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The Loyalists in Quebec

It was a tribute to the stability of British rule in the newly-won province of Quebec that at the very beginning of the Revolutionary War loyal refugees began to flock across the border. As early as June 2, 1774, Colonel Christie, stationed at St Johns on the Richelieu, wrote to Sir Frederick Haldimand at Quebec notifying him of the arrival of immigrants; and it is interesting to note that at that early date he already complained of 'their unreasonable expectations.' In the years 1775 and 1776 large bodies of persecuted Loyalists from the Mohawk valley came north with Sir John Johnson and Colonel Butler; and in these years was formed in Canada the first of the Loyalist regiments. It was not, however, until the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1778 that the full tide of immigration set in. Immediately thereafter Haldimand wrote to Lord George Germain, under date of October 14, 1778, reporting the arrival of 'loyalists in great distress,' seeking refuge from the revolted provinces. Haldimand lost no time in making provision for their reception. He established a settlement for them at Machiche, near Three Rivers, which he placed under the superintendence of a compatriot and a protégé of his named Conrad Gugy. The captains of militia in the neighborhood were ordered to help build barracks for the refugees, provisions were secured from the merchants at Three Rivers, and everything in reason was done to make the unfortunates comfortable. By the autumn of 1778 there were in Canada, at Machiche and other places, more than one thousand refugees, men, women, and children, exclusive of those who had enlisted in the regiments. Including the troops, probably no less than three thousand had found their way to Canada.

With the conclusion of peace came a great rush to the north. The resources of government were strained to the utmost to provide for the necessities of the thousands who flocked over the border-line. At Chambly, St Johns, Montreal, Sorel, Machiche, Quebec, officers of government were stationed to dole out supplies. At Quebec alone in March 1784 one thousand three hundred and thirty-eight 'friends of government' were being fed at the public expense. At Sorel a settlement was established similar to that at Machiche. The seigneury of Sorel had been purchased by the government in 1780 for military purposes, and when the war was over it was turned into a Loyalist reserve, on which huts were erected and provisions dispensed. In all, there must have been nearly seven thousand Loyalists in the province of Quebec in the winter of 1783-84.

Complete details are lacking with regard to the temporary encampments in which the Loyalists were hived; but there are evidences that they were not entirely satisfied with the manner in which they were looked after. One of the earliest of Canadian county histories,1 a book partly based on traditional sources, has some vague tales about the cruelty and malversation practiced by a Frenchman under whom the Loyalists were placed at 'Mishish.' 'Mishish' is obviously a phonetic spelling of Machiche, and 'the Frenchman' is probably Conrad Gugy. Some letters in the Dominion Archives point in the same direction. Under date of April 29, the governor's secretary writes to Stephen De Lancey, the inspector of the Loyalists, referring to 'the uniform discontent of the Loyalists at Machiche.' The discontent, he explains, is excited by a few ill-disposed persons. 'The sickness they complain of has been common throughout the province, and should have lessened rather than increased the consumption of provisions.' A Loyalist who writes to the governor, putting his complaints on paper, is assured that 'His Excellency is anxious to do everything in his power for the Loyalists, but if what he can do does not come up to the expectation of him and those he represents, His Excellency gives the fullest permission to them to seek redress in such manner as they shall think best.'

What degree of justice there was in the complaints of the refugees it is now difficult to determine. No doubt some of them were confirmed grumblers, and many of them had what Colonel Christie called 'unreasonable expectations.' Nothing is more certain than that Sir Frederick Haldimand spared no effort to accommodate the Loyalists. On the other hand, it would be rash to assert that in the confusion which then reigned there were no grievances of which they could justly complain.

In the spring and summer of 1784 the great majority of the refugees within the limits of the province of Quebec were removed to what was afterwards known as Upper Canada. But some remained, and swelled the number of the 'old subjects' in the French province. Considerable settlements were made at two places. One of these was Sorel, where the seigneury that had been bought by the crown was granted out to the new-comers in lots; the other was in the Gaspe peninsula, on the shores of the Gulf of St Lawrence and of Chaleur Bay. The seigneury of Sorel was well peopled, for each grantee received only sixty acres and a town lot, taking the rest of his allotment in some of the newer settlements. The settlement in the Gaspe peninsula was more sparse; the chief centre of population was the tiny fishing village of Paspebiac. In addition to these settlements, some of the exiles took up land on private seigneuries; these, however, were not many, for the government discouraged the practice, and refused supplies to all who did not settle on the king's land. At the present time, of all these Loyalist groups in the province of Quebec scarce a trace remains: they have all been swallowed up in the surrounding French population.

The Eastern Townships in the province of Quebec were not settled by the United Empire Loyalists. In 1783 Sir Frederick Haldimand set his face like flint against any attempt on the part of the Loyalists to settle the lands lying along the Vermont frontier. He feared that a settlement there would prove a permanent thorn in the flesh of the Americans, and might lead to much trouble and friction. He wished that these lands should be left unsettled for a time, and that, in the end, they should be settled by French Canadians 'as an antidote to the restless New England population.' Some of the more daring Loyalists, in spite of the prohibition of the governor, ventured to settle on Missisquoi Bay. When the governor heard of it, he sent orders to the officer commanding at St Johns that they should be removed as soon as the season should admit of it; and instructions were given that if any other Loyalists settled there, their houses were to be destroyed. By these drastic means the government kept the Eastern Townships a wilderness until after 1791, when the townships were granted out in free and common socage, and American settlers began to flock in. But, as will be explained, these later settlers have no just claim to the appellation of United Empire Loyalists.

1 Dundas, or a Sketch of Canadian History, by James Croil, Montreal, 1861.

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


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