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Charles Duncombe (Upper Canada Rebellion)

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Subject: Hunters' Lodges, Samuel Lount, Anthony Van Egmond, Peter Matthews (rebel), Patriot War
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Charles Duncombe (Upper Canada Rebellion)

Upper Canada Rebellion
Part of the Rebellions of 1837

Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
Date December 1837
Location Great Lakes Basin
Result Decisive British victory

 United Kingdom

Upper Canada
Supported by:
United States
Reform Movement

Charles Duncombe (28 July 1792 – 1 October 1867) was a leader in the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837 and subsequent Patriot War. He was an active Reform politician in the 1830s, and produced several important legislative reports on banking, lunatic asylums, and education.


  • Early life 1
  • Freemasonry 2
  • Reform politics 3
    • Upper Canada Legislature 3.1
    • Rebellion & Hunters' Lodges 3.2
    • Free Banking 3.3
    • California State Assembly 3.4
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

He was the eldest son of Thomas and Rhoda Tyrill Duncombe, born July 28, 1792 in Stratford, Connecticut. He studied medicine at the college of the One Hundred and One Members of the Medical Society of the City of New York, graduating in 1819. He then settled in Delaware, Upper Canada, and in 1824 he established the first medical school in Upper Canada with Dr John Rolph, in St. Thomas, under the patronage of Colonel Thomas Talbot.


Debates within Upper Canada on the nature of the relationship of the provincial Grand Lodge and the English Grand Lodge paralleled political discussions on the colony's constitution. Those Freemasons who immigrated from the United States favoured an independent Provincial Grand Lodge. Duncombe was a Freemason, serving as first master of the Mount Moriah lodge at Westminster. In 1836, in a move that presaged the Rebellion, he set up a Grand Lodge independent from the British lodges and became its first Grand Master.[1]

Duncombe's Grand Lodge was short-lived, but he soon helped found another during the Patriot War that followed the Rebellion: the Hunters' Lodge. The Hunters' Lodge was patterned on Freemasonry.[2]

His last known Masonic activity was to establish a Masonic lodge in Sacramento in 1852.

Reform politics

Upper Canada Legislature

Duncombe was elected in 1828 to the Legislative Assembly as a representative for Oxford County. He was originally a Reformer in the same vein as Robert Baldwin, but was attracted by William Lyon Mackenzie's more radical reform movement.

In 1836, Duncombe made extensive reports to a parliamentary committee of reformers on prisons, asylums and education based on an extensive tour of American facilities. In his report on prisons, Duncombe argued crime was the result of social injustice, and not just the product of individual error. He argued that government had the responsibility to not merely punish the offender, but to rectify the social conditions that produced the offender. This, he argued, was particularly true for juvenile offenders. He viewed penitentiaries as "schools for criminals" and sought their eradication.[3]

“Doctor Charles Duncombe’s Report upon the Subject of Education, made to the Parliament of Upper Canada, 25th February, 1836.” called for a radical expansion of common school education in the province. He rejected the grammar school model pursued by the Family Compact and argued for practical education; the classics were of limited use in the real world for which education should prepare students. A bill based on Duncombe’s report passed the assembly on 4 April 1836, only to be rejected by the Family Compact dominated Legislative Council. Many of its provisions, however, would be introduced under after the Rebellion including elective school boards, female education, creation of normal schools, prescribed textbooks, and non-sectarian religious instruction.

The 1836 provincial elections were marked by widespread violence by the Orange Order, and claims of voter fraud. The Lt. Governor, Sir Francis Bond Head was in charge of the elections but intervened directly in favour of the Tories in the campaign. The Reformers complained that he issued illegal land patents to new immigrants to entice them to vote for Tory candidates. When the new Tory dominated Assembly refused to hear their petition, Duncombe was charged with presenting it to the British government.[4] He travelled to London, England in the summer of 1836 but was refused an audience by the Colonial Office. Duncombe was all the more disillusioned when his 14-year-old son was killed before his return in November. Like Samuel Lount, his fellow reform Assemblyman and rebellion organizer, he virtually withdrew from public life in 1837.

Rebellion & Hunters' Lodges

In December 1837, Duncombe heard reports of Mackenzie's rebellion in

California Assembly
Preceded by
Four members
California State Assemblyman, 9th District
(with three others)
Succeeded by
Four members
Preceded by
Five members
California State Assemblyman, 16th District
(with four others)
Succeeded by
Five members
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography OnlineBiography at the

External links

  1. ^ Robertson, J. Ross (1899). The History of Freemasonry in Canada Vol. 1. Toronto: Hunter Rose Co. pp. 390–410. 
  2. ^ Kinchen, Oscar A. (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Associates. pp. 35–38. 
  3. ^ Oliver, Peter (1998). "Terror to Evil-Doers": Prisons and Punishments in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. Toronto: The Osgoode Society/University of Toronto Press. pp. 129–33. 
  4. ^ Craig, Gerald M. (1963). Upper Canada: The Formative Years 1784-1841. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. p. 239. 
  5. ^ a b Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Associates. pp. 37–8, 133–5. 
  6. ^ Schrauwers, Albert (2009). Union is Strength: W.L. Mackenzie, the Children of Peace and the Emergence of Joint Stock Democracy in Upper Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 154–5. 
  7. ^ Bonthius, Andrew (2003). "The Patriot War of 1837-1838: Locofocoism with a Gun?". Labour/Le Travail 52: 9–43.  
  8. ^ a b Willis, William (1913). History of Sacramento County. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company. p. 126. 
  9. ^ "Sacramento Historic City Cemetery Burial Index" (PDF). Old City Cemetery Committee. 2005. Retrieved April 6, 2011. 


In 1859, he was elected to the California State Assembly as one of four members from Sacramento County, but was disqualified because it was argued that he gave up his American citizenship when he allowed himself to be elected to a foreign (Canadian) legislature. He became an American citizen and was elected again in 1863 as one of the county's five representatives.[8] He died in Hicksville, California in 1867 after a severe case of sunstroke and buried in the Masonic Section of the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery in Sacramento, California.[9]

After his activity in the Patriot War, Duncombe moved from Cleveland to Rochester, in 1841. He practiced medicine there until he moved to Sacramento County, California in 1849 at the beginning of the California Gold Rush. Although one of the first doctors to arrive in Sacramento, he did not qualify to practice in the state until 1851. He married Lucy Millard of California in 1857. He was elected to the Sacramento city council.[8]

Birds-eye view of Sacramento, ca. 1857

California State Assembly

Duncombe continued to pursue the idea of joint stock banking after the end of the Patriot War, publishing a lengthy book on the subject: Duncombe’s Free Banking: An essay on Banking, Currency, Finance, Exchanges and Political Economy (Cleveland: Sanford & Co., 1841). In it, he argued that a democratic state depended upon Free Banking.

When the Hunters' Lodges held their convention in Cleveland in September 1838, Duncombe presented "An address to the Different Lodges on the Subject of a Joint-Stock Company Bank" in which he proposed financing the Patriot War with a republican bank. The Bank was established for a short period.[5]

Similar issues existed in the United States where the chartered banks were accused of creating a "monied aristocracy" responsible for the financial panic of 1837-8. The Equal Rights Party (the Locofocos) called for the introduction of the Scottish system, called by them "Free Banking". The Patriot War has been described as "Locofocoism with a Gun."[7]

The difference between the English chartered banks and the Scottish joint stock banks is that the Scottish banks were considered partnerships and hence didn't need a legislated Act in order to operate. The joint stock banks thus lacked limited liability, and every partner in the bank was responsible for the bank’s debts to the full extent of their personal property. The chartered banks, in contrast, protected their shareholders with limited liability and hence from major loss; they thus encouraged speculation. The Scottish joint-stock banks followed a "hard money policy." They avoided speculative risk because if they failed, their shareholders were responsible for the full loss. Since the banks did not require a legislated charter, many more banks could be founded, and they were more competitive and freer from political influence and corruption.[6] Following Duncombe's report, the Farmers' Bank and the Bank of the People were founded on a joint stock basis, until the Family Compact conspired to make them illegal in 1838. The Bank of the People funded William Lyon Mackenzie newspaper, The Constitution in 1836.

Until 1835, all banks in Upper Canada required a legislative charter; this left them subject to political corruption and manipulation, as was the case with the largest of them, the Bank of Upper Canada. The Bank of Upper Canada was controlled by the Family Compact and used by them to control the province's money supply and trade. Reformers tried several legislative strategies, including attempts to incorporate credit unions such as the Farmers' Storehouse company. This came to an end in 1835 when Charles Duncombe produced a “Report on Currency” for the Legislative Assembly which demonstrated the legality of the Scottish joint-stock bank system in Upper Canada.

Free Banking

Duncombe remained there for the rest of his life, despite being pardoned in 1843. Joshua Doan was executed in 1839.


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