“Loyalist Trails” 2009-14: April 5, 2009

In this issue:
The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Two Widows — © Stephen Davidson
Joseph Merritt U.E.L.
Casselman Connection – Murray Barkley, UE
Central Region West (Southwestern Ontario) Region Meeting, Sat. April 18
Save on Shipping: Order From UELAC Store and Pick up at Conference
Podcasts: The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill
Archives of Ontario
Last Post: James “Jim” Atkins, UE, Regina Branch
      + The British Evacuation of New York City
      + A Missing Cookie Press
      + Seeking a Loyalist Speaker with a Scottish Context
      + Loyalist Rose Bushes Seek a Ride Toronto to Cornwall


The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Two Widows — © Stephen Davidson

The American Revolution was devastating for anyone with loyalist principles, especially for those with the least power and influence in 18th century society. The stories of loyalist women are only now beginning to be recognized and appreciated for the perspective they bring to the larger story of the refugee experience of Canada’s English founders.

Mahitabel Jones and her husband Elisha lived in Pittsfield, Massachusetts before “the troubles” began. In 1761 Elisha’s father gave him farmland upon which he eventually built a house and barn as well as a sawmill and grist mill. In 1763, Mahitabel gave birth to Elisha Junior, the first of seven children the Joneses would have before the outbreak of the revolution. Besides overseeing the care and feeding of her children, Mahitabel was the mistress of an estate that would later be described as having “an elegant mansion and fine orchards”. Eleven horses, 40 sheep, a team of oxen, and almost a dozen cattle made up their livestock. Two enslaved Africans also worked on the Jones’s farm.

At the outbreak of the revolution, Mahitabel’s husband went to Boston where his father lived. There he became a colonel in the forage and wagon department, locating and transporting food for the British troops. Mahitabel was left in charge of the family’s property and her seven children. Things did not go well.

As soon as the patriots of Pittsfield knew that Mahitabel’s husband was serving the king, they seized his land and sold the family’s “moveables”. Mrs. Jones was not able to claim anything as her own, even the “third” normally alloted to wives. Perhaps sensing which way the political winds were blowing, the Jones’ two Africans slaves joined the Continental Army.

After Mahitabel moved her children to New York City, young Elisha Jones enlisted in the army at the age of 16. For the next three years Mahitabel was left –without husband or eldest son– to care for her six remaining children.

Just months before the loyalist were to be given free transportation to safety, Mahitabel’s husband died in January of 1783, leaving her a widow without property, possessions or income. When it came time for the Joneses to make the decision whether to stay in the new republic or settle in Nova Scotia, Mahitabel suffered even more grief. Her second-oldest son Alpheus and her daughter Mahitabel decided to remain behind. Mrs. Jones and her other children –all under 20 years of age– boarded a ship bound for Digby, Nova Scotia, a loyalist community across the Bay of Fundy from modern day Saint John, New Brunswick.

Three years later, Widow Jones and Elisha Junior stood before a board in Saint John to seek financial compensation for the family’s loyalty. Young Elisha had settled in Saint John, his mother and siblings were living in the community of Sissiboo near Digby. The family was finally to be reunited. Word had come that Alpheus and his sister would soon be leaving the United States to live with their mother and siblings. A decade of loss and suffering –no doubt the worst ten year of her life– had finally come to an end for Mahitabel Jones.

The revolution completely devastated the domestic and economic bliss Elizabeth MacNeil had known for so long. She was the wife of a prosperous Bostonian baker named Archibald MacNeil. The couple owned a sloop, a house, two bakeries, storehouses, a stable and a garden. In the early years of the rebellion, the British army commandeered MacNeil’s 115-ton ship to use for the king. Rebels noted the baker’s service to the crown.

As tensions in Boston continued to increase, the patriot tradesmen had made a pact not to provide the British troops with bread and flour, but Elizabeth MacNeil’s husband “stood forward” and baked for the army. His brave demonstration of loyalty would cost him everything.

When it became clear that the family would have to join other Bostonian loyalists in an evacuation to Halifax in 1776, the MacNeils’ could have carried away all of their possession in their sloop — but unfortunately for them it was still in the king’s service. Elizabeth was forced to abandon her family’s furniture, glasses, and tables in addition to their valuable horse and chaise. Later, patriots sank the baker’s ship at the Boston docks.

Like other Massachusetts loyalists, the MacNeils first sought refuge in Halifax. They then decided to move to Quebec. Within eleven years, the revolution had scattered Elizabeth’s children far and wide. Her oldest son Alexander, a member of the engineer department during the war, was a clerk in Jamaica. William Henry MacNeil held the same postion in Montreal. MacNeil’s daughter Elizabeth lived in Quebec with her husband David Shoolbred. Nancy MacNeil married a Thomas Hill and stayed behind in patriot Boston. It seems Mr. Hill had tried to buy his father-in-law’s home from the patriots after it was seized, but they would not permit the sale. The youngest MacNeil, Sarah, lived with her mother in Quebec.

All of the MacNeils had survived the revolution, which was more than many families could boast. However, before Elizabeth and her husband had the opportunity to begin a new life along the St. Lawrence River, Natives killed Archibald MacNeil during an overland journey to New Brunswick in 1785. Two years later, Elizabeth MacNeil sought compensation for all that her family had suffered at the hands of rebels. Her son-in-law David Shoolbred, daughter Sarah, and three other loyalists spoke to the commissioners on her behalf.

While the legal documents of the day give us a glimpse into the experiences of the widows Mahitabel Jones and Elizabeth MacNeil, the historian and genealogist is left with scores of unanswered questions. How did these women cope until they received compensation? What activities and pursuits made up their day-to-day lives after they settled in Nova Scotia and Canada?

Next week’s Loyalist Trails will feature the third installment featuring the stories of the black loyalists of Massachusetts.

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

Joseph Merritt U.E.L.

Annals of the Forty, No 6. Loyalist and Pioneer Families of West Lincoln 1783 – 1833, compiled by R. Janet Powell, published by the Grimsby Historical Society in 1955 and revised and reprinted 1983 – 1988 states:

… Joseph Merritt, one of the sons [of Thomas Merritt of North Castle], born in 1741 refused to join the Revolutionary party. Accordingly in the years following the conclusion of the war, he found persecution intolerable and about 1799 [It was actually 1792 – 1793] he left his home in Fishkill, Dutchess County N.Y. and with his wife, Mary Parker, and his family came to Canada. He settled near Smithville on The Twenty, Grimsby Township on Lot 5, Conc. IX. …

According to the Year Book, Dutchess County History Society – Vol. 52. 1967 a number of Dutchess County men were Loyalists. By 1780 the property of 264 families in Dutchess and Putnam Counties, valued at £24,964 had been confiscated, and by 1783 the property confiscated had risen to a value of £99,771. In the book New York in the Revolution as Colony and State, Volume II, page 271, under Estates Forfeited, you will find Joseph Merritt’s name. Officials, who were called ‘Commissioners of Forfeitures’, “sold the real estates of Tories and others who had either gone over to the enemy, or were suspected of not being friendly to the American cause”. Joseph Merritt lost his land to Ebenezer Boyd, one of the many Commissioners of Forfeiture. When his father Thomas Merritt died in 1783, Joseph was bequeathed his father’s land in Fishkill and he tried again to live there after the war. Persecution, in Fishkill, was too intolerable for him, so he came to Upper Canada.

Many years later Joseph’s great-granddaughter Harriet Victoria Merritt (daughter of Hamilton C. Merritt and granddaughter of Daniel Merritt) had a story to tell about Joseph and those early days. Harriet was born in 1854 and she died in 1945. Her niece Emma, Mrs. J.J. Shirton, gave Harriet’s story to the local paper and the following newspaper article, entitled ‘Pioneer Days’, appeared in the paper. Unfortunately I haven’t, as yet, been able to locate that newspaper, or the date on which it was written:

Joseph Merritt, a United Empire Loyalist and fervently patriotic, and grandfather of the late Hamilton Merritt came to Canada in 1787 [He came first in 1792 and returned in 1793.] from near the Catskill Mountains in New York State when this section of the country was a total wilderness.

He cleared off a piece of ground on the Town Line between Caistor and Grimsby Townships, a short distance east of the ancient landmark known as the ‘Balm of Gilead Tree’, and sowed it with rye for bread. He then went back to his home in New York State until the following season, when he returned to harvest the rye and make a permanent home, on the land obtained from the Crown. This was the first soil broken in the neighbourhood when primitive methods were employed in doing the work. Even after the land was cleared, it could not be plowed on account of the stumps. Some settlers put in their seed with three-cornered drag or harrow and others merely cut down a husky treetop and dragged it over ground.

All the work was done by oxen as, at this time, there were practically no horses in the country. However, wonderful crops were produced from the virgin soil. The nearest Gristmill was in Niagara Falls. The men often carried a bag of wheat on their shoulders to the mill and carried the flour back again. It was a day’s trip each way. For ordinary use, the grain was at home [as written]. An oak stump was hollowed out in a bowl shape and a large round stone or heavy knot of hardwood was used as a pestle to grind the grain by hand.

The schoolhouse was used for religious services, and often private dwellings, for Prayer meetings. In 1864, Daniel Merritt, father of the late Hamilton C. Merritt, gave one half acre by deed, joining the cemetery at the west for the erection of a Methodist Church that should be free for all denominations on funeral occasions.

In clearing off part of his [Joseph’s] home which has the cemetery, he said to his eldest son; “This is a nice high piece of ground. I will give one acre gratis for a cemetery that, in time, will be needed as the country becomes settled.” His eldest son William was the first one to be buried there at the early age of twenty-one. [The cemetery was known as ‘Merritt’s Burying Ground’. It is now called Merritt Settlement Cemetery.]

On a nice elevation of Joseph Merritt’s land directly west of the cemetery, a log schoolhouse was built, the first one in U.S.S. No. 2 where the late Hamilton C. Merritt (father of the writer above mentioned) went to school and also taught school when Arithmetic was taught on the principles of Daboll.

He was started to school under school age, because at the time the trustees were not authorized to collect teacher’s salary without a certain number of scholars and they were lacking just one and wanted that he should be allowed to come to make up the required number. Of course it was contrary to rules that pupils should slumber within the halls of learning, but being so young and under school age, he was allowed to take a pillow and have a little sleep in school. He had but a short distance to go.

The original Merritt ancestors were two land surveyors who came over from England on a vessel called the “Mayflower” and surveyed a tract of land in New York State, which for a long time was known as the Merritt Block.

I have the Crown Deed given to Joseph Merritt for 240 acres in the year 1796. The sixth generation is now living on a piece of the land.

Most of Harrier’s story is probably quite true, but there were no Merritts listed as passengers of the Mayflower, and Joseph Merritt first arrived in Upper Canada in 1792. Stories can change slightly as they’re passed down from generation to generation.

…Marilyn Whatley

Casselman Connection – Murray Barkley, UE

When was the last time you played 20 questions, especially with a focus on local history and United Empire Loyalists? Would you bare yourself with sharing what is on your cd player? Michael Eamer suggested that our readers may enjoy a fascinating article on one of the members of his St. Lawrence Branch UELAC. Click here for Kathleen Hay’s Cornwall Standard Freeholder newspaper article on Murray Barkley UE.

…Lynne Cook and FHH

Central Region West (Southwestern Ontario) Region Meeting, Sat. April 18

All members of the Central West Region Branches are welcome to attend. Morning coffee and refreshments will be provided by London and Western Ontario Branch. Lunch will be available on your own at a selection of nearby restaurants.

Time and Location – 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. in London, Ontario at the Westmount Branch of the London Public Library, 3200 Wonderland Rd. S. just south of Southdale.

A registration fee of $5.00 per person to be collected at the door will cover meeting expenses.

Program – features Dominion President Frederick H. Hayward, Dominion Webmaster Douglas W. Grant, and Honorary Vice President Zig Misiak.

Project 2014 Promotions Market, Branch Project Presentations and Door Prize Draw throughout the day.

Please RSVP before April 9, 2009 to your branch President if you plan to attend.

…Bonnie Schepers {bschepers AT govital DOT net}

Save on Shipping: Order From UELAC Store and Pick up at Conference

Promotions UELAC will be at “Loyalist Settlement Experience” Thurs. June 11 to Sun. June 14, 2009 Conference in Napanee. If you want to pick up a House Plaque at the Conference and save the shipping cost, please place your order by May 01, 2009.

Any one wanting clothing or other items can also save on the shipping by placing an order by May 01/09. This way we can guarantee we’ll have size and colour and have your order ready for pick-up in Napanee.

Check out the items available from the UELAC Store in the online catalogue.

Please send your order to Promotions UELAC c/o Noreen Stapley UE 905-732-2012 or {gdandy AT iaw DOT on DOT ca}

Podcasts: The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill

CBC Radio’s Between The Covers is a weekly podcast serializing the best in Canadian literature, from comedy to tragedy. Stories are narrated by some of our finest actors, with new installments each week.

Between The Covers is currently featuring Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negores and is at episode 25 – all past and current episodes are available here.

Archives of Ontario

The Archives of Ontario recently moved from their former downtown location to new Facilities at York University in the northwest corner of Toronto. If you are planning a visit – perhaps in conjunction with the June UELAC Conference – and were unaware of the change, checkout the new web site.

The address, directions including several public transit options, and hours (now only Mon-Fri from 8:30 – 5:00) are on the location page.

Last Post: James “Jim” Atkins, UE, Regina Branch

It is with sadness that we announce the death of our member, Jim Atkins UE at the age of 81. Born in Regina, Jim’s career in the Canadian music industry spanned 46 years. Widely respected for his integrity, honesty, and depth of knowledge, he began working with Heintzman & Company in Regina and Toronto, later becoming a partner in the Regina Piano and Organ Centre. He and his partner delivered pianos to virtually every community in southern Saskatchewan.

As a fine carpenter, he built houses, assisted family and friends with their projects and restored and preserved family antiquities. He and Ann also researched and documented their individual family genealogies. The result of of one search was discovering his loyalist background, tracing to Joseph Morden, a loyalist from the Mohawk Valley who settled in Flanders, not far from present day Dundas, Ontario.

It was at that point, some 5 years ago, that I met Jim and Ann. Our mutual interest in genealogy and antiques, especially family heirlooms, made for an instant friendship with numerous visits.

Jim will be lovingly remembered and sadly missed by his many friends and by his wife, Ann; daughter, Lynn McMaster, and her husband Gerald; son, Tom Atkins and his wife Joanne; and grandchildren, Meryl McMaster, Spencer and Eric Atkins as well as Jim’s sister Elaine, her husband Walter Jackle and their children John, Joanne and Sandra.

…Logan Bjarnason UE, Regina Branch


The British Evacuation of New York City

The Paris Peace treaty was signed 3 Sept 1783.

John Noble and Jemima Purdy were married by a British Chaplain in NYC on 17 Oct 1783. Their marriage certificate reads:

“This may certify that John Noble of the City of New York was lawfully married on the Seventeenth day of Oct. 1783 in the presence of several wittnesses to Jemima Purdy (rest unreadable).

N. Badger, Chaplain to his Royal Artillery in America. (unreadable) under my hand this 17th of Oct. 1783.”

(See copy – Pension files can be found on Heritage Quest, to which many public libraries have a membership.)

George Washington enters NYC for the handover from the British on 25 Nov 1783 and on the same date the British row out to their ships to go home. Before doing so they cut down the halyards of the flagpole at Fort George in NYC. They also removed the cleats up the pole and greased the pole to prevent the removal of the British flag before they sailed away.

Someone found new cleats at a iron mongers, and a sailor with the halyards tied around his waist, ascended the flagpole step by step, driving in the cleats as he mounted. The British flag was cut down and the U.S. flag was hung in its place and the new halyards attached to the pole.

Might John and Jemima have seen the incident?

Somewhere, if not in the U.S. then maybe in London, are records of just who was a prisoner of the British in NYC. I would think maybe besides John, and a known James Noble who is listed on the Rose prison ship, there might be a list showing the names of any American female (Jemima Purdy) so held. If so, it may confirm or disprove for sure the story that she was captured at the Battle of Saratoga , supposedly for rendering some sort of assistance to the U.S. Army there. I can find no record of any woman or man who was captured at Saratoga by the British. There are records of the British who were captured.

I would be interested in any sources for the incident noted above, and also what records are there for POW’s held by the British in NYC and where would they be found?

…Doug Noble {dnoble AT innercite DOT com}

A Missing Cookie Press

In sorting through a box of Regina Branch material, I came across a Project Committee Annual Report submitted by June Pierson in May, 1989. The report lists the various articles the committee has for sale to branch members. I was intrigued with the cookie press to be used for shortbread, etc. Would some member have one from back then that they are not using and would be willing to part with? Another alternative would be a tracing of one, to give me the actual size and possibly a photo, so I could replicate one for my own use.

…Logan Bjarnason UE {loganue AT sasktel DOT net}

Seeking a Loyalist Speaker with a Scottish Context

For our next ceilidh, the Central Ontario Society of Clan MacLeod is currently looking for a speaker who would be able to provide us with a lecture on something to do with things Scottish. The Ceilidh will be held on Saturday May 23rd from 5pm to 9pm in the evening. Our location will be in Toronto near Yonge and Lawrence and there will be an honorarium.

…Beth Macleod {beth DOT macleod AT routcom DOT com}

Loyalist Rose Bushes Seek a Ride Toronto to Cornwall

Carol Goddard of St. Lawrence Branch has ordered some Loyalist Roses (reasonably large, 12 inch or bigger pots) from down town Toronto and they need a ride. If anyone is headed that way and would be willing to deliver the rosebushes, please let me know and we will work out details. They are needed there by about June 1 (Conference is too late).

…Doug Grant {loyalist DOT trails AT uelac DOT org}