Canada and the American Revolution
In the United States, Loyalists during the American Revolution often are painted in pop culture as villains. As with many things in life, it depends which side of the issue you fall.
Claire, the heroine in Journey of Hope, is the great-granddaughter of Loyalists who fled to New Brunswick. This fact is mentioned in three books: Journey of Hope, Rose’s Assignment and Those Left Behind. In Those Left Behind, we learn her ancestors came from Massachusetts. Alfred, from the WWI Trilogy, also is descended from New York Loyalists.
Loyalists opposed independence from the British monarchy. They also were nicknamed Tories. Let’s examine what it meant to be a Loyalist.
Characteristics of Loyalists
Historians estimate between 20 percent and 30 percent of the population of the 13 rebelling colonies were Loyalists. The colonies, at the time, had a population of somewhere between 2.5 million and 3 million.
“Outside the British-controlled garrison towns, loyalism was often fluid, especially in the back country,” an Ohio State University lesson plan says. “Where the patriot army was weak, citizens could afford to be loyalist or neutral, but changes in military power also made loyalism precarious.”
Many Loyalists felt independence would come eventually but felt rebellion was wrong and would lead to mob rule. Still, others felt the rebellion would not succeed and, therefore, opted to stay on what they believed was the winning side.
Pacifists, Anglicans, Quakers, Mennonites, Dunkers, Brethren, Methodists, government workers, landowners, German immigrants, Native Americans, African Americans, merchants and artisans were likely to be Loyalists.
Most Loyalists did not fight in the war. However, approximately 19,000 did take up arms for the British.
“The loyalist fighters aroused a vengeful hatred among the patriots (as the American Revolutionaries called themselves), and when taken in battle they were treated as traitors,” Encyclopedia Britannica says. “George Washington detested them, saying as early as 1776 that ‘they were even higher and more insulting in their opposition than the regulars.’”
Loyalists were spread throughout the Colonies. Their numbers were smallest in New England whereas they were half the population of New York.
Patriots beat and imprisoned Loyalists, confiscated their property and burned their houses. Men were tarred and feathered; and women and children exiled.
Loyalists Settled in Canada
I used books published in Canada as part of research for all six of my historical fiction books. The information below comes from those sources.
More than 100,000 Loyalists fled into the Niagara Peninsula and the Maritimes after the American Revolution, including thousands of blacks fleeing slavery. (This figure is smaller in other sources.)
Modern day New Brunswick and Ontario owe their existence to Loyalists. Both were founded from colonies the British government created after the revolution. New Brunswick – Claire’s birthplace – was founded in 1784 from part of Nova Scotia to accommodate Loyalists. By 1812, what is now Ontario had 60,000 residents originally from the United States.
After crossing into the Canadian colonies, families lived in refugee camps and faced starvation, disease and lack of proper shelter. Thousands died during their first Canadian winter. The government provided white refugees with supplies during the first spring, but black refugees waited up to six years.
Did your ancestors face the tough decision to leave their mother country? Leave a comment below.
Where to Purchase Journey of Hope
This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s historical fiction novella, Journey of Hope.
Hardship defines Claire’s life. Her husband, Harold, dreams of greater opportunity. A treacherous journey lies ahead.