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Article Published January 28, 2000


Brenda Dougall Merriman
Who Were The Loyalists?
By: Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL.
Email: merrigeneal@sympatico.ca


To become a member of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada, the eligibility terms (in Article 5 of the Association bylaws), require that your Loyalist ancestor be shown as a person:-
    who was a resident as of 19 April 1775 in one of the American colonies that declared independence from Britain, and
    who joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in 1783, or demonstrated loyalty to the Crown in some other way, and
    who removed to British-held territory during or at the end of the War, and/or
    who served with a Loyalist regiment (aka provincial corps) that was disbanded in British-held territory after the War, or
    a Six Nations Indian who removed to the Grand River or Tyendinaga (Bay of Quinte) reserves at the same time and under the same conditions as the above.
To elaborate a little, a Loyalist was not necessarily born in the colonies; many were from the British Isles and had only established themselves relatively recently, before war broke out. "Joining the Royal Standard" did not only apply to those men who signed up for active service with the newly forming support regiments, but also to the individuals and families who fled to, and sought protection from, British forts and towns. Disbandment of the loyal provincial regiments (the terms "provincial corps" and "Loyalist regiments" are often used interchangeably) took place mainly in Quebec and Nova Scotia. A later column will outline more about this subject. The Six Nations were Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Tuscarora peoples.

Regardless of whether you want to apply for a membership certificate or not, these are the generally accepted standards today, of the ancestor's "eligibility". It must be emphasized that in the 18th century, the qualifications were not this clear-cut during the initial chaotic conditions of resettlement and the evolution of government policy and bureaucratic paperwork. Faced with the draining costs of the war, the maintenance of the refugees, and the reluctance of the new Republic to provide compensation for their losses of property in the colonies, Britain's ultimate practical reward was the bestowal of free land to the Loyalists and their families, although a small percentage were able to receive financial compensation through the Claims for Losses Commission. This concept, receipt of land without payment of any fees, that extended to your children, was so attractive to 18th century land-conscious North Americans, that numbers of men applied who did not exactly fit the Loyalist requirements. Some were successful. Before we argue the meaning of loyalty, we can pause to consider that those somewhat remote ancestors most likely had little different personal motives or ambitions than we have today.

Novices to genealogy, or to the Loyalist concept, may find "qualifiers" attached to the word Loyalists in their reading of historical literature. Here is a brief attempt to describe the distinctions, some not heard as commonly as others, some that overlap each other, and some debatable:
    Pre-Loyalists were people who had left the American colonies before the war began; the phrase is usually applied to settlers from New England in Nova Scotia. Of course they do not fit the above standards, for whatever reasons they left New England. See Esther Clark Wright, Planters and Pioneers, Nova Scotia, 1749-1775, Hantsport, NS, 1982.

    First Loyalists is occasionally used to describe the refugees who fled to British zones of North America before the war ended.

    Maritime(s) Loyalists originally settled in eastern British territory and received land grants there, eg Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, but later came to Upper Canada (or their children did) where they could not again claim free land. Not much has been written about these families as a migrant group. The contemporary governors in the maritime provinces did not follow the lead of Dorchester's 1789 proclamation regarding the UE honour. See Neil McKinnon, This Unfriendly Soil, the Loyalist Experience in Nova Scotia, 1783-1791, McGill-Queens Press, 1986.

    Associated Loyalists was a name most connected with an informal group of unattached provincials and civilians based in New York City. In the face of the tumultuous situation in New York in 1783, Commander Guy Carleton authorized them to assist the evacuation by sea to Nova Scotia. Some opted to head by ship for Quebec instead. The leaders of the latter were Major Peter Van Alstyne and Captain Michael Grass; descendants of the latter have a reunion planned in 2000. See Larry Turner, Voyage of a Different Kind, the Associated Loyalists of Kingston and Adolphustown, reprint 1999 from Global Heritage Press.

    Treasury Loyalists were American colonists who went to England during or after the war to plead for assistance. They were given some financial and other aid in London. Eventually most dispersed throughout Great Britain. By 1792 the Treasury Board and the Colonial Office decided to send about 100 families to Upper Canada on government-paid passage, with the prospect of provisioning and land grants upon arrival. Clusters settled in Frontenac and Prince Edward Counties and the town of York; a few stayed in Montreal or went to the Niagara District. Thomas Sylvester has generously shared his work-in-progress on this little-studied group. Please contact this column if you can share history or descent of these families (put "Gazette Sylvester" or "Gazette Treasury" in your subject line). See Mary Beth Norton, The British Americans, the Loyalist Exiles in England 1774-1789, Boston, Little Brown & Co, 1972.

    Late Loyalists were individuals who were not behind the British lines by the end of the War in 1783 but who claimed UE benefits on arrival in British territory after the deadlines of the Claims for Losses Commission; the term is also loosely used for the next description on our list. Some did receive free land grants and some did not. A proclamation by the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in 1806 ambiguously extended the date of residency to July 1798.

    Simcoe Loyalists came to Upper Canada after Governor Simcoe extended an invitation to Americans in the 1790s to become new settlers. While they may have claimed retroactive loyalty, it is unlikely that they suffered loss of property or provided evidence of joining the Royal Standard during the war.

    Black Loyalists were a significant minority group, especially in the evacuation to Nova Scotia. A mixture of slaves and freed men, they were not as clearly identified as, say, the Iroquois Loyalists. They felt encouraged to place their faith with Britain which had previously outlawed slavery. Almost half of these people, faced with discrimination in their new domicile, opted to emigrate once again, to the new African colony of Sierra Leone. See James W Walker, The Black Loyalists, the Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870, Halifax, 1976.

    American Loyalists or Loyalist Americans is a phrase that to some, simply denotes the Loyalists. More often it is used to distinguish the Loyalists who lived in one of the American colonies before the Revolution, from men who were resident in colonies that remained loyal. Certainly there is evidence that men of both British or French descent, who had been settled in such places as Detroit or throughout Quebec, joined the Royal Standard. They did not necessarily receive UE benefits at the time, according to the "technicality" of the first point in the first paragraph above.
As already stated, contemporary treatment regarding eligibility was not always consistent. The descendant who investigates original documents and lists may find that the ancestor or his children had conflicting "official" decisions at different times. The lists created and maintained by different government departments do not necessarily coincide with each other, or show all the same names. This can be a source of frustration or challenge to the family researcher (positive thinking!). It may be enlightening to say who were not considered Loyalists, although there are conflicting cases here, too. Free land grants have been made to ancestors who did not fit the Loyalist category. Wherever there's a "rule", you can be sure to find exceptions.

Soldiers of the regular British Army were not Loyalists. They were hired and paid to fight for the King. This category includes the regiments hired by the British War Office from Germanic areas of Europe. Some of the soldiers had had previous experience fighting in North America, and some chose to remain and settle here after the Revolution. They were given certain preferential treatment to acquire land grants, but without the exclusive UE privileges. See Virginia DeMarce, German Military Settlers in Canada, after the American Revolution, publisher Joy Reisinger, 1984. Others have written about specific German troops, a topic for another day.

Men or families who retained real property in an American state after 1783, perhaps by inheritance, or through complicated family dealings, and who delayed entry to British territory, were generally regarded with suspicion as to claims of loyalty and the benefits thereof. However, depending on the excuse for delay, and whether they knew someone of influence, a free land grant or Loyalist status may have resulted.

Quakers (Society of Friends), Mennonites, and other religious groups were theoretically excluded as Loyalists because their professed pacifism precluded the taking up of arms. Here, too, there are exceptions because many of them were made to suffer for refusing allegiance to the American patriots; some of them actively assisted the British cause without overt military participation. See G Elmore Reaman, The Trail of the Black Walnut, McClelland & Stewart, 1957 (many later reprints), and Arthur G Dorland, The Quakers in Canada, a history, 2nd edition, Canadian Friends Historical Association/Ryerson Press, 1968.

Women were seldom considered Loyalists since obviously they were not part of the fighting forces and seldom had other opportunity to demonstrate acts of loyalty. The majority was concerned with the protection of their families, whether remaining in their American homes while their men were absent, or subsisting in British forts and refugee camps. Many widows applied for and received Loyalist benefits, on the strength of their husband's service to the King. Occasionally their own names have been entered on lists as "UE". See Janice Potter-McKinnon, While the Women Only Wept, McGill-Queens University Press, 1993.

Future columns will discuss the most widely consulted lists of Loyalists, and the role of the loyal provincial regiments. From there we will enter the field of original sources for genealogy. If we are not all exhausted by then, we can feature some actual case studies. Your feedback is invited on the general areas we have mentioned so far in three columns covering very basic issues additions, corrections, debate, criticism, suggestions for future discussion it's all yours! My thanks to those who have taken time to send encouraging messages.

More Reading:

G Elmore Reaman, The Trail of the Iroquois Indians, how the Iroquois nation saved Canada for the British, Peter Martin Associates, 1967.

Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, Syracuse University Press, 1972.

Wallace Brown, The King's Friends, the composition and motives of the American Loyalist claimants, Brown University Press, 1965.

Christopher Moore, The Loyalists: Revolution, Exile, Settlement, McClelland & Stewart, 2nd edition 1994.



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