Articles written by Branch Members


A United Empire Loyalist is a person who lived in the American Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in 1783, either bore arms or otherwise proved his loyalty, lost all his possessions as a consequence, and fled to Canada to live under the British flag.

We should first take time to place their story in an historical setting, so we can better understand the events that followed.

It was the age of expansion and Empire building that followed the great voyages of discovery in the New World.

Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, claiming the area around the Caribbean for Spain, and Cortez followed in 1501 seizing Mexico from the Indians. John and Sebastian Cabot in 1497 explored the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Grand Banks for England, and Jacques Cartier in 1534/35 claimed the St. Lawrence basin for France.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert began a short-lived colony in Newfoundland in 1583, followed by Sir Walter Raleigh who made attempts at a colony in north Carolina in 1607 which he named Virginia after Queen Elizabeth. The Jamestown settlement was the first permanent colony in British America.

Henry Hudson explored Hudson Strait and Bay in 1601, searching for the Northwest Passage to the Orient.

The chief contestants were England, France and Spain, although Holland had a stake in the New World by establishing a settlement at New Amsterdam, later bought by the British and renamed New York. Explorations were also made by Portugal, and perhaps Italy. Spain was chiefly interested in gold, France discovered the great wealth to be had in the fur trade, so was in no hurry to settle the wilderness and drive out the animals. England, on the other hand, was looking for suitable places for permanent colonies. Persecution of break-away sects from the old religions had made the Quakers and Puritans in England ready to try their lot in the New World. They were joined by displaced Protestant Huguenots from France, and Palatine Germans from along the Rhine who had taken refuge in England to escape persecution in their own lands.

So they came in fleets, beginning with the Mayflower in 1620 and the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. Most were from the British Isles.

Later, other large tracts of land were settled on Grants from the King, like William Penn in Pennsylvania, and Sir William Johnson along the Mohawk River in New York State. They grew and expanded north and west until by 1760 there were 13 separate colonies, with a population of 1,250,000.

New France, by contrast, had a population of 65,000 with centers in Quebec and Montreal, and seigniorial settlements along the St. Lawrence River.

The Seven Years War by this time had altered the picture permanently. It was chiefly a European war, but its effects were of great importance in the New World. It began by aligning most of the countries of Europe against Prussia, which was becoming too powerful to suit the smaller nations. England sided with Prussia, which pitted her against her old enemy, France. The expansion northward of the American colonies was bad news for the French fur-traders, who enlisted their Indian friends to destroy the settler's homes, massacring, looting and burning in an effort to discourage their advance into territory that is now Vermont and Upper New York. France also laid claim to the land west of the Alleganies following La Salle's exploration down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, where he took possession of the land for France and named it Louisiana for his king.

This hemmed the rapidly-growing colonies into a strip along the Atlantic coast. To rectify this threat to her colonies, England moved the war to the New World. General Wolfe seized Quebec for England and France's empire in America was entirely lost by the Treaty of Paris, 1763, that ended the Seven Years War.

Between that date and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, several things made the outcome inevitable:

  1. With the threat of French and Indian attacks now removed, the 13 colonies began to feel their strength and potential. Settlers were moving farther north towards the St. Lawrence River and west across the Allegheny Mountains into the Mississippi river valley. But the westward advance was again thwarted by the Quebec Act of 1774 whereby Governor Sir Guy Carleton extended the boundaries of Quebec south to the Ohio River. This was a move to placate the defeated French colonists and keep them loyal to Britain. The French were pleased with this and other concessions like language and religious rights, but it did nothing toward keeping the American colonists happy.
  2. No longer needing protection of the British army, the colonists resented the presence of the army and were angry when taxes were imposed on them to help pay the expenses of the late Seven Years War, although part of it had been fought on their behalf. Some of the most unpopular taxes - like the Stamp Tax - were withdrawn, but others on imported items like tea and sugar, remained in effect and caused a great deal of resentment. The slogan "no taxation without representation" was raised, and a shipload of tea was dumped into Boston Harbour by patriots dressed as Indians. This is the (in)famous Boston Tea Party. British troops were sent to put down the riots, Boston Harbour was closed, and a few lives were lost. Paul Revere's famous midnight ride from Boston to Lexington comes in here, when he was told by spies that the British intended to arrest several ringleaders and send them to England for trial. He succeeded in warning them, but eight rebels were killed, and the British troops, surprised at the resistance, retired to Boston.

These incidents united the colonists against England, which they now perceived as their enemy, and war was declared in 1776.

The question now arises:        Who would remain loyal and who would join the rebels?

They were divided roughly into thirds: loyal, rebel and neutral.

  1. Those with the most to lose in position and possessions would undoubtedly remain loyal; also those who were ardently British and wanted the Colonies to remain under the Crown. Few doubted that the trained British troops would quickly suppress a rebellion by untrained backwoodsmen, and life would soon return to normal.
  2. The rebels or Patriots - the Americans would say that they were fearless, clear-thinking statesmen of the time, ready to cut the ties with an oppressive Mother Country and get on with fulfilling Manifest Destiny. To the British, they were the ambitious, hot-heads and malcontents.
  3. The one third who remained neutral were people whose religious beliefs would not allow them to fight, like Quakers, Mennonites, and Puritans. Those who just wanted to stay out of trouble, hang onto their hard-won possessions, and be on the winning side when it was all over, would also be neutral, although as the war progressed, it became pretty difficult to remain neutral.

Among the Loyalists, about 75 Regiments were formed that fought beside the British all through the war. Some we read the most about are:

  • Sir John Johnson's King's Royal Regiment of New York
  • The Queen's Rangers under Lt. Col. John Simcoe
  • Roger's Rangers, Butler's Rangers, and Jessups
  • Royal Highlanders from North Carolina
  • De Lancey's
  • and the Mohawk Indians under Chief Joseph Brant.

Causes of the British Defeat:

We shall skip over the War itself, Bunker's Hill and all that, and sum up the causes of the British defeat.

  1. The Tory government in England, under Lord North, was not popular and had many critics. There was considerable sympathy in England toward the rebels, and that kept them from pursuing a really vigorous campaign. For instance, after the resounding victory of General Howe with 20,000 troops captured New York city and drove Washington and the rebels out, a quick follow-up would probably have put an end to the war. Instead, General Howe spent his time in the city socializing, while the rebels used the time to strengthen and train their numbers. Washington was a very able general.
  2. The British leaders never made full use of the Provincial Regiments, believing them to be inferior to themselves in training and discipline, whereas their knowledge of the backwoods would have been invaluable.
  3. The rebels also had the advantage of knowing the wilderness country where most if the fighting took place, and they used their knowledge to good advantage.
  4. Another factor in the outcome was the assistance received from France, always ready to take a poke at her old enemy.

At any rate, the British were defeated, the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 put an end to the war, and the American colonies were free. Most of the Loyalists lost everything and fled to England, Canada, Bermuda and Jamaica. As many as 100,000 left, about 50,000 going to Canada. They were so unpopular in their former homeland that their lives were not safe. Tarring and feathering, looting, burning and hanging resumed, and there was to be no recompense for their lost property. Their only hope was in the promise of free land and assistance in British North America that had been made on behalf of George Third.

Loyalists had been gathering in New York, still held by the British, as various parts of the Colonies fell to the rebels, and there they remained until transportation could be arranged to take them to their new homes. They were organized into Companies, and ships were hired, equipped, and victualed, and the passengers lived aboard until all was ready for departure. This meant having favorable weather too, so it was sometimes a month before they finally sailed.

During 1783, at least five fleets of up to 14 ships each carried about 30,000 refugees from New York to various destinations in Nova Scotia, St. John River, Port Roseway or Shelburne, Annapolis and Halifax. Only one ship was lost - with about 113 Maryland Loyalists aboard.

George Linkletter and his family came to St. John in one of the late sailings in 1783, and proceeded up the river to Gagetown, where they spent the winter. Food ran short and conditions were not to his liking, so in the spring the family made the difficult trip on foot to Shelburne and the Port Roseway settlement. Shelburne was already overcrowded, the land was poor and rocky, and the Loyalists were leaving as fast as they had come. The Linkletters went to PEI, then called St. John's Island, a beautiful place with rich red soil, and a long coastline with many bays and coves; a perfect place for maritime activities. His grant was on the present site of Summerside.

Other ships from New York carried Loyalists down the St. Lawrence to Montreal and the camps at Sorel.

The Northern Loyalist Regiments had been withdrawing into what is now Canada as the war went against them. Some were in the camps at Sorel in the east, and Niagara and Detroit in the west. Here their families eventually joined them after long and arduous journeys along Indian trails and following the rivers. Most of the journey would be made on foot as few possessed a horse, and very little could be carried except for food. The young, able-bodied men were with their regiments, so women were often the leaders. Each group contained many small children and elderly people, and many succumbed to the hardships and never reached their promised land. Every family has a story to tell of that exodus, passed on from one generation to the next. I would like to share one of them with you. This family tradition was written in 1908 by a relative of Amy Summers, one of our members.

"My great-great-grandfather's [Andrew Summers] family, consisting of 4 sons and 5 daughters, were very intimate with the Indians, especially the Chief, Red Cloud. This Chief informed the family about two weeks before it took place, that they were going to take 200 prisoners to Canada, and that they must prepare to go along [to reach safety]; to get dried meat and other things they could carry to help sustain them on the way, as they had 5 or 6 hundred miles to travel through the wilderness, from Philadelphia to Montreal. Andrew Summers was at the time in the British Army, and his brother was a Captain in the army.

"This occurred in 1777 and my great-grandfather [David Summers] was only about 10 years old. They met many hostile Indians on their path, though the number of Indians who conducted the prisoners through the wilderness were about 300, and they were 6 weeks going from Philadelphia to Montreal. It took lots of food to feed 500 people. There were a number of babies with the party, and they traveled about 4 weeks without any mishap, but the women with the babies were becoming exceedingly weary. So some of the Indian Chiefs complained of the slow marching, fearing an attack of the American Indians. The old Chief, Red Cloud, did all he could to keep the other Indians from slaying the babies, as it was on their account they could not march faster, but the 3rd day after the first grumbling, some of the Chiefs took all the babies from their mothers, and made them go ahead with the rest of the prisoners, and to their horror, the babies were never seen again.

"Then, about that time, the provisions ran out, and they had nothing to eat for 3 days but 1 deer among 500. On the 4th day they came to an Indian village, where they stayed for 3 days to recover their strength. They then started on again, rushing the prisoners as fast as they could to get to their destination before they were attacked, as their scouts had informed them that a hostile tribe was on their track trying to overtake them.

"This march took place in the latter part of July and the forepart of August, and while they were at the Indian village, they had new corn and pumpkins to eat, yet the Indians made them eat very sparingly at first for fear of sickness.

"One night after a hard day's march, they all laid down to rest on the ground; [little David Summers] my great-grandfather, happened to lie down in a little hollow with his head on a little hill for a pillow. It rained hard that night, and he did not wake till morning, when he found he was all under water but his head. He was very stiff and the Indians made him run around a while to limber up.

"When they got to Montreal there were 3 sons and 5 daughters, my great-grandfather being the youngest, 10 years old. The Indians gave them all up to the British, but one of the girls the old chief kept, and took her to Western Ontario. She there married a man whose name was Doyle."

About 10,000 Loyalists came to Quebec, as Canada was still called then. Three hundred remained in the eastern part, the rest, mostly disbanded regiments, were settled along the northern side of the St. Lawrence River, as soon as Townships could be surveyed. The Mohawk Indians, who had been allies of the British throughout the war, had their own Township along the river near Kingston, and another large tract on each side of the Grand River in southern Ontario. Other Loyalists and troops had retreated to Detroit and Niagara, which had become a settlement before the end of the War. Another group left the camp at Sorel and settled on the Gaspé Peninsula where their descendants still live.

The British government was very generous in its help to the refugee Loyalists.

For the Regiments: For civilians:
Private: 100 acres Head of the family: 100 acres
NCO: 200 acres Each family member: 50 acres
Subaltern: 500 acres Single man: 50 acres
Captain: 700 acres  
Field Officer: 1,000 acres  

Lots were allocated by draw, the person immediately departing for the land to get busy clearing, erecting a shelter, and getting a crop planted.

  • one tent for every 5 persons
  • one kettle for each tent
  • nails, axe, spade, hoe, etc.
  • glass for one window
  • 1 plow and 1 cow for every 2 families
  • food rations: flour, pork, some beef, salt & butter
  • clothing: blankets, cloth, shoes, mitts
  • seed: wheat, corn, potatoes, oats, flax, peas

Later, the government was asked for and supplied:

  • scythes, sickles, handsaws, a grindstone for 3 families
  • 2 horses, 2 cows, 6 sheep per family
  • a blacksmith in each Township with tools

It differed a little according to the needs in the different settlements.

In all, the British government spent $4 million on the Loyalists by 1787. The American government made no restitution for seized property.

To qualify for government assistance, there was a commission was set up to investigate the claims for losses, with hearings at Halifax, Montreal, St. John, and Niagara. The 'Petitioner' gave an account of his or her losses, which was sworn to, and it was confirmed by someone who knew the Petitioner personally. Then the grant was made accordingly. Some of these Petitions are very interesting from a genealogical and historical standpoint. An interesting example is attached.

In the years following the War there was an influx of American settlers into Canada, Ontario, in particular. Sir Guy Carleton, by then Governor General Lord Dorchester, wished to put a special honor on the original Loyalists who had lost all their possessions because they had declared their loyalty at the outset of hostilities. A list of those who qualified was drawn up in 1789, and the letters UE (for the principle of the Unity of the Empire), was affixed to their names. He also ordered that the sons and daughters of the Loyalists, when they came of age or married, would each be granted 200 acres. This, of course, was provided they hadn't fallen from grace in the meantime.

About the same time, Lt. Gov. Simcoe, who had been a Colonel of the Queen's Rangers during the War, realized that there were many Americans who were British at heart, who would make excellent settlers to fill up and strengthen the long, empty border along the Lakes. In 1792, he circulated a Proclamation throughout the northern States, offering free land to anyone who would swear allegiance to the King, move onto the land, improve it, and build a road along its front. Thousands accepted, and the population more than doubled. We call these late-comers 'Simcoe Loyalists'.

A few years later, he was proved right. During the War of 1812, when the Americans invited the new Canadians to join them and throw off the yoke of Great Britain, the Loyalists and the majority of Simcoe's settlers were quite satisfied with their treatment at the hands of Great Britain, and united to drive the invaders out of the country.

The first few years were incredibly difficult for the Loyalists who had come from comfortable homes in the American Colonies, but each year saw an improvement in their circumstances. The government supplied them with a few animals: cows for milk and butter, horses for plowing and hauling, sheep for wool and food, and in time their little flocks increased. As more land was cleared, they were able to grow more wheat for flour, and vegetables for fresh food or to be stored for winter use. They began to grow flax as well, which was eventually woven into cloth. The little log cabin was added to as the family grew, and later was replaced by a fine house - some of these houses are still standing. The cross-roads became towns, and schools and churches were built.

The earliest grants were surveyed along the lake or river for transportation, but as roads were built it was possible to survey a 2nd or 3rd concession back from the water. This would accommodate the sons and daughters of the Loyalists as they came of age and received their grants. So the settlements pushed back the boundaries of the wilderness. In a few generations the descendants of the Loyalists were heading west to open up the vast Prairies- which is how I and a great many others, got here.

So, to sum up, what were the contributions of the Loyalists to Canada?

  1. The character of Canada was changed from being a largely French-Catholic country to one that was predominantly English-Protestant.
  2. Nova Scotia lost a large piece of territory to the new province of New Brunswick in 1784 to accommodate the Loyalist influx.
  3. All of Canada had been called Quebec before the Revolution. In 1791 it was divided into Upper and Lower Canada .
  4. The Loyalists were used to the British Parliamentary system of representative government, and the British system of justice. This they kept, although Quebec (Lower Canada) retained the seigniorial land tenure and French civil law.
  5. Besides their loyalty to the Crown, the Loyalists had a great respect for law and order and the orderly course of justice, as opposed to the use of riots and insurrections to change grievances. This characteristic of Canadians is still strong to-day, and we hope it will remain.

by Gene Aitkens UE