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Published September 7, 1998

Canadian Maritime History Lesson, Part Four - United Empire Loyalists
By Sandra Devlin

This is the forth in a series of columns (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 ) dealing with Canadian Maritime history, designed to help genealogists put their research in context. This column will deal exclusively with United Empire Loyalists

The first two columns dealt with other settlement groups: United Empire Loyalists

The rapid influx of thousands of refugees from the wrong side of victory in the American Revolutionary War changed the face of the Maritime provinces almost overnight and forever. The largest migrations arrived in 1783 and 1784.

From embittered beginnings, the United Empire Loyalists flooded every region of the Maritimes (fewer in the north) -- multiplied, prospered and perhaps most significantly supplied a fresh gene infusion to the previously limited choices of many who had become precariously inter-married with cousins.

Despite American populist propaganda, the UELs were not primarily elitist snobs or ne’er-do-well rabble rousers. Some were, of course, out-of-the-ordinary in their own ways -- from Harvard University graduates and Mayflower descendants to opportunists and petty criminals -- but by far the majority were ordinary, middle to upper lower-class folks -- tradesmen, farmers, laborers, merchants, clergy and teachers. And they were certainly not all British, for among them were Dutch, Quakers, Germans, blacks, Irish and even some French.

The social position and condition of the average UEL settler in the Maritimes as described by a touring British officer of the day may have understated the hardships a bit: "Any man that will work is sure in a few years to have a comfortable farm; the first 18 months is the only hard time, and that in most places is avoided, particularly near the rivers, for in every one of them a man will catch enough in a day to feed him for a year. In the winter, with very little trouble, he supplies himself with meat by killing moose-deer; and in summer with pigeons, of which the woods are full. These he must subsist on until he had cleared enough to raise a little grain."

But the lot of the UELs was comparatively easier than their predecessors, even if rougher in comparison to the comforts and prosperity they were forced to abandon. UELs were rewarded for their loyalty by the grateful British, given supplies of food, tools, weapons and ammunition left over from the war to help them adjust. Each family received an axe, hammer and nails, saw and spade; a gun to share with five other families and a whipsaw to cut house planks. And to top it off they were given generous land grants-- each to have 100 acres, plus fifty more for each member of the family. Small wonder large families were so common!

United Empire Loyalists came to the Maritimes from all the New England colonies -- the largest numbers from New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Primary records are numerous, varied and scattered. Land grants, wills and probates, muster rolls, memorials of claim, reports and diaries have been collected, lots are microfilmed. Secondary sources and indexes are voluminous and continually growing.

This concludes the four part series of Maritime history.

I am proud to claim genes from every group except two, the Foreign Protestants and French Acadians -- and who knows, I may yet find some of them. For those who haven’t read all the columns in this series, I assure you that I haven’t forgotten the Scots (they are in my blood, too), but refer you instead to an excellent article by Bill Lawson in the Gazette, Vol. 11, Number 9

Oliver Wendell Holmes expressed the feelings I have as I wind up this series, better than I could myself: “ What is called my character, or nature, is made of infinite particles of inherited tendencies from my ancestors -those whose blood runs in my veins. A little seed of laziness comes from this grandfather; and of prodigality from that other one. One of them may have been a moody person and a pessimist; while another was of a jovial nature who always saw the sunny side; while another ambitious one never was contented with actual conditions whatever they were. Some remote grandmother, perhaps, has stamped me with a fear of dogs and a love of horses. There may be in me a bit of outlawry from some pirate forefather and a dash of piety from one who was a saint.

“ My so-called particularities, my gestures, my ways and mannerisms, I borrowed from all. Without any exception. So everything in me passes on through my children. I am sewn between ancestry and posterity. I am a drop of water in the flowing river of time. A molecule in a mountain; a cell in a great family tree.”

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