John Walden Meyers would probably have lived and died in total obscurity had he and his family not been caught up in one of history's great turning points, the American Revolution. Instead he was destined to gain a legendary reputation for his exploits during the war and he would later establish himself as a leader in developing a new society in Canada.
The son of German immigrants, Hans Waltimeyer as he was originally known, was a tenant farmer near Albany, in the British Province of New York, when the war broke out. As the Revolution was also the first American Civil War, Meyers was faced with the agony of choosing sides against many of his neighbours and family. Although there is some question as to his earlier allegiance, Meyers eventually sided with the British and was ever after a most zealous Loyalist. He recruited other loyal colonists for the Provincial Corps of the British Army, earning
himself the rank of Captain. John Meyers served in the infamous Burgoyne Campaign that culminated in the decisive Battle of Saratoga. But John Meyers made his greatest impression as a courier, spy, and guerrilla. He gained a legendary, almost superhuman reputation among both friend and foe. His enemies noted him for "courage and daring rather than brutality or ferocity," - although rebel mothers would threaten their children that Captain Meyers would "eat them" if they did not behave!
Unfortunately for John Meyers and his family, he had chosen the losing side. While King George III lost his colonies, his American supporters lost their land, their homes, their possessions - virtually everything they had. Banished from their former homes, about 4O,OOO Loyalists fled to Britain's remaining North American colonies. Captain Meyers led his family and about 4OO disbanded troops to settle on Missisquoi Bay, at the northern end of Lake Champlain. While this settlement established an English presence in southern Quebec, Meyers himself was forced to move on; the British authorities did not want a man with Meyers' reputation living so close to the new border.
The Meyers family eventually settled on the Bay of Quinte in western Quebec; later Upper Canada. It was here that John Meyers' entrepreneurial spirit came to light. He was a farmer, the area's first miller, a boat builder and shipper, a brick maker, a trader, a brewer, a distiller, and more! He was a Justice of the Peace and first Master of the Masonic lodge. He was instrumental in establishing an agricultural fair, the local parish of the Anglican Church, and the earliest local government in the Province. He was an early emancipator of slaves, he had close relations with the Indians, and he was renowned for his generosity and hospitality. His energy and vision attracted other settlers and industries and soon a fledgling community developed, eventually becoming the City of
Belleville, Ontario. John Meyers was the catalyst for "civilizing" the area; he died a wealthy and respected man, and soon after entered into the folklore of early Canada.
Windswept Productions is currently producing a documentary videotape entitled "Damned Rascal", about the life of this remarkable man. The video's unique portrayal of the "other side" of the American Revolution and the early years of European settlement in Quebec and Ontario will appeal to an audience interested in this turbulent period in Canadian and American history. The video will also find educational use in the study of the United Empire Loyalists, the American Revolution, Upper and Lower Canada, Pioneers, etc..
"Damned Rascal" is a 1 hour program and is composed of two parts; the first dealing with Meyers' life before and during the American Revolution, and the second dealing with his life in Canada. These halves
can be viewed separately to suit time constraints. Damned Rascal is a mix of dramatizations, historic sites, interviews, quotes, and period artwork & documents. The documentary is hosted and narrated by Mr. Roy Bonisteel; a direct descendant of John Meyers. Best known as the long time host of CBC's "Man Alive" series, Mr. Bonisteel brings a wealth of experience and professionalism to this program.
The project is nearly complete. Final editing in High Definition is underway and a suitable means of distribution is being sought.
Why produce a video about this man? John Meyers is not a well known figure in Canadian history, even in the city which he founded. He was not high born, well educated, or cultured. He could be stubborn, obstinate, and selfish. He does not readily fit the traditional image of the "patriotic, true-blue Loyalist"; in fact he was once accused of treason! John Meyers was not a King, a General, or a Prime Minister; he was an ordinary man. But, with due credit to the "Great Captains" of history, it was really ordinary men and women like Meyers, warts and all, who built this country. We today, owe a great deal to these founding fathers and it is for this reason that Windswept Productions has undertaken this project.
In an era when many Canadians wonder what it even means to be "Canadian", it is important to look back and realize that we do indeed have a fascinating history and heritage of our own, literally in our own
backyards. "Damned Rascal" is a case study; just one example of the countless stories that make up the building of this nation. If, in some small way, this video can not only educate and inform, but also generate interest and pride in our collective heritage, then it will have fulfilled its purpose. Noted historian and author, Mrs. Mary Beacock Fryer, one of the biographers interviewed in the video, says it best:
"A nation that ignores its past is in trouble. It's important to remember these founders for what they were, particularly as Canada changes, to know how this became such a desirable place to live in the first place.... We need a few heroes and this man was a hero." Video excerpts:
NEW - “1812 - The Home Front”
“Hans Waltimeyer, Spy”
NEW - a sample of the new version in High Definition “Origins”