Imagine it is the fall of 1783. You have made the terribly difficult decision to move. Your family is being uprooted and most of your possessions left behind, if they haven’t already been confiscated, because you chose to support the King during the American Revolution.
Family members and friends with similar beliefs may be making the move with you, but even if you are alone, you are no longer welcome in your own neighborhood or any other town in the newly independent United States of America.
The voyage to Nova Scotia wasn’t easy. The land is mostly wilderness with very few inhabitants, aside from the Native Americans. Winter is coming and your first thought is to build your family a home. . . . .
Years pass by, then decades and even centuries. Your descendants, working on their family history, have discovered Loyalists in their family tree.
If you are Canadian, and particularly from New Brunswick or Ontario, you likely studied the early history of the province. However, if you are American, like me, your knowledge is scant:
- Tories supported the King during the American Revolution. They weren’t popular with the patriots and sometimes got tarred and feathered as punishment.
- When the war ended, if a Tory chose not to go to Canada or the Caribbean, they were sometimes given a choice – like my husband’s Hamby ancestors in the Carolinas – of heading west immediately to Kentucky, Tennessee elsewhere OR be hung for treason. They all skedaddled quickly.
- Those called Loyalists boarded the ships, headed to Canada and made a new life for themselves.
- The end.
Now, return to my opening paragraph. You and thousands of other Loyalists have been transported from New York to Parrtown (today St. John) and it is time to get down to the business of creating that new life.
What happened next?
How did the newly formed province of New Brunswick get up and running?
Most importantly, what part did your Loyalist ancestor/s play in the creation of New Brunswick?
If you have known Loyalist ancestry (I have both pre-Loyalists and Loyalists living in Canada by 1783) and want to know much more about New Brunswick history, I can recommend three books to add to your reference library and they all happen to be authored by one person – David Bell, who was, as of 2015, a legal historian at the University of New Brunswick (and may now be retired.)
First on the list is American Loyalists to New Brunswick: The Ship Passenger Lists, Formac Publishing Company, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 2015. (ISBN: 978-1-4595-0399-1). Available online for under $30.
This 300+ page book is filled with lists of names of Loyalists found on the surviving ship passenger lists. That’s a lot of people!
Ship passenger lists can tell us much about our family and the voyage they made. At the very least, the name of the family head is given. Some lists then report numbers of males, females, servants and children over and under the age of ten. Some lists name every single passenger!
I bought this book because I need to learn more about my Loyalists’ FAN clubs. For example, I know Jonathan Parker came from New Jersey, but haven’t been able to determine exactly where he made his home before the war. Robert Carlisle married Catherine (MNU) and I am desperately looking for any clue that might point me to her FAN club and possible maiden name.
It is also possible that a number of passengers on one ship may have removed from the same town or go on to settle in the same new town, giving two new locations to research for clues.
Finding them on passenger lists means I have an immediate FAN (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) club to research! Therefore, this book is in indispensable addition to my Loyalist brick wall busting strategies.
Chapter 1: Shipping the Loyalists from New York City to Saint John, 1783 (These lists include number of men, women, children over and under ten, servants, free Blacks, Quakers and Anabaptists and Late Loyalists.) This chapter covers 189 pages.
Chapter 2: Victualing Civilian Loyalists at St. John, 1783-1784
Chapter 3: Grantees of St. John (Parr-town and Carleton), 1784
Chapter 4: Loyalist Political Petitions at New York City and Saint John, 1783-1786
The second book is Loyalist Rebellion in New Brunswick: A Defining Conflict for Canada’s Political Culture, 2013. (ISBN: 978-1-4595-0277-9) Available online for under $25.
Returning to my 4-item list above regarding what American students generally learn about Loyalists, they will quickly learn New Brunswick settlement did not always go smoothly.
Bell’s second book picks up the story exactly where American history textbooks end.
The first three chapters of this book are an excellent introduction to the difficulties that Loyalist families faced trying to build their new lives in Canada. These “Loyalist sufferers” are described as “angry, dispirited and vulnerable” upon arrival. That is the total opposite of what I had always thought – although they might have been sad at leaving behind friends, family and possessions, I would have thought they would have been pleased to be among others of the same belief and excited about a new start.
The table of contents is an excellent summary of the content of this book. You’ll learn about those who came and stayed, those who left (many more left than I ever imagined) and the growing pains that New Brunswick underwent to lay the foundation for the province that it is today. I would highly recommend this book as a great learning tool for Loyalist descendants or those interested in what happened to the “other side” after the close of the American Revolution.
Note on Terminology
1. Our Fate Seems Now Decreed
2. The Roughest Land I Ever Saw
3. Murmuring and Discontent
4. Representatives of the People in Opposition to the People
5. Perfect Tranquility
Notes (18 pages of footnotes, which are essentially further resources to check out)
Further Reading (Two pages of text with still more resources)
The third book is the most difficult to find: Early Loyalist St. John: Origin of New Brunswick Politics, 1783-1786, 1983. Available online for about $35.
EARLY LOYALIST SAINT JOHN
One/The Lost War
Three/Early Loyalist Saint John
THE ORIGIN OF NEW BRUNSWICK POLITICS
Four/The Origin of Discord
Six/The Triumph and Suppression of Political Dissent
Seven/Loyalist Against Loyalist
I. The Soldier’s Seditious Libel: 4 March 1784
II. The Huggeford Petition of Grievance: 24 December 1784
III. William Cobbett and the 1785 Election
IV. Petition of Dissident Electors: c.10 January 1786
V. The Americanus Seditious Libel: 22 February 1786
VI. The Seditious Election Petition: 3 March 1786
VII. Alphabetized List of Grantees of Parr and Carleton: 1783-4
VIII. Alphabetized List of Refugee Loyalist Households: 1783-84
After reading these three books, you will have a much clearer, more detailed picture of the struggle that our ancestors faced during the founding of New Brunswick, Canada.