This Place in History: Fenian Raids

Vermont Historical Society

SHELDON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Sheldon, alongside Route 105 with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“Our topic is the Fenian Raids of Canada. There were two raids. One in 1866 and one in 1870, but it goes back to the 1850s. You started to see a lot of tension between Great Britain and Ireland. You have a huge group of immigrants living in the United States who are yearning for a free Irish homeland,” began Perkins.

“Now, the American Civil War comes around and a lot of these folks are organized into military units based on ethnicity. So, you get Irish brigades. There was even an Irish company out of Burlington. They got to be together, talk about independence for Ireland, even though they are American citizens, but also learn how to fight. So, these are all ex-Civil War soldiers.”

“They come up with this grand plan that they will invade Canada, which was part of Great Britain at the time. And, hopefully, by doing that, it will help convince Great Britain that they need to let Ireland be a free and independent republic,” continued Perkins.

“In 1866, they did invade Canada and there was one pretty famous battle over from New York into what’s now Ontario. And the Fenians won that initial battle, but then more British troops came in and they ended up retreating. Also in 1866, you had some troops which had come through Vermont to go into the Eastern Townships. They would take the train to St. Albans and then muster there, then take the train on the Missisquoi Valley Railroad here to the Sheldon Depot, and then march due north.”

“In 1866, they were there for a little over a week, yucking it up, destroying property, eating whatever they could find and generally making life not grand for the residents of the Eastern Townships. That was until troops came over from Montreal and kicked them out.”

“In 1870, they decided we’re going to invade again. Now at this point, the Eastern Townships have created a home guard of well-trained volunteers to repel any attack and that’s what happened. The Canadians set up on what’s called Eccles Hill, that has a great view of the United States. They set up there with sharpshooters and they waited for the Fenians to line up and cross the border. They let loose a volley and one Fenian dies, a second one died. Everyone else turns around and books it out of there. They go running back,” said Perkins.

“This musket right here was used by the Fenians. It’s surplus Civil War and it was dropped in Franklin as they were retreating. It was retrieved and placed in the Vermont Historical Society. It happened right here. We’re standing on the side of Route 105, a major transportation route back and forth to Canada, which is why they came this direction. A little mini-war between the Irish Republican Army and British forces,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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