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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
United Empire Loyalists
- “Losers in a bitter civil war, these exiled Americans were as diverse ethnoculturally as they were in their faith, their livelihoodand their economic status. To understand and accept these facts is a basic first step toward grasping the elusive Canadian identity.” (Magee 1984, 13)
At the time of the American Revolution there were only about 123,000 people in all of Canada, excluding Indians.
Nova Scotia (including New Brunswick) had less than 20,000 inhabitants. Quebec which at that time included Ontario had a population of about 90,000. In fact, other than a few people living at military posts such as Detroit, there were no large settlements west of Montreal.
Although the numbers vary from author to author, approximately 45-50,000 Loyalists left the 13 Colonies for British North America. Of the 35,000 who gathered at New York City, most were sent by ship to the Maritimes. It’s not difficult to imagine the challenges of the officials in Halifax when they were faced with an influx of close to double what was already there.
- “In both the Maritimes and Quebec hard pressed officials, with only primitive administrative structures and limited funds suddenly found themselves swamped with new and daunting responsibilities: supplying this flash flood of humanity with food, clothing, tools, seed, temporary accommodation and later land on which to erect permanent dwellings; deciding who settled where and settling numerous land grant squabbles.” (Knowles 1992, 19)
Three governors were in charge of organizing transport: Sir Guy Carleton in New York City as commander-in-chief was charged with evacuating loyalists to Canada or Nova Scotia; Governor Frederick Haldimand at Quebec City and Governor John Parr at Halifax were to carry out the orders of the British government to accommodate those refugees who could not return home.
Governor Haldimand decided to purchase Indian lands and ordered the investigation of lands above the rapids of the St. Lawrence River. Some thought was given to establishing settlements in Cape Breton, the east coast (Gaspé to Mirimichi) and lands between Montreal and Vermont. Other than the lands between Montreal and Vermont where many Loyalists settled in the Eastern Townships, these locations were discarded as possibilities for large scale settlement because many felt the majority of Loyalists would have difficulty adapting to a way of life dependent on fishing.
In the summer of 1776, John Johnson led a group of over 300 loyalists north to Montreal to join the British troops. He raised a regiment called the King’s Royal Regiment and led several raids against the Americans. The Quebec Loyalists, mostly soldiers and their families, settled along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River near the garrison towns of Sorel, Fort St-Jean and Chambly. Some went east to Gaspé and over 7,000 went west to settle along the north shores of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario.
John Butler also led a group of loyalists to Canada at the beginning of the revolution. The Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton stationed him at Fort Niagara. The loyalists recruited by Butler became known as Butler’s Rangers.
Haldimand was concerned about settling large numbers of Loyalists, mostly English speaking and predominantly Protestant in the French areas of Quebec. Different languages, culture and religion could cause tensions. There was also concern about settling numbers of Americans too close to the border. Should later hostilities develop between the two countries where would their loyalties lie?
When we look at the different types of settlers who came we can begin to think about the various records they may have created. However, Patricia Kennedy in her article, “The Loyalists, their Baggage and Baggage Handlers” reminds us: “...we must consider that records were created by persons who were concerned first and foremost with their own interests, not ours.” (1984, 75)
So, there is not one single definitive ‘Loyalist List’ that we can consult. We have to use some of that genealogical detective work to build the story of our Loyalist ancestors.
The flow of Loyalists occurred over a number of years. Some left early, beginning in 1775 when resistance in the colonies along the Atlantic coast to new British policies developed into open rebellion. The movement grew and the exodus continued even after the peace treaty was signed in 1783 and until the end of the century. Not all came north, some went to the West Indies and Bermuda, and some went to Britain. Those who arrived between 1791 and 1815 were known as “Late Loyalists” and generally left the United States for economic rather than political reasons.
Free land grants were promised by the British government as well as compensation for loss of property. Food, tools and other supplies with which to begin a new life were also promised.
- “Some made this decision willingly, immediately and inevitably. Others were driven to it after that heart-searching and travail of spirit which only a civil war can bring. Some sprang quickly to arms to support the Crown, others did so when forced to take a stand one way or the other, while still others tried to the last to stay in the shadows. The Tories, as their enemies contemptuously dubbed them, or the Loyalists as they proudly called themselves, were to be found in every level of society, from the wealthy merchant to the struggling backwoods farmer and in every colony from the province of Maine to the recently established settlements in Georgia.” (Craig 1972, 2-3)
In October 1783 the government purchased land from the Mississauga Indians covering territory from Cataraqui to the Trent River and in May 1784 the government acquired land west of Niagara and at the head of Lake Ontario under an agreement that would also allow land for a home for Six Nations Indians. The Six Nations Confederacy lost their land to the Americans and Chief Joseph Brant had petitioned the British for assistance.
The land was surveyed and made available to the Loyalists and soldiers being demobilized in British North America. Lands were to be allotted to settlers according to status and rank. For example, heads of families received 100 acres plus an additional 50 acres for each family member. A single man received 50 acres, non commissioned officers 200 acres, privates 100 acres plus 50 more for each family member. Promises to officers ranged from 1000 acres for field officers, to 700 acres for captains, to 500 acres for subalterns and warrant officers. In July 1783, King George III decreed that Loyalists should be given land. After 1789, sons of Loyalists were granted 80 hectares when they reached the age of 18; a daughter received her 80 hectares when she married.
The Loyalists were a varied group comprised of English, Highland Scots, Germans and native-born Americans. Among the Loyalist regiments were the Butlers Rangers, The King’s Royal Regiment of New York and The Loyal Rangers. Some Loyalists were British and Hessian soldiers who joined the Loyalist Corps during the war. For the men who enlisted and fought, many of their families congregated in refugee camps along the St. Lawrence between Quebec and Montreal. Although both Loyalists and discharged soldiers received free land grants, only the Loyalists were exempt from fees and had the privilege of their children’s eligibility for free land and the use of the U.E. initials after their names.
The mass evacuation from New York included 3000 free Blacks who settled in the Shelburne and Birchtown areas of Nova Scotia. In 1792, 1200 Loyalist Blacks left Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone. TheBook of Negroes is a hand-written list of black passengers who left New York in 1783. The following details about the ledger are taken from the Black Loyalist website (Dec 2007) where there is a list of names taken from the book:
It gives a name, age, physical description, and status (slave or free) for each passenger, and often an owner’s name and place of residence. Three copies of the Book of Negroes exist: one in England, at the Public Records Office, Kew; one in the United States, at the National Archives, Washington; and one in Canada, at the Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax. Knowledge of the Black Loyalists begins with this list, made by British and American inspectors.
Fourteen thousand civilian and military Loyalists went to the St. John River Valley in 1783 and six hundred Loyalists went to Île St. Jean (Prince Edward Island). Many later moved on from there.
- “In the short term, the Loyalists not only transformed Nova Scotia and brought into existence New Brunswick, they also precipitated the division of Quebec into Lower Canada and Upper Canada (Ontario).” (Knowles 1992, 25)
In order to receive the promised assistance, claimants had to satisfy the British government that they (or their parents) had in some manner supported or upheld the royal cause.
Many books have been written which contain lists of Loyalists’ names. Most of these have been developed through analysis of a variety of “official” documents such as:
- Petitions for land - Upper and Lower Canada land grants—the Loyalist would have to state he had been a soldier or in some way supported the British.
- Sons and daughters of Loyalists were allowed to apply for free land grants—those petitions will state who their father was.
- Loyalist claims for losses—many indicate where in the 13 Colonies they lived.
- Muster Rolls
- bullets Rations lists
- Upper Canada District Rolls
Cataraqui Loyalist Rations List
List of Loyalists Victualled at the 1st Township north of Cataraqui, 1 July-31 Aug, 1786. Library and Archives Canada. RG 19, Vol. 4447, File Folder 2, cover page.
List of Loyalists Victualled at the 1st Township north of Cataraqui, 1 July-31 Aug, 1786. Library and Archives Canada. RG 19, Vol. 4447, File Folder 2, part of page 1.
Upper Canada Land Petition
Hannah Gode Land Petition. Upper Canada Land Petitions, 1797. Series G, Vol. 203a, Bundle 3, #64, Library and Archives Canada. Microfilm C-2028.
“Loyalism was more than a population movement of displaced Americans, massive though that was. It was also the transference of a body of ideas, attitudes, beliefs and forms of political and social behaviour which must have had some connection with the subsequent configuration of provincial and national cultures, at least among English speaking Canadians.” (Wise 1984, x)
The website for the Atlantic Canada Portal contains a long list of Loyalist resources: books, theses and articles. Although most pertain to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick there are others which address Ontario Loyalists or loyalism in more general terms.
The Genealogy and Family History of the Library and Archives Canada provides information on various Loyalist sources they hold from British Military and Naval Records to Land Petitions to Loyalist Lists
The United Empire Loyalist Association was established in 1896. One of their objectives was to preserve Loyalist records. Their website provides information about the many branches and membership requirements.
RootsWeb also has a UELMailing List:
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.