“Loyalist Trails” 2008-23: June 8, 2008

In this issue:
Benjamin Whitecuff, Black Loyalist Spy, by Stephen Davidson
Book Review: Loyalist and Layabout: The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia 1783­1792, by Stephen Kimber
ACO Calls on the Province to be Pro-Active in Saving Ontario’s Heritage
Loyalist Directory Additions
Last Post: MacMurray, Wallace P.
      + Church Service Suggestions
      + Information about the Maritime Hawleys
      + Widow Ruth Nichols in New Brunswick
      + Description of Armorial Bearings


Benjamin Whitecuff, Black Loyalist Spy, by Stephen Davidson

Any loyal American who decided to spy on his patriot friends and family members was not only risking imprisonment or disinheritance; he faced the very real possibility of execution. Because the American Revolution was a civil war between two vocal factions in the Thirteen Colonies, the actions one side took against the other were often very bitter, cruel and vengeful. Now add into this volatile mixture the element of racism, and it is easy to understand just how dangerous it was to be a black loyalist spy.

Harry was a black man who had been enslaved by a patriot named Gailliard in South Carolina. When the British offered emancipation to any African who had a rebel master in exchange for war service for the king, Harry escaped to freedom. In the years that followed he served as a spy for Lord Rawdon “in which capacity” read the old records “he was very servicable”. After Rawdon’s departure, Harry continued to do espionage work for the British under Lt. Col. Balfour and served as a guide for the quarter master general department.

One day, Harry was sent out on a recognizance mission from Monck’s Corner, South Carolina. He was captured by a group of men led by the patriot Brigadier General Francis Marion — the Swamp Fox. Without benefit of a trial, Harry was declared a British spy and executed. The racism of the time is all too evident in the fact that instead of the usual death by hanging meted out to white loyalists, Harry was beheaded. Furthermore, his head was put on a stake where it could be seen when the British forces under General Gould marched by. Although Harry received no posthumous medals or awards, his death was noted in military correspondence with the British government on November 27, 1782.

The story of Benjamin Whitecuff, another black loyalist spy, although not without its elements of brutality, is amazing for its detail. Whitecuff was one of two sons born to a free black farmer in Hempstead, Long Island. The young man followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of career, but he differed with him in political conviction. While his father and brother joined a rebel regiment in 1776; Benjamin sided with the British. No longer able welcomed at his family’s 60-acre farm, young Whitecuff joined the British forces on Staten Island.

For the next two years Sir Henry Clinton sent Whitecuff back into enemy territory to spy on patriots. For these espionage missions the black agent “received at times about 15 guineas”. In one instance, intelligence that Whitecuff gathered foiled a rebel attack on 2,000 British soldiers as they marched from Trent Town to New York. A later document noted that the black spy was “very assiduous and successful in the part he undertook”.

Whitecuff’s father and brother died in a battle near Germantown, Pennsylvania, laying down their lives for the patriot cause. It seemed a similar fate awaited Benjamin despite his distance from the battlefield.

The black loyalist spy’s luck ran out when he was captured in Cranbury, New Jersey by a group of rebels. Without benefit of trial, Whitecuff was hanged. For three minutes Whitecuff dangled from the noose, when suddenly a party of the British Fifth Regiment came upon the lynching and cut the loyalist down. Miraculously, Whitecuff was still alive! When he had sufficiently recovered, the loyalist accompanied the Fifth Regiment back to New York.

Whitecuff was not back in Staten Island for long when he was sent on a mission to Virginia. His ship was attacked and seized by rebels. Once again the black spy was arrested, condemned to death, and sent to Boston to be hanged. This time a British privateer vessel, the Eagle, intercepted Whitecuff on his voyage to Massachusetts. It took the black loyalist first to Tortola and then to England.

At this point no one would blame Benjamin Whitecuff for resting on his laurels, but, instead, the black loyalist signed on to one of His Majesty’s brigs and sailed to the island of Minorca. This tiny island off the coast of Spain between France and the North African coast was home to an important British fortress. Whitecuff and his fellow sailors were on their way to defend the port of Mahon against the combined might of the French and Spanish navies. In February of 1782, Britain lost Minorca.

Following this defeat, Whitecuff’s ship travelled on to Gibralter which was under a six month siege by the French and Spanish navies. 100,000 men and 48 ships attempted to wrest the vital gateway to the Mediteranean from British control. In February of 1783 the seige was lifted. Having once again risked his life in His Majesty’s service, Benjamin Whitecuff was discharged. He settled in Deptford, England, a community where many other black sailors had made their homes.

When the loyalist compensation board held its hearings on June 8, 1784, the black spy was there “to receive such aid or relief as his losses and services may be found to deserve”. Whitecuff’s claim was certainly a modest one — just £131 for his Long Island farm, a yoke of oxen, and a cart. The Britain of 1784 was a racist society, one that supported and profited from the lucrative transatlantic slave trade. Would it recognize all that a black man had during the revolution?

Three days later, the board made its decision. Benjamin Whitecuff was “determined to be a loyalist” and was granted compensation for the losses he sustained. Whether Whitecuff remained in England or settled in some part of British North America is unknown.

His story is the most detailed account we have of any black loyalist spy; other African secret agents of the crown have their courageous service reduced to a few sentences as in the case of South Carolina’s Harry — or they have been forgotten altogether. Benjamin Whitecuff reminds us of the many unsung heroes in our loyalist heritage.

…Stephen Davidson {stephendavids AT gmail DOT com}

Book Review: Loyalist and Layabout: The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia 1783­1792, by Stephen Kimber

About the middle of May, I received a review copy of Stephen Kimber’s book “Loyalists and Layabouts The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia 1783 ­ 1792, published May 17, 2008. It was sent to our Branch by Shannon Cosby, a publicist with Meisner, de Groot and Associates of Toronto. She is a member of Colonel John Butler Branch.

I have read many books on that period of history related to the United Empire Loyalists’ experience, but each one always gives another insight into and a better understanding of those turbulent times.

While the title suggests the book might be limited to those readers with roots in Shelburne, the sub-plots developed give any reader a broader understanding of the many reasons for the rebellion in the colonies. I was impressed with the care shown by the author to be historically correct while at the same time re-imagining to flesh out the details.

The author’s acknowledgments and bibliography at the back of the book will serve as a source of information to anyone wanting to delve deeper into the loyalist experience. I picked up on a number of interesting details about the “Boston massacre” pp.37; the political leanings of General Howe pp. 40; the exchange between Washington and Carleton about freed slaves pp. 111 -114 and the awakening of the public’s conscious toward the moral wrongs of slavery.

2008 is the 225th anniversary of the arrival of those refugees from the colonies to what remained of British North America. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to better understand the forces that shaped our country, Canada and our neighbour to the south, the United States of America and as well, Great Britain.

I encourage anyone to read this book, especially this anniversary year.

…Logan W. Bjarnason UE, President, Regina Branch

ACO Calls on the Province to be Pro-Active in Saving Ontario’s Heritage

June 4, 2008 – Toronto. “Last week’s loss of Alma College to arson was entirely preventable. Failure to act in a timely manner, at all levels of government set the stage for this national disaster. We believe that an overabundance of caution by three Ontario Ministers of Culture regarding interfering in a ‘local matter’ contributed to the loss,” commented Catherine Nasmith, president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO). “This was one of the country’s most significant heritage buildings, locally and provincially, and could and should have been preserved.”

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario wrote to the Ontario Minister of Culture three times in the past four years asking for intervention to save Alma.

Since 2005 Ontario Ministers of Culture have had the power to designate property of provincial significance but not one Minister has used it. In dealing with buildings at risk, the province’s practice has been to wait until beyond the 11th hour, after all avenues have been exhausted at the local level, before intervening.

The Minister did issue a stop order for the Moore farmhouse in Sparta, and considerable effort has been put in by the province to resolving the future of the Lister Block in Hamilton, yet these properties are still not designated as provincially significant and remain in crisis.

“We do not understand the province’s hesitancy to designate. Inaction guarantees that the province ends up dealing only with toxic situations, and as in the case of Lister and Alma, when the properties require massive investment to deal with the “demolition by neglect” that has been allowed to continue.

We believe the province needs to declare its interest early through an orderly identification of provincially significant properties. The province must partner with municipalities and bring resources to the table to prevent and reverse demolition by neglect. The McGuinty government took heritage a giant step forward with its 2005 changes to the Ontario Heritage Act. We have the sticks we need, now it is time for some carrots.” Nasmith continues.

ACO thanks the Minister of Culture for her recent grant of $50,000 to support our growth. With our rapidly increasing number of branches across Ontario, we are more than willing to assist the Ministry and the Ontario Heritage Trust in identifying the list of provincially significant property. Click here for more information; additional reference information is available here.

To express your views, write the Premier, the Minister of Culture and your local MPP indicating your support of heightened attention to historical preservation? Click here for contact details. I would recommend marking your letter “personal and confidential”, and then it will be seen by a “higher level” legislative clerk.

[submitted by Donna Moore]

Loyalist Directory Additions

Some time and some assistance allowed us to once again post a few additions to the Loyalist Directory:

We try to update the Loyalist Directory with indications of new certificates issued frequently, not that we are always successful. The information about certificates issued in February through May this year has now been added. If this is the first certificate issued to that Loyalist, we note that ancestor as proven in the “Status as Loyalist” field. We also add in the “Proven Descendants” field the date the certificate was issued and the name of the branch the applicant belonged to. For privacy reasons we do not add the applicant’s name. However, if you are a person who received a certificate and your name is not posted, but you would like it to be, please send a note and indicate your name, Loyalist name and the branch you belonged to at the time. We can look up the date but if you know that, please include it as well. Also, if you wish, we can also add your email address. Of course we are also interested in other data for the Loyalist record if you would like to contribute that – we love to post the whole loyalist certificate application form, after extracting personal data, if you completed it on your computer.

Click here for the directory where those people for whom additional information has been added are listed. Thanks to those who have provided this additional information. This week information was added for:

– Clement, Ludovicus (Lewis) – from Lenore Harris

– Eyres, Ephraim – from Richard & Cora Ayers

– Hawley, Matthew – from Brenda Harrison

– Savage, Cpt. John (and his associates) – from Jaime Hayes

Last Post: MacMurray, Wallace P.

The death of Wallace Peebles MacMurray of Saint John, husband of Norma (Wright) MacMurray, occurred on Friday, May 30, 2008. Born in 1928 in Saint John, he was predeceased by his father James MacMurray, mother Ann (Peebles) MacMurray, sisters Joan O. Bush and Barbara A. Brown and brother James A. MacMurray and his son John. He is survived by wife Norma; son Stephen (Sheila McGinn); daughter Sandra of Halifax, daughter-in-law Susannah and several grandchildren.

Mr. MacMurray was a partner in Eastern Securities Co. Ltd. Latterly he was Securities Administrator, Secretary of the Public Utilities Board, for the Province of New Brunswick. An extremely active member of the Saint John community, he spearheaded the restoration of the Lily Lake Pavilion.

Mr. MacMurray served as President of the Y’s Men’s Club, campaign chairman of the United Way, president of Fernhill Cemetery president and board member of the New Brunswick Museum, and active with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra. He was a president of the New Brunswick Branch UELAC, and of the Saint John Horticultural Association. He was a very active Mason and involved with Shrine.

He was active all of his life in the Church of St. Andrew and St. David, and with the Saint Andrew’s Society. He was President of Saint Andrew’s House Inc. He held memberships in many groups and was an active piper in the Caledonian Pipe Band for 20 years. In 2002 he was the recipient of the Queen’s 50th Jubilee Medal in recognition of his volunteer services to his community.

[submitted by Stephen Davidson]


Church Service Suggestions

I am looking for format and content (readings and music) for an ecumenical church service that is being planned in conjunction with the upcoming Remsheg Loyalists 225th Anniversary celebration in Wallace NS. All suggestions are welcome.

…Debby Brown-Warren {debbywarren AT rogers DOT com}

Information about the Maritime Hawleys

Captain Matthew Hawley, b c 1743-50, a UEL, (descendant of Joseph Hawley of CT and) son of Obediah & Sarah (Wheeler) came to Canada in the troop ship Argo, with other Loyalists, fleeing from the Woodbury, CT area, USA in the early 1780’s. He settled and purchased land in Guysborough, Nova Scotia about 1789.

Matthew later moved to Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with his second wife Abigail Squires. A land grant petition found in the Swyane Papers, MG24, PANS, lists Mathew Hawley as a Grantee resident. The book “The Smiths of Cape Breton’ by Perley W. Smith, 1967 states that Matthew came to Cape Breton in his own vessel, was granted land, erected a home and began farming. This book also states that his second wife Abigail HAWLEY (nee SQUIRES) was a native of Ireland who came with him from Connecticut with some of their children including Sarah.

The 1811, 1818 and 1835 N.S. Census records of the Port Hood, area indicate that James, William, John and Matthew were all on the island for as many years as their ages which would indicate that they were all born in Cape Breton about 1784, 1787, 1789 and 1792.

Matthew descends from these ancestors:

Obediah (& Sarah Wheeler) son of

Samuel (& Bethiah Booth) son of

Samuel (& Mary Thompson) son of

Joseph H. (& Catherine (Birdsey/Birdseye) Hawley of Parwich, Derbyshire, England.

We would like to make contact with and share information with descendants of the Maritime Hawley families.

…Brenda Harrison in Ontario {bharrison11 AT rogers DOT com}

Widow Ruth Nichols in New Brunswick

I am seeking information on the Widow Ruth Nichols who arrived in New Brunswick in 1783 on the Union with 2 sons, Samuel and George. Her husband George had been killed at Bunker Hill. She settled on a mill lot on the Long Reach in Kings County, New Brunswick. We think her maiden name was Underwood.

Was she related to John Underwood who also arrived on the Union? John Underwood remained in New Brunswick while Ruth re-married to Freeman Burdick and they moved to Upper Canada (now Ontario ) about 1798. Duty Underwood (also a Loyalist) moved to Ontario and Burdick was assigned by the court as executor of his estate in 1814.

Also Ruth’s first grandson was named John Underwood Nichols. What is the relationship of these Underwoods and is anyone researching this family? Any help would be appreciated.

…Ruth(Nichols) Ellis, UE {ruthilene DOT ellis AT sympatico DOT ca}

Description of Armorial Bearings

We have an image of our Armorial Bearings on our homepage. A question from new member who has recently proved a Loyalist ancestor and received her certificate made me realize that I don’t have a description of our Armorial Bearings, nor do we have the history of how they were requested and developed. Have either of these already been written or published? If so, please direct me.

…Doug Grant; respond to {loyalist DOT trails AT uelac DOT org}