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The Legend of Peter Bray
Ed Bebee

Ned Fleming
Captain Edward (Ned) Fleming
(July 11, 1892)
Lakes and Islands, Times Past

Note: This article is based on a previously unpublished poem by Captain Edward Fleming. That poem, in its entirety has been published on this website. You'll find it here: The Hanging of Peter Bray by Captain Edward Fleming

The legend of the hanging of Peter Bray encapsulates many aspects of early days in Eastern Ontario, the corridor between Kingston and Ottawa. Life was very different then from that we know today. Examination of the legend was spurred by reading an unpublished poem by Edward Fleming, who told the legend as he knew it.

Captain Edward "Ned" Fleming, grandson of the first Lockmaster at Chaffey's Lock, was born September 11, 1868, fifth sibling of eight born to William and Margaret (nee Doyle). He was the skipper of the “Rideau Queen”. He was a skilled violinist, poet and storyteller. He died October 15, 1953.

Interior of the Rideau Queen and Captain Ned Fleming in uniform, c.1905
source: Lakes and Islands, Times Past

Captain Ned Fleming was above all a devout Christian. This shines through in much of his poetry. So it comes as no surprise that he would craft this tale in a Christian way, perhaps unconsciously. It should also be kept in mind that he wrote generations after the events. No doubt he had heard the story many times - each time a little different.

Here is a summary of his version of events.

Peter Bray had been a British soldier, discharged in England with a grant of excellent land north of Battersea. He was single, a hard worker and on good terms with his neighbors. Naturally, one of his immediate concerns was to build a house, but he had no money.

He went to a local man of means, William Potter, who was familiar with Peter's land. Potter, spurred by a desire to get this choice property, pointed out that Peter had no family who could repay the debt if he were to die. However, if Peter made him his heir, then he could have the loan and never have to repay as long as he lived. This sounded like a good plan; after all, he was in good health. Peter got his money and built his house.

One day Peter was out working in the woods. Along came young Ruth Potter, who invited him to sit and rest. He stopped and chatted with her. The conversation came to an abrupt end when she started screaming for help, tearing her clothes and pulling her hair. Two men burst out of the woods, pointing guns at Peter. They were William Potter and Bill Jones, another local man.

Bray was accused of rape - a capital offence. At the trial, the three “witnesses” stuck by their story and Peter was condemned to hang in the Kingston Market Square.

Bray protested his innocence and made three prophecies on the scaffold: William Potter would suffer painfully from disease for years, praying for death, which would come by fire; Bill Jones would die where a child would live; Ruth Potter would also be tormented all her life and die by fire, confessing that she lied about the rape.

The hanging was a fiasco - the rope broke twice before the third and successful attempt.

Bill Jones died - drowning face down in a wheel rut, too drunk to get out.

After years of depression and caring for her suffering father, Ruth and her father died in a blaze, caused by her pouring coal oil in the stove to start the fire. Before she died from her injuries, she confessed her guilt to a neighbour who had pulled her from the burning house. She admitted that her father had wanted to bring about Bray’s death so that he could inherit the land. Potter had paid Jones to swear to the rape and had continued to keep him in drinking money. In her final moments, Ruth was comforted by a vision of her mother and of Peter Bray, calling for her to join them in heaven.

Interestingly, in a letter dated April 30, 1937, Captain Fleming wrote that he had changed the names of the principal characters. Peter Bray was really Peter Brass; William Potter was Sir Henry Smith, a prominent local lawyer; Bill Jones was Joe Cameron, and Ruth Potter was Ruth Convery.

However, the true facts of the matter are somewhat different.

Peter Brass was really William Brass, born in Kingston about 1792. He had never been a British soldier, but had received in 1821 a grant of land north of Kingston in Loughborough Township, where he carried on business as a merchant and fur trader. As the fur trade died off, Brass fell into financial difficulties and began drinking heavily, often quarrelling with his neighbours. His wife had left him - his son had died in 1834, allegedly having been devoured by wolves.

In 1835 he hired Smith to help him straighten things out. Sir Henry Smith had indeed drawn up the patent on the Brass property with himself as heir. It seems unlikely that Smith was the second man who was at the scene of the rape with “Bill Jones”.

Joe Cameron was probably John Caswell, who claimed to have seen the rape, but was unable to prevent it.

Ruth Convery was really eight-year-old Mary Ann Dempsey, who had been left in William Brass’ care. He was said by his lawyers to have been in a state of delirium tremens at the time and incapable of rape. Nevertheless, two doctors and a nurse testified that the child had indeed been raped.

Despite the best efforts of his lawyers, Henry Cassady and John A. Macdonald, Brass was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. On December 1, 1837, Brass was led out to a temporary scaffold built out from a window on the Kingston courthouse. According to reports, the rope broke once, not twice. There is no record of any prophecies made from the scaffold.

The British Whig perhaps summed up the events best when it stated that Brass had “fallen victim to an infamous conspiracy commenced by a rascally individual in whom he placed confidence, and carried into execution by wretches as worthless as himself.”

Public opinion seems to have been mixed. Brass’ neighbours were somewhat more receptive to the idea of Brass’ guilt. Others were appalled at the botched hanging.

Other Information:

Captain Edward Fleming: on March 29, 1900, he earned his Certificate of Competence as a Master of Passenger Steamers in Minor Inland Waters.

The "Weekly British Whig", Kingston Ontario, April 20, 1911, lists the officers of The Rideau Navigation Company: "THE RIDEAU STEAMERS: The officers of The Rideau Navigation Company steamers this season will be: Rideau Queen - Edward Fleming, captain; William Fleming, mate; W.F. Noonan, purser; George Tuttle, engineer."

Other Rideau steamers skippered by Captain Fleming were the Rideau King and the Government steamer SS Loretta.


The Hanging of Peter Bray or The Prophecy - poem - Captain Edward Fleming - no date. See The Hanging of Peter Bray by Captain Edward Fleming

Handwritten letter from Edward Fleming dated Ottawa April 30 1937

William Teatro, “BRASS, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol.7, University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2003 - accessed September 25, 2014,

-Ed Bebee

Note: This article is based on a previously unpublished poem by Captain Edward Fleming. That poem, in its entirety has been published on this website. You'll find it here: The Hanging of Peter Bray by Captain Edward Fleming

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