The Fenian Raids
(1866 and 1870)

History Page | Events | Firsts | People | Be Part of History

Web Virtual Vermont
Recreation - Bridges - Lodging - Shopping - Dining



Virtual Vermont Internet Services
What can we do for you?

October 14, 2013

The potato famine of the 1840s had decimated Ireland's population and England had offered little help. Thousands of Irish families migrated to North America in search of a better life; between 1847 and 1861, over two million Irish crossed the Atlantic.

Many Irish, both in America and in Ireland, were understandably bitter towards England, and sought independence for Ireland.

In the 1860s, Ireland was still under English rule and most of its people lived in severe poverty. A radical group known as the Fenian Brotherhood was formed, their aim was take Canada hostage and force England to grant independence to Ireland. In 1866, the Fenians launched a series of raids on Canadian territory.

A guerrilla force of several hundred Fenians (perhaps as many as 3,500) under the command of "General" Samuel Spear poured off special trains from Boston into St. Albans, determined to liberate Canada from the British and establish an Irish Free State. On June 6, after camping out on the village green, they headed northeast until they crossed into Frelighsburg, Quebec at Franklin. When they were about six miles over the border, they planted a a bright green flag.

A small Canadian force had seen them coming, but wisely retreated. Meeting no soldiers, the Fenians busied themselves stealing chickens, pigs and liquor from farms in the area. A veritable armed mob, they plundered nearby St. Armand and Frelighsburg ("Slab City"), and, it was said, "insulted and abused" the local population.

On hearing that Canadian reinforcements were approaching, the Fenians began a disorganized retreat to the U.S. The last 200 or so stragglers were charged by a volunteer cavalry troop which captured sixteen prisoners.

Canada declared martial law; President Johnson ordered the munitions and supplies left in St. Albans seized under the Neutrality Act of 1818, and the Fenians found their campground occupied by U.S. troops. Defeated without so much as a single shot fired, the Irishmen were escorted to the depot and shipped back to Boston while locals were entertained by an Army band concert.

Another raid occurred in 1870 at Eccles Hill (not far from Pigeon Hill), when 400 Fenians under the command of "General" John O'Neill (President of the Fenian Brotherhood) were repulsed by a much smaller group of Canadian home-guard and militiamen who were waiting there to meet them. Two Fenians were killed and nine were injured. No Canadians were hurt or killed. O'Neill's words to his troops were, "Men of Ireland, I am ashamed of you."