Dan Buchanan is a champion of lesser known, but significant historical personages. Don’t go looking for a Tecumseh, Brock or much on Sir John A. Macdonald here. This is the realm of William Weller and it is debatable how widespread his name is known. Dan focuses on, “that second tier of individuals who toiled in the trenches of society but reached the pages of history books only for a line or two”. He also notes that he is considering a time period that is usually overshadowed by the earlier War of 1812 and later Confederation. William Weller was hired in February 1840 to transport by modified sleigh, Governor General Charles Poulet Thompson from downtown Toronto to downtown Montreal in no more than thirty-eight hours...if Weller wished to receive his pay. It was a tall order, but Weller, with meticulous planning, theright equipment and favourable conditions, more or less, managed to turn this daunting journey into a triumph, clocking in under the designated time. The amount of detail in each chapter could be a bit overwhelming to the reader, but Dan avoids that problem by arranging his text into thirty-seven short chapters which tend to encapsulate the events concerning the twenty-four stops along the way. Thus the reader is essentially ‘along for the ride’ in comfort. In a sense the author is our “Rick Steves of 1840,” and that is intended to be a positive comment. The details concerning various locations, Toronto in particular, are remarkable. It’s almostas if Dan travelled back in time and set out the landscape for us. Speaking of which, a map or two in the book would be a helpful addition. As for Governor General Thompson, a fair bit of 1840 politics is included. This is important because without this background the great ride would have been seen as no more than a whim. It was very much wrapped up in the post-1837 Rebellion political climate. The last part of the book includes extensive notes, Sources and an Index - all testaments to the serious research Dan engaged in. For the genealogist there is a brief but welcome consideration of William Weller’s family background. Too frequently this William has been filed as a son of Carrying Place pioneer Asa Weller who came from Vermont in 1791. While there is a linked Weller heritage here, the common ancestor is a few generations farther back. Asa’s son William is not the William of stagecoach fame. As well, Asa’s wife was a Marsh and there are several references to this Loyalist family as well as other Loyalists throughout the book. You might find one of your own ancestors within these pages! This is a book that agitates to be picked up and not put down. Once you immerse yourself in the world of 1840, you’ll be reluctant to set it aside unfinished. There are a lot of photographs to enhance the presentation and the opening images in each chapter featuring frigid winter forests serve to remind us how challenging that February ride must have been!
Peter W. Johnson, UE, President, United Empire Loyalist Association, Bay of Quinte Branch