Tag Archives: st lawrence seaway

Assassinated Gossip about Lincoln, Payne and the Thousand Islands

Assassinated Gossip about Lincoln, Payne and the Thousand Islands


120 Lincoln's Assassins ideas | lincoln, lincoln assassination, american  civil war



Last summer as I traveled on the St. Lawrence Seaway I had the luxury of seeing one of the Thousand Islands where John Payne hid after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Payne is documented as being part of John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy crew against the United States Government. He is also listed as being hung on July 7th, 1865 with the other accused for the assassination of President of the United States. Thousand Island lore and words written by John A. Haddock in a book called “A Souvenir of the Thousand Islands” say differently.

“A man bearing the description of John A. Payne, was seen in the vicinity of Sharbot and Rideau lakes, Ont., and at Smith’s Falls during the latter part of May, 1865, and shortly afterward at Gananoque, where he stayed for a day or two, and then settling his hotel bill, in payment of which he offered a gold piece of English coinage, he left, no one knew whither. Was it John A. Payne who made his appearance at Fisher’s Landing? The description and the time tally well. It may with some show of reason be asked: If he wanted to hide himself effectually among the islands, why did he not choose some spot among the myriad islands of the Admiralty group near Gananoque, or in the Navy group below?


Evidently he was a shrewd observer. He well knew that the defrauded Brotherhood would hunt him to the death, but he also knew that they would be unlikely to venture to the American side of the St. Lawrence; while they would search every island in the Canadian Channel.”



Maple Island is by no means hidden, so no one would even fathom of searching for him on an island so exposed in the middle of the seaway. In August of 1865 several men arrived at Gananoque, Ontario making general inquiries about Payne saying that they had been previously employed by him. Those men were in reality “gentleman” from the secret “Brotherhoods of the South”.

As the story goes and not written in Canadian or American history books; lingering smoke plumes were spotted the next day coming from the island Payne was hiding on. The body of John Lewis Payne was found dead with his throat slit among the embers with a sign of three crosses carved on his breast. This is positive evidence that he met his death at the hands of the Brotherhood and not hung as written.

The fact that there were others who fell victim to the oaths of the Brotherhood makes me wonder why Ulysses S Grant was not at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was assassinated. Grant and his wife had been invited to accompany Lincoln but declined the invitation at the last minute. Was Lincoln’s death really just a grand conspiracy planned by the Confederate leaders?

After many books and thoughts written on the subject I do not think we will ever know the true story.  In the Library of Congress there is a photo with names of all the guilty parties on the scaffold that are about to meet their fate. If John Lewis Payne was murdered in August of 1865 and his body found on Maple Island then who was about to be hung instead? As I watched the island fade into the distance I prefer to believe Haddock’s version. As you cruise through the narrow channels of the seaway around the islands there lies bottles of spirits that line the bottom from the prohibition era. Pirates roamed freely and the waters around the islands still carry their tales as the spirit of one John Lewis Payne still floats around the island as the real truth still blows in the wind.

Images from the Library of Congress

Coloured Images and Text by Linda Seccaspina

Quote from: A souvenir of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River- By J Haddock


The Tale of a Pirate named Bill Johnston

The Tale of a Pirate named Bill Johnston

Tales of the Life of Pirate Bill Johnston

Today’s theme is pirates and bad guys. Two from the 1000 Island region and one who might have slept here. I just thought they all kind of tied in together—and it felt like a pirate sort of day.

When I was younger I lived by the words of books. I was sometimes Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden but really I longed to be a pirate. Not just a “walk the plank” “swab the deck” sort of gal. I wanted to be married to a bad boy wearing skull and crossbones with a big pirate ship.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing where big bad Bill Johnston, pirate at large,  lived among the Thousands Islands in the St. Lawrence Seaway. You may not know him from Captain Hook but this man was worthy of a jaunt into a Harlequin romance.

Bill was a Thousand Island smuggler running spirits and tea. You can see with his preference of illegal goods he was a bad boy but with a romantic side to him. He was also an 1812 American privateer and was the man the British most wanted to hang. They spent a fortune trying to hunt him down for years.

Bill Johnston spent his first 30 years as a loyal British subject and had been born to British Loyalist parents. I ask you what is more romantic than a man with a British accent with an occasional “Argh” in his vocabulary. He bought his first schooner, carried both legitimate and illegal cargo and made enough money to buy a small store in Kingston, Ontario.

Sadly I was not around in those days and he married a young American girl named Anne Randolph. Anne was left down on the farm to raise the children when the War of 1812 began and Bill went after the British when they confiscated all his property. He vowed undying revenge on the British and pledged himself to the American commander of a US fleet in Lake Ontario.

For two years Bill went after the British in fast light rowboat called a gig and were able to slip in and out of those narrow channels like greased lightening. He spied on the British, attacked their supply boats, robbed mail couriers, burned ships, and participated in battles at Sackets Harbor, New York, and Crysler’s Farm, Upper Canada.  

After the war he established a waterfront shop and continued smuggling tea and rum to Canada. Ironically, the US revenue service paid him to spy on Canadian smugglers coming into the US.

In 1837 he joined a bunch of American sympathizers and Canadian refugees known as the Patriots that Mel Gibson was most definitely not part of. Then he set out to capture the passenger steamer the Sir Robert Peel and eventually burned it down. Johnston surrendered to US authorities shortly after the Battle of the Windmill as he claimed he was tired of running. Bill faced numerous charges for his rebel activities and the Peel raid and in most cases, juries refused to convict him. When he was jailed, he escaped when the mood struck him and the authorities ultimately declared him more trouble than he was worth.

On the 12th of April 1953, Johnston was appointed Rock Island Lighthouse Keeper and was eventually pardoned by President Harrison. After receiving the pardon, he was given a commission on Rock Island and the very government that had put a price of $500 on his head, was now paying him $350 a year as keeper of a lighthouse—in plain sight of the watery grave of his infamous spoil, the Sir Robert Peel.

Bill Johnston the Pirate of the St. Lawrence Seaway did not die in a violent way as some might have thought. In reality he slipped on the dock and met his maker by hitting his head. Some days you can hear a snarl fill the air above the water of the St.Lawrence Seaway and hear the words of the immortal Bill Johnston,

“Aye, mateys,” he hollers at local pleasure boaters, “them whar’ the days!”

Buy Linda Secaspina’s Books— Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac– Tilting the Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place and 4 others on Amazon or Amazon Canada or Wisteria at 62 Bridge Street in Carleton Place

Images and text by Linda Seccaspina