Sunday, June 1, 2014

Loyalists Move to Canada

Featuring Sir John G. Bourinot from The Story of Canada (New York, 1896: G. P. Putnam's Sons)

What happened to the colonists who remained loyal to Britain after the American Revolution? The peace negotiators spent a lot of time on this topic. American histories tend to ignore the fate of these people; Canadian histories exhibit different priorities. And now, Sir John G. Bourinot

Time: 1783
Place: Canada

It was during Governor Haldimand's administration that one of the most important events in the history of Canada occurred as a result of the American War of Independence. This event was the coming to the Provinces of many thousand people, known as United Empire Loyalists, who, during the progress of the war, but chiefly at its close, left their old homes in the thirteen colonies. When the Treaty of 1783 was under consideration, the British representatives made an effort to obtain some practical consideration from the new nation for the claims of this unfortunate people who had been subject to so much loss and obloquy during the war. All that the English envoys could obtain was the insertion of a clause in the treaty to the effect that Congress would recommend to the legislatures of the several States measures of restitution--a provision which turned out, as Franklin intimated at the time, a perfect nullity. The English Government subsequently indemnified these people in a measure for their self-sacrifice, and among other things gave a large number of them valuable tracts of land in the Provinces of British North America. Many of them settled in Nova Scotia, others founded New Brunswick and Upper Canada, now Ontario. Their influence on the political fortunes of Canada has been necessarily very considerable. For years they and their children were animated by a feeling of bitter animosity against the United States, the effects of which could be traced in later times when questions of difference arose between England and her former colonies. They have proved with the French Canadians a barrier to the growth of any annexation party, and as powerful an influence in national and social life as the Puritan element itself in the Eastern and Western States.

Among the sad stories of the past the one which tells of the exile of the Loyalists from their homes, of their trials and struggles in the valley of the St. Lawrence, then a wilderness, demands our deepest sympathy. In the history of this continent it can be only compared with the melancholy chapter which relates the removal of the French population from their beloved Acadia. During the Revolution they comprised a very large, intelligent, and important body of people, in all the old colonies, especially in New York and at the South, where they were in the majority until the peace. They were generally known as Tories, while their opponents, who supported independence, were called Whigs. Neighbor was arrayed against neighbor, families were divided, the greatest cruelties were inflicted, as the war went on, upon men and women who believed it was their duty to be faithful to king and country.

As soon as the contest was ended, their property was confiscated in several States. Many persons were banished and prohibited from returning to their homes. An American writer, Sabine, tells us that previous to the evacuation of New York, in September, 1783, "upward of twelve thousand men, women, and children embarked at the city, at Long and Staten islands, for Nova Scotia and the Bahamas." Very wrong impressions were held in those days of the climate and resources of the Provinces to which these people fled. Time was to prove that the lot of many of the Loyalists had actually fallen in pleasant places, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Upper Canada; that the country where most of them settled was superior in many respects to the New England States, and equal to the State of New York, from which so many of them came.

It is estimated that between forty and fifty thousand people reached British North America by 1786. They commenced to leave their old homes soon after the breaking out of the war, but the great migration took place in 1783-1784. Many sought the shores of Nova Scotia, and founded the town of Shelburne, which at one time held a population of ten or twelve thousand souls, the majority of whom were entirely unsuited to the conditions of the rough country around them and soon sought homes elsewhere. Not a few settled in more favorable parts of Nova Scotia, and even in Cape Breton. Considerable numbers found rest in the beautiful valley of the St. John River, and founded the Province of New Brunswick. As many more laid the beginnings of Upper Canada, in the present county of Glengarry, in the neighborhood of Kingston and the Bay of Quinte, on the Niagara River, and near the French settlements on the Detroit. A few also settled in the country now known as the Eastern Townships of French Canada. A great proportion of the men were officers and soldiers of the regiments which were formed in several colonies out of the large loyal population.

Continued on June 2, 2014

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