Sitting on the Canadian border didn’t insulate St. Albans, Vt., from Confederate attack during the American Civil War.
Canadians viewed New England Yankees with a jaundiced eye. Many considered New Englanders to be expansionist, unfriendly neighbors.
Officially Canada remained neutral during the conflict. But Montreal provided a headquarters for expatriate Confederate soldiers to plot against the Union war effort.
One ongoing plot involved an effort to incite rioting and insurrection in New England cities, which prompted the Union to post soldiers in Boston.
John Wilkes Booth schemed with Confederates in Canada. The details of his nine-day trip to Montreal remain a mystery, because his Canadian friends sank into the woodwork after he assassinated President Lincoln.
Booth’s enemies said he had bragged to his friends about how much he hated the president. They also said he hinted at plans to kidnap him.
Canada also played host to Luke Pryor Blackburn, a physician from Kentucky who supported the Confederates.
Blackburn was gathering supplies for the Confederate States in Canada. He also helped Canadian ships harass Union supply ships operating in Canada.
Then yellow fever broke out in Bermuda.
Blackburn was ordered to Bermuda to tend to Confederate soldiers stricken with yellow fever. Upon his return to Canada, Blackburn is accused of shipping the clothing and blankets of yellow fever victims to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He allegedly intended to spread the disease in those cities.
Historians debate the evidence against Blackburn, though most agree he at least tacitly approved the plot.
The St. Albans Raid
These Confederate operations fell outside the regular army. They were part of the Confederate Secret Service, a loose collection of spy organizations that operated in support of the regular army.
Most of their records were destroyed during the war. But one of the most concrete activities of the group remains undisputed – the raid on St. Albans, Vt.
Between 18 and 22 men, led by Lt. Bennett Young, carried out the raid on October 19, 1864. It served the dual purpose of terrorizing civilians and providing much-needed cash to the Confederacy.
The group filtered into St. Albans during the days leading up to the raid. They scoped out three banks in the city: the Franklin County Bank, the First National and the St. Albans Bank.
When the raid commenced at 3 p.m. the town was largely emptied of working men. Lt. Young stepped onto the common and declared he was taking possession of St. Albans. Then Young and his raiders looted the three banks, making off with $208,000 in just 15 minutes. The raiders also forced the bank employees to swear an oath to the Confederacy.
The raiders torched one house as a distraction and fled the town unharmed, They killed one man – Elinus Morrison – who tried to interfere with their get-away. But their plans to set fire to a large portion of the town failed when the bombs they brought to start fires did not work.
Once the townspeople in St. Albans figured out what was happening, they quickly formed a posse to pursue the raiders into Canada. Within a day they had captured 14 of the raiders and recovered $87,000. The rest of the money, however, was never seen again.
Some suspect that one of the raiders kept a large portion of the money and used it to open a bank in Texas after the war.
In the aftermath of the raid, Canada gave shelter to the raiders, declining to prosecute them. The Canadian government gave to the raiders the money recovered by the Vermont posse.
This story was updated in 2023.