[b.1760 - d.1833]
History is knowledge of the individual.
In the summer of 1792 two brothers were elected to Upper Canada's first Legislative Assembly. Hugh and John McDonell represented the ridings of First and Second Glengarry, respectively. The fact that they ran unopposed was proof of the McDonell family's political prominence and dominance among the Highlanders in eastern Ontario.
Shortly after the American Revolution began, Hugh, a staunch Loyalist, was taken prisoner in the Mohawk Valley region of New York. He managed to escape and with nearly 100 other Loyalists fled to Montreal where he joined the King's Royal Regiment of New York. In 1781 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and two years later when the regiment was disbanded, he retired on half-pay and received a grant of 500 acres in Charlottenburg. In 1788 Hugh was appointed deputy land surveyor and for the next six years he plotted lot, concession and township boundaries in the virgin forests of the Eastern District of Upper Canada.
Few records exist to detail the extent of Hugh's participation in the Assembly, but he was held in high esteem by Governor Simcoe, who in 1796 appointed him a commissioner to negotiate with commissioners from Lower Canada an equitable sharing of custom revenues received from rum and other spirits entering the Port of Quebec.
In spite of Hugh's modest military background he was appointed the province's first adjutant-general of militia. The appointment was undoubtedly awarded him because of the quasi-military society of Highlanders in which he lived. McDonell's initial reports indicated that inaccurate statistics had been kept regarding the number of men eligible for militia duty and disclosed the disappearance of guns and supplies. It was subsequently learned that the men had often bartered or sold the weapons and ammunition with which they were issued. Hugh recommended ways to improve the militia and these were implemented by Simcoe. McDonell also pledged to provide more precise data on a regular basis and to establish procedures to recover military equipment or its monetary value. County lieutenants were ordered to maintain accurate records that included the signatures of recipient soldiers. Failure to return equipment or equivalent monies resulted in the imposition of penalties.
Statistical returns for Upper Canada in 1794 indicated the total militia strength of non-commissioned officers and privates to be 4716. When it appeared that war with the Americans was imminent, an immediate investigation was launched into the state of the militia. This revealed a chaotic situation. Militiamen were distressingly deficient in training and there was a shocking shortage of arms. During this critical period Hugh was gravely ill and unable to carry out his responsibilities, so he was replaced as an adjutant general.
McDonell was subsequently appointed captain in the Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment, but when the regiment was disbanded in 1802, Hugh found himself almost destitute owing partly to the failure of the government to pay a portion of his salary. The following year McDonell was made lieutenant-colonel of the Glengarry Militia of which his brother John was colonel. The appointment was largely honorary, and provided little in the way of relief from his financial difficulties. Unable to solve his cash crisis in Canada, Hugh left for London in 1804 to seek employment in Britain. Governor Haldimand's former secretary provided a glowing reference which included the following ardent assertion.
This endorsement did not help Hugh's cause. It took the patronage of the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father, whom McDonell had known in Quebec, to secure Hugh an appointment as assistant commissary general at Gibraltar. Five years later McDonell accompanied Lord Cochrane to Algiers where Hugh was made consul general.
Hugh's second marriage was to the daughter of the Danish consul in Algiers and the couple had two sons and eight daughters. Hugh retained his position until his retirement in 1820, when he retired to Florence, Italy where he died in 1833 at the age of 73.
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