“Loyalist Trails” 2008-30: August 24, 2008

In this issue:
Two Friends Named Isaac, by Stephen Davidson
The Pausing American Loyalist – 1776
Ontario Descendants of Irish Palatines 300th Anniversary of 1709 Palatine Emigration
Book Review: Loyalists and Layabouts, by Stephen Kimber
Correction: Book Review: Loyalism in the Hoosick Valley, by Bernard C. Young


Two Friends Named Isaac, by Stephen Davidson

The American Revolution traumatized those caught up in its violence. Take, for example, the case of two friends named Isaac. When they stood before the loyalist compensation board in Halifax in 1786, one of them had gone insane and the other had to testify on his friend’s behalf. What circumstances would drive a loyalist to madness? Here are the stories of two men named Isaac. Can you determine which man eventually broke under the strain of a vicious civil war?

Before 1775, Isaac Williams had farmed his father’s 300-acre estate in Westchester, New York. It had a large house, livestock, fenced fields, a 20-acre woodlot, and at least one enslaved African. Being a convenient distance from New York City, the Williams’ house doubled as “a house of entertainment” for the weary stage coach traveller.

Known for his loyalty, Williams was compelled to leave home as the rebel army passed through Westchester on its way to attack Fort Independence in 1776. His father and brother stayed behind on the family farm, entrusted with the care of Williams’ son.

The Williams’ estate suffered damage at the hands of both the British and American armies; by the end of the revolution all of its fences were destroyed. Just days before the Battle of White Plains, rebel soldiers stole cattle from farms throughout Westchester County, including the Williams’. Later, the family’s slave was taken by the British Major Armstrong of the Queen’s Rangers. Finally, a “Copy of Judgement” was made against Isaac Williams for “adhering to the Enemies of the State” and all of his property was confiscated. The rebels sold the estate, Williams’ father died; his brother and son had to flee to New York.

Isaac Williams served the British as a guide for General Clinton and then was the commander of a militia company in New York City for two years. He would eventually leave the United States with other loyalists and settle in Halifax. His son, however, remained in New York with Williams’ brother.

Another Westchester resident, Isaac Wilkins, became a friend of Isaac Williams during the course of the revolution. Born in Jamaica, Wilkins had come to New York as a child. After his graduation from King’s College, he became a man of influence. By 1772, he was the representative for Westchester County in the New York legislature where he was an outspoken loyalist. This political stance made Wilkins “obnoxious” to the patriots, as did his publication of a royalist pamphlet. Finally, in the spring of 1775, Wilkins was forced to flee to England, leaving his family and his wife, Isabella, behind on his Westchester farm.

In 1776, he returned with the British forces and settled on Long Island. Angry with Wilkins, rebels rode out to his Westchester farm with the intent of taking his wife prisoner. Isabella heard of the advancing patriots, and only had enough time to save her clothes before fleeing. Thwarted in their plans, the rebels made prisoners of Wilkins’ slaves, stole his livestock, and vandallized his property.

The destruction of their farm was not the only shame the Wilkins family had to bear in 1776. Isabella’s brother, Lewis Morris, was one of the rebels who signed the Declaration of Independence. A more divided family is hard to imagine.

In early 1778, Isaac Wilkins started to receive an allowance from the British prime minister, no doubt in recognition of all that he had lost for his loyalty. Rather than evacuating with other refugees in the summer of 1783, Wilkins remained behind to sell his land in Westchester County. According to the Articles of Peace, loyalists were supposed to be compensated by the new American republic. Wilkins was one of the fortunate few to actually recoup any of his losses. He sold his farm for £2,500.

However, he did not walk away from the revolution a rich man. In addition to paying £400 to escape to England, Wilkins had spent £2,400 to support his family over the seven years of the revolution. Among his other losses were livestock, a house and barn, farming implements, furniture, clothes, and an entire year’s crop, all of which totalled at least £1,400. Wilkins, too, eventually sailed for Nova Scotia.

The reversals of fortune were too much for one of these two Westchester loyalists to bear. He was later described as being “out of his head, melancholy, and would do nothing”. His mental state became all too apparent on the journey to Nova Scotia. He actually jumped overboard into the ocean, but was rescued by his fellow passengers.

In 1786, the commissioners of the compensation board that convened in Halifax heard the testimony of “several respectable persons” on behalf of the loyalist who had attempted suicide in 1783. George Bell, John Stout and a loyalist named Isaac stood before the commissioners to seek financial aid for an unfortunate friend. That friend was Isaac Williams, the farmer who had to leave his son in the care of his brother in the United States. How he fared in Nova Scotia and the resolution of his mental condition is not known. But more is known of his namesake, Isaac Wilkins.

Isaac and Isabella Wilkins settled in Shelburne, Nova Scotia where he became its first judge in the court of common pleas. Eleven years after his arrival, Wilkins returned to the United States to study for the Anglican ministry. He eventually became the rector of St. Peter’s Church in Westchester, New York, ministering there until his death in 1830. The Wilkinses had twelve children, one of whom went on to become the speaker of Nova Scotia’s house of assembly and then a judge in its supreme court.

The Rev. Isaac Wilkins did much good in his lifetime, but were it not for the records of the loyalist compensation claims, posterity would no doubt have forgotten the day he stood up for Isaac Williams — a man who was very much in need of a good friend.

To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author, Stephen Davidson, at {stephendavids AT gmail DOT com}

The Pausing American Loyalist – 1776

To sign, or not to sign? That is the question.
Whether ’twere better for an honest man
To sign, and so be safe; or to resolve,
Betide what will, against associations,
And, by retreating, shun them. To fly – I reck
Not where: And, by that flight, t’ escape
Feathers and tar, and thousand other ills
That loyalty is heir to: ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To fly — to want —
To want? Perchance to starve: Ay, there’s the rub!

For, in that chance of want, what ills may come
To patriot rage, when I have left my all —
Must give me pause: — There’s the respect
That makes us trim, and bow to men we hate.

For, who would bear th’ indignities o’ th’ times,
Congress decrees, and wild convention plans,
The laws controll’d, and inj’ries unredressed,
The insolence of knaves, and thousand wrongs
Which patient liege men from vile rebels take,
When he, sans doubt, might certain safety find,
Only by flying? Who would bend to fools,
And truckle thus to mad, mob-chosen upstarts,
But that the dread of something after flight
(In that blest country, where, yet, no moneyless
Poor wight can live) puzzles the will,
And makes ten thousands rather sign — and eat,
Than fly — to starve on loyalty. —

Thus, dread of want makes rebels of us all:
And thus the native hue of loyalty
Is sicklied o’er with a pale cast of trimming;
And enterprises of great pith and virtue,
But unsupported, turn their streams away,
And never come to action.

 – From the January 30, 1776 issue of the British newspaper, the Middlesex Journal.

The poem is based on Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech and depicts the very difficult position of a loyalist who was pressured by fellow colonists to sign an oath of fidelity to the Continental Congress. As the poem shows, some Tories became very reluctant ‘rebels’.

What is interesting is that this poem was written at the beginning of the revolution by a loyalist –someone who was in the midst of difficult decisions about allegiances. We don’t often get to hear an authentic loyalist “voice”, and this one is particularly of note in that he wrote an account that was read in England. Sadly, the author of the poem was not given.

Ontario Descendants of Irish Palatines 300th Anniversary of 1709 Palatine Emigration

Activities are planned in Ontario in 2009 that will help celebrate the 300-year anniversary of the 1709 emigration from the Palatine region of what is now Germany. Many of the earliest pioneer families in Ontario were descendants of the 1709 Palatine emigrants.

We wish to identify current descendants from the early Ontario Palatine families who are interested in the 300-year Palatine anniversary, and encourage members from their family group to participate in events planned for 2009 in Ontario.

Palatines – the migration from Germany, to Ireland, to Ontario

In 1709 nearly 13,000 persons left the middle Rhineland of what is now Germany and descended on London. At Queen Anne’s invitation, they left their homeland to seek new lands in the British colonies. The worst winter in recent history had destroyed the vines and orchards that were the livelihood of these poor farmers, and they had hopes of starting fresh with land and supplies offered by Queen Anne.

While not all of these families were from the lands of the Elector Palatine, modern day Rheinland/Pfalz, they were from that general region and became known as “Palatines.”

As the good folks of London were in no way prepared for such an onslaught, temporary camps were set up around the city and families were even housed in warehouses. Those migrants who would not swear to being Protestant were sent back to the Rhineland. Still not able to house all these people and unable to provide shipping to the colonies, it was arranged with English landlords in Ireland that some families would be sent to Ireland to help with their plantations, especially in the south and west.

Though over 3,000 people, over 800 families, were moved to Ireland, many chose not to stay on their new lands and continued their journey to the British colonies. Ultimately, one landlord in Ireland, Lord Southwell, settled the majority of the families on his estate in central Limerick. Later, as families grew and rents were no longer subsidized by the Crown, the Palatines began to disburse to a wider area in Munster. In 1760 a shipload went to the colony of New York. Sixteen years later, during the American Revolution, they served as Loyalists against the American colonials and, at the conclusion of this conflict, moved on to Canada.

In the 19th Century, their friends and families in Ireland began following to Ontario, and by the 1850s there were townships and villages with concentrations of Irish Palatines. Some Ontario townships, counties, (and nearby towns) with concentrations of Palatine descendants were:

– Augusta, Grenville County, (Prescott, Brockville),

– Camden and Ernestown, Lennox & Addington County, (Napanee),

– Marysburg and Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County, (Picton),

– Ramsay and Packingham, Lanark County, (Carleton Place),

– Stafford and Westmeath, Renfrew County (Pembroke)

– Emily, Victoria County, (Fenelon Falls),

– Toronto, Peel County, (Streetsville – now Mississauga),

– Brock, Ontario County, (Sutton),

– Blanshard, Perth County, (St Marys, Kirkton)

– Usbourne, Huron County, (Kirkton, Exeter)

Surnames of some of the early Irish Palatine families in Ontario were:

– Baker, Barkman, Benner , Bowen, Brethour, Cronsberry

– Doube, Dulmage, Embury, Fizzell

– Heck, Lawrence, Latchford, Legear, Lodwick, Lowes,

– Miller, Raynard, Ruckle,

– Shier, Shouldice, Sparling, St John, Switzer,

– Teskey, Young

Perhaps you recognize an ancestral name of your family. If not, we would encourage you to check such sources as the Irish Palatine Association or the book by Hank Z. Jones, Palatine Families of Ireland. If you don’t already know of your Irish Palatine ancestry, you might be surprised.

Now, in 2008, we estimate that there are 30-40 thousand descendants from these early Ontario Palatine families. To commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the1709 migration, many of the descendants from the Irish Palatines are planning events in Canada, the U.S. and Ireland for 2009. For Ontario, we are currently working to encourage descending families to support and participate in events and activities such as:

– Family reunions to mark the special 300-year anniversary

– Tree planting in cemeteries to commemorate ancestors

– Rehabilitation of faded headstones of ancestors

– Scholarly lectures outlining the historic journey of Ontario’s Palatine families

– Publishing a Commemorative Booklet focused on Ontario’s Palatine families

– Creating an organization for Ontario’s Irish Palatine descendants

If you are interested in learning more about these events, or wish to receive further emails from us about progress made towards the 2009 Ontario activities, please email us at Palatines@mac.com. We also have a web site that summarizes these activities. Please pass this email on to others who might be interested. Ontario Organizing Committee – 2009 Ontario Events, 300-Year Anniversary of 1709 Palatine Emigration

…Denis Jones and Howard Lawrence, Ontario Organizing Committee – 2009 Ontario Events, 300-Year Anniversary of 1709 Palatine Emigration

Book Review: Loyalists and Layabouts, by Stephen Kimber

Published 2008, hardcover, ISBN 978-385-66172-0, cover price $34.95 Cdn, 335 pages.

The author refers his book as a narrative. Although I have no known ancestors, Loyalist or otherwise, who migrated to any of the Eastern Canadian provinces I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about part of our Canadian history. The book outlines those besieged loyalists trapped in New York City at the end of the American Revolution. With the help of various bibliographies, a number of historians and genealogists the author takes us through the lives and history of one group of Loyalists who eventually settle in Port Roseway, shortly after renamed Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Politics and corruption followed the Loyalists from New York which also played a major part in the outcome of the first Black Loyalist settlement, the community of Birchtown just outside of Shelburne. Shelburne rises to almost 10,000 Loyalist Refugees and eventually falls to about 500 over a period of 5 years. Although this may be a sad tale the book also outlines the spirit of these Loyalist Refugees in building a new community in the coastal forests of Nova Scotia. As an added bonus the author details a second migration of almost all of the 1500 Black Loyalists, from Birchtown, Nova Scotia to Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa.

The book contains several small maps, a large section of end notes outlining details on some of the Loyalist individuals, acknowledgement of all the researchers and research materials used, bibliography of sources material and book index. Those who have Loyalist ancestors settling in Eastern Canada may find some surnames of interest. Overall a very good read for both historians and loyalist descendants alike.

…Paul R. Caverly, PLCGS, UE

[Editor’s note: I read this book while on vacation this summer and enjoyed it. I have included this review, realizing that another by Logan Bjarnason was run in Loyalist Trails UELAC issue 2008-23 on June 8, 2008]

Correction: Book Review: Loyalism in the Hoosick Valley, by Bernard C. Young

The email address for author Bernard C. Young given in last week’s Loyalist Trails should have been {bcyoung AT gmavt DOT net} – our apologies.