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DOAN (Done), JOSHUA GWILLEN (Gillam), farmer, tanner, and Patriot; b. 1811 in Sugar Loaf, Upper Canada, youngest son of Jonathan Doan; m. 29 Sept. 1836 Fanny Milard in St Thomas, and they had one son; executed 6 Feb. 1839 in London, Upper Canada.

Before the War of 1812 Jonathan Doan and his family emigrated from Pennsylvania to the Niagara District, where Joshua Gwillen was born. In 1813 the Doans moved to Yarmouth Township, near the future site of Sparta. Jonathan, an agent for the Baby family’s lands in the township, settled a number of Pennsylvania residents on them. He became a “respectable farmer” as well as a miller and a tanner. A prominent Quaker, he had the local meeting-house on his farm.

Joshua also took up farming; then, when his brother Joel P. opened a new tannery in 1832, he joined the enterprise. In 1836 he married; the next year the young couple had a son. All in all, Joshua was very much a part of his community and that community was heavily reform, or “Republican,” as an unfriendly source had it, in politics. He played his part in the reform agitation of the fall of 1837, attending at least one meeting designed to further the creation of the political unions advocated by William Lyon Mackenzie*.

In November and early December Mackenzie hurriedly organized a revolt at Toronto, and, though the uprising was quickly crushed, report had it otherwise. In the west Charles Duncombe*, reform mla for Oxford County, decided to capitalize on the situation supposedly created by Mackenzie and to forestall reprisals on local reformers by mustering a second rebel force near Brantford. His call for men reached Yarmouth. At a recruiting meeting in Sparta on 9 December Joshua and Joel Doan “were very forward,” and Joshua was elected lieutenant of those raised. In the next few days he joined Streetsville resident Martin Switzer* and others in persuading men to enlist and to round up arms. He also gathered ammunition, which he distributed to the approximately 50 rebels under David Anderson who set out for Scotland, near Brantford, on the 12th. Brother Joel supplied the provision wagons. Shortly after the arrival of the party at Scotland, Duncombe’s forces scattered as loyalists under Allan Napier MacNab* poured in upon them. Joshua succeeded in reaching the United States, despite a government reward of £100 for his capture. Both he and Joel, who had also escaped, were indicted for their parts in the rebellion, and both were exempted from the partial amnesty issued in October 1838.

In the United States Joshua became involved with the Patriots, those Upper Canadian refugees and their American sympathizers who hoped to produce by invasion what Mackenzie and Duncombe had failed to achieve by revolt. He was at Detroit in December 1838 with the group that planned to cross over to Windsor. He and others were told that 600 residents of the Windsor area intended joining them and that settlers about London were already in revolt. Led by “generals” L. V. Bierce and William Putnam, the Patriots launched their raid on 4 December, burning the steamer Thames and killing a handful of inhabitants. (Later, some eyewitnesses insisted Doan had been implicated in at least one death, a charge he rejected.)

When the Patriots were finally dispersed by Colonel John Prince*, 25 of the invaders had lost their lives, and a number, including Doan, their freedom. Forty-four of the latter were taken to London for trial before a court martial under Henry Sherwood*. Doan was tried for treason in early January, and, though he protested his innocence, was found guilty and sentenced to death. Vainly, he petitioned Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur* for mercy, claiming that two witnesses had perjured themselves, and that he had been obliged to join the Patriots and had fled them at the earliest opportunity. Later, he admitted his involvement in the raid and issued a statement intended to dissuade others from invading the colony. He enjoined his wife to “think as little of my unhappy fate as you can” and bade her “meet that coming event with . . . Christian grace and fortitude.”

On 6 February he and Amos Perley, another of the six raiders whose sentences were not commuted, mounted the scaffold and, according to a newspaper account, sprang “into eternity, without a struggle.” Both were taken to the Quakers’ burying-ground in Sparta. Joshua left a widow, eventually married by brother Joel, and a reputation as “a brave, true-hearted man.”

Colin Read

PAC, RG 5, A1: esp. 100012–14, 118327–31; B36, 1–2; B37, trial of J. G. Doan. Trinity Church (Anglican) (St Thomas, Ont.), Reg. of marriages, 29 Sept. 1836. Rebellion of 1837 (Read and Stagg). StCatharines Journal, 4 Jan. 1838, 14 Feb. 1839. Guillet, Lives and times of Patriots. Read, Rising in western U.C.

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Cite This Article

Colin Read, “DOAN, JOSHUA GWILLEN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/doan_joshua_gwillen_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/doan_joshua_gwillen_7E.html
Author of Article:   Colin Read
Title of Article:   DOAN, JOSHUA GWILLEN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   September 29, 2023