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Evans, Carol: My fifth Great Grandfather was a Spy: Johannes Waldemeier / John W. Meyers U.E.

My fifth Great Grandfather was a Spy: 

Johannes Waldemeier aka John W. Meyers U.E.

By Carol Evans U.E.

Meyers' warehouseMeyers' warehouseI did not know about John W. Meyers until I became interested in genealogy. I was surprised that he was a United Empire Loyalist who did so much as a soldier for the British and then helped develop early Ontario. Why didn’t I learn about him in school?

There are three historic plaques to his memory and a surviving building that may or may not have been his property according to different legends in Belleville, Ontario.

I’d like to tell you the story of my Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Captain John W. Meyers.

He was born February 24 and baptised 24 March 1745 as Johannes Waldemeier at St. Paul’s (Zion’s) Lutheran Church of Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York, the descendant of Prussian ancestors. He was one of the eight children of Jurien Waldemeier and Margaretha Bardin.

Commemorative HeadstoneCommemorative HeadstoneAs a young man of 20 he married Mary Kruger who was known as Polly. They lived on Cooeyman’s Patent on the west bank of the Hudson River where he was a successful tenant farmer. He built a house and barn, cleared 100 acres, planted an orchard and kept livestock. (7 horses, 4 cows, 5 young cattle, 30 hogs and 17 sheep). All of these things he would lose when it became known that he was loyal to the British Crown in the years to come. The couple had eight children by 1777.

As agitation grew and revolution began Johannes stood by those Loyal to King George and this divided his family. His siblings and parents worked with the rebels who wanted Independence from the crown. As relations deteriorated Johannes was warned of a lynching party headed his way and he was urged to flee. He left his wife and children and departed with his brother-in-law and his dog.

He joined the army of Major-General John Burgoyne who very shortly thereafter surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga in 1777. Johannes Waldemeier slipped away, became a recruiter in Jessup’s Loyal Rangers and an infamous spy for the British. He lived up to his name “Waldemeier” which means “master of the woods or headman” for he is known to have walked over 6000 miles collecting information and carrying dispatches for the British during the American Revolution 1776-1783.

Polly and their children were driven from their land with a few belongings and made their way to New York City where other Loyalist refugees were gathering. The family would not be united again until the end of the war.

Because of Johannes’s successful spying career the Americans put a price on his head. Even with red hair and standing over six feet tall (unusual for those times), he managed to elude capture. American mothers warned their children that if they did not do their chores or go to bed when told, that Johannes Waldermeier would “get” them if they didn’t behave. He was the boogey man of the time. Actually several incidents known of him, indicate that he was an honourable man even to the Americans who treated his family so badly.

Late in the war Johannes was in charge of a company of Jessup’s Corp of Loyal Rangers. He received the title of “Captain” from Frederick Haldimand, Commander-in-Chief of the Province of Quebec (Quebec being the name of this part of the North America during that era). It was at this time that Johannes Waldermeier changed his name to John W. Meyers.

Historic plaqueHistoric plaqueThe Revolutionary War ended in1783 but it was not until spring of 1784 that Meyers and his family settled in Missiquoi Bay at the north end of Lake Champlain. They were resettled at Kingston known as Cataraqui the following year. By 1786 he moved to Sidney Twp. and by 1790 he had moved again to nearby Thurlow Twp., where he was to spend the rest of his life.

In Thurlow he found the location he wanted for a gristmill on Meyer’s Creek (Moira River). This drew people from as far away as Napanee and Port Hope. The creek name became the village name as well. In 1794 he built the first brick house in Upper Canada, a two storey Georgian structure on a hill overlooking the Moira River. It was known to the natives as Meyers’ Castle. He had constructed a brick kiln business and later built a sawmill, distillery and further developed a trading post. Supplies came on his own boats which provided transport for goods and people between Kingston and Montreal. He had several thriving businesses: import, transport, brick curing, distillery, cidery and lumber.

His home was the centre for weddings and special events for many in the community. He was the first magistrate of the Mecklenburg District in 1888 and remained so for many years performing marriages as well as other legal services.

John W. Meyers was captain of the local militia, named first Worshipful Master of the Masonic Order in Upper Canada and helped establish St. Thomas Anglican Church in Belleville.

Polly Meyers died in 1814 or 1816 and John married Sophia Davy, widow of another UE Loyalist, in 1817.

Meyers is known as the founder of Belleville, the name being changed from Meyers’ Creek in 1816. He was not the first resident there but he was the resident who made the local area thrive. When he died in 1821, he left each of his 39 grandchildren a farm or the equivalent in money.

It is not known exactly where he is buried although it is believed to be the abandoned burying ground next to St. Thomas Church.

To see transcriptions of the plaques remembering J.W. Meyers go to:http://www.waynecook.com/ahastings.html

For a short video clip regarding his life go to:
http://home.cogeco.ca/~wind/meyers.html