“Loyalist Trails” 2008-47: December 21, 2008

In this issue:
Was She Truly a Loyalist? — © Stephen Davidson
Appreciated Corrections and Additions: Stephen Davidson
Dr. Hereward Senior, Loyalist Historian, Celebrates a Long and Productive Life
Sir William Johnson Papers Revised Edition CD Available from the New York State Library
Last Post: CRUIKSHANK, Janice Marion (nee Dewitt), UE
Editor’s Note: Merry Christmas


Was She Truly a Loyalist? — © Stephen Davidson

Given the views that 18th-century society had of females, if a woman were the wife, sister or daughter of a loyalist, she was automatically considered to be a loyalist, too. There are very few cases of women being recognized as loyalists for their own actions or their own political convictions. The widow Mary Swords is one of those exceptions. In April of 1785, the loyalist compensation board commissioners declared her to be “a loyalist and likewise her husband”. But was she really? You be the judge.

Mary and her husband, Thomas Swords, were Irish immigrants who settled in Saratoga, New York after 1763. A farmer and owner of a potash works, Thomas had once been a lieutenant in the 55th Regiment of Foot during the Seven Years War, and was a committed loyalist when “the troubles began” in the mid-1700s. After Swords refused invitations to command or serve in the patriot army, the rebels had him arrested and put in the Albany jail. Over the next eight months, he was moved to jails in Hartford, New London, and then Preston, Connecticut.

During her husband’s absence, Mary Swords looked after their six children and did her best to manage the family farm. Rebels, knowing that Thomas had been arrested for being a loyalist, kept an eye on the Swords’ farm. Patriot rumours said it was a stop on an “underground railroad” for loyalists fleeing north. On one occasion when a British soldier came to her door to ask for food for General Burgoyne’s troops, Mary sent nine head of their cattle to help. Mary even tried to convince local militia men to join the British army. Such activities could no longer be tolerated. Patriots attacked the Swords’ farm; Mary and the children escaped the farm with only their clothes.

After appealing to the patriots who had imprisoned him, Thomas Swords was finally released on the condition that he not fight. Upon his return to Saratoga, he took Mary and the children to British-held New York City. Within a year baby John died. Thomas Sword, ill from the “effects of his imprisonment” died in January of 1779.

Mary moved the family to Bergen Neck, New Jersey. Here they were violently robbed of all the furniture, food and clothing that they had acquired since fleeing to New York. Richard Swords, the oldest son, died 1781 while serving with the Loyal American Troops under Benedict Arnold. Adding insult to so much injury, the British government continued to deny payment for the supplies Mary had provided Burgoyne’s troops back in Saratoga.

When the revolution came to an end, Mary was determined to receive compensation for all that she had lost. She sailed for London with her two small daughters, Mary and Hester. Thomas Jr. and James, only thirteen and twelve years old, had already fled to Shelburne, Nova Scotia with other loyalist refugees. (Remember the question: Was Mary Swords really a loyalist?)

Mary appeared before the compensation claims board in the spring of 1785. In the end, it gave her an annual allowance of £40 for the loss of her farm house and declared her “a loyalist”. But Mary Swords was a very unhappy loyalist. She continued to submit petitions to seek redress for all of the property, livestock and personal items that her family had lost. The British government would not budge, claiming that Mary needed more documentation.

Dispirited, Mary and her daughters sailed for the refugee settlement of Shelburne, Nova Scotia in May of 1786 and began to live off of the small pension they had been granted. Two years later, with testimonies in hand, Mary stood before the compensation board once more. Her petition ended with these words: “I can truly say I don’t believe there is one person come from the continent of America that has been a greater suffrer than myself.” For all of her troubles, the gathering of testimonies, and the journey across the ocean, Mary received only £43 to cover her lost livestock. Bitterly disappointed, Mary returned to Shelburne in 1789.

Mary went back to a loyalist ghost town, a mere shadow of the thriving city it had been in its first years of settlement. Two years earlier, her sons Thomas Jr. and James had decided to return to New York. Within a year, they had their own printing firm and were publishing church-related materials. Not very many years passed before Mary and her two daughters made a fateful decision. They, too, left Nova Scotia and sailed for New York. In 1795 Mary took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.

In 1798, yellow fever swept through New York City. Mary Swords was among its many victims. An amazing life was over. Mary had come to North America as the bride of a soldier who had fought to conquer New France. In time, she became the wife of a prosperous farmer and the mother of his six children. She gave livestock to the British army, lost her homes in two patriot attacks, and eventually watched a husband and son die from the actions of rebels. But was Mary Swords truly a loyalist?

To be eligible for compensation, a loyalist had to be one who “had rendered services to Great Britain” during the American Revolution. To have the letters “U.E.” after one’s name, one had to demonstrate that he or she had “adhered to the Unity of the Empire” before 1783. Mary Swords fits both definitions; a government commission recognized her as such in 1785. The fact that Mary Swords ended up in the United States as one of its patriotic citizens by 1795 was not Mary’s fault, but that of the British government. It had shown little appreciation for her exemplary demonstrations of loyalty.

Was Mary Swords a loyalist? She gets my vote. What about you?

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

Appreciated Corrections and Additions: Stephen Davidson

I enjoy a wonderful correspondence with various readers of Loyalist Trails. Besides notes of appreciation, the writers are also kind enough to clarify or elaborate some of the details in my articles.

Charles Bury pointed out that the Anglican Church in Sorel (mentioned in the article on Three Loyalist Padres) is not the first Protestant church in Quebec as my research had indicated. That title goes to Saint Andrew’s in Quebec City. Said Mr. Bury,

“As early as 1760, Scottish civilians, mainly merchant families, migrated to Quebec City, joining many retired or demobilized Fraser Highlanders. Chalmers-Wesley United Church was also born in the 1760s, I presume under a pre-union name. At the same time, the Church of England used the chapels of the abandoned Recollet monasteries in Montreal, Trois Rivières and Quebec (where they shared space with the jail). I don’t know which came first but a rector was appointed to Saint James in Trois Rivières in 1768, curiously named Rev. Legere Jean Baptiste Veyssière….Amazing in the circumstances, these parishes and congregations are all still active almost 250 years later, and treasured parts of their old downtowns.”

Thank you, Charles, for guiding a Maritimer through some of Quebec’s historic Protestant Churches. I appreciate the perspective and clarification.

In an article about the loyalist mayor of New York City, I wrote “There is nothing in the records to give a sense of how he (Matthews) and his wife Sarah looked after their ten children.” But in fact, there is. Online friend (and the creator of the Fort Havoc website), Wallace Hale, found an illuminating passage in Thomas Jones’ remarkable book, The History of New York. It reads as follows:

“General Howe (with great generosity), in the winter of 1776, made a present (of what was none of his own), of all the profits arising from the ferries, markets, and slips, to David Matthews, Esq., the Mayor of the City, which he was pleased to accept of, and, in violation of that oath, which he had solemnly taken upon his appointment to the Mayoralty, to appropriate to his own use, what was not only the property of the city, but what he as Mayor and a trustee for the City was bound to protect, and see appropriated, according to the directions of the charter.

Not content with General Howe’s present, the Mayor ordered all the tenants of the Corporation to pay their rents to him, which he received without a blush, without shame, compunction, or remorse, and modestly appropriated the whole to his own use, until the arrival of Governor Robertson, in April, 1780.

Finding then how these revenues were, and had been for several years past appropriated, his excellency thought it an object worthy his attention. It was a money matter, and Robertson loved cash. He therefore, by a public advertisement, ordered all the rents arising from the ferries, markets, slips, and houses, belonging to the Corporation, to be paid into the city funds, of which he appointed a treasurer, and to no other person or persons whatever, under pain of his displeasure.

They were accordingly paid to this treasurer, and deposited among other public monies arising from private lotteries, made, as it was pretended, for the use of the poor, from an excise upon all retailers of strong liquors within the lines, and the rents of rebel houses and farms; and were drawn out and disposed of as his excellency and a few others in the secret thought proper.”

Thomas Jones was a great one for calling a spade a spade, whether the rascal was a patriot or a loyalist. Abuse of public funds is not limited to the politicians of the 21st century. Thank you for solving the mystery of how the mayor provided for his family, Wallace!

…Stephen Davidson

Dr. Hereward Senior, Loyalist Historian, Celebrates a Long and Productive Life

December 22 is a special day for an eminent Canadian historian. Dr. Hereward Senior will attain age 90 on that date, in the company of family and friends from near and far, at his residence in Westmount, Quebec. Dr. Senior (better known to his nearest and dearest as “Wake”) served his country valiantly in World War II as a Brengunner with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, part of the Third Canadian Division. Fighting in France, the Netherlands and northwest Germany, he was wounded twice and left the military in 1945 with the rank of corporal. Then began a lengthy and distinguished academic career, starting and ending at McGill University, where he eventually received B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. While working on his doctorate, Hereward worked with Canadian Industries Limited in Montreal and later served as a master at Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec. His first university teaching appointment was at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Later, he moved on to the Canadian Military College, Royal Roads and the University of Toronto, before returning to Montreal and McGill in 1963, where he remained a professor on the staff of the History Department until retirement in 2005. In 1954, he married the late Elinor Kyte, herself and accomplished journalist and historian. They raised four children.

Dr. Senor is the author of three widely acclaimed books on the Orange Order in Ireland, Britain and Canada, two major works on the Fenian Raids and one scholarly tome on the establishiment and development of the police institution (the constabulary) in Britain, the Commonwealth and the United States. Of particular interest to the UELAC is the book he co-authored with Wallace Brown, Victorious in Defeat: The Loyalists in Canada, published in 1984. Dr. Senior was also principal co-author of The Loyalists of Quebec: A Forgotten History 1784-1825, the official publication of Heritage Branch, which came off the press in 1989 and is still in demand today. He was also the principal author of the teachers’ resource book The Loyalists: Pioneers and Settlers of Quebec, published by the UELAC and posted on the Internet since 2004. He has also chaired the Monarchist League’s Montreal Branch and is an Honorary Vice-President of the UELAC and a Trustee of the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust. Today, Hereward continues to research and write on various subjects close to his heart and also acts as a consultant to amateur and professional historians alike. He remains in top physical condition, thanks largely to his dedication to his favourite sport: fencing.

The members of Heritage Branch join with the legion of Dr. Senior’s friends and admirers from around the world in extending hearty congratulations on his 90th birthday and every good wish for health, happiness and more years of writing (and fencing!) to this amazing and ever-productive historian of our fair Dominion and its Loyalist heritage.

…Robert Wilkins UE, President, Heritage Branch

Sir William Johnson Papers Revised Edition CD Available from the New York State Library

Twenty volumes of papers and correspondence of Sir William Johnson have been released in a revised second edition digital CD format by the New York State Library. The papers are part of their collections.

Johnson was British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in New York from 1755 through 1774. He is best remembered for his diplomatic achievements among the various Native American tribes and as a military leader during the French and Indian War. This set of primary documents dating from 1738 to 1808 provides a fascinating glimpse into the pre-Revolutionary interactions among the British, French, and Iroquois empires.

The Sir William Johnson Papers were originally published in 14 volumes of print, including a general index, from 1921 to 1965. Valuable for colonial research, the earliest six volumes have been out-of-print for years. The newly released CD is a revised and expanded second edition of an earlier CD released in 2007. It includes the complete 14 volume set along with the “Calendar of the Sir William Johnson manuscripts in the New York State Library” compiled by Richard E. Day in 1909. The CD also features several enhancements, including: more than 100 newly digitized illustrations from the New York State Library collections; dozens of new color digital photographs of locations and scenes from the Mohawk Valley and Lake George appropriate to Johnson’s legacy, including Johnson Hall and Fort Johnson; improved accuracy of scans to nearly 98%; electronic indexing allowing simultaneous searching of the entire collection; and bibliographic consistency in volume and page numbering with printed volumes.

The CD is available from the New York State Library for $20. To purchase a copy, contact Aimee Pelton in Documents and Digital Collections via phone at (518) 474-7492 or email at {apelton AT mail DOT nysed DOT gov}

…Adelaide Lanktree UE, Sir John Johnson Branch

Last Post: CRUIKSHANK, Janice Marion (nee Dewitt), UE

Peacefully at The Hospice at May Court, December 17, 2008, age 73. Predeceased by her parents John Henry Dewitt and Irene Marion (nee Brown). Beloved wife of Neil. Loving mother of Deborah, David (Kim), Cassandra (Ralph Foley) and John (Shelley) and grandmother of many. Sister of Robert Dewitt. Interment Capital Memorial Gardens. In Memoriam donations to the Hospice at May Court or the Canadian Cancer Society appreciated. Published in the Ottawa Citizen on 12/19/2008.

…Lynne Cook UE

Editor’s Note: Merry Christmas

I would like to wish each of you a Merry Christmas, and hope that you can bring a smile to someone else’s face over the holiday too. Most of our trials pale in comparison to those facing our Loyalist ancestors. Many in 1783 had just arrived by the thousands in Nova Scotia, including what was to soon become New Brunswick, and other Maritime colonies including eastern Quebec, or were housed in refugee camps and other dwellings – cabins, lean-to’s, shanties, sod huts – across the colony of Quebec from the Gaspe to Quebec City, Sorel, Montreal, Cataraqui, Niagara and Detroit. In spite of their hardships, I think many of them found the means to have at least some small Christmas and year-end celebration. Remember, and enjoy.