“Loyalist Trails” 2007-33: August 26, 2007

In this issue:
Windows For St Paul’s Restoration Project
Damaged Loyalists: Depression, by Stephen Davidson
Loyalist Fifes & Drums Have a Busy Month


Windows For St Paul’s Restoration Project

As our summer holiday period winds down, so does our campaign to help fund the restoration of the stained glass windows in the former St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Birchtown, Nova Scotia. In addition to being shown in a Dominion Projects page, a picture of the church can be found with the article on the Black Loyalist leader, Thomas Peters, The Loyalists, Pioneers and Settlers of the Maritimes, A Teacher’s Resource. (page 40)

Thanks to the generosity of two private members of UELAC and the Vancouver Branch, the Black Loyalist Heritage Society will be able to restore over three of the windows. However, we are still shy of $111.00 to complete the funding for a fourth window. If you can help out, please send your donation, marked “Black Loyalist Windows” to UELAC, 50 Baldwin St., Ste 202, Toronto, ON, M5T 1L4 by September 1. A tax receipt will be returned to you.

…Fred H. Hayward UE, Senior Vice President, UELAC

Damaged Loyalists: Depression, by Stephen Davidson

It has often been said that the higher one’s level of success, the further one has to fall. Perhaps this explains why a young lawyer with every indication of a bright future fell to such depths of despair at the close of the American Revolution. Within less than a year of his arrival, Fyler Dibblee, the deputy agent of the first ship to bring loyalists to New Brunswick, experienced a depression that would ultimately bring his life to a sudden end. Dibblee was yet another “damaged loyalist” who had once called Stamford, Connecticut his home.

Right up until the outbreak of the War of Independence, Fyler Dibblee seemed to have the world by the tail. He was married to the daughter of the town clerk, had five healthy children, and was a practicing lawyer. He represented Stamford in the general assembly of Connecticut and was a captain in the town’s militia. But the coming of the revolution and Fyler’s loyalist convictions were to turn his comfortable world upside down.

In December of 1776 Dibblee was attacked by mobs from nearby towns and had to escape across the British lines to Long Island. It wasn’t until the spring that he was joined by his wife and children. Their new home was plundered by patriots, and they were sent stripped to New York city under a flag of truce. Moving the family to Oyster Bay was fruitless. In April of 1777 Fyler’s home was again robbed, and he was taken to the interior of Connecticut. Upon his release, he took his family to West Hills where they were plundered by rebels in 1779. The Dibblees moved to Hempstead South, the site of another attack in 1780. This was the same year Fyler learned that all of his property in Stamford had been confiscated. His house, barn, 24 acres of land, furniture, clothing, milking cows and library were now in the hands of his patriot neighbours.

The stress on Fyler must have been overwhelming. The trauma of repeated attacks on his family and the worry over a deepening debt load (which only increased with every patriot raid) were bad enough. But Fyler was also approaching his forties, a time when most men begin to evaluate their lives, often reaching the conclusion that they have not achieved the goals they had expected to achieve.

The spring of 1783 held the promise of better days ahead for Fyler. At some point in time he was able to hire a 27 year old Black Loyalist and a nine year old African girl as his servants. Was he trying to give his wife a foretaste of the good years that he thought lay ahead? Was he trying to compensate for all of the terrors of the last seven years?

Fyler’s optimism may have grown out of his appointment as the deputy agent for the flag ship of the first fleet to take loyalist refugees to New Brunswick. Once he arrived in the new colony, Fyler was appointed as one of the first magistrates, was made an agent for loyalist settlement, and was put on a committee to settle land disputes. It is little wonder that his father wrote to a British official in October of 1783 to say that Fyler and his family were “settled at St. John’s River to their unspeakable satisfaction”.

But the winter of 1783-84 was a long and harsh one. Potatoes became the stable diet for the eight Dibblees and their two African servants. The early calls for Fyler’s legal skills began to diminish, and his creditors started to demand repayment of their loans.

A close relative later described the Dibblees’ situation, saying that they spent the “winter in great want and misery…. Mr. Dibblee’s fortitude gave way by looking back on the chain of misfortunes that had befallen his family and the dreary prospects arising from the climate, soil, and his debts, and he concluded that he must go to gaol for his debts and there die; whilst his family would inevitably starve and perish.” In other words, 43 year old Fyler was in the depths of a mid-life depression. Everything that he had hoped for by way of a return to prosperity seemed doomed to fail.

The relative concluded Fyler’s story with these words “The result was that Mr. Dibblee grew melancholy and which soon deprived him of his reason, and for four months could not be left by himself; and in the month of {May} 1784, whilst the family were at tea, Mr. Dibblee walked back and forth in the room, seemingly much composed, but unobserved he took a razor from his closet, threw himself on the bed, drew the curtains and cut his own throat.” The Dibblees’ winter of despair did to Fyler what rebel attacks, incarceration, and the loss of property over seven years had been unable to do — utterly crushed his will to live.

No doubt there were other “damaged loyalists” who found life after the Revolution as overwhelming as Fyler Dibblee had. As we appreciate all that the loyalist refugees overcame in settling modern day Canada, it is important to recognize how daunting that task was, and that not everyone who swore loyalty to King George III was able to rise to the immense challenge. The fact that they made the effort to start a new life because of their convictions is important to recognize and honour, no matter how unsuccessful those efforts may have been.

…Stephen Davidson

Loyalist Fifes & Drums Have a Busy Month

Although I am essentially part of the Loyalist Fifes & Drums, I am not the Drum Major and I want to step outside of it for a moment and congratulate the LFD for having had a busy and successful month. On August 10th the LFD along with the King’s Royal Yorkers appeared at the Fergus Highland Games. On the weekend of the 18th the Corps appeared at the Fife & Drum Muster at Ft. George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and most recently there was a performance at the Sunset Ceremony at Ft. Henry, Kingston. I had the pleasure of performing with them at Fergus and Kingston. Next up is a trip to Ft. Ticonderoga in September. It has been a busy time for this group which is only two years old.

…Peter Johnson UE, President, UELAC