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United Empire Loyalists
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United Empire Loyalists

United Empire Loyalists is the name given to individuals who are descendants of British loyalists during the American War of Independence who left the 13 rebellious American colonies for the future Canada: the two British colonies of Quebec (including the Eastern Townships and modern-day Ontario) and Nova Scotia (including modern-day New Brunswick). The Jay Treaty promised the Loyalists compensation for their lost property although the American Congress essentially refused to "....restore seized property, redress grievances, and permit loyalists to return home to live under the new jurisdiction" (Moore's The Loyalists, page 148). In the United Kingdom, a Commission for Claims and Losses was established to compensate loyalists if they would relinquish their claims to the British government -- but only about 2000 claims were made. The rest, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 claims, remain unresolved to this day.

Table of contents
1 Numbers
2 Politics
3 Settlement in Canada
4 Further reading
5 External Links


John Adams and other authorities in the United States have admitted that when the first shot of the revolution was fired by "the embattled farmers" of Concord and Lexington, the Loyalists numbered one-third of the whole population of the colonies, or seven hundred thousand whites. Others believe that the number was larger, and that the revolutionary party was in a minority even after the declaration of independence. The greater number of the Loyalists were to be found in the present state of New York, where the capital was in possession of the British from September, 1776, until the evacuation in 1783. They were also the majority in Pennsylvania and the southern colonies of South Carolina and Georgia. In all the other states they represented a large minority of the best class of their respective communities. It is estimated that there were actually from thirty to thirty-five thousand, at one time or other, enrolled in regularly organised corps, without including the bodies which waged guerilla warfare in South Carolina and elsewhere.


It is only within a decade of years that some historical writers in the United States have had the courage and honesty to point out the false impressions long entertained by the majority of Americans with respect to the Loyalists, who were in their way as worthy of historical eulogy as the people whose efforts to win independence were crowned with success. Professor Tyler, of Cornell University, points out that these people comprised "in general a clear majority of those who, of whatever grade of culture or of wealth, would now be described as conservative people." A clear majority of the official class, of men representing large commercial interests and capital, of professional training and occupation, clergymen, physicians, lawyers and teachers, "seem to have been set against the ultimate measures of the revolution". He assumes with justice that, within this conservative class, one may "usually find at least a fair portion of the cultivation, of the moral thoughtfulness, of the personal purity and honour, existing in the community to which they happen to belong." He agrees with Dr. John Fiske, and other historical writers of eminence in the United States, in comparing the Loyalists of 1776 to the Unionists of the southern war of secession from 1861 until 1865. They were "the champions of national unity, as resting on the paramount authority of the general government." In other words they were the champions of a United British Empire in the 18th century.

"The old colonial system," says that thoughtful writer Sir J.R. Seeley, "was not at all tyrannous; and when the breach came the grievances of which the Americans complained, though perfectly real, were smaller than ever before or since led to such mighty consequences." The leaders among the Loyalists, excepting a few rash and angry officials probably, recognised that there were grievances which ought to be remedied. They looked on the policy of the party in power in Great Britain as injudicious in the extreme, but they believed that the relations between the colonies and the mother-state could be placed on a more satisfactory basis by a spirit of mutual compromise, and not by such methods as were insidiously followed by the agitators against England. The Loyalists generally contended for the legality of the action of parliament, and were supported by the opinion of all high legal authorities; but the causes of difficulty were not to be adjusted by mere lawyers, who adhered to the strict letter of the law, but by statesmen who recognised that the time had come for reconsidering the relations between the colonies and the parent state, and meeting the new conditions of their rapid development and political freedom. These relations were not to be placed on an equitable and satisfactory basis by mob-violence and revolution. All the questions at issue were of a constitutional character, to be settled by constitutional methods.

Unhappily, English statesmen of that day paid no attention to, and had no conception of, the aspirations, sentiments and conditions of the colonial peoples when the revolutionary war broke out. The king wished to govern in the colonies as well as in the British Isles, and unfortunately the unwise assertion of his arrogant will gave dangerous men like Samuel Adams, more than once, the opportunity they wanted to stimulate public irritation and indignation against England.

It is an interesting fact, that the relations between Great Britain and Canada are now regulated by just such principles as were urged in the interests of England and her colonies at the time of the American revolution by Governor Thomas Hutchinson, a great Loyalist, to whom justice is at last being done by impartial historians in the country where his motives and acts were so long misunderstood and misrepresented. "Whatever measures," he wrote to a correspondent in England, "you may take to maintain the authority of parliament, give me leave to pray they may be accompanied with a declaration that it is not the intention of parliament to deprive the colonies of their subordinate power of legislation, nor to exercise the supreme power except in such cases and upon such occasions as an equitable regard to the interests of the whole empire shall make necessary." But it took three-quarters of a century after the coming of the Loyalists to realise these statesmanlike conceptions of Hutchinson in the colonial dominions of England to the north of the dependencies which she lost in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

Similar opinions were entertained by Joseph Galloway, Jonathan Boucher, Jonathan Odell, Samuel Seabury, Chief Justice Smith, Judge Thomas Jones, Beverley Robinson and other men of weight and ability among the Loyalists, who recognised the short-sightedness and ignorance of the British authorities, and the existence of real grievances. Galloway, one of the ablest men on the constitutional side, and a member of the first continental congress, suggested a practical scheme of imperial federation, well worthy of earnest consideration at that crisis in imperial affairs. Eminent men in the congress of 1774 supported this statesmanlike mode of placing the relations of England and the colonies on a basis which would enable them to work harmoniously, and at the same time give full scope to the ambition and the liberties of the colonial communities thus closely united; but unhappily for the empire the revolutionary element carried the day. The people at large were never given an opportunity of considering this wise proposition, and the motion was erased from the records of congress. In its place, the people were asked to sign "articles of association" which bound them to cease all commercial relations with England. Had Galloway's idea been carried out to a successful issue, we might have now presented to the world the noble spectacle of an empire greater by half a continent and seventy-five millions of people.

But while Galloway and other Loyalists failed in their measures of adjusting existing difficulties and remedying grievances, history can still do full justice to their wise counsel and resolute loyalty, which refused to assist in tearing the empire to fragments. These men, who remained faithful to this ideal to the very bitter end, suffered many indignities at the hands of the professed lovers of liberty, even in those days when the questions at issue had not got beyond the stage of legitimate argument and agitation. The courts of law were closed and the judges prevented from fulfilling their judicial functions. No class of persons, not even women, were safe from the insults of intoxicated ruffians. The clergy of the Church of England were especially the object of contumely.

During the war the passions of both parties to the controversy were aroused to the highest pitch, and some allowance must be made for conditions which were different from those which existed when the questions at issue were still matters of argument. It is impossible in times of civil strife to cool the passions of men and prevent them from perpetrating cruelties and outrages which would be repugnant to their sense of humanity in moments of calmness and reflection. Both sides, more than once, displayed a hatred of each other that was worthy of the American Iroquois themselves. The legislative bodies were fully as vindictive as individuals in the persecution of the Loyalists. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, disqualification for office, banishment, and even death in case of return from exile, were among the penalties to which these people were subject by the legislative acts of the revolutionary party.

If allowance can be made for the feelings of revenge and passion which animate persons under the abnormal conditions of civil war, no extenuating circumstances appear at that later period when peace was proclaimed and congress was called upon to fulfil the terms of the treaty and recommend to the several independent states the restoration of the confiscated property of Loyalists. Even persons who had taken up arms were to have an opportunity of receiving their estates back on condition of refunding the money which had been paid for them, and protection was to be afforded to those persons during twelve months while they were engaged in obtaining the restoration of their property. It was also solemnly agreed by the sixth article of the treaty that there should be no future confiscations or prosecutions, and that no person should "suffer any future loss or damage, either in his person, liberty or property," for the part he might have taken in the war. Now was the time for generous terms, such terms as were even shown by the triumphant North to the rebellious South at the close of the war of secession. The recommendations of congress were treated with contempt by the legislatures in all the states except in South Carolina, and even there the popular feeling was entirely opposed to any favour or justice being shown to the beaten party. The sixth article of the treaty, a solemn obligation, was violated with malice and premeditation. The Loyalists, many of whom had returned from Great Britain with the hope of receiving back their estates, or of being allowed to remain in the country, soon found they could expect no generous treatment from the successful republicans. The favourite Whig occupation of tarring and feathering was renewed. Loyalists were warned to leave the country as soon as possible, and in the south some were shot and hanged because they did not obey the warning. The Loyalists, for the most part, had no other course open to them than to leave the country they still loved and where they had hoped to die.

Settlement in Canada

The British government endeavoured, so far as it was in its power, to compensate the Loyalists for the loss of their property by liberal grants of money and land, but despite all that was done for them the majority felt a deep bitterness in their hearts as they landed on new shores of which they had heard most depressing accounts. More than thirty-five thousand men, women and children, made their homes within the limits of the present Dominion. In addition to these actual American Loyalists, there were several thousands of negroes, fugitives from their owners, or servants of the exiles, who have been generally counted in the loose estimates made of the migration of 1783, and the greater number of whom were at a later time deported from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. Of the exiles at least twenty-five thousand went to the maritime colonies, and built up the province of New Brunswick, where representative institutions were established in 1784. Of the ten thousand people who sought the valley of the St Lawrence, some settled in Montreal, at Chambly, and in parts of the present Eastern Townships, but the great majority accepted grants of land on the banks of the St. Lawrence--from River Beaudette, on Lake St. Francis, as far as the beautiful Bay of Quinte--in the Niagara District, and on the shores of Lake Erie. The coming of these people, subsequently known by the name of "U.E. Loyalists"--a name appropriately given to them in recognition of their fidelity to a United Empire--was a most auspicious event for the British-American provinces, the greater part of which was still a wilderness. There was in the Acadian provinces, afterwards divided into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, a British population of only some 14,000, mostly confined to the peninsula. In the valley of the St. Lawrence there was a French population of probably 100,000 persons, dwelling chiefly on the banks of the St. Lawrence between Quebec and Montreal. The total British population of the province of Quebec did not exceed 2000, residing for the most part in the towns of Quebec and Montreal. No English people were found west of Lake St. Louis; and what is now the populous province of Ontario was a mere wilderness, except where loyal refugees had gathered about the English fort at Niagara, or a few French settlers had made homes for themselves on the banks of the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. The migration of between 30,000 and 40,000 Loyalists to the maritime provinces and the valley of the St. Lawrence was the saving of British interests in the great region which England still happily retained in North America.

The refugees who arrived in Halifax in 1783 were so numerous that hundreds had to be placed in the churches or in cabooses taken from the transports and ranged along the streets. At Guysborough, in Nova Scotia--so named after Sir Guy Carleton--the first village, which was hastily built by the settlers, was destroyed by a bush fire, and many persons only saved their lives by rushing into the sea. At Shelburne, on the first arrival of the exiles, there were seen "lines of women sitting on the rocky shore and weeping at their altered condition." Towns and villages, however, were soon built for the accommodation of the people. At Shelburne, or Port Roseway--anglicised from the French _Razoir_--a town of fourteen thousand people, with wide streets, fine houses, some of them containing furniture and mantel-pieces brought from New York, arose in two or three years. The name of New Jerusalem had been given to the same locality some years before, but it seemed a mockery to the Loyalists when they found that the place they had chosen for their new home was quite unsuited for settlement. A beautiful harbour lay in front, and a rocky country unfit for farmers in the rear of their ambitious town, which at one time was the most populous in British North America. In the course of a few years the place was almost deserted, and sank for a time into insignificance. A pretty town now nestles by the side of the beautiful and spacious harbour which attracted the first too hopeful settlers; and its residents point out to the tourist the sites of the buildings of last century, one or two of which still stand, and can show many documents and relics of those early days.

Over 12,000 Loyalists, largely drawn from the disbanded loyal regiments of the old colonies, settled in New Brunswick. The name of Parrtown was first given, in honour of the governor of Nova Scotia, to the infant settlement which became the city of St. John, in 1785, when it was incorporated. The first landing of the loyal pioneers took place on May 18, 1783, at what is now the Market Slip of this interesting city. Previous to 1783, the total population of the province did not exceed seven hundred souls, chiefly at Maugerville and other places on the great river. The number of Loyalists who settled on the St. John River was at least ten thousand, of whom the greater proportion were established at the mouth of the river, which was the base of operations for the peopling of the new province. Some adventurous spirits took possession of the abandoned French settlements at Grimross and St. Anne's, where they repaired some ruined huts of the original Acadian occupants, or built temporary cabins. This was the beginning of the settlement of Fredericton, which four years later became the political capital on account of its central position, its greater security in time of war, and its location on the land route to Quebec. Many of the people spent their first winter in log-huts, bark camps, and tents covered with spruce, or rendered habitable only by the heavy banks of snow which were piled against them. A number of persons died through exposure, and "strong, proud men"--to quote the words of one who lived in those sorrowful days--"wept like children and lay down in their snow-bound tents to die."

A small number of loyal refugees had found their way to the valley of the St. Lawrence as early as 1778, and obtained employment in the regiments organised under Sir John Johnson and others. It was not until 1783 and 1784 that the large proportion of the exiles came to Western Canada. They settled chiefly on the northern banks of the St. Lawrence, in what are now the counties of Glengarry, Stormont, Dundas, Grenville, Leeds, Frontenac, Addington, Lennox, Hastings and Prince Edward, where their descendants have acquired wealth and positions of honour and trust. The first township laid out in Upper Canada, now Ontario, was Kingston. The beautiful Bay of Quinté is surrounded by a country full of the memories of this people, and the same is true of the picturesque district of Niagara.

Among the Loyalists of Canada must also be honourably mentioned Joseph Brant (Thayendanega), the astute and courageous chief of the Mohawks, the bravest nation of the Iroquois confederacy, who fought on the side of England during the war. At its close he and his people settled in Canada, where they received large grants from the government, some in a township by the Bay of Quinté, which still bears the Indian title of the great warrior, and the majority on the Grand River, where a beautiful city and county perpetuate the memory of this loyal subject of the British crown. The first Anglican church built in Upper Canada was that of the Mohawks, near Brantford, and here the church bell first broke the silence of the illimitable forest.

The difficulties which the Upper Canadian immigrants had to undergo before reaching their destination were much greater than was the case with the people who went direct in ships from American ports to Halifax and other places on the Atlantic coast. The former had to make toilsome journeys by land, or by bateaux and canoes up the St. Lawrence, the Richelieu, the Genesee, and other streams which gave access from the interior of the United States to the new Canadian land. The British government did its best to supply the wants of the population suddenly thrown upon its charitable care, but, despite all that could be done for them in the way of food and means of fighting the wilderness, they suffered naturally a great deal of hardship. The most influential immigration found its way to the maritime provinces, where many received congenial employment and adequate salaries in the new government of New Brunswick. Many others, with the wrecks of their fortunes or the pecuniary aid granted them by the British government, were able to make comfortable homes and cultivate estates in the valleys of the St. John and Annapolis, and in other fertile parts of the lower provinces. Of the large population that founded Shelburne a few returned to the United States, but the greater number scattered all over the provinces. The settlers in Upper Canada had to suffer many trials for years after their arrival, and especially in a year of famine, when large numbers had to depend on wild fruits and roots. Indeed, had it not been for the fish and game which were found in some, but not in all, places, starvation and death would have been the lot of many hundreds of helpless people.

Many of the refugees could trace their descent to the early immigration that founded the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. Some were connected with the Cavalier and Church families of Virginia. Others were of the blood of persecuted Huguenots and German Protestants from the Rhenish or Lower Palatinate. Not a few were Highland Scotchmen, who had been followers of the Stuarts, and yet fought for King George and the British connection during the American revolution. Among the number were notable Anglican clergymen, eminent judges and lawyers, and probably one hundred graduates of Harvard, Yale, King's, Pennsylvania, and William and Mary Colleges. In the records of industrial enterprise, of social and intellectual progress, of political development for a hundred years, we find the names of many eminent men, sprung from these people, to whom Canada owes a deep debt of gratitude for the services they rendered her in the most critical period of her chequered history.

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