View all Stories

William Tweedie Shoots the Bury’s Green Postmaster

May 22, 2024

Downtown Bury's Green Showing the former William Tweedie Farm

In the nineteenth century Kawarthas, ill-will between Protestants and Catholics, or English and Irish was fairly common. On July 12th, many Protestants gathered to celebrate the victory of William of Orange over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), creating the Protestant Ascendancy in both Great Britain and Ireland. Though sectarian violence was never as bad in Canada as it had been in Ireland, there were tense moments. For instance, when the Catholic Mayor of Lindsay had a fist fight with the Protestant Member of Parliament, the community was abuzz analyzing the scrap—much as today millions of spectators talk to their friends about what the enforcers did on Hockey Night in Canada. The religious-cultural divisions of Europe were at times imported to Canada, as some Scottish Highlanders, Irish-Catholics, or Anglicans had a tendency to stick together. In most families before the mid twentieth century, it was a big deal for a Protestant to marry a Catholic. Yet, then as now, many individuals were much more open-minded and tolerant than others.

Back then, life was much more local than it was now. Whereas today, many people share their points of view (or attack their foes) online through social media, most people spent the overwhelming majority of their time at home and with their immediate neighbours. To the extent that people took out their anger on others, it was probably on those closest to them. At Bury’s Green (located roughly in the centre of Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon and Burnt River), there was such “an animosity” brewing between Englishmen Thomas Billett and William Tweedie (also spelled Tweedy) towards the Irish postmaster Robert Ellis.

Public standards for policing were much laxer in that era, and there were not the same protections that there are today for harassment. At first glance, many people today might look back say it was the ‘Wild West.’ On several occasions in the 1870s, Billett and Tweedie attempted to drive Ellis out of his home. To help defend himself, Ellis bought a guard dog. Then at 11 pm on August 11, 1876, Tweedie and Billet arrived armed at Ellis’ home, whose dog started to bark. When Ellis opened the door to see what was happening, he was hit with several pieces of slug in the in the leg, apparently from a single discharge.

Now that things had gotten to the point where someone had actually been shot, rather than just harassed and threatened, it was appropriate for the Justice of the Peace to act. John Fell lived in the neighbourhood and based on Ellis’ testimony, arrested the two culprits. Billet claimed that he had slept at Tweedie’s on the night in question, with Tweedie, his son, adopted son and sister. Based on the testimony of the male witnesses, Fell released the suspects.

It did not take long, before it became known in the neighbourhood that the alibi was “a got up game to get out of difficulty.” Tweedie’s sister let it be known that she had not been at her brother’s home that night, prompting Fell to again arrest the suspects, taking them to the JPs in Fenelon Falls, Kennedy, Naylor and Lockhart, who conducted a fresh examination.

Billet admitted that his testimony during the first investigation was false “and proposed to make a clean breast of the matter.” This time, he claimed that he went to Ellis’ for the purpose of shooting the victim’s dog, if it came at him. The dog did come out and bark, and when he shot at it, some of the shot struck Ellis. Tweedie’s sister testified that Tweedie and Billet came to her house and told her that if they were arrested for shooting Ellis, that she was to swear that she had been at Tweedie’s house that night and knew them to be in bed—though she had not been there at all. The magistrates committed the prisoners to Lindsay to stand trial.

When the time came for the trial, the neighbourhood took sides—nine witnesses testified for each. The defendants hired John A. Barron of Fenelon Falls to represent them, opposed by County Attorney A.P. Devlin. At the trial, the defence was the same as at the second investigation. Since there was no evidence that the defendants had actually meant to shoot the postmaster, Judge William W. Dean gave them the benefit of the doubt in acquitting them. Apparently, showing up armed at a neighbour’s house with intent to kill their dog and shooting the owner by mistake was not deemed to be a criminal matter at the time. Instead, Tweedie and Billet were then tried for perjury and suborning witnesses—which in that era was a ‘horrifying’ offence.

© Copyright 2024 - Maryboro Lodge Museum