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The Western Settlements

Sir Frederick Haldimand Offered the Loyalists a wide choice of places in which to settle. He was willing to make land grants on Chaleur Bay, at Gaspe, on the north shore of the St Lawrence above Montreal, on the Bay of Quinte, at Niagara, or along the Detroit river; and if none of these places was suitable, he offered to transport to Nova Scotia or Cape Breton those who wished to go thither. At all these places settlements of Loyalists sprang up. That at Niagara grew to considerable importance, and became after the division of the province in 1791 the capital of Upper Canada. But by far the largest settlement was that which Haldimand planned along the north shore of the St Lawrence and Lake Ontario between the western boundary of the government of Quebec and Cataraqui (now Kingston), east of the Bay of Quinte. Here the great majority of the Loyalists in Canada were concentrated.

As soon as Haldimand received instructions from England with regard to the granting of the lands he gave orders to Major Samuel Holland, surveyor-general of the king's territories in North America, to proceed with the work of making the necessary surveys. Major Holland, taking with him as assistants Lieutenants Kotte and Sutherland and deputy-surveyors John Collins and Patrick McNish, set out in the early autumn of 1783, and before the winter closed in he had completed the survey of five townships bordering on the Bay of Quinte. The next spring his men returned, and surveyed eight townships along the north bank of the St Lawrence, between the Bay of Quinte and the provincial boundary. These townships are now distinguished by names, but in 1783-84 they were designated merely by numbers; thus for many years the old inhabitants referred to the townships of Osnaburg, Williamsburg, and Matilda, for instance, as the 'third town,' the 'fourth town,' and the 'fifth town.' The surveys were made in great haste, and, it is to be feared, not with great care; for some tedious lawsuits arose out of the discrepancies contained in them, and a generation later Robert Gourlay wrote that 'one of the present surveyors informed me that in running new lines over a great extent of the province, he found spare room for a whole township in the midst of those laid out at an early period.' Each township was subdivided into lots of two hundred acres each, and a town-site was selected in each case which was subdivided into town lots.

The task of transporting the settlers from their camping-places at Sorel, Machiche, and St Johns to their new homes up the St Lawrence was one of some magnitude. General Haldimand was not able himself to oversee the work; but he appointed Sir John Johnson as superintendent, and the work of settlement went on under Johnson's care. On a given day the Loyalists were ordered to strike camp, and proceed in a body to the new settlements. Any who remained behind without sufficient excuse had their rations stopped. Bateaux took the settlers up the St Lawrence, and the various detachments were disembarked at their respective destinations. It had been decided that the settlers should be placed on the land as far as possible according to the corps in which they had served during the war, and that care should be taken to have the Protestant and Roman Catholic members of a corps settled separately. It was this arrangement which brought about the grouping of Protestant and Roman Catholic Scottish Highlanders in Glengarry. The first battalion of the King's Royal Regiment of New York was settled on the first five townships west of the provincial boundary. This was Sir John Johnson's regiment, and most of its members were his Scottish dependants from the Mohawk valley. The next three townships were settled by part of Jessup's Corps, an offshoot of Sir John Johnson's regiment. Of the Cataraqui townships the first was settled by a band of New York Loyalists, many of them of Dutch or German extraction, commanded by Captain Michael Grass. On the second were part of Jessup's Corps; on the third and fourth were a detachment of the second battalion of the King's Royal Regiment of New York, which had been stationed at Oswego across the lake at the close of the war, a detachment of Rogers's Rangers, and a party of New York Loyalists under Major Van Alstine. The parties commanded by Grass and Van Alstine had come by ship from New York to Quebec after the evacuation of New York in 1783. On the fifth township were various detachments of disbanded regular troops, and even a handful of disbanded German mercenaries.

As soon as the settlers had been placed on the townships to which they had been assigned, they received their allotments of land. The surveyor was the land agent, and the allotments were apportioned by each applicant drawing a lot out of a hat. This democratic method of allotting lands roused the indignation of some of the officers who had settled with their men. They felt that they should have been given the front lots, unmindful of the fact that their grants as officers were from five to ten times as large as the grants which their men received. Their protests, contained in a letter of Captain Grass to the governor, roused Haldimand to a display of warmth to which he was as a rule a stranger. Captain Grass and his associates, he wrote, were to get no special privileges, 'the most of them who came into the province with him being, in fact, mechanics, only removed from one situation to practice their trade in another. Mr Grass should, therefore, think himself very well off to draw lots in common with the Loyalists.' A good deal of difficulty arose also from the fact that many allotments were inferior to the rest from an agricultural point of view; but difficulties of this sort were adjusted by Johnson and Holland on the spot.

By 1784 nearly all the settlers were destitute and completely dependent on the generosity of the British government. They had no effects; they had no money; and in many cases they were sorely in need of clothes. The way in which Sir Frederick Haldimand came to their relief is deserving of high praise. If he had adhered to the letter of his instructions from England, the position of the Loyalists would have been a most unenviable one. Repeatedly, however, Haldimand took on his own shoulders the responsibility of ignoring or disobeying the instructions from England, and trusted to chance that his protests would prevent the government from repudiating his actions. When the home government, for instance, ordered a reduction of the rations, Haldimand undertook to continue them in full; and fortunately for him the home government, on receipt of his protest, rescinded the order.

The settlers on the Upper St Lawrence and the Bay of Quinte did not perhaps fare as well as those in Nova Scotia, or even the Mohawk Indians who settled on the Grand river. They did not receive lumber for building purposes, and 'bricks for the inside of their chimneys, and a little assistance of nails,' as did the former; nor did they receive ploughs and church-bells, as did the latter. For building lumber they had to wait until saw-mills were constructed; instead of ploughs they had at first to use hoes and spades, and there were not quite enough hoes and spades to go round. Still, they did not fare badly. When the difficulty of transporting things up the St Lawrence is remembered, it is remarkable that they obtained as much as they did. In the first place they were supplied with clothes for three years, or until they were able to provide clothes for themselves. These consisted of coarse cloth for trousers and Indian blankets for coats. Boots they made out of skins or heavy cloth. Tools for building were given them: to each family were given an ax and a hand-saw, though unfortunately the axes were short-handled ship's axes, ill-adapted to cutting in the forest; to each group of two families were allotted a whip-saw and a cross-cut saw; and to each group of five families was supplied a set of tools, containing chisels, augers, draw-knives, etc. To each group of five families was also allotted 'one fire-lock ... intended for the messes, the pigeon and wildfowl season'; but later on a fire-lock was supplied to every head of a family. Haldimand went to great trouble in obtaining seed-wheat for the settlers, sending agents down even into Vermont and the Mohawk valley to obtain all that was to be had; he declined, however, to supply stock for the farms, and although eventually he obtained some cattle, there were not nearly enough cows to go round. In many cases the soldiers were allowed the loan of the military tents; and everything was done to have saw-mills and grist-mills erected in the most convenient places with the greatest possible dispatch. In the meantime small portable grist-mills, worked by hand, were distributed among the settlers.

Among the papers relating to the Loyalists in the Canadian Archives there is an abstract of the numbers of the settlers in the five townships at Cataraqui and the eight townships on the St Lawrence. There were altogether 1,568 men, 626 women, 1,492 children, and 90 servants, making a total of 3,776 persons. These were, of course, only the original settlers. As time went on others were added. Many of the soldiers had left their families in the States behind them, and these families now hastened to cross the border. A proclamation had been issued by the British government inviting those Loyalists who still remained in the States to assemble at certain places along the frontier, namely, at Isle aux Noix, at Sackett's Harbor, at Oswego, and at Niagara. The favorite route was the old trail from the Mohawk valley to Oswego, where was stationed a detachment of the 34th regiment. From Oswego these refugees crossed to Cataraqui. 'Loyalists,' wrote an officer at Cataraqui in the summer of 1784, 'are coming in daily across the lake.' To accommodate these new settlers three more townships had to be mapped out at the west end of the Bay of Quinte.

For the first few years the Cataraqui settlers had a severe struggle for existence. Most of them arrived in 1784, too late to attempt to sow fall wheat; and it was several seasons before their crops became nearly adequate for food. The difficulties of transportation up the St Lawrence rendered the arrival of supplies irregular and uncertain. Cut off as they were from civilization by the St Lawrence rapids, they were in a much less advantageous position than the great majority of the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick settlers, who were situated near the sea-coast. They had no money, and as the government refused to send them specie, they were compelled to fall back on barter as a means of trade, with the result that all trade was local and trivial. In the autumn of 1787 the crops failed, and in 1788 famine stalked through the land. There are many legends about what was known as 'the hungry year.' If we are to believe local tradition, some of the settlers actually died of starvation. In the family papers of one family is to be found a story about an old couple who were saved from starvation only by the pigeons which they were able to knock over. A member of another family testifies: 'We had the luxury of a cow which the family brought with them, and had it not been for this domestic boon, all would have perished in the year of scarcity.' Two hundred acre lots were sold for a few pounds of flour. A valuable cow, in one case, was sold for eight bushels of potatoes; a three-year-old horse was exchanged for half a hundredweight of flour. Bran was used for making cakes; and leeks, buds of trees, and even leaves, were ground into food.

The summer of 1789, however, brought relief to the settlers, and though, for many years, comforts and even necessaries were scarce, yet after 1791, the year in which the new settlements were erected into the province of Upper Canada, it may be said that most of the settlers had been placed on their feet. The soil was fruitful; communication and transportation improved; and metallic currency gradually found its way into the settlements. When Mrs. Simcoe, the wife of the lieutenant-governor, passed through the country in 1792, she was struck by the neatness of the farms of the Dutch and German settlers from the Mohawk valley, and by the high quality of the wheat. 'I observed on my way thither,' she says in her diary, 'that the wheat appeared finer than any I have seen in England, and totally free from weeds.' And a few months later an anonymous English traveler, passing the same way, wrote: 'In so infant a settlement, it would have been irrational to expect that abundance which bursts the granaries, and lows in the stalls of more cultivated countries. There was, however, that kind of appearance which indicated that with economy and industry, there would be enough.'

Next in size to the settlements at Cataraqui and on the Upper St Lawrence was the settlement at Niagara. During the war Niagara had been a haven of refuge for the Loyalists of Pennsylvania and the frontier districts, just as Oswego and St Johns had been havens of refuge for the Loyalists of northern and western New York. As early as 1776 there arrived at Fort George, Niagara, in a starving condition, five women and thirty-six children, bearing names which are still to be found in the Niagara peninsula. From that date until the end of the war refugees continued to come in. Many of these refugees were the families of the men and officers of the Loyalist troops stationed at Niagara. On September 27, 1783, for instance, the officer commanding at Niagara reports the arrival from Schenectady of the wives of two officers of Butler's Rangers, with a number of children. Some of these people went down the lake to Montreal; but others remained at the post, and 'squatted' on the land. In 1780 Colonel Butler reports to Haldimand that four or five families have settled and built houses, and he requests that they be given seed early in the spring. In 1781 we know that a Loyalist named Robert Land had squatted on Burlington Bay, at the head of Lake Ontario. In 1783 Lieutenant Tinling was sent to Niagara to survey lots, and Sergeant Brass of the 84th was sent to build a saw-mill and a grist-mill. At the same time Butler's Rangers, who were stationed at the fort, were disbanded; and a number of them were induced to take up land. They took up land on the west side of the river, because, although, according to the terms of peace, Fort George was not given up by the British until 1796, the river was to constitute the boundary between the two countries. A return of the rise and progress of the settlement made in May 1784 shows a total of forty-six settlers (that is, heads of families), with forty-four houses and twenty barns. The return makes it clear that cultivation had been going on for some time. There were 713 acres cleared, 123 acres sown in wheat, and 342 acres waiting to be sown; and the farms were very well stocked, there being an average of about three horses and four or five cows to each settler.

With regard to the settlement at Detroit, there is not much evidence available. It was Haldimand's intention at first to establish a large settlement there, but the difficulties of communication doubtless proved to be insuperable. In the event, however, some of Butler's Rangers settled there. Captain Bird of the Rangers applied for and received a grant of land on which he made a settlement; and in the summer of 1784 we find Captain Caldwell and some others applying for deeds for the land and houses they occupied. In 1783 the commanding officer at Detroit reported the arrival from Red Creek of two men, 'one a Girty, the other McCarty,' who had come to see what encouragement there was to settle under the British government. They asserted that several hundred more would be glad to come if sufficient inducements were offered them, as they saw before them where they were nothing but persecution. In 1784 Jehu Hay, the British lieutenant-governor of Detroit, sent in lists of men living near Fort Pitt who were anxious to settle under the British government if they could get lands, most of them being men who had served in the Highland and 60th regiments. But it is safe to assume that no large number of these ever settled near Detroit, for when Hay arrived in Detroit in the summer of 1784, he found only one Loyalist at the post itself. There had been for more than a generation a settlement of French Canadians at Detroit; but it was not until after 1791 that the English element became at all considerable.

It has been estimated that in the country above Montreal in 1783 there were ten thousand Loyalists, and that by 1791 this number had increased to twenty-five thousand. These figures are certainly too large. Pitt's estimate of the population of Upper Canada in 1791 was only ten thousand. This is probably much nearer the mark. The overwhelming majority of these people were of very humble origin. Comparatively few of the half-pay officers settled above Montreal before 1791; and most of these were, as Haldimand said, 'mechanics, only removed from one situation to practice their trade in another.' Major Van Alstine, it appears, was a blacksmith before he came to Canada. That many of the Loyalists were illiterate is evident from the testimony of the Rev. William Smart, a Presbyterian clergyman who came to Upper Canada in 1811: 'There were but few of the U. E. Loyalists who possessed a complete education. He was personally acquainted with many, especially along the St Lawrence and Bay of Quinte, and by no means were all educated, or men of judgment; even the half-pay officers, many of them, had but a limited education.' The aristocrats of the 'Family Compact' party did not come to Canada with the Loyalists of 1783; they came, in most cases, after 1791, some of them from Britain, such as Bishop Strachan, and some of them from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, such as the Jarvises and the Robinsons. This fact is one which serves to explain a great deal in Upper Canadian history.


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

 

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