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The United Empire Loyalists

The United Empire Loyalists?

U.E.L. Association of Canada

In light of the situation taking place between the US and Cuba, we thought you would be interested in knowing that the Cuban government does not have a monopoly on  revolution and confiscating land from exiles.  Maybe the Americans should read about the United Empire Loyalists before condemning Cuba!

Image of United Empire Loyalists Memorial Plaque

United Empire Loyalists Memorial

The story of the United Empire Loyalists really began with the prolonged fighting known as the French and Indian War.  The American part of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) in which British and some colonial troops protected the Thirteen Colonies.  Finally, with the fall of Quebec, took possession of the French colony of Quebec (stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Detroit — “the straits” — in the heartland of the continent), which lay ominously north of the British colonies and their anticipated frontier.

With the capture of Quebec, England, mother of the Thirteen Colonies of America, but heavily in debt, unwisely resorted to the infamous Stamp Act to help meet her obligations; the colonists found themselves free of the threat from the north, but with anti-monarchist elements anxious to make the most of the taxation-without-representation grievances.

Conditions were perhaps tolerable when the agitators professed to be seeking only constitutional change and men of standing such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington claimed they were not seeking complete independence.

But, when open rebellion became apparent, surely the Loyalists’ right to support what they felt most worthy of allegiance, became a duty and deserved the respect of honorable men.

However, the vociferous and organized minority with its Association Test and Committees of Safety soon subjected the Loyalists to indignities, imprisonment, confiscation of property, and death. In addition, many thousands of colonists, well-established, content, and without strong political convictions, who would have been happy to stay neutral, but, who, fearful of losing their property, their worldly goods, and even their lives, took the Association Test and declared for the rebels.

In the end, might was right, and tens of thousands of Loyalists left the Thirteen Colonies to return to England, to settle in the West Indies, and in the other North American Colonies.

Approximately 30,000 Loyalists settled in the Maritimes and 10,000 in the Colony of Quebec (including many in what is now the Canadian Province of Ontario). Those Loyalists coming from the east to this region were transported up the rapid-filled St. Lawrence River in sturdy, flat-bottomed bateaux to the general area where they were to settle. The raw land granted to them by the Crown was to replace the well-developed farms they had lost, left behind.

After division of the land by surveyors and the random drawing of lots, the families, with a tent and a few tools and modest supplies issued to them by the King, proceeded to their forest properties. The first task was to build a log shanty to provide shelter for the first winter. These huts were small, only 10 or 12 feet long, built of round logs, and frequently with only a hole in the roof to serve as a chimney.

This crude beginning was followed by laborious clearing the land, building of a log house, and cultivation of the virgin soil. All of these advances were accomplished with extreme hardship, primitive tools, great determination, and faith in British institutions.

Other insights:

The American Revolution (1775-1783) created not one country but two. Without the infusion of almost 60,000 American Loyalists into the remaining British North American colonies, what was to become Canada could have offered little resistance to the expansion of the American Republic.

Canada has been the haven for many political refugees, of which the United Empire Loyalists were first. Representing a wide mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds originally from Europe, settlers in the American Colonies since the early 1600’s, they brought with them to the future Canada their common loyalty to the Crown, their respect for the rule of law, and their determination to make new lives for themselves and their families.

The multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity of the Loyalists is often ignored and they are stereotyped as ‘English’ because of their support of the Crown and their spoken language. But in a review of its members’ records, the Toronto Branch of the U.E.L found where national origin of a member’s Loyalist ancestor could be ascertained, 28 percent were originally from Germany, 23 percent from Scotland,18 percent from England, 12 percent from Ireland, 8 percent from Holland, 5 percent from France,4 percent from Wales, 1 percent from Switzerland and less than 1 percent from Denmark and Sweden.

In what has been called the ‘first’ American Civil War, more than 50 provincial corps of Loyal Americans opposed the rebellion. Loyalist corps were raised in all colonies from Georgia to Massachusetts and fought with the British throughout the war. To name only a few, there were the 1st Battalions of DeLancey’s Brigade, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of Skinner’s New Jersey Volunteers, Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers (1st American Regiment), the Pennsylvania Loyalists and the Maryland Loyalists. These and other Loyalist corps fought in the skirmishes and battles around New York City, Philadelphia and in the southern colonies until hostilities ended at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.

In the Northern Department, Sir John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York, Butler’s Rangers, Jessup’s Loyal Rangers and McLean’s Royal Highland Emigrants 84th Regiment, were raised from among the Loyalists of the northern frontier. The troops of the Northern Department were stationed at posts from Sorel, east of Montreal, to Fort Michilimackinac. They fought in General Burgoyne’s campaign that ended at Saratoga and led many excursions into the Mohawk Valley of New York Province. In most of these forays they were joined by Iroquois Indians led by legendary chiefs such as Joseph Brant and John Deseronto.

During the hostilities, Loyalists had left the colonies for England, Florida, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Quebec. It is estimated that 100,000 American colonists, loyal to the Crown, were driven into exile by persecution, confiscation of their properties and threats upon their lives.

At the end of the war, Sir Guy Carleton, later Lord Dorchester, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British forces and was responsible for the evacuation of the troops and Loyalists remaining in New York City.

Approximately 35,000 Loyalist troops and civilian Loyalists, ‘Incorporated’ or ‘Associated’ into groups, were transported to Nova Scotia by ship. The influx of disbanded troops and Loyalists into the St. John River valley brought demands for their own government. In 1784, the ‘Loyalist’ Province of New Brunswick was separated from Nova Scotia and Thomas Carleton, brother of Sir Guy Carleton, was appointed Governor.

In the spring of 1784, 6,000 of the 10,000 disbanded troops and Loyalists who had gathered in Quebec, were settled in townships along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, west of Montreal, and around the Bay of Quinte. Some 900 ‘Associated’ Loyalists, the Van Alstine and Grass groups, who were taken by ship from New York City to Quebec where they wintered at Sorel, were settled on the bay of Quinte (at Adolphustown and Kingston). Butler’s Rangers, stationed at Fort Niagara, had settled some Loyalists across the Niagara River in what later became Ontario as early as 1781, and when disbanded in 1784, settled mainly in the Niagara Peninsula and along the north shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Transportation, provisioning, and settlement of the disbanded troops and civilian Loyalists was conducted by the military establishment. The method of raising troops and assembling the civilian groups had brought together neighbours, friends, and relatives who were later settled together for their mutual benefit.

On the 9th of November 1789, in Council at Quebec City, Lord Dorchester, Governor-in-Chief of British America, gave particular recognition to the ‘First Loyalists’ by differentiating them from other Loyalists and settlers, (i.e. ‘Late’ Loyalists, ‘Treasury’ Loyalists, ‘Simcoe’ Loyalists, and from regular British and German soldiers who were considered to be ‘Military Claimants’).

The Dorchester Resolution approved by the Council defined the ‘U.E.L. Loyalists’ as those:

 “who had adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783”. 

“Put a mark of Honour upon the Families” of the U.E. Loyalists.

Approved the granting by the Land Boards of 200 acres of land (without fees) to the sons and daughters of the

U.E. Loyalists.

Accompanying the resolution to London to be laid before the King, was attached a “Form of Militia Roll for the

Western Districts to discriminate the Families before mentioned “which included the following heading:

“N.B. Those Loyalists who had adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and Joined the Royal Standard [in America]

before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their Children and their Descendants by either sex, are to be distinguished by the following Capitals, affixed to their names: ‘U.E.’ Alluding to their great principle ‘The Unity of the Empire’.

In the covering letter, Lord Dorchester explained: “Care has been taken to reward the spirit of loyalty and industry, to extend and transmit it to future generations…”.

The United Empire Loyalists in the newly settled western part of Quebec, were not satisfied to be governed by the terms of the Quebec Act of 1774. Their petitions for English civil law, freehold tenure of land and elected assembly brought about the separation of the Old Province of Quebec into Lower and Upper Canada in 1791.  With John Graves Simcoe, former colonel of the Queen’s Rangers (1st American Regiment), as Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, now Ontario.

From 1783 to 1812, the United Empire Loyalists of Upper Canada were joined by many U.E. Loyalists from the Maritime provinces; by ‘late’ Loyalists who may have supported the Crown but who were not within the British lines until after 1783; and those who came to swear allegiance to the Crown to escape what one settler termed the “Chaos, Taxes and Anarchy” of the new republic.

When the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812, Upper Canada had a population of nearly 100,000, four-fifths of whom were American-born. The Upper Canada Militia and Indians who joined the British regular troops to resist the invasion were defending their homes and farms, as had their fathers and grandfathers in the American Revolution. Their success in turning back the invaders who would have severed the eastern provinces from the future western provinces ensured the development of Canada as a nation.

(excerpted and adapted from the Introduction to ‘Loyalist Lineages of Canada 1783-1983’ by Audrey F. Kirk, U.E. and Robert F. Kirk, with thanks to the Toronto U.E.L Branch)

The United Empire Loyalists
Article Name
The United Empire Loyalists
The story of the United Empire Loyalists really began with the prolonged fighting known as the French and Indian War.
Publisher Name
Mysteries of Canada

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Author of Mysteries of Canada

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One Response to “The United Empire Loyalists”

By Donna Cross - 8 August 2015 Reply

I appreciated finding this much information about the U.E.L. and their refuge in Canada. William Bell, my 4th g-grandfather, came from Scotland in 1772 with his family. Ultimately, in 1780, he was ‘escorted’ across the Canadian border, leaving all goods behind. He and his two sons joined the British forces, and were later given land grants by the King. My big question has to do with the wife and six girls who were fending for themselves while William, son William, Jr. and son Duncan were fighting with Gen Burgone, among others.