FitzGibbon and Winder: Bully Boys and Officers of Parliament
Carrie Hull is manager of legislative research at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
How many Clerks of the House of Assembly and Legislative Librarians also have “guerrilla fighter” on their resume? Probably only two – celebrated hero of the War of 1812, James FitzGibbon, and the lesser known William Winder. In this article, the author recounts the exploits of Parliament’s Bully Boys.
The book The Medical Profession in Upper Canada, 1783-1850 contains this intriguing passage about William Winder, Librarian for the Parliament of Upper Canada and later the Province of Canada:
It is related that he was a Lieutenant in the 49th Regiment in 1812, and was with the heroic FitzGibbon in the Niagara Peninsula, where he distinguished himself.1
The sombre and proper librarian pictured below appears to have been a soldier alongside James FitzGibbon, who himself served as Clerk of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada and subsequently of the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada. FitzGibbon is famous for his exploits during the War of 1812. Winder’s role, on the other hand, has remained a relative secret.
FitzGibbon, an Irishman in General Isaac Brock’s 49th Regiment of the British army, landed in Quebec in 1802 after his unit was ordered to Canada. FitzGibbon had plans to retire, but the War of 1812 intervened and by 1813, York (now Toronto) had fallen to the Americans and Parliament had been burned to the ground.
FitzGibbon was initially asked to gather intelligence about the enemy in the Niagara Peninsula. One story has it that he disguised himself as a settler to gain admission to the American encampment at Stoney Creek. Based on the information he gleaned about troop numbers, the British conducted a night-time attack leading to the surrender of two brigadier-generals and the capture of 100 prisoners.
FitzGibbon was then given permission to hand-pick 50 men “to be employed in advance of the Army, and with authority to act against the Enemy as he pleased and on his own responsibility solely.”2 Essentially, FitzGibbon created a troop of what we might now call guerrilla fighters, one of whom was his friend William Winder.
FitzGibbon’s fighters quickly gained a reputation as daring and crafty soldiers, tracking the movements of the enemy and earning the nicknames the Bully Boys, the Bloody Boys, and the Green Tigers. One of the men in the unit told the story that their uniforms—all green—were stolen from American soldiers.
The Green Tigers’ most celebrated success was the Battle at Beaver Dams, just outside of St. Catharines. FitzGibbon’s men had successfully cut off American communication between Fort Erie, Fort Niagara, and nearby Fort George. The American unit near Fort George, roughly 500 soldiers, decided to march on Beaver Dams to launch a surprise attack on June 24, 1813.
Unbeknownst to the Americans, Laura Secord overheard soldiers discussing the planned attack, leading her to walk 27 kilometres from Queenston. She was found by a band of Kahnawake (Mohawk) warriors, who took her to FitzGibbon to relay her message. As a result, the Kahnawake were able to ambush the invading Americans. Three hours into the battle, FitzGibbon and his men appeared on horseback and tricked the Americans into believing that they represented a much larger force. The Americans surrendered. FitzGibbon later conceded that the Mohawks had so terrified the enemy that he had simply warned the Americans that they would be slaughtered by these fierce warriors if they failed to show the white flag.
A few weeks later, FitzGibbon ordered Winder and Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Clark to lead a raid on Fort Schlosser in western New York (now Niagara Falls). The men were successful, capturing a gunboat, two bateaux, a cannon, small arms, and supplies.
Following the war, Winder became a medical doctor and FitzGibbon a public servant. In 1836, Dr. Winder was appointed Librarian for the Parliament of Upper Canada, and eventually the Province of Canada, a position he retained until 1856. FitzGibbon became Clerk of Upper Canada’s Lower House in 1827, and Clerk of the Upper House of the Province of Canada in 1841. Throughout, Winder remained FitzGibbon’s friend, as well as his personal physician.
1 William Canniff, The Medical Profession in Upper Canada, 1783-1850 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1894), p. 664.
2 Ruth McKenzie, “FitzGibbon, James,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto, Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 12, 2021.