WESTBROOK, ANDREW, businessman and office holder; b. 1771 in Massachusetts, son of Anthony Westbrook and Sarah Decker; m. four times, to Sally Hull, Nancy Thorn, Margaret Ann Crawford, and a woman whose name has not been determined; he had at least 14 children; d. 1835 in St Clair County, Mich.
Shortly before the American Revolutionary War, Anthony Westbrook moved with his family from the Minisink (Port Jervis) region of New York state to Massachusetts. During the war Anthony, alone of his family, took the loyalist side. He fought under Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea*] and for this service received two tracts of land along the La Tranche (Thames) River in Upper Canada. Although the story is confusing, it appears that Anthony brought his family to Upper Canada at the close of the war and settled, not on his lands along the La Tranche, but on the banks of the Grand River. Andrew inherited his father’s land by the Thames, and he seems to have moved there after Ebenezer Allan* established the Delaware settlement in 1794. Adding to this land through government grants and business arrangements, Andrew owned more than 4,000 acres at the outbreak of the War of 1812. On a tract in Delaware Township he had built a comfortable house as well as a distillery, barn, storehouse, sawmill, and grist-mill. His status in the community was reflected in his appointment as township constable in 1805.
Westbrook’s life in Upper Canada was not without its problems, however. As a merchant he suffered from the commercial depression which began with a severe fall in prices in 1810. As a land speculator, he quarrelled with the government’s restrictive immigration policy, and, in particular, with the despotic powers wielded by the government’s chief representative in the area, Colonel Thomas Talbot*. It is likely that the frustrations Westbrook encountered were the determining factors in his decision to change sides during the War of 1812. In mid July 1812 an American army under Brigadier-General William Hull crossed the Detroit River into Upper Canada. Daniel Springer of Delaware, who had been appointed a magistrate by Talbot, reported to Major-General Isaac Brock* that Westbrook had helped circulate Hull’s proclamation urging the local inhabitants to surrender. Springer also noted that Ebenezer Allan and Simon Zelotes Watson, two of Westbrook’s friends and, like him, enemies of Talbot, were actively supporting the American cause.
Disaffection was rife in the southwestern part of the province and, in the atmosphere of alarm felt by the civil and military authorities, dissidents were easily suspected and arbitrarily imprisoned. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether Westbrook distributed Hull’s proclamation or was just suspected of doing so. However, he certainly helped draw up a petition to Hull in which the signatories promised not to resist the invaders if their properties were spared. He met with Hull at Fort Detroit in early August and returned to Delaware to spy for the Americans. Captured by the militia in October, he escaped to join the American forces under Lieutenant-Colonel George Croghan as a spy. After the defeat of the British at the battle of Moraviantown in October 1813, he served as a guide to parties of Michigan Rangers who raided the vulnerable settlements along the Thames River and Lake Erie.
Powerfully built, 6 feet 2 inches tall, and red-haired, Westbrook struck terror into the hearts of Canadian settlers in 1814 when only the militia was available to defend them against marauders. On 31 Jan. 1814 Westbrook’s band raided Delaware and captured officers and men of the Middlesex County militia, including Daniel Springer and Colonel François Baby*. Westbrook then burned his own house, buildings, and corn and guided his family to the American border. On another raid in the spring of 1814, this time on the village of Oxford (Oxford Centre), Westbrook captured an old rival, Sikes Tousley. He took Tousley from his bed at gunpoint and led him to the American lines, although not before Tousley had bayoneted him in the thigh in an unguarded moment.
The raids on Port Talbot were particularly damaging. On 16 August Westbrook just missed seizing Colonel Talbot, who escaped through a back window of his home. His practice of carrying off high-ranking officers made trouble for his Upper Canadian pursuers who, on one occasion, mistakenly shot a prisoner mounted on Westbrook’s horse. He destroyed mills and plunged the areas he burned and pillaged into great hardship.
In 1815 Westbrook purchased a farm and lands on the St Clair River above Marine City in St Clair County, Mich. Governor Lewis Cass appointed him the first supervisor of highways in 1817 and one of the first three county commissioners in 1821. In 1828 the American Congress, in recognition of his war services, granted him two tracts of land, the larger being in Clay Township, Mich. A good description of Westbrook during his years in Michigan is provided by one American government official who wrote: “He has a quick-moving, and intelligent eye. . . . He has no education, yet he talks well, and is precise, and graphic in his descriptions . . . . If he once resolves upon the accomplishment of any object, he is sure to realize it. The means are mere materials to be judged of by his conceptions of Right; and these are generally made to obey the impulses of the moment, come from what quarter, or involve what consequences they may.”
In Upper Canada, Westbrook had been indicted for treason at Ancaster in May 1814. The Court of Quarter Sessions of the Niagara District declared him an outlaw in 1816. A crown commission of Thomas Talbot and Robert Nichol, charged to look into the extent of Westbrook’s lands in the province, determined that he owned about 4,040 acres. Petitions to buy the land came in from former neighbours. In 1823 a sale of Westbrook’s “land, premises and appurtenances” in Delaware Township was made to Daniel Springer.
Westbrook is the hero of John Richardson*’s novel Westbrook, the outlaw; or, the avenging wolf. Richardson skilfully draws a connection between Westbrook’s status as a “yeoman” – a term that is used in the 1823 registration of sale of his lands – and the fictional character’s resentment of government favours shown to Captain Stringer, a member of the landed gentry. In Michigan, the real Westbrook found no hindrance to his progress, social as well as material. He liked to be referred to as Baron Steuben, a role that he played with “certain amiable eccentricities.”
AO, MU 1368; MU 2389, file 29. Middlesex West Land Registry Office (Glencoe, Ont.), Deeds, liber B: f.542; Delaware, Ekfrid, and Metcalfe townships, patents, 1797–1870 (mfm. at AO). MTL, W. D. Powell papers, B85: 70–71. PAC, RG 1, L3, 522: W2/14. Wentworth Land Registry Office (Hamilton, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Ancaster Township (mfm. at AO). Documents relating to the invasion of Canada and the surrender of Detroit, 1812, ed. E. A. Cruikshank (Ottawa, 1912). John Askin papers (Quaife), 2: 713. T. L. McKenney, Sketches of a tour to the lakes, of the character and customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of the incidents connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac (Baltimore, Md., 1827; repr. Minneapolis, Minn., 1959). “Minutes of the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the London District . . . ,” AO Report, 1933: 23, 31, 74, 85–86. John Richardson, Westbrook, the outlaw; or, the avenging wolf (New York, 1853; repr. with preface by D. R. Beasley, Montreal, 1973). Select British docs. of War of 1812 (Wood), vols.1–2. U.S., House of Representatives report 58, Committee on private land claims, 19th Congress, 2nd session, 26 Jan. 1827; report 20, 20th Congress, 1st session, 19 Dec. 1827.
Ancaster’s heritage: a history of Ancaster Township (Ancaster, Ont., 1973). D. R. Beasley, The Canadian Don Quixote: the life and works of Major John Richardson, Canada’s first novelist (Erin, Ont., 1977). The defended border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812 . . . , ed. Morris Zaslow and W. B. Turner (Toronto, 1964). C. O. [Z.] Ermatinger, The Talbot regime; or the first half century of the Talbot settlement (St Thomas, Ont., 1904). F. C. Hamil, The valley of the lower Thames, 1640 to 1850 (Toronto, 1951; repr. Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1973). Hitsman, Incredible War of 1812. W. L. Jenks, St. Clair County, Michigan, its history and its people; a narrative account of its historical progress and its principal interests (2v., Chicago and New York, 1912). D. M. Mitts, That noble country; the romance of the St. Clair River region (Philadelphia, 1968), 217–20. Westbrook-Gage miscellany: a souvenir of the Westbrook-Gage reunion, Stoney Creek, Ontario, July 1, 1909 ([Thamesville, Ont.], 1911), 5. M. E. Cropp, “A history of Beachville,” Western Ontario Hist. Nuggets (London), 14 (1949). E. A. Cruikshank, “The early history of the London District,” OH, 24 (1927): 199–201; “General Hull’s invasion of Canada in 1812” and “A study of disaffection in Upper Canada in 1812–15,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 1 (1907), sect.ii: 211–90, and 6 (1912), sect.ii: 11–65. J. K. Elliott, “Crime and punishment in early Upper Canada,” OH, 27 (1931): 335–40. Carl Wittke, “Canadian refugees in the American revolution,” CHR, 3 (1922): 333.