"The Laws Are Like Cobwebs": Popular Resistance to Authority in Mid-Nineteenth Century British North America
Laws, Cobwebs, Popular Resistance, Authority, Mid-Nineteenth Century, British North America
The three men began their work on the morning of 26 January 1850. They were in the snowy street of the village of St.-Grrgoire le Grand, on the St. Lawrence south shore, to assess the population for school taxes. Hardly had they begun when they were confronted by a mob of three hundred angry men who ordered them to stop, tore up and burned their assessment books, and warned them not to attempt to carry out the government's work. A week later, on 2 February, the assessors went to the grand jury of the Court of Queen's Bench at Trois Rivi~res, seeking an accusation for rioting against the ringleaders of the St.- Grgoire resistance. The grand jury refused to act. That night masked men visited the homes of the school commissioners and the assessors. They were hauled from their beds, forced out into the street, and compelled to promise that they would not attempt to enforce the school law at the risk of having their homes and barns burned. Nightly disorders followed, reinforcing the threats with acts of arson. J.-E. Turcotte, a magistrate from Trois Rivi~res, took the initiative against the lawlessness. On 14 February he, a deputy sheriff, and a constable went to St.-Gr~goire to arrest rioters. As soon as they entered the village, the sound of horns rang out and a crowd of two hundred men gathered to drive the officers out of the parish. That night one of the assessors, Norbert B6liveau, watched helplessly as his barn went up in flames. Within twenty-four hours, however, troops were on their way from Sorel. Taking thirty-seven villagers prisoner, they brought a temporary truce in the Lower Canadian school war.
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Michael S. Cross, “"The Laws Are Like Cobwebs": Popular Resistance to Authority in Mid-Nineteenth Century British North America” (1984) 8:3 DLJ 103.