A stone marker commemorating Margaret Vincent’s death is hidden on a back country road at Eccles Hill, near Frelighsburg, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
It reads “Margaret Vincent Accidentally shot by the Royal Fusiliers June 10, 1866.”
This dates to the time of the Fenian raids into Canada over the American border, which occurred throughout the 1860s.
The Fenians were Irishmen who hated England and resented British domination over the Irish and their negligence during the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. Groups such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Fenian Brotherhood were formed in the 1850s, and it was these groups who surged over the border into Canada into areas such as Frelighsburg and St Armand.
On June 7, 1866, hundreds of Fenian men crossed into Canada.
The only Canadian forces in the St Armand area were three companies of infantry, comprised largely of non-commissioned men and volunteers, under the command of Captain W Carter of HM 16th Regiment.
The alarm was raised: “The Fenians are coming!” Fearful farmers near the border tore up roads and railway lines, and abandoned homes and farms.
Carter panicked and ordered his troops to withdraw. His troops never did forgive him for what they perceived as an act of impulsive cowardice.
The Fenians held Pigeon Hill, Frelighsburg and St Armand.
Mistaken for a Fenian, Margaret was a 71 year old deaf-mute who was shot when she failed to respond to an officer’s order. Given her disability, it’s no wonder she didn’t follow the Fusiliers’ orders. Even so, she probably didn’t look much like an angry, armed man with authority issues.
The marker is really quite diplomatically phrased, given that Margaret was hardly a threat to anyone. She was shot in error, but not accidentally.
Margaret Vincent’s grave is located up the hilly road at Pigeon Hill Cemetery. The marker at Eccles Hill is maintained by the local community in honour of the elderly woman who died there so long ago.