and, later on, mainly to Gemmill, though some still use the forms Gammell and Gamble. Gemmell has also come to be frequently used, but Gemmill is the older form, and is the prevailing spelling in the Registers after 1570.” (John Leiper Gemmill, p. 22.)
  2. John Leiper Gemmill, Notes on the Probable Origin of the Name Gemmill or Gemmell, Glasgow, 1909, pp.13, 15, 16.
  3. John Leiper Gemmill, p. 34.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


On April 9, 1881, The Dillon Tribune published the following obituary notice:

Died at Sheridan, M.T., Wednesday, April 6, 1881, at 11 A.M., after a lingering illness of many months, James Gemmell, aged about 66 years.

Mr. Gemmell was one of the few men in this or any other country whose chequered life from young manhood to old age, if written, would make a volume of such hairbreadth escapes as would be interesting to old and young. He was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, moved with his parents to New York City, where he lived until he was nineteen. His father kept the Rob Roy Hotel on Hammond Street near the East River, that was much frequented by Scotch and Irish sailors whose long yarns filled his youthful mind with roving and adventurous desires. His parents were of the old Scotch Presbyterian faith, honest and true, whom Sir Walter Scott represents as holding the Bible in one hand and a sword in the other, ready to slay all who did not believe in the covenants…

As fascinating as any sailor’s yarn, the tales of grandfather James Gammell—that captivated journalists of his day—are told and retold by each generation of his descendants. The patriarch of the Utah/Montana Gammell or Gemmell family, was robust, energetic, adventurous, patriotic, honest, with a strong sense of justice, and dedicated to truth as he saw it. Add to these qualities his Scottish heritage, plus his journeys on three continents—all set against the backdrop of social and political conflicts of the times—and you have the makings of an exciting novel. Hopefully, these posts will eventually represent the complete life story of James Gammell for the benefit and interest of future generations of his descendants.

Those of us who bear the Gammell/Gemmell name hope that we possess at least a few of Grandfather’s positive qualities in our DNA. We want to learn about his forefathers and his genetic inheritance, and about the events that shaped him and eventually us as his descendants. We can’t help feeling that this is our story, too. When his life hung in the balance, so did ours. When he explored and planned, built and planted, the seeds of his efforts would yield our harvest.

Note: I gave up trying to be consistent in using either Gammell or Gemmell. Those of us who come from James’ marriage to Hannah Jane Davis carry the name Gammell, and that’s how we identify our great grandfather. The Montana family spells the name Gemmell, as written on James’ headstone. In this biography I have used various spellings interchangeably, but they all refer to the same man, our forefather James Gammell.

Monday, January 4, 2010


On January 1, 2008, I sat down at the computer and began writing material for my new project, The James Gammell Chronicles, but the actual genesis was more than fifty years before that. In the early 1950’s my dad, Ray Gammell, began gathering all the information he could about his great grandfather. I have letters with 3-cent stamps on the envelopes that he exchanged with his distant cousins in Montana, as well as letters he received from the Montana Historical Society in response to his inquiries. In 1963, while on a business trip to New York City, he found two small books at the New York Public Library on the origin of the name Gammell. I have his handwritten notes and photocopies of those two books. In the 1970’s he hired Jennie Weeks and Gerald Haslam, professional researchers in Salt Lake City, to search Scottish parish records and LDS Church History archives for any references to James Gammell. (My aunt Nancy Gammell Johnson and great aunt Maggie, Uncle Reed Gammell's widow, shared in the expense of that research.) I have many of the notes Dad scribbled on his Geigy Pharmaceuticals notepaper. On one slip of paper he wrote out a timeline for James’ life. I could see that he was trying to make sense of the information he had gathered. That particular note motivated me most. My goal now is to complete the project that he started those many years ago.

Soon after Dad’s death in 1991, I began transcribing all of the documents he had gathered. I spent many hours typing on a used DOS computer with a black and white screen. Later my brother Phil Gammell updated the format of my documents and distributed them to many family members. From that project I got an overview of James' life and experiences, and a pretty good sense of the time line. I really didn’t discover many of the interesting details, however, until I started doing further research. I also discovered that James reminds me a lot of my dad. Like James, Dad was prone to be motivated to action by his heart, not necessarily his head.

I moved with my husband and family to Ann Arbor in 1987, and until that time I hadn’t realized that southeast Michigan was James Gammell country. I felt like I had returned to my roots. One weekend, while returning from a trip to Chicago with my husband, Steve, and my son Matt, we decided to take a rest stop at the Spring Arbor exit on I-94. I knew that James had lived there, and that his first wife, Harriet, was buried in the Spring Arbor Cemetery. A few miles from the exit we came to a main road (M60), took a right turn, and found the cemetery. We found the oldest section of the cemetery (right next to the road) and started walking up and down the rows of weather-beaten stones. It didn’t take long before we found the headstone of Harriet, “wife of James Gemmell, and daughter of John and Abigail Fitzgerald.” (Spring Arbor Cemetery southwest corner, 4 rows west of the west driveway path.) Recently we revisited Spring Arbor with my brother Mark Gammell and his family and spent a few hours there.

As my research and writing continue, I have been energized by my discoveries. Now I can’t wait to share them with all of you who enjoy my same fascination with Grandfather James Gammell (Gemmell.)