At Darlington in the year 1825 was held the first Christian Conference, in the Province of Ontario. Several years previously Christian Ministers from the State of New York, took a friendly interest in the religious welfare of this district. Visits had been paid by Elders McIntyre, Church, Goff, Blodjet, and Shaw ; the latter with Elder Baily organized the church at Darlington, and of this church, Elder Thomas Henry became one of twenty-eight members : His close connection with, and his untiring efforts in behalf of, the Christian Church from 1825, till his death in 1879, includes not only the history of the church, but his own biography as well. In 1818, Elder Henry removed from Toronto to Oshawaon-the-Lake, where he became a homesteader on Lot No. 7, Broken Front. He was born Feb. 2nd, 1798, in County Cavan Ireland. With his father, he came to America in 1811, landing in New York, but having as his destiny, Muddy York, Ontario. Shortly after his arrival, the war of 1812-14, broke out between England and the U.S.A. Thomas Henry, then Only 16 years of age, enlisted and served with the British under General Brock. In 1875, when he had reached his 79th birthday, he was rewarded by his country, in the same way as all other survivors of Queenston and Lundy’s Lane, by receiving a gratuity of $20.00 from the Parliament of Canada. In a memoir of Elder Henry, written by his daughter in Law, Mrs. P. A. Henry in 1880, we get an interesting item in regard to the rebellion of 1837.
“The years of the Rebellion will never be forgotten by me. We suffered much on account of our liberal views, and peace principles. I was well acquainted with Vim. Lyon McKenzie ; he was a staunch reformer and a friend to his country. At the commencement of the disturbance he published a paper in Toronto. On account of his liberal views, and some exposures of the Family Compact, he was beset by a mob of their sons, and, I am sorry to say, a son of Archbishop Strachan was among them. They came in the night, broke open his office, and threw his type and press into the lake ; but his friends soon got him another press and more type. This cruel act served to bring him before the public, and he was elected member of Parliament. I supported him from principle. I was well acquainted with Lount and Matthews and stood near when they were executed at Toronto as leaders of the Rebellion. I was a witness for Dr. Hunter when he was tried for treason, and the foreman of the jury, told me afterwards it was my evidence that saved him. Having been at his house on the evening of the fight in Toronto, I was able to clear him from being there. 1 was not only a friend to British law and order, but I had much sympathy for many who unwisely took up arms against it.”
That is what Mr. Henry says of himself, in connection with the Rebellion, but he does not record, and probably at the time it would not have been safe to record, the many deeds of kindness and Christian charity, performed on behalf of those unfortunate men, who upon the suppression of the outbreak became outlaws and outcasts from home. His house was a refuge and safe asylum for them. Being a native of Ireland, and having taken no active part in the disturbance, he was comparatively free from suspicion. His horse, barn, and even cellar, were often occupied by those who dared not be seen abroad ; here they were concealed, fed and comforted, until an opportunity could be found for them to cross the lake, and take refuge on Republican soil. More than once, his sons and his lonely team met the lonely wanderers at appointed places along the shore of the marsh or lake, and brought them to a safe retreat. And again have the same agents conveyed them to out of the way places, where ‘they could embark on some American vessel bound for the “other side.”
Many of these incidents were interesting and some quite exciting. John, the eldest son, a wide awake youth of seventeen, the principal actor on such occasions, was in his element ; had he been older he might, in spite of parental advice, have been among the agitators.
At one time, about a dozen refugees were concealed in a house some three miles from Oshawa Harbor. Somebody gave John to understand that his services were needed in that direction on a particular night. Without his father’s knowledge, he took the team, put all the bells on the horses he could get drove to the place, got the men in the sleigh, drove back through Oshawa about midnight, and had his men on board a schooner before daylight without molestation ; when if he had gone quietly, he would have been suspected, and probably arrested. The schooner was waiting for them in the marsh, that stretches back from the lake at Port Oshawa.
One night after the family had retired, Dr. Hunter, of whom we have spoken, presented himself at Elder Henry’s door. He was cautiously admitted, and soon told his trouble in hurried whispers. Fresh evidence of his disloyalty had been obtained, and the officers of the law were on his track. Elder knew well he could do nothing for him outside of the house without awakening suspicion. He therefore conducted him to the room where his sons were in bed. John took in the situation at once and in an incredibly short time was dressed, and had left the house with the medical man, who dared not remain there an hour. They crossed the fields like two shadows, and were soon lost to sight in the wood skirting the marsh. John was familiar with every nook and tree of that wood, and guided the doctor by a circuitous route to a shanty on the border of the marsh, where an old man lived alone. The doctor was soon disposed of in bed, and as it was some time until daylight, the young man sat down to think. It was the latter part of March, and considerable ice was still in the marsh. A vessel that had wintered there was being prepared for sailing. The captain and owners of the vessel, Jesse Trull, was John’s uncle, and though he dared not make his business known to his uncle, the relationship would furnish him an excuse for being there. He knew his uncle to be favorably disposed to his cause, yet he felt that he would not risk concealing a refugee on his vessel, which would be thereby subject to confiscation. But the mate, an eccentric man called Billy Barrow, he knew he could depend on for assistance. When daylight came, John went down to the boat, but there a new danger presented itself. Sergeant Martin, a government officer, had been stationed there on purpose to keep refugees from going on board. With a quickness of perception and promptness of action, remarkable in one of his age, the youth took of his coat and went to work with the men, who were clearing away the ice from around the boat. He was soon accosted by Sergeant Martin, who demanded what he was doing there.
“Helping my uncle get his boat off !” was the ready answer.
He worked all day, took his meals with the crew on board, and at night went to the cabin with Billy Barrow. Mr. Trull did not stay on board at night so the two had the cabin to themselves. They had little chance of communication during the day, but they now talked the matter over in whispers, and laid their plans for Hunter’s escape. When all others were asleep, John stole away to the shanty, carrying supplies to another morning, another challenge from Sergeant Martin, and another day’s work for John. They had hoped to get the boat ready to sail that day, but night came, and it was evident the programme of the last two days was to be repeated.
That night, when John went to carry supplies to his man, he went farther ; and before his return a little red skiff was snugly concealed behind a point nearly a half-mile west from the harbor. The third day drew to a close, and the schooner was free from the ice, and floated out into open water ready to sail in the morning, as soon as she could obtain a “clearance.”
Between 12 and 1 o’clock that night, two figures instead of one emerged from the shanty, and proceeded cautiously towards the point where the red skiff was concealed. It was a wild, dark night, but the young man’s accustomed feet led the way, and the doctor followed with nervous tread. They reached their ‘destination safely, and found the skiff where he had left it. They looked out over the water, and for a moment stood silent, almost irresolute. It was a fearful venture. The wind was blowing almost a gale, breaking the water into yeasty waves, mixed with fragments of floating ice. The case was urgent. The dauntless young man launched his boat among the seething waves, and ordered the doctor to lie flat in the bottom; for the boat was barely safe for two on calm waters, and he knew that with his unaccustomed companion erect in it, they would surely be swamped. The gentleman at first demurred at this arrangement, but being bluntly informed that he must obey orders or he would be left to look after himself, submitted; and the frail craft was soon tossing among the breakers. Clouds of inky blackness enveloped the sky, and entirely hid the schooner from their view, but the intrepid oarsman held on his way steering half by guess, until a fiercer gust of wind made a rift in the clouds, and gave him a glimpse of the masts of the vessel, towards which he steered. As they passed the outlet of the marsh, cakes of ice were floating seaward, and a large piece came in contact with the little skiff, threatening to capsize it. The doctor made a move to rise but an assurance from John, that a blow from his oar would quiet him if he did not keep quiet, caused him to lie still, until they drew up on the leeward side of the vessel, and the little red skiff was made fast to a rope, which John knew would be hanging in a convenient place near the stern of the boat. Shortly after this, two dark figures might have been seen climbing into the schooner, if any one had been there to see them. As it was, only the wind and waves were around them, and the dark clouds above. They stood on the stern deck, and a dark hole, just about large enough to admit a man’s body, was before them. This led down into a small dark place only a few feet square, where odds and ends which it was desirable to have out of sight, were usually thrown. Billy Barrow had prepared this place for their passenger. John taking his hand helped him lower himself into his snug quarters, and then putting on the “hatch,” was soon after in the berth with the mate, to whom he dared to communicate his success only by a nudge, which was answered in the same way. After waiting until certain that no one had been disturbed Billy Barrow crept softly on deck, and proceeded to put large bolts into the corners of the “hatch,” in holes previously bored for them ; to give it an appearance of great security. Then he closed the cracks with oakum and pitch, having previously prepared a place for ventilation from the freight room.
In the morning all was activity on board the boat. About nine o’clock, John Trull, Militia Captain, and brother to the boat owner, came on board to search the vessel. The duty was strictly performed, but as no contraband goods or men were found, the captain got his “clearance ;” landsmen, came ashore, the schooner weighed anchor, and sailed away with Dr. Hunter towards the “other side.” We know nothing more of his adventure, than that he reached the Republic in safety.