A person happening to go into the Court room at Sandwich, in court time, will find the usual array of legal gentlemen looking after the interests of clients, and engaged in sharp encounter for the defense of their rights. The Ontario Bar, as represented here, embraces members who would be an ornament to the profession anywhere; men both wise to counsel and gifted in forensic display. Among the foremost and busiest of those in Windsor, who own allegiance to that “austere mistress,” the law, and who may justly be claimed as an ornament to the Bar, is Samuel Smith Macdonell, County Crown Attorney for Essex, Master and Deputy Registrar in Chancery, and Clerk of the Peace
Our subject is the youngest son of Hon. Alexander Macdonell; was born in Toronto on the 21st of February, 1823, and is named after his maternal uncle, the Honorable Colonel Smith, then Administrator of the Government of Upper Canada. His grandfather, Allan Macdonell, was a son of the Chief of Glengary, and having fought at Culloden in the cause of Prince Charles Edward, fled to France, where he lived for about twelve years as a Captain in the French army. On the relaxation of the severe measures adopted by the House of Hanover against the Scottish Chiefs, he returned to Scotland. Having gathered a company of 250 followers, he embarked with them to the new world, and took up lands for himself and his people in Schoharrie County, New York, on a portion of Sir William Johnson’s tract. On the breaking out of the American Revolution, Allan Macdonell, with his people, as might have been expected, took sides with the Royal cause. He, with his mother and brothers, were held for a time as hostages, but escaping eventually, he reached Canada, where his followers had gone with Sir William Johnson’s retainers. After reaching Canada, Allan Macdonell, with his son Alexander, served in the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, during the Revolutionary war, and were engaged in many of the skirmishes and battles which took place during that stormy period. Alexander, then a very young Lieutenant, was at the Battle of Oriskany, in New York, an important engagement of the period. Afterwards, he was at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, under Sir Henry Clinton, who was opposed by General Washington in person; and he was sent as the bearer of dispatches from General Clinton to Sir Guy Carlton at Quebec, giving an account of the battle. In carrying these dispatches, he had to pass through the enemy’s lines, which he succeeded in doing by the aid of Indian guides, though the attempt exposed him to great dangers and hardships. At the close of the war, Captain Allan Macdonell purchased a property at Quebec, where he spent the remainder of his days, and was buried in the church of St. Foy.
After the death of his father, Alexander Macdonell was induced by General Simcoe, who, having himself served in the Revolutionary war, desired to surround himself with old and genial companions in arms in the new Province then created, to accompany him to Upper Canada, and to settle at York, now Toronto. He was the first Speaker of the Parliament of Upper Canada, and was appointed first Sheriff of the Home District. In the war of 1812 he acted as Paymaster-General of the Militia of Upper Canada, and was on intimate terms with General Brock, until that hero was killed at the battle of Queenstown Heights. The County of Glengary, in which the followers of his father had settled, was represented by Alexander in the Legislative Assembly for twenty years. He was afterward appointed to the Legislative Council, now known as the Senate.
Samuel Smith Macdonell, was at a very early age sent to Upper Canada College, where he remained for eight years. On the opening of the University of Kings College, now the University of Toronto, he was matriculated there. He graduated with the first class, receiving degrees from that University, and rated second in the first class in University honors. Two years later he graduated from the Law School of that University. Immediately after graduating in law, he left Toronto for the Western District, settling in Sandwich in 1849. The year after, he was appointed Clerk of the District Council of the Western District, then composed of the Counties of Essex, Kent and Lambton, and also Solicitor to the Council.
On the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1853, it becoming evident that the ter minus opposite Detroit would become a town, Mr. Macdonell became the purchaser of the farm known as the Goyeau Farm, opposite Woodward Avenue in Detroit, and had it laid out into lots, at the same time widening and improving the front, which at that time was a narrow, winding, and irregular road. Resigning his office as Clerk of the District Council, Mr. Macdonell took active measures for the incorporation of Windsor as a village, and came into the County Council as Reeve of Windsor. In 1855 and 1856 he was elected warden of the County of Essex. The building then used as a goal and Court house being out of repair, and insufficient, the Reeve of Windsor succeded in procuring the building of a new goal and Court house, which is substantially the present structure, some additions having since been made. On ceasing to be warden, the County Council presented him with a testimonial for his zeal in the promotion of the public interests, and the useful measures introduced by him during his wardenship. For eight years he was elected Mayor and Reeve of Windsor, and during that period he was active in promoting measures affecting the prosperity of the town, such as the building of the Town Hall, the school houses, the purchase of the property on which the Union School building now stands, as well as other measures affecting the municipal government of the town. He has also been active in promoting the interests of the public schools, having occupied the position of Secretary of the Board of Public Instruction for several years, and having served as Trustee of the schools in Windsor more than twenty years.
In 1854 Mr. Macdonell, with some associates, purchased the Cuthbertson Farm, opposite the depot of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad, consisting of 265 acres, from which a successful sale of lots was made the next year. There being at that time no road suitable for travel, leading from the country directly into Windsor, farmers were obliged to go around by way of Sandwich. Mr. Macdonell projected a gravel road, leading from Windsor to the Talbot road, the main road through the interior of the county. This gravel road of 6i miles was completed in 1860, and had the effect of compelling the removal of the leading merchants of Sandwich to Windsor, and of considerably increasing the trade of the latter place.
The British Government having taken a high stand as to the surrender of Mason and Slidell, in the Trent affair, telegraphed the commanding officers of districts along the frontier to call out for active service, from the Sedentary Militia, one company, with the option of the commanding officer to serve in the capacity of Captain. In response to this call, Mr. Macdonell, then lately gazetted Lieutenant Colonel of the First Regiment of Essex Militia, raised a company of 75 men in three days, who were inspected and accepted for service under his command as Captain.
His father and mother being what are generally known as “U. E’s.” those who either were engaged in the Revolutionary war on the British side, or came in from the United States to live under the British flag. Mr. Macdonell has always been identified in politics as a Conservative. Having been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, his intercourse with the world, his general reading and independent thinking, have contributed to make him liberal in religious matters.
In 1856 Mr. Macdonell was married to a daughter of Col. D. D. Brodhead, of Boston, through which connection he has had the advantages of a large acquaintance with many leading persons in the United States.
As a lawyer, Mr. Macdonell ranks deservedly high, as might be inferred from the large practice he enjoys. His standing at the Bar illustrates the advantages of a liberal education to the lawyer. His counsel is sought and confided in, because his judgment is the fruit of study and research, weighed in the balances of truth and sound learning. As a pleader he ranks with the best on the circuit; is argumentative, clear and convincing, and not unfrequently rises to heights of impassioned eloquence; with a pleasing bearing and address, his manners are strikingly suggestive of the gentleman of the old school.
As a man and citizen, Mr. Macdonell is held in high esteem by all classes, both because he has honored all the relations of life by the strictest fidelity, and because of his efficient and successful efforts to improve the material, intellectual, and moral interests of the community in which he lives.