Dunham’s Red Sashes: A “home” guard confronts the IRA
The creation of The Red Sashes was a defiant reaction against the British authorities in the aftermath of the first Irish invasion by the IRA (Irish Republican Army), from June 7-10, 1866. After seeing their own homes pillaged and ransacked by the Irish Fenians, Asa Westover and Andrew Ten Eyck were the main initiators in the creation of a “home guard” in the village of Dunham. From 1796 Township of Dunham first generation Loyalists of Dutch extraction, the Westovers, Ten Eycks, Pells, Ruiters and Rickarts adopted a distinctive symbol of recognition, a red sash which they wore across their right shoulder and attached under their left arm. This was the inception of the “The Red Sashes” in Dunham in Missisquoi County, as of June 12, 1868.
After a false alarm in April, 1870, it was May 24, 1870 that the new Fenian raid prepared to cross the border a second time, on Eccles Hill Road in Frelighsburg. On the morning of May 25, 1870, 37 Red Sashes and 21 volunteer soldiers from the 60th Missisquoi Battalion in Dunham, hid out at Eccles Hill to await the Fenians. They were the first Canadians to be ready for battle on the road from St. Albans (Vermont). Around 11:30, the first wave of Fenian soldiers arrived from Vermont. The Canadians were hunkered in their ambush position and their intense shooting led to confusion and death among the Fenians, who were victims of a “hail of bullets” almost immediately as they crossed the border. Fenian soldier John Rowe was the only Irish soldier killed on the Canadian side of the border.
Maintaining their position, high on Eccles Hill, the volunteers of the 60th Missisquoi Battalion and The Red Sashes kept up the pressure on the Fenians. Around 2 p.m., the Dunham defenders were supported by the arrival of Colonel Osborne-Smith and reinforcements from Montreal, the cavalry unit of Captain Muir, the British infantry of the Victoria Rifles. Later in the afternoon, two companies from the Shefford 52nd Battalion arrived at Eccles Hill, which swayed the balance of military forces in the Canadian’s favour. The Irish retreated toward St. Albans, leaving many dead and injured in this May 25, 1870 Battle of Eccles Hill.
On May 30, 1870, Prince Arthur, Queen Victoria’s youngster son, traveled to the battlefield, accompanied by many officers and aides-de-camp. Sir James Lindsay, the Lieutenant-General of Her Majesty’s armed forces in Canada, spoke to the Canadian volunteers and Red Sashes at a brief ceremony at the soldiers’ camp-site. In the presence of high-ranking British military authorities and His Royal Majesty, Prince Arthur, Asa Westover and the volunteers of the 60th Missisquoi Battalion received the honours of the British Empire from Lieutenant-General Lindsay. “As the Lieutenant-General in command of Her Majesty’s forces in Canada, I thank you (…) I also represent the Queen and the Governor-General, who represents the Queen, and in their name, I also thank you. I have also the very great satisfaction of being accompanied by His Royal Highness, Prince Arthur, who is also on service in Canada with his regiment, The Queen’s Rifle Brigade, and who is now on the staff of Colonel Lord Alexander Russell. I thank you in the name of the Queen, the Governor-General and Prince Arthur and, with you, the whole Militia of Canada.”
For more details about the Red Sashes, read the book “Les Féniens arrivent… Histoire illustrée d’une invasion irlandaise à l’origine de la Confédération (1866-1870)” (The Fenians are coming…the Illustrated History of an Irish invasion at the birth of Confederation) published in 2016 by Éditions Histoire Québec or go to the Missisquoi Museum to tour the exhibition dedicated to the Fenian raids.