Monday, June 2, 2014

Loyalists’ Story of Pride and Privation

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

Previously on After the American Revolution, Where Did the Loyalists Go?

Time: 1783
Place: Canada

Among them were also men who had occupied positions of influence and responsibility in their respective communities, divines, judges, officials, and landed proprietors, whose names were among the best in the old colonies, as they are certainly in Canada. Many among them gave up valuable estates which had been acquired by the energy of their ancestors. Unlike the Puritans who founded New England, they did not take away with them their valuable property in the shape of money and securities or household goods.

A rude log hut by the side of a river or lake, where poverty and wretchedness were their lot for months, and even years in some cases, was the refuge of thousands, all of whom had enjoyed every comfort in well-built houses, and not a few even luxury in stately mansions, some of which have withstood the ravages of time and can still be pointed out in New England. Many of the Loyalists were quite unfitted for the rude experiences of a pioneer life, and years passed before they and their children conquered the wilderness and made a livelihood. The British Government was extremely liberal in its grants of lands to this class of persons in all the Provinces.

The Government supplied these pioneers in the majority of cases with food, clothing, and necessary farming implements. For some years they suffered many privations; one was called "the year of famine," when hundreds in Upper Canada had to live on roots and even the buds of trees or anything that might sustain life. Fortunately some lived in favored localities, where pigeons and other birds, and fish of all kinds, were plentiful. In the summer and fall there were quantities of wild fruit and nuts. Maple sugar was a great luxury, when the people once learned to make it from the noble tree, whose symmetrical leaf may well be made the Canadian national emblem. It took the people a long while to accustom themselves to the conditions of their primitive pioneer life, but now the results of the labors of these early settlers and their descendants can be seen far and wide in smiling fields, richly laden orchards, and gardens of old-fashioned flowers throughout the country which they first made to blossom like the rose. The rivers and lakes were the only means of communication in those early times, roads were unknown, and the wayfarer could find his way through the illimitable forests only by the help of the "blazed" trees and the course of streams. Social intercourse was infrequent except in autumn and winter, when the young managed to assemble as they always will. Love and courtship went on even in this wilderness, though marriage was uncertain, as the visits of clergymen were very rare in many places, and magistrates could alone tie the nuptial knot--a very unsatisfactory performance to the cooler lovers who loved their church, its ceremonies and traditions, as dearly as they loved their sovereign.

The story of those days of trial has not yet been adequately written; perhaps it never will be, for few of those pioneers have left records behind them. As we wander among the old burying-grounds of those founders of Western Canada and New Brunswick, and stand by the gray, moss-covered tablets, with names effaced by the ravages of years, the thought will come to us, what interesting stories could be told by those who are laid beneath the sod, of sorrows and struggles, of hearts sick with hope deferred, of expectations never realized, of memories of misfortune and disaster in another land where they bore so much for a stubborn and unwise king. Yet these grass-covered mounds are not simply memorials of suffering and privation; each could tell a story of fidelity to principle, of forgetfulness of self-interest, of devotion and self-sacrifice--the grandest story that human annals can tell—a story that should be ever held up to the admiration and emulation of the young men and women of the present times, who enjoy the fruits of the labors of those loyal pioneers.

Although no noble monument has yet been raised to the memory of these founders of new provinces--of English-speaking Canada; although the majority lie forgotten in old grave-yards where the grass has grown rank, and common flowers alone nod over their resting-places, yet the names of all are written in imperishable letters in Provincial annals. Those Loyalists, including the children of both sexes, who joined the cause of Great Britain before the Treaty of Peace in 1783, were allowed the distinction of having after their name the letters U. E. to preserve the memory of their fidelity to a United Empire. A Canadian of these modern days, who traces his descent from such a source, is as proud of his lineage as if he were a Derby or a Talbot of Malahide, or inheritor of other noble names famous in the annals of the English peerage.

Continued on June 4, 2014

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