Who Were the Loyalists?

by F. Eleanor Chapin

"The story of the Loyalists is a fascinating narrative of loyalty, courage and hardship. As British subjects living in the American colonies, they maintained their loyalty to the Crown in 1775 when a large number of dissidents chose to rebel against their king, George III, break away from Britain and form a new nation. However, about a third of the population in the Thirteen Colonies wished to remain under British rule. They were ordinary folk--farmers, tradesmen, merchants and a few professionals of various ethnic origins, as well as many native people who fought alongside the British.

"The 'U.E. Loyalist' was one who resided in the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, joined the British forces, and as a result had his property confiscated. Eventually forced to flee to Canada, England, Florida or the West Indies, the Loyalist had to be in Canada by 1789.

"Large sections of territory were acquired from the Indian nations and in July 1783 King George III decreed that the Loyalists should be granted land. Those who had "adhered to the 'Unity of the Empire'", as well as their sons and daughters, were eligible to receive grants of 100 acres, without fees, from the Land Boards. The Loyalists and their families eventually made their way to Upper Canada and eventually received compensation for their losses. They received rations and tools to support themselves during the first year. When the land was surveyed, Loyalists received land commensurate with their position in the army. A private received 200 acres while a general received a thousand or more. All the children would each receive 100 acres on reaching the age of 21. A minimum of 10 acres had to be cleared on each 200 acre lot and a building erected before a deed would be issued; otherwise, the land reverted to the Crown. Many received grants that were located miles away from where they had first settled and found it impossible to reach. As more settlers arrived, the unclaimed lands were given to the new arrivals.

"Regular British and German soldiers were considered to be 'military claimants.'

"The Loyalists who returned to England, whether by choice or not, received payment for their losses in England; they became known as 'Treasury Loyalists.' Afterwards, if they decided to return to Canada to settle, they were no longer entitled to free land. The Loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick received free land but their children did not. Within a few years, many who settled there moved to Upper Canada. When Simcoe was named Lieutenant-Governor in 1791, he asked many of his old officers who had settled in the Maritimes to come and help him with his settlement plans in Upper Canada; many did. Some of them had their names recorded in the 'U.E. List,' but they had to prove that no land had been given to them in the Maritimes.

"In Nova Scotia there were the 'Pre-Loyalists' who had settled in the colonies, sided with the British and left before the war broke out. Some of them did fight for the British, others did not.

"There were also Loyalists, mainly of French origin who came from Kentucky and Tennessee, who settled in Lower Canada and in the Detroit-Windsor area. Some Scottish settlers went from Glengarry to man the fort at Detroit. Loyalist settlements around Detroit, Niagara and Michilimackinac, near Sault St. Marie, began as early as 1779.

"The 'Late Loyalists' or 'Simcoe's Loyalists' from New York and Pennsylvania were offered free land for pioneering but were charged patent fees. They may have remained loyal to the Crown during the war, but they did not take up arms at that time and as a result their properties were not confiscated. While their patriot neighbours troubled them for being partial to British rule, when they decided to move to Upper Canada, they sold their properties and retained their assets. Since they are not deemed to have actually suffered for their attachment to the Crown, they do not bear the 'U.E.' title.

"Loyalists included people from many backgrounds, including Dutch, German, Scots, Negroes, native Indians and some English; at times it is difficult to determine the Loyalist's exact nationality.

"Loyalists fought in one of the corps such as the King's Royal Regiment of New York or Butler's Rangers. They may have been with the Indian Department, with one of the transport corps driving a supply wagon, working in a bateau or as a member of the spy network. Many of them assisted persecuted families to cross the border, especially Quakers whose religion forbade them to bear arms but who still wished to remain under British rule.

"The studies of history and genealogy go hand-in-hand. A useful means for understanding historical events is to learn about the experiences of one's family.

"The Loyalists faced many difficulties. Virgin forests had to be cleared, a makeshift home erected and a crop planted. They built the first roads, churches, schools, mills and villages. Maintaining their health was difficult; failure meant disease, inability to support the family and often death. At that time, only half the newborn babies would reach the age of five while the average life expectancy was about 35 years.

"In 1789 Governor Sir Guy Carlelton (1724-1808), declared that, as a mark of honour, all those who had remained loyal to the principle of a United Empire and who had joined the Royal Standard in America before 1783 should "be distinguished by the letters U.E. affixed to their names." A list was compiled of those who qualified but some names were never entered.

"Much information is available about the Loyalists in the 'Loyalist Claims.'"

NOTE: This has been printed with the permission of Eleanor Chapin, Author, and published in LOYALIST FAMILIES OF THE GRAND RIVER BRANCH, UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS' ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, Copyright 1991, Grand River Branch, U.E.L.

Table of Contents, Schaffer

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