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Book Review: United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Ontario)
Article posted: July 14, 2006
By Dick Eastman,   Biography & Archived Articles

Brenda Dougall Merriman has just released a new book, United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Ontario). I had a chance to read the book this week and must say that I am impressed with it. I have done some Loyalist research in years past, and now I wish this book was available to me back then. It would have saved a lot of time!

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a Loyalist was a person who remained loyal to King George III during the American Revolution. After the war ended, almost all Loyalists moved to re-settle in one of the British regions in the 1780s. The United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada (UELAC), an organization of Loyalist descendants, uses a somewhat more strict definition: A Loyalist was a person who was all of the following:
  • A male or female resident of an American colony on or before 19 April 1775, when independence was declared from Great Britain
  • One who joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in 1783, served with an American Loyalist regiment, or demonstrated loyalty to the Crown in some other way
  • One who removed to British-held territory during or at the end of the War
In addition, Six Nations Indians who removed to what later became the Grand River or Tyendinaga reserves at the same time and under the same circumstances are also considered to be Loyalists. The Six Tribes were: the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Tuscarora, plus a few smaller tribes.

Loyalists were not always people who were born in one of the thirteen colonies. Some of them were born in England, Canada, or British-owned islands in the Caribbean, from which they moved to the Colonies before 1775. Some were born in still other lands but emigrated to America. When scanning a list of Loyalist names, you will occasionally see Dutch, German, and other names from the European continent.

When discussing the American Revolution, American history books rarely mention the fact that tens of thousands of American residents "joined the Royal Standard." That is, they remained loyal to the King while many of their neighbors joined the movement for independence. Thousands of these Loyalists joined the British militia and fought in battles against their fellow countrymen. Others supported the King and his forces in other ways: as guides, spies, couriers, suppliers, and guards.

Many of the Loyalists lost their homes, property, assets, or even their lives. Women became widows and children became orphans, the same as in any war. When the war was over, most of the Loyalists and their families were driven from their homes by their neighbors and local officials of the new American state governments.

U.S. history books largely ignore the stories of the Loyalists and their plights following the war. Canadian history books, however, typically give full information about the Loyalists and their stories. Indeed, preserving Loyalist heritage is as popular in Canada as preserving Revolutionary War soldiers' heritage is in the United States. The United Sates has the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution while Canada has the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada. All three organizations have loosely similar goals, each honoring their ancestors who fought in the American Revolution.

Loyalists left the United States, often with great difficulties and hardships, going to Upper Canada (now called Ontario), Quebec, or the Atlantic Provinces of Canada (now called Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). Others went to England, and still more went to Jamaica and other British possessions in the Caribbean. The new United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada focuses on those who went to Ontario.

Brenda Dougall Merriman presents the material in this book in a very logical order. Here is a list of the chapters in United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Ontario):
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Who Is A Loyalist?
  • Chapter 2: What is the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada?
  • Chapter 3: How Do I Get To My Loyalist?
  • Chapter 4: Is My Ancestor A Loyalist?
  • Chapter 5: Case Examples: Working With Petitions
  • Chapter 6: Reading and Reference
  • Index
As in any genealogy research, information about Loyalists comes from many sources. Perhaps the richest source is the many petitions sent to the government asking for land or other relief. Petitions may have come either from the Loyalist himself, from his widow, or from his children. For instance, here is one such petition listed in the book (I have tried to copy the spelling, capitalization, and punctuation used in the original document):
    28 April 1790
    To His Excellency the Governor in Council

    The Petition of Coonrod Miller a former Soldier in the Queens Loyal Rangers Commanded by Major Edward Jessup -

    Humbly Herewith,

    That your Petition begs leave to represent that he has not rec'd the two Hundred acres of Land ordered by his Excellency Lord Dorchester, as a further Addition to his Majesty's bounty, for all deserving Loyalists Settled under the Instructions of the year 83.

    And in your Petition considers himself entitled to the Said Bounty he therefore prays it might be granted to him -
While the petition wording is a good source of information, the backside of the document is equally valuable. It states that Miller was granted 100 acres of land, not the two hundred that he had asked for. At that time, 100 acres was the bounty given to those who served with the rank of private; so, we can assume that was the rank that Miller held in the Queens Loyal Rangers. His land was granted in the District of Lunenburg, which gives more clues as to where later records for him and his family may be found.

This is but one example of the many facts, hints, and other information given in this book. The book also describes how to find information in many other contemporary documents.

This book is a "how to" book, not a listing of Loyalist names. It provides coaching of where to find those names. I found Brenda Dougall Merriman's writing style to be very easy to read. She presents the information in an informal manner that makes the book very interesting to read. The book is full of information that will help anyone seeking Loyalist ancestors. It contains information for the beginner as well as for the experienced genealogist.

United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Ontario) is a 192-page 6" by 9" hardcover book that belongs on the bookshelf of any Loyalist descendant. Anyone wishing to join the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada will find this publication to be especially valuable as it thoroughly discusses the requirements to join that hereditary organization.

United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Ontario) is available directly from the publisher, Global Heritage Press Inc. You can also order it through most any bookstore if you specify ISBN 1-897210-84-1

Posted to Eastmans Online Genealogy Newsletter by Dick Eastman on July 13, 2006

Click here for more information on this title or to order a copy from the publisher.

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