Book Reviews

From Bloody Beginnings
Richard Beasley's Upper Canada


The central character of this story, Richard Beasley, was indeed a man of some prominence in the years just before and the decades after the creation of this province. A descendant has cast his ancestor's biography as a personal narrative - a drama with famous players indeed: Richard Cartwright, Major John Butler, Chief Joseph Brant and Isaac Brock as well as Family Compact members John Strachan and John Beverley Robinson along with radicals Robert Gourlay and William Lyon Mackenzie. Readers who enjoy fictionalized scenes with imaginatively created dialogue, all based on extensive research, will welcome this volume and its fresh approach to an important historical period. OHS BULLETIN, December 2008

Keith Simpson says: I love Canadian History; and have read from "Bloody Beginnings". I found it to be meticulously researched, fast paced, well written. It ties together the stories of some of our most compelling and influential Ontario historical forefathers. It reminded me of how brutal and cheap life and liberty is in a time of war (and particularly civil wars and wars of independence). It re-enforced my conviction that the sins of our past are still being re-enacted around our world of today. Congratulations to David Beasley, on a job "well done".

Frank Woodcock says: "Bloody Beginnings" did for me what an education couldn't. I could never quite grasp the Family Compact and its hold on democracy in a young Canada. In this book I travel on familiar roads to familiar places, albeit on foot or horseback, and listen to familiar people tell their own stories and their frustrations with the British Administration. Alongside this drama is the undercurrent of those fleeing the "freedom" of a young America. Choosing sides in the War of 1812 was a complicated affair and one clearly told by Mr. Beasley. With the anniversary of the War of 1812 nearly upon us, I recommend "From bloody Beginnings" as an excellent primer.

The Hudson River Valley Review, Autumn 2010

From Bloody Beginnings: Richard Beasley's Upper Canada, David Richard
Beasley. Simcoe, Canada: Davus Publishing, 2008. (388 pp. 55 illustrations)
From Bloody Beginnings: Richard Beasley's Upper Canada is categorized by its author
as "creative non-fiction," the well-researched and historically accurate, but fictitious,
memoirs of the author's great-great-grandfather. The book focuses on the experiences
of Richard Beasley, originally a resident of Albany, who eventually settled lands north of
Lake Ontario, living through the American Revolution, the War of I8I2, and settlement of
Upper Canada. To that extent, the reader must be aware that Beasley and many other
protagonists depicted were loyal to the British cause, and this book has a vital interest in showing that perspective on the events.
At times perhaps a bit too heavy-handedly, the author describes mass arrests of loyalist
citizens, prisoners suffering in squalid jails, and others subjected to tarring and
feathering. Bearing in mind that these fictionalized events were historical realities, the
book offers a sympathetic perspective on the struggles of the loyalists, and presents the
reader with a challenging new perspective on tumultuous events not common to the
broader, largely Patriot, narrative. Yet within that narrative, this reader wished that the
depiction of the main characters was a bit more complicated. Various main characters
are removed from some of the harsher events of the Revolution, such as the Wyoming
Massacre, by scapegoating the events upon the Native American allies.
One final point of confusion within the book is the perspective of the narrator. It presents a first-person account when relating events directly surrounding Richard Beasley, but in sections not directly involving him, it uses a third-person omnipresent narrator. However, accepting these issues, From Bloody Beginnings does contain a great deal of information about the lives of people in this time and presents it using an uncommon perspective. The author's website includes a list of historic sources cited in researching the book as well as more conventional histories written about Richard Beasley and Upper Canada:

Jason Schaaf, Dutchess Community College

Author recounts experiences in ancestor's life.

When he was boy of 10, David Beasley dreamed of writing a book about the interesting historical experiences of his great-great-great grandfather, Richard Beasley. Several decades later and with 20 books under his belt, the former Hamilton resident has fulfilled his dream. Beasley, now living in Simcoe, recently released From Bloody Beginnings: Richard Beasley's Upper Canada, which he describes as creative non-fiction. "The characters are true and the events are what happened except they're presented in a novelistic style," he said, as he talked about his latest book launched earlier this month at Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington.

The book relates in narrative style the varied experiences of Richard Beasley (1761-1842), a fur trader, soldier, political figure, farmer and businessman in Upper Canada. A United Empire Loyalist, Beasley left New York in 1777 to settle in the Hamilton area, where he remained until his death. Beasley lived during volatile times and the book covers many of the events that impacted his life, including the tenant rebellions in New York State, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. It also tells of Beasley's many accomplishments, such as his stints as a magistrate, organizer of the militia in West York, and leader of the Legislative Assembly.

There are Flamborough references in the book as well. Beasley owned several parcels of land in the area, some in both west and east Flamborough. Before the War of 1812, he provided goods to Tecumseh, the famous leader of the Shawnee who joined British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock to force the surrender of Detroit in August 1812, a major victory for the British.

While doing research for his book, Beasley learned that Tecumseh also lived in Flamborough for a short time after his brother was defeated in the United States at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The native leader lived in the Greensville area, Beasley said. Also, there were accounts that Beasley's two sons went on a hunt for gold in the area north of Beverly Swamp in Flamborough but there were no reports that they ever found any. Beasley feels that local residents, especially those in Burlington and Hamilton, will enjoy reading his book because it presents "a side of history that they don't know much about." Also, for those who carry the Beasley name, it offers a personal and dramatic look at their ancestral history.

Dismissing claims often heard that Canadian history is much less exciting than American, he said, "We haven't exaggerated our history the way that they (the Americans) have." Even so, he insists that there are plenty of interesting events that have shaped Canadian history and many are recounted in his book. Beasley said he has been researching his new book "on and off" since 1960, concentrating more deeply on it for the last two to three years. He is currently working on a historical novel about Burma, set at the beginning of the Second World War when it was invaded by the Japanese.

Beasley was born and schooled in Hamilton, graduating from McMaster University with a bachelor of arts degree in literature and history. He lived in many European countries for close to 40 years, working, studying and writing for several years and also earned a master's degree in library science and a PHD in social economics from the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. His first published novel, a biography entitled The Canadian Don Quixote: the Life and Works of Major John Richardson, Canada's First Novelist, appeared in the 1970s to much acclaim. In 2004, his historical novel, Sarah's Journey, about a slave who escaped from Virginia to Upper Canada in 1820, won the best novel award presented by the Hamilton and Region Arts Council.

A full listing of Beasley's books, which cover genres from detective stories to a political economic history of the automobile, is available online at . Copies of From Bloody Beginnings: Richard Beasley's Upper Canada can be obtained locally at  Bryan Prince Bookseller, Westdale

By Dianne Cornish, Review Staff
Arts & Entertainment, FLAMBOROUGH REVIEW - Oct 17, 2008


Supposing Richard Beasley wrote a memoir and supposing it was recently found . . .

Would you want a great-great- great grandson to take on the job of writing your memoir? Maybe so. Richard Beasley, one of the founders of Hamilton and a key player locally as the 19th century began, fares well in this book of creative non-fiction by his descendant, David Richard Beasley of Simcoe. "Supposing Richard Beasley's aim was to make sense of the historical forces in his lifetime . . . (and to) show that the motives of individuals were as decisive as battles in war in creating a new country and a new culture," the author writes, suggesting the book be thought of as a manuscript Beasley might have penned before his death in 1842 and that it might recently have been found in an old house in Blenheim, Ont., where one of his daughters once lived.

Born in Albany, N.Y. in 1761, Beasley grew up amidst bloodshed as loyalties were sorted out during and after the American Revolution. He became a fur trader and wound up staying in Upper Canada, became a militia organizer during the War of 1812-14, then a politician, magistrate and business person. He was wealthier than most, had some slaves and built a grand home in Hamilton that he later had to give up. Dundurn Castle was built on the foundations of his residence. In this area, he is best known as a land speculator who was vilified by Mennonite settlers in Waterloo Township (also known as Beasley Township then) when they learned they didn'thave clear title to land he sold them -- and never would unless the debt-ridden Beasley could pay off the mortgage he had with Six Nations leader Joseph Brant.

In her 1945 book Grand River, Kitchener librarian Mable Dunham has Mennonite settler Sam Bricker going to Hamilton "to confront Beasley with his dishonesty" and Beasley confessing his guilt. Mennonite leaders in Waterloo subsequently returned to Pennsylvania and gathered funds that let them form the German Company and acquire title to their lands. The Beasley "memoir" includes no confessions of dishonesty, but does describe a visit by Mennonites disturbed by rumours they had been defrauded. Beasley, in turn, tells Brant, who takes out a newspaper ad to dismiss the rumours and vouch for his integrity. Beasley then describes working with the Mennonites to right the situation. "I made trips into Pennsylvania . . . with Mennonite friends to talk to groups of the brethren and explain our predicament."

There's another interesting spin on Mennonite lore when the memoir has Beasley leading the initial Mennonite settlers through the infamous Beverly Swamp to reach the Waterloo Township lands. "This suited the Mennonites, because they looked upon the swamp as a barrier preventing others from trespassing on their Eden," it says.

David Richard Beasley is the author of more than 20 books and pamphlets published by his own Davus Publishing. They range from a novel about the nature of love to travel books, biographies and non-fiction works about modern art. In From Bloody Beginnings, he has done an admirable job of producing his ancestor's memoir. It's a format with obvious pitfalls, but it also allows him to tell many colourful stories and to reflect on the life and times of an interesting Upper Canada figure.

January 10, 2009

Jon Fear - Record copy editor

Richard Beasley

Richard Beasley... For two hundred years, oral history passed through the generations about his land sales to our Mennonite pioneers, makes us to think "sleezy" when we hear "Beasley." Richard Beasley sold land to which he didn't have clear title, land on which there was an unpaid mortgage. That was Block 2, later named Waterloo Township. What was the rest of the story? It was told by Dr. David Beasley, historian and author, and guest speaker at the March 8, 2005 meeting of the Waterloo Historical Society. In the introduction, WHS president, Rych Mills, included helpful background, explaining that, until the mid 1980s, many documents relating to the land sales to the Mennonites had not yet been discovered. Research by local historians and authors, Ken McLaughlin and John English, for their 1983 Illustrated History of Kitchener, by Elizabeth Bloomfield for her 1995 Waterloo Township through Two Centuries and by Geoff Hayes for his 1997 Waterloo County: An Illustrated History resulted in a more accurate accounting of the land purchases of Block 2.

[Another opportunity to learn about Richard Beasley was at the May 6, 2004 meeting of the Pennsylvania

German Folklore Society, Waterloo Chapter, where guest speaker, Len Friesen, told how Beasley has been largely misrepresented and misunderstood. However . . . 200 year old perceptions aren't easily altered (not everyone has read the recent history books [or heard Len Friesen]). 

The Waterloo Historical Society meeting was held at Erb Street Mennonite Church, and Dr. Beasley opened by saying that he had some apprehension that the audience might be aiming peashooters at him! He added that at another talk, one man addressed him with: "Richard Beasley was a crook, wasn't he?"

Dr. Beasley learned about his ancestor while researching for a lecture he gave in 2002. From that, he

wrote the 24-page booklet: Richard Beasley: the Character of the Man and His Times. He talked about the complications of early land development in Upper Canada: surveying, selling and speculation, along with the "political machinations" of that era and how they affected Beasley's transactions.

What I heard March 8 and have read since, confirmed that Richard Beasley was not a one-dimensional,

"sleezy" land speculator. Indeed, so much has been written about this man, who was a prominent and colourful figure in the settlement of Upper Canada, that a synopsis would take several pages. A few examples: Beasley was acting commissary at Fort Niagara in 1777 at age 16 and a fur trader, established before 1785 at Burlington Heights; he spoke Mohawk, Dutch and English. In 1795, as a supplier of goods, he outfitted Von Moll Berczy and his German immigrants in Markham (some of whom moved later to Waterloo County). Beasley held prominent positions in the government of Upper Canada. In 1796 he was appointed magistrate and was elected to the House of Assembly. From 1803 -1804, Beasley was the Speaker of the House, another important position. He "rescued Henrietta Springer from the

Indians," married her, lived in Hamilton, and had a family of eight children. (Henrietta was a relative of

Waterloo Mayor Moses Springer.)

Dundurn Castle is built on the foundation of their home. That's another story! Beasley's tomb inscription states that he was the first settler at the Head-of-the-Lake, as an honor not only to him but to the citizens who were proud of their village becoming a metropolis from the wilderness in which Richard had

found it. More may be written: Dr. Beasley said that he continues to learn so much about his ancestor that he plans another booklet. At the end of his talk on March 8, Susan Hoffman presented Dr. Beasley with a laminated copy of a 1796 deed between Captain Joseph Brant and Richard Beasley. Susan is a

Waterloo Historical Society board member and archivist, and as such was given the original deed, donated by Eldon Weber.

Marion Roes lives in Waterloo, Ontario. She is a board member of the Waterloo Historical Society, and Woolwich Historical Foundation; as well as a member of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario [and PGFS and the Waterloo Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.] Information for this article was taken

from Dr. Beasley's talk, his booklet, and the Dundurn Castle web site. Dr. Beasley's booklet - and his books - may be ordered from 519 426-2077 or the web page: