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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 Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors  by Althea Douglas M.A., CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


The American Revolution 1775-1783

The American Revolution brought a lot of soldiers back to Québec, from both sides, and it also brought the first wave of Loyalist refugees fleeing war and persecution by their neighbours. Many refugees were wives and children of men fighting with the British forces. The stories of some of their tribulations are told in The Loyalists of the Eastern Townships of Québec, published by the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch U.E.L. Association in 1984. An Index to this book has been compiled by Linda Corupe.[1]

1783 to 1800

Some eighty to a hundred thousand Loyalists fled the Revolution; the majority settled in the Maritime provinces. Of those who came to the old Province of Québec, most settled to the west of Montréal and eventually forced the split between Lower and Upper Canada. The Loyalists of Lower Canada were divided between the urban centres along the Saint Lawrence where they had originally come as refugees, the Eastern Townships where some settled in the early 1790s, and a handful in Gaspé where a few of their descendants remain.

When fighting ended with the Treaty of Paris (Treaty of Separation) signed 3 September 1783, the arrival of several thousand English-speaking Loyalists changed the population balance in the Province of Québec.

A census of 1785 gives the figure of 6800 for those already established in the St. Lawrence Valley. These newcomers … were astounded to realize that they had to obey foreign laws. In particular the seigneurial system was repugnant to them. They protested … [2]

As a result, on 26 December 1791, the Canada or Constitutional Act (passed 10 June) came into force, dividing Lower Canada and Upper Canada. In Lower Canada, this did not change much of the Québec Act, except that land tenure in the new Townships was to be English, i.e. free and common soccage, and there would be a democratically elected Assembly.

The Refugees and Sorel (William Henry)

The Loyalists entered Canada principally by way of Lake Champlain where “the existence of a seigneury (St. Armand) gave assurance that they were within British territory”[3] They then travelled north up the Richelieu River, coming to refugee camps at St. Johns (St-Jean), Three Rivers and Sorel; three towns that were once far more English than they are today. Sorel’s story is curious:

The seigneurie of Sorel had been purchased by the Crown during the American Revolution for military-strategic reasons and, at the end of the war, Governor Frederick Haldimand founded a town on the old site of the ‘fort de Sorel’ to accommodate some of the thousands of Loyalist refugees who had flocked to the area during the conflict. The town, soon known as William Henry, was an artificial creation, established almost overnight by the decree of a central authority. It was laid out on an ambitious plan with straight, wide streets and a large central Square.[4]

Loyalists of the Eastern Townships (op.cit.) has lists of Loyalist refugees at Machiche (1779), across the river from Sorel, as well as lists of those settled in the Seigniory of Sorel in 1784. ( Many of these moved to newly surveyed Eastern Townships in the 1790s (see page 42). As well, there is a list (see pages 37-38) of Loyalists embarking for Chaleur Bay and the two settlements that were opened up for them in Gaspé.

Marlene Simmons has published Christ Church, Anglican, Sorel, Québec, 1784-1899: index to baptisms, marriages and burials (QFHS, c. 1999) and Gary Schroder and Carol Truesdell have transcribed the memorial inscriptions of The Sorel Anglican Cemetery, Sorel, Richelieu County … (QFHS, c. 1995). Missionaries from the church at Sorel also served the British Army garrisons at several forts along the Richelieu River.

Some Useful Reading

Loyalist lineage is a popular line of research and the bibliography would be extensive, but much of it would centre on either the Maritimes or Ontario (Upper Canada). Start by reading what Brenda Merriman has to say in Genealogy in Ontario. She devotes 22 pages to sources, documents and bibliography, much of which relates to both Québec and Ontario Loyalists. Indeed, what she says about all the documents and records of the British colonial government in Upper Canada can be almost equally relevant to any other British colony, even Québec.

Loyalist of the Eastern Townships is a rather scattered collection of personal accounts, but very relevant to the settlement of the Townships. Eleven Exiles: Accounts of Loyalists of the American Revolution,[5] has two useful appendices, the first (A) a chronology of major events between 1763 and 1791, the second (B) lists the exact date of the battles and other military events. Chapter 10, ‘Sarah Sherwood: Wife and Mother, an “Invisible” Loyalist’, has considerable information on Loyalist life in Québec. The interesting bibliography is oriented to social history rather than genealogy.

Loyalists and Land

Of the Loyalist refugees who waited at St. Johns and Sorel, many had come from New England and New York State and had their eye on lands along the border. However, at the end of the American Revolution, there had been a reluctance on the part of the British authorities to allow settlement near the border, indeed some had thought it best to reserve the lands for future settlement by the French Canadians. Since Vermont only made up its mind to join the United States in 1791 there was not any clearly defined border in any case.

However, it was the pressure from the refugee Loyalists waiting impatiently in camps along the Richelieu River that forced a change of government policy. The Constitutional Act was passed late in 1791, and so, after almost a decade of petitioning government and governors, the first survey of townships was begun, though not until 1796 were the first lands in Lower Canada actually granted in free and common soccage.

It often took the first settlers many years to get their patents, but they did have the pick of the land, for by the time the official papers were registered, most settlers had already established their families on desirable sites. Nor did it take long for a new generation, “late loyalists”, and their friends and relations of indifferent political persuasion, to move north across the border. To the French Canadian majority in the Assembly at Québec City, they were all - Loyalist or later arrivals - “les Yankis”, and they had a point.

While loyal to Britain, these arrivals were not necessarily British in outlook. A lot were not even from the British Isles; some were of German origin. Many were North American born, often over several generations, and were experienced settlers. For generations they had been moving out from the comfortable established settlements in New England to unclaimed areas where young men could find land. Many grew up with an axe in their hand and knew the ways of the frontier. They are the first settlers in the row of townships along the border, and their cultural and religious connections ran south rather than north. Do not be surprised to find records south of the border.

A complete list of “Lands granted in Free and Common Soccage in the Province of Lower Canada” arranged by Townships, and listing grantor, the Leader of the Township, date of the Patent, acreage of grant and Crown and Clergy reserves is provided by the Surveyor Joseph Bouchette in Vol. I of The British Dominions in North America; or a Topographical and Statistical Description of the Provinces of Lower and Upper Canada,… (London, 1832). This should be available in the Rare Book section of many reference libraries.


  1. The Loyalists of the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Stanbridge East, Quebec: Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch U.E.L. Association, 1984) Index to The Loyalists..., Privately printed November 1992. Linda Corupe, U.E., 210 Allan Drive, Bolton, Ontario L7E1Y7.
  2. Michel Brunet "French Canada and the Early Decades of British Rule", Readings in Canadian History..., op. cit. page 212
  3. Dresser, op.cit. page 93.
  4. Allan Greer, Peasant, Lord and Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec Parishes 1740-1840 (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1985) page 199.
  5. Eleven Exiles: Accounts of Loyalists of the American Revolution, editors Phyllis R. Blakeley and John N. Grant (Toronto and Charlottetown: Dundurb Press Ltd., 1982).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors 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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

Category:Canada Category:Quebec