BEAMER (Beemer, Bemer), JACOB R., carpenter, innkeeper, and Patriot; b. c. 1810 in Norfolk County, Upper Canada, son of Mary and Joseph Beamer; m. Mary-,and they had two children; fl. 1837–47.
Jacob R. Beamer’s father came to Upper Canada from New Jersey in 1796 and was granted land in Townsend Township, Norfolk County. Here Jacob grew up, part of a large family. He became a carpenter and later, when he and his father opened a tavern at Scotland in Oakland Township, an innkeeper.
In December 1837 Beamer, who was a reformer, heard a report that the reform leader William Lyon Mackenzie* had captured Toronto and that the authorities intended arresting Charles Duncombe* and Eliakim Malcolm*, two prominent local reformers. These two determined on rebellion, and Malcolm held a meeting at the Beamers’ tavern on 7 December to muster recruits. Jacob’s father and his brother David supported the rebel cause, as did Jacob, who drilled and collected arms. Yet Toronto had not fallen; indeed government supporters under Allan Napier MacNab* were about to fall upon Duncombe’s and Malcolm’s motley army. Learning of this development on 13 December, the insurgents retreated and fled; Jacob surrendered at Simcoe. Though the authorities released him, they sent his father to the Hamilton jail. Later, when Jacob discovered that he was to be indicted, he absconded to Niagara Falls in New York State. There he continued working for the rebel cause.
In June 1838, under James Morreau, he captained a company in the “Canada Volunteer Army” of “the Patriot Service.” Twenty-nine men of that “army” crossed the Niagara River into Upper Canada on 11 June, to take “arms and ammunition to the Short Hills” and to bring “independence to Canada.” They soon realized that they had been misled; the Niagara area was not ripe for rebellion. Morreau wanted to turn back, but Beamer and others “determined to persevere.” Consequently, on the night of 20 June the raiders descended on the village of St Johns (St Johns West). Beamer and his company plundered a few houses before the raiders, reinforced by some locals, attacked an inn housing a small contingent of the Queen’s Lancers. They took the lancers prisoner, only to release them, much to Beamer’s chagrin. He wanted them killed.
The raiders then scattered, but most were soon taken. Beamer was captured at St Thomas and sent to Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) via London. By 17 August, the date of Beamer’s trial, Morreau had already been executed. Jacob’s father and two raiders, Stephen Hart and Edward Seymour, made desperate but unsuccessful attempts on the witness stand to win him acquittal. Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur* thought his case an aggravated one, and was therefore angered when the governor-in-chief, Lord Durham [Lambton], intervened to have him saved from the scaffold and transported with others to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for life.
Beamer and various state prisoners were sent first to England, arriving in December 1838, and then to Van Diemen’s Land, which Beamer reached in January 1840. He had now acquired bitter enemies among his fellow Short Hills prisoners. By early 1842 three of them – Samuel Chandler*, James Gammill (Gemmell, Gamble), and Benjamin Wait* – had escaped. On 28 June 1842 in the New York Daily Plebeian Gammill recorded for the public’s disgust that Beamer had become a constable, and in his Letters from Van Dieman’s Land, published in the United States in 1843, Wait claimed that Beamer, hoping for a reprieve, had consistently betrayed his comrades. Linus Wilson Miller* seconded Wait’s accusation after his pardon in 1844. In Notes of an exile to Van Dieman’s Land (1846) he even charged that Beamer had committed treachery as early as 1838 by revealing to the authorities a plot to rescue state prisoners from the Hamilton jail. When he had left the penal colony for the United States in 1845, Miller added, Beamer was sunk in depravity, his situation hopeless. Just before leaving Van Diemen’s Land in early March 1847, another freed prisoner, Elijah Crocker Woodman, noted that Beamer was still “in bondage.”
Beamer’s eventual fate is a mystery. Perhaps he was the Jacob Bremmer sentenced in Melbourne in July 1851 to two years’ hard labour for forgery, or the Jacob Beemer living in Melbourne in 1856–57. Perhaps he left Australia, perhaps not. Conceivably he returned to Upper Canada. In any case many, erstwhile comrades included, remembered him as a “traitor.”
[The author is grateful for information provided by the staff of the ADB. c.r.]
PAC, MG 24, I26, 65; RG 5, A1: esp. 104502–11, 106180–85, 108705–12, 110429–51, 110820–21, 111392–433, 111583–86, 111977–2007,112222–36,112458–88, 114649–51. PRO, CO 42/450 (mfm. at AO). L. W. Miller, Notes of an exile to Van Dieman’s Land: comprising incidents of the Canadian rebellion in 1838, trial of the author in Canada, and subsequent appearance before her majesty’s Court of Queen’s Bench, in London, imprisonment in England, and transportation to Van Dieman’s Land . . . (Fredonia, N.Y., 1846; repr. East Ardsley, Eng., 1968). Benjamin Wait, Letters from Van Dieman’s Land, written during four years imprisonment for political offences committed in Upper Canada (Buffalo, N.Y., 1843). Guillet, Lives and times of Patriots. C. [F.] Read, Rising in western U.C.; “The Short Hills raid of June, 1838, and its aftermath,” OH, 68 (1976): 93–115.