Canadian Genealogy | Chronicles of Canada

 

Canadian Research

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland

Northern Territories

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

Yukon

Canadian Indian Tribes

Chronicles of Canada

 

Free Genealogy Forms
Family Tree Chart
Research Calendar
Research Extract
Free Census Forms
Correspondence Record
Family Group Chart
Source Summary

 

New Genealogy Data
Family Tree Search
Biographies

Genealogy Books For Sale

Indian Mythology

US Genealogy

 

Other Websites
British Isles Genealogy
Australian Genealogy

 


FREE Web Site Hosting at
Canadian Genealogy

 

 

 

Introductory

The United Empire Loyalists have suffered a strange fate at the hands of historians. It is not too much to say that for nearly a century their history was written by their enemies. English writers, for obvious reasons, took little pleasure in dwelling on the American Revolution, and most of the early accounts were therefore American in their origin. Any one who takes the trouble to read these early accounts will be struck by the amazing manner in which the Loyalists are treated. They are either ignored entirely or else they are painted in the blackest colors.

So vile a crew the world ne'er saw before, And grant, ye pitying heavens, it may no more! If ghosts from hell infest our poisoned air, Those ghosts have entered these base bodies here.

So sang a ballad-monger of the Revolution; and the opinion which he voiced persisted after him. According to some American historians of the first half of the nineteenth century, the Loyalists were a comparatively insignificant class of vicious criminals, and the people of the American colonies were all but unanimous in their armed opposition to the British government.

Within recent years, however, there has been a change. American historians of a new school have revised the history of the Revolution, and a tardy reparation has been made to the memory of the Tories of that day. Tyler, Van Tyne, Flick, and other writers have all made the amende honorable on behalf of their countrymen. Indeed, some of these writers, in their anxiety to stand straight, have leaned backwards; and by no one perhaps will the ultra-Tory view of the Revolution be found so clearly expressed as by them. At the same time the history of the Revolution has been rewritten by some English historians; and we have a writer like Lecky declaring that the American Revolution 'was the work of an energetic minority, who succeeded in committing an undecided and fluctuating majority to courses for which they had little love, and leading them step by step to a position from which it was impossible to recede.'

Thus, in the United States and in England, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. In Canada it has remained stationary. There, in the country where they settled, the United Empire Loyalists are still regarded with an uncritical veneration which has in it something of the spirit of primitive ancestor-worship. The interest which Canadians have taken in the Loyalists has been either patriotic or genealogical; and few attempts have been made to tell their story in the cold light of impartial history, or to estimate the results which have flowed from their migration. Yet such an attempt is worth while making--an attempt to do the United Empire Loyalists the honor of painting them as they were, and of describing the profound and far-reaching influences which they exerted on the history of both Canada and the United States.

In the history of the United States the exodus of the Loyalists is an event comparable only to the expulsion of the Huguenots from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Loyalists, whatever their social status (and they were not all aristocrats), represented the conservative and moderate element in the revolting states; and their removal, whether by banishment or disfranchisement, meant the elimination of a very wholesome element in the body politic. To this were due in part no doubt many of the early errors of the republic in finance, diplomacy, and politics. At the same time it was a circumstance which must have hastened by many years the triumph of democracy. In the tenure of land, for example, the emigration produced a revolution. The confiscated estates of the great Tory landowners were in most cases cut up into small lots and sold to the common people; and thus the process of leveling and making more democratic the whole social structure was accelerated.

On the Canadian body politic the impress of the Loyalist migration is so deep that it would be difficult to overestimate it. It is no exaggeration to say that the United Empire Loyalists changed the course of the current of Canadian history. Before 1783 the clearest observers saw no future before Canada but that of a French colony under the British crown. 'Barring a catastrophe shocking to think of,' wrote Sir Guy Carleton in 1767, 'this country must, to the end of time, be peopled by the Canadian race, who have already taken such firm root, and got to so great a height, that any new stock transplanted will be totally hid, except in the towns of Quebec and Montreal.' Just how discerning this prophecy was may be judged from the fact that even to-day it holds true with regard to the districts that were settled at the time it was written. What rendered it void was the unexpected influx of the refugees of the Revolution. The effect of this immigration was to create two new English-speaking provinces, New Brunswick and Upper Canada, and to strengthen the English element in two other provinces, Lower Canada and Nova Scotia, so that ultimately the French population in Canada was outnumbered by the English population surrounding it. Nor should the character of this English immigration escape notice. It was not only English; but it was also filled with a passionate loyalty to the British crown. This fact serves to explain a great deal in later Canadian history. Before 1783 the continuance of Canada in the British Empire was by no means assured: after 1783 the Imperial tie was well-knit.

Nor can there be any doubt that the coming of the Loyalists hastened the advent of free institutions. It was the settlement of Upper Canada that rendered the Quebec Act of 1774 obsolete, and made necessary the Constitutional Act of 1791, which granted to the Canadas representative assemblies. The Loyalists were Tories and Imperialists; but, in the colonies from which they came, they had been accustomed to a very advanced type of democratic government, and it was not to be expected that they would quietly reconcile themselves in their new home to the arbitrary system of the Quebec Act. The French Canadians, on the other hand, had not been accustomed to representative institutions, and did not desire them. But when Upper Canada was granted an assembly, it was impossible not to grant an assembly to Lower Canada too; and so Canada was started on that road of constitutional development which has brought her to her present position as a self-governing unit in the British Empire.

Loyalism In The Thirteen Colonies

It was a remark of John Fiske that the American Revolution was merely a phase of English party politics in the eighteenth century. In this view there is undoubtedly an element of truth. The Revolution was a struggle within the British Empire, in which were aligned on one side the American Whigs supported by the English Whigs, and on the other side the English Tories supported by the American Tories. The leaders of the Whig party in England, Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke, Colonel Barre, the great Chatham himself, all championed the cause of the American revolutionists in the English parliament. There were many cases of Whig officers in the English army who refused to serve against the rebels in America. General Richard Montgomery, who led the revolutionists in their attack on Quebec in 1775-76, furnishes the case of an English officer who, having resigned his commission, came to America and, on the outbreak of the rebellion, took service in the rebel forces. On the other hand there were thousands of American Tories who took service under the king's banner; and some of the severest defeats which the rebel forces suffered were encountered at their hands.

It would be a mistake, however, to identify too closely the parties in England with the parties in America. The old Tory party in England was very different from the so-called Tory party in America. The term Tory in America was, as a matter of fact, an epithet of derision applied by the revolutionists to all who opposed them. The opponents of the revolutionists called themselves not Tories, but Loyalists or 'friends of government.'

There were, it is true, among the Loyalists not a few who held language that smacked of Toryism. Among the Loyalist pamphleteers there were those who preached the doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance. Thus the Rev. Jonathan Boucher, a clergyman of Virginia, wrote:

Having then, my brethren, thus long been tossed to and fro in a wearisome circle of uncertain traditions, or in speculations and projects still more uncertain, concerning government, what better can you do than, following the apostle's advice, 'to submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well? For, so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God. Honor all men: love the brotherhood: fear God: honor the king.'

Jonathan Boucher subscribed to the doctrine of the divine right of kings:

Copying after the fair model of heaven itself, wherein there was government even among the angels, the families of the earth were subjected to rulers, at first set over them by God. 'For there is no power, but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.' The first father was the first king... Hence it is, that our church, in perfect conformity with the doctrine here inculcated, in her explication of the fifth commandment, from the obedience due to parents, wisely derives the congenial duty of 'honoring the king, and all that are put in authority under him.'

Dr Myles Cooper, the president of King's College, took up similar ground. God, he said, established the laws of government, ordained the British power, and commanded all to obey authority. 'The laws of heaven and earth' forbade rebellion. To threaten open disrespect of government was 'an unpardonable crime.' 'The principles of submission and obedience to lawful authority' were religious duties.

But even Jonathan Boucher and Myles Cooper did not apply these doctrines without reserve. They both upheld the sacred right of petition and remonstrance. 'It is your duty,' wrote Boucher, 'to instruct your members to take all the constitutional means in their power to obtain redress.' Both he and Cooper deplored the policy of the British ministry. Cooper declared the Stamp Act to be contrary to American rights; he approved of the opposition to the duties on the enumerated articles; and he was inclined to think the duty on tea 'dangerous to constitutional liberty.'

It may be confidently asserted that the great majority of the American Loyalists, in fact, did not approve of the course pursued by the British government between 1765 and 1774. They did not deny its legality; but they doubted as a rule either its wisdom or its justice. Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, one of the most famous and most hated of the Loyalists, went to England, if we are to believe his private letters, with the secret ambition of obtaining the repeal of the act which closed Boston harbor. Joseph Galloway, another of the Loyalist leaders, and the author of the last serious attempt at conciliation, actually sat in the first Continental Congress, which was called with the object of obtaining the redress of what Galloway himself described as 'the grievances justly complained of.' Still more instructive is the case of Daniel Dulany of Maryland. Dulany, one of the most distinguished lawyers of his time, was after the Declaration of Independence denounced as a Tory; his property was confiscated, and the safety of his person imperiled. Yet at the beginning of the Revolution he had been found in the ranks of the Whig pamphleteers; and no more damaging attack was ever made on the policy of the British government than that contained in his _Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies_. When the elder Pitt attacked the Stamp Act in the House of Commons in January 1766, he borrowed most of his argument from this pamphlet, which had appeared three months before.

This difficulty which many of the Loyalists felt with regard to the justice of the position taken up by the British government greatly weakened the hands of the Loyalist party in the early stages of the Revolution. It was only as the Revolution gained momentum that the party grew in vigor and numbers. A variety of factors contributed to this result. In the first place there were the excesses of the revolutionary mob. When the mob took to sacking private houses, driving clergymen out of their pulpits, and tarring and feathering respectable citizens, there were doubtless many law-abiding people who became Tories in spite of themselves. Later on, the methods of the inquisitorial communities possibly made Tories out of some who were the victims of their attentions. The outbreak of armed rebellion must have shocked many into a reactionary attitude. It was of these that a Whig satirist wrote, quoting:

This word, Rebellion, hath frozen them up, Like fish in a pond.

But the event which brought the greatest reinforcement to the Loyalist ranks was the Declaration of Independence. Six months before the Declaration of Independence was passed by the Continental Congress, the Whig leaders had been almost unanimous in repudiating any intention of severing the connection between the mother country and the colonies. Benjamin Franklin told Lord Chatham that he had never heard in America one word in favor of independence 'from any person, drunk or sober.' Jonathan Boucher says that Washington told him in the summer of 1775 'that if ever I heard of his joining in any such measures, I had his leave to set him down for everything wicked.' As late as Christmas Day 1775 the revolutionary congress of New Hampshire officially proclaimed their disavowal of any purpose 'aiming at independence.' Instances such as these could be reproduced indefinitely. When, therefore, the Whig leaders in the summer of 1776 made their right-about-face with regard to independence, it is not surprising that some of their followers fell away from them. Among these were many who were heartily opposed to the measures of the British government, and who had even approved of the policy of armed rebellion. but who could not forget that they were born British subjects. They drank to the toast, 'My country, may she always be right; but right or wrong, my country.'

Other motives influenced the growth of the Loyalist party. There were those who opposed the Revolution because they were dependent on government for their livelihood, royal office-holders and Anglican clergymen for instance. There were those who were Loyalists because they thought they had picked the winning side, such as the man who candidly wrote from New Brunswick in 1788, 'I have made one great mistake in politics, for which reason I never intend to make so great a blunder again.' Many espoused the cause because they were natives of the British Isles, and had not become thoroughly saturated with American ideas: of the claimants for compensation before the Royal Commissioners after the war almost two-thirds were persons who had been born in England, Scotland, or Ireland. In some of the colonies the struggle between Whig and Tory followed older party lines: this was especially true in New York, where the Livingston or Presbyterian party became Whig and the De Lancey or Episcopalian party Tory. Curiously enough the cleavage in many places followed religious lines. The members of the Church of England were in the main Loyalists; the Presbyterians were in the main revolutionists. The revolutionist cause was often strongest in those colonies, such as Connecticut, where the Church of England was weakest. But the division was far from being a strict one. There were even members of the Church of England in the Boston Tea Party; and there were Presbyterians among the exiles who went to Canada and Nova Scotia. The Revolution was not in any sense a religious war; but religious differences contributed to embitter the conflict, and doubtless made Whigs or Tories of people who had no other interest at stake.

It is commonly supposed that the Loyalists drew their strength from the upper classes in the colonies, while the revolutionists drew theirs from the proletariat. There is just enough truth in this to make it misleading. It is true that among the official classes and the large landowners, among the clergymen, lawyers, and physicians, the majority were Loyalists; and it is true that the mob was everywhere revolutionist. But it cannot be said that the Revolution was in any sense a war of social classes. In it father was arrayed against son and brother against brother. Benjamin Franklin was a Whig; his son, Sir William Franklin, was a Tory. In the valley of the Susquehanna the Tory Colonel John Butler, of Butler's Rangers, found himself confronted by his Whig cousins, Colonel William Butler and Colonel Zeb Butler. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, were not inferior in social status to Sir William Johnson, Thomas Hutchinson, and Joseph Galloway. And, on the other hand, there were no humbler peasants in the revolutionary ranks than some of the Loyalist farmers who migrated to Upper Canada in 1783. All that can be said is that the Loyalists were most numerous among those classes which had most to lose by the change, and least numerous among those classes which had least to lose.

Much labor has been spent on the problem of the numbers of the Loyalists. No means of numbering political opinions was resorted to at the time of the Revolution, so that satisfactory statistics are not available. There was, moreover, throughout the contest a good deal of going and coming between the Whig and Tory camps, which makes an estimate still more difficult. 'I have been struck,' wrote Lorenzo Sabine, 'in the course of my investigations, with the absence of fixed principles, not only among people in the common walks of life, but in many of the prominent personages of the day.' Alexander Hamilton, for instance, deserted from the Tories to the Whigs; Benedict Arnold deserted from the Whigs to the Tories.

The Loyalists themselves always maintained that they constituted an actual majority in the Thirteen Colonies. In 1779 they professed to have more troops in the field than the Continental Congress. These statements were no doubt exaggerations. The fact is that the strength of the Loyalists was very unevenly distributed. In the colony of New York they may well have been in the majority. They were strong also in Pennsylvania, so strong that an officer of the revolutionary army described that colony as 'the enemies' country.' 'New York and Pennsylvania,' wrote John Adams years afterwards, 'were so nearly divided--if their propensity was not against us--that if New England on one side and Virginia on the other had not kept them in awe, they would have joined the British.' In Georgia the Loyalists were in so large a majority that in 1781 that colony would probably have detached itself from the revolutionary movement had it not been for the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. On the other hand, in the New England colonies the Loyalists were a small minority, strongest perhaps in Connecticut, and yet even there predominant only in one or two towns.

There were in the Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Revolution in the neighborhood of three million people. Of these it is probable that at least one million were Loyalists. This estimate is supported by the opinion of John Adams, who was well qualified to form a judgment, and whose Whig sympathies were not likely to incline him to exaggerate. He gave it as his opinion more than once that about one-third of the people of the Thirteen Colonies had been opposed to the measures of the Revolution in all its stages. This estimate he once mentioned in a letter to Thomas McKean, chief justice of Pennsylvania, who had signed the Declaration of Independence, and had been a member of every Continental Congress from that of 1765 to the close of the Revolution; and McKean replied, 'You say that ... about a third of the people of the colonies were against the Revolution. It required much reflection before I could fix my opinion on this subject; but on mature deliberation I conclude you are right, and that more than a third of influential characters were against it.'


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The United Empire Loyalists, A Chronicle of the Great Migration, 1915

 

Chronicles of Canada


Add/Correct a Link

Comments/Submit Data


Copyright 2002-2014 by Canadian Genealogy
The WebPages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission.