Royal Canadian Volunteers Flag

This flag is the King’s Colour, Second Battalion, Royal Canadian Volunteers flag which was raised in 1794 and disbanded in 1802. This is the first known flag to reference Canada as a political entity and to use the “Royal” designation in reference to a Canadian military regiment. This is most likely the oldest surviving flag in Canadian History. It is made of silk and is hand painted. There are also some repairs on it which are said to have been battle repairs due to damage possibly made by a musket or another weapon. This item is currently on display at the Nor’westers and Loyalist museum.

In 1794-1796, as tension rose between Canada and the United States, the British decided to form a regiment called the Royal Canadian Volunteers. The RCV were meant to serve exclusively within North America. Within the regiment there were two battalions: the first being a Francophone battalion lead by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph-Dominique-Emmanuel Le Moyne of Longueil, representing Lower Canada; the second being an Anglophone battalion led by Lieutenant-Colonel John MacDonell, representing Upper Canada.

John MacDonell of Aberchalder was born in Scotland to parents Alexander MacDonell and Mary Macdonald. His father helped lead the emigration group on the Pearl in 1773 to New York. Upon their arrival in North America, the family settled on Sir William Johnson’s estate located in the Mohawk Valley. Shortly before the American Revolution, MacDonell had been working in Montreal at an accountant’s office. Once the Revolutionary War began, he made his way back from Montreal and on June 14, 1775, he began his prominent military career with the Royal Highland Emigrants as an ensign and later was promoted to lieutenant. Subsequently, he was transferred to Butler’s Rangers and whilst serving with them, became a captain. When the RCV was formed, MacDonell was chosen to command the Upper Canada battalion on recommendation from Lieutenant Governor Simcoe. Simcoe’s reasoning: MacDonell allegedly had a strong relationship with the Aboriginals at St-Regis, and was believed to have a great deal of influence on them. He was also a leader for the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders which assured that the Highlanders would support and follow him. MacDonell was in command of the 2nd battalion from 1796 to 1802, when it was disbanded. He retired afterwards to the residence he had built near Cornwall, as he enjoyed and preferred to live along the St Lawrence River among the Highlanders. He called this residence the “Glengarry House”. Lord Selkirk states that there was a certain resentment caused by MacDonell naming the house the “Glengarry House” because it implied that he was the leader to the MacDonell clan. After only a few years of retirement, financial insecurity forced him to re-join the military, but this time, he would work as paymaster to the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion stationed at Quebec. MacDonell was already of poor health and the cold Quebec climate likely proved to be too much for him. In November of 1809, he caught a severe cold and passed away just a few weeks later. A few short years after John’s death; the house caught fire and was destroyed during the War of 1812, but not by enemy action. The ruins, however, still remain to present day at what is known as Stone House Point.

In his personal life, John was said to have been a prominent figure in early Glengarry County due to his wealth, family connections, powerful friends, military record, and most likely also due to his personal energy and character traits. He was married to Helen Yates and had three children together, one of whom was Alexander MacDonell: a major who served in the Glengarry militia during the suppression of the 1837-1839 Rebellion.

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Sources:
Dictionary of Glengarry Biography by Royce MacGillivray, 2010
Kings Royal Regiment of New York by Brigadier General Ernest A. Cruikshank, L.L.D., F.R.Hist.S.
http://www.cmhg.gc.ca/cmh/page-356-eng.asp
http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdonell_john_5E.html?revision_id=1740