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Fenian Invasions of Canada: Topics in Chronicling America

In the late 19th century, Irish-Americans mobilized to invade Canada. This guide provides access to materials related to the “Fenian Invasions of Canada” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"The new war. The latest Fenian foolery. The invasion of Canada." June 2, 1866. The Evening Telegraph (Philadelphia, PA), Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Revolutionary Irish-Americans mobilize an army of 8,000 to invade Canada. Their yearning for Irish independence cannot be satiated. Numerous Fenian plots wreak havoc on British Canada. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


November 1863 Irish Congress in Chicago draws over 300 delegates from Fenian groups in the US and British Canada.
1865 Allegations of fraud and embezzlement levied against high-ranking Fenian officers by others in the organization. Existing infighting escalates.
December 1865 Fenian Senate announces the impeachment of Fenian President, John O’Mahony.
March 17, 1866 Canadians fear Fenian invasion slated for St. Patrick’s Day.
April 1866 Bernard Doran Killian organizes an expedition of Fenians to seize the island of Campo Bello and New Brunswick. US forces under General Meade quickly heads off the Fenian threat.
June 1, 1866 The Battle of Ridgeway. Colonel Tom Sweeney leads1,000 Fenians across the Niagara and invades Canada.
June 3, 1866 Sweeney finds his force cut off from reinforcements and supplies and attempts to retreat but is captured.
June 4, 1866 First Fenian prisoner executed by British forces.
June 9, 1866 Following a defeat at Pigeon Hill, the Fenian Council of War orders all forces to return home.
May 27, 1866 The Fenians are defeated at Trout River and retreat across the border. US forces are not present, because the government fears they will side with the Fenians thereby straining relations with Britain.
May 1870 John O’Neil orchestrates an invasion of Canada without the unanimous support of the Fenian Senate.
1881 Construction of the Fenian Ram, an early submarine, completed. The Fenians intended to use the submarine to attack the British fleet off the coast of Nova Scotia and to disrupt British trade.
December 1899 Fenians threaten another raid of Canada with alleged support from Boer sympathizers.