“Loyalist Trails” 2010-16: April 18, 2010

In this issue:
Home Alone: Catharine Van Cortlandt’s Story — © Stephen Davidson
Ebenezer Dibble (1715-1799): Fifth Generation in America (Part 9 of 13; © 2009 George McNeillie)
How Many Loyalist (Refugees) Were There?
Loyalist Trees – Part 1: Hardwoods
Loyalist Quarterly: April Issue Now Available
+ Response re Christian Wanner/Warner
+ Parents and Family of William Conley
+ How many Loyalists Died During the Revolution?


Home Alone: Catharine Van Cortlandt’s Story — © Stephen Davidson

The official records of the American Revolution tend to tell the stories of men. Even the transcripts of the loyalist compensation board ignore the hardships women endured. Time and again, the accounts of a man’s loyalty refer to his years of exile or the years in which he fought for the king, but fail to mention how his wife and children survived in his absence. The loyalist petitions to the British government never reveal how loyalist wives managed to run family farms, maintain their husband’s businesses or cope with hostile neighbours. However, thanks to the survival of a letter that Catharine Van Cortlandt wrote to her husband in January of 1777, we can gain a greater understanding of what it was like for a woman to be “home alone” during the American Revolution.

Mrs. Van Cortlandt was hardly an average loyalist wife. She and her husband Philip owned a riverside manor in Hanover, Morris County, New Jersey. A staff of servants helped to cook and clean in a house that was so large that it was eventually made into a hospital after being confiscated by the rebel army. The children had their own nursery, there was a room big enough for dances, and the back garden had an ornamental island. However, Catharine’s idyllic life was utterly shattered by the events of the American Revolution as rebel neighbours rose up against the family.

Thirty-six year old Philip fled Hanover and joined the loyalist New Jersey Volunteers to fight for his king. Despite his exile, Philip regularly received letters from Catharine. They provide an amazing snapshot of the day to day life of a persecuted loyalist wife.

It was hardly an opportune time for Van Cortlandt to be absent. Thirty year-old Catharine was pregnant with the couple’s eleventh child. The oldest of their ten offspring was fourteen; the youngest was only a year old.

Following her husband’s rapid departure, the local rebels forced Catharine to take in patriot officers and soldiers. At first officers who were attached to the rebel field hospital treated the Van Cortlandt family with some measure of respect, but things worsened when New England patriots moved into the house. Privates made barracks out of the kitchen, the storerooms and the children’s nursery. A French general freely availed himself of the family’s grain to feed his cavalry.

The rebels posted guards at the entrances to the Van Cortlandt estate to make sure that British messengers did not seek shelter with the loyalist family. Should Catharine’s husband return home, he could just as easily have been shot as arrested. Philip was wanted dead or alive.

The local minister declared that Van Cortlandt was “an enemy to their cause”. The rebels of Hanover forbid farmers to sell produce to Catharine and would allow no millers to grind grain from the estate. Patriots cut down trees on Van Cortlandt land and forbid the family access to the corded wood that Philip had left to heat the house. From Christmas to late January, the only way that Catharine could keep her children’s feet warm was to wrap them in woollen rags.

Rather than feeling any compassion for Catharine, her female neighbours would stop by the house to relish the family’s discomfort or to heap abuse on the Van Cortlandts. One former friend told Catharine that she had always respected Philip and loved the ground over which he walked, but would now take great pleasure in seeing his blood run down the road. Local rebels took great pleasure in directing travellers to stop at the Van Cortlandt house for free meals, a night’s lodging, or feed for their horses.

In the third week of January 1777, rebel soldiers informed Catharine that she was to prepare a meal for a visiting colonel and his fellow officers. Although this put her “resolution to its utmost strength”, Catharine’s hospitality to the enemy was generous. “I was determined to do to the utmost of my powers, though from necessity. The dinner was plentiful, well dressed, and such as I wished to have given to more welcome guests. The old Madeira was drank in profusion.”

As soon as the meal was over, Catharine tried to put as much distance between the rebel “guests” and her ten children as she could, but a drinking match had begun between the soldiers. The officers kept calling on her to refill their cups. The older Van Cortlandt children could see that their mother was anxious. With the directness of youth, one asked her mother why she treated men so well who were not their Papa’s friends. Catharine ordered one of the servants to wait upon the officers, and then took her children to the safety of the back garden where they played with sticks.

In the meantime, a fiddler and more guests had arrived. The rebels sent a servant to bring Catharine back to the house, hoping she would join them for a dance. Her tearful pleas to be excluded from “any scenes of mirth” where her husband could not attend her, spared her until ten o’clock.

Once again the officer invited her to “honour the Company for a few minutes as a Spectator”. Not wanting to anger the rebels, Catharine and the children stood by the grandfather clock to watch “tawdry dressed females” dancing reels with the patriot officers. It all became too much for Catharine, and she stole away to her room with the children “whose eyes were all swimming in tears.”

As this brief incident shows, the stories of the loyalist women left to fend for themselves and their children are every bit as compelling as the stories of the loyalist men who fought on the battlefield or were imprisoned for their principles. Women such as Catharine Van Cortlandt needed to be brave, use their wits, and do all in their power to keep the ones they loved safe from harm.


Read the next edition of Loyalist Trails to learn what happened to the Van Cortlandt family after 1777.

To see transcripts of two of Catharine’s letters, view them online or read “A Loyalist’s Wife: Letters of Mrs. Philip Van Cortlandt December 1776 to February 1777”, by H. Vernon-Jackson, History Today Magazine, Volume XIV, no. 8


To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.

Ebenezer Dibble (1715-1799): Fifth Generation in America (Part 9 of 13; © 2009 George McNeillie)

(See parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight.)

It may be said, in passing, that the little community of “Bedell’s Cove” at one time aspired to claim the shire-town. Mr. G. Augustus Bedell had his Registry Office there, and I think Mr. Harry Dibblee kept the Customs-house there or at the Lower Corner. There was a store on the river bank, and a small tannery on the place. The site of the first Bedell homestead too was on the bank of the river, near the “Cove,” where a few old Lombardy Poplars yet remain. There was a steamboat landing there also and the place was ambitious to be the chief municipal centre in early times.

Paul Micheau Bedell, another brother of this family, lived first below Bull’s Creek, some six miles from the town of Woodstock on the main road to Fredericton. He also was well known and respected. Others of the family founded the “Bedell Settlement.” The only sister of Jarvis Bedell, Margaret, married William A. Black of Fredericton. Their son, George Black, became Governor of the Yukon. He went over-seas with a Company raised in the Yukon, served with credit as commander in the Great War, returned and is now living in Vancouver where his father and mother also live.

In the month of December 1869, Jarvis Bedell and I decided to do a bit of soldiering and came to St. John to attend the military school there, which was conducted by the 78th Regiment of Highlanders. I can recall the trip very well. The railway from Fairville to McAdam Junction had been but lately finished. As we went south toward St. John we saw marked evidence of the very recent (Oct. 4, 1869) “Saxby Gale.” >From Canterbury and South of that place, the trees, in many places for considerable distances, were levelled with the ground. At McAdam – then called “City Camp” – there was then but one frame dwelling and three log-houses. We had our dinner with the Dyers in the one frame building. The wife, Mrs. Dyer, was one of the Golding family, who had been brought up beside Jarvis Bedell at Woodstock. Arrived at Fairville we took a coach to the city, where Jarvis went to his Uncle Sam. Berton’s and I to Charles E. Raymond’s, 106 Queen Street. Mr. Berton regarded with disfavor Jarvis taking a course in military training, and made him an offer to pay the debt he had incurred in building his new farm (the old one having been burned) if he would give up the course of training at the military school. Jarvis agreed this and returned to Woodstock.

Samuel D. Berton was for many years the Superintendent of St. Mary’s Church Sunday School in St. John. He was devoted to its welfare and gave of his time and means and energy to promote its success. The teachers met weekly at his house and he was a most generous indefatigable supporter of the school. He retired from office a little before I came to St. Mary’s [Editor’s note – Raymond was Rector of St. Mary’s Church from 1884 – 1909], and was succeeded by Arthur P. Tippet. In the new S.S. building, built just after I came to St. John in 1884, a beautiful window representing Christ as “The Good Shepherd,” bearing the lamb on his shoulder, was placed as a memorial to Samuel D. Berton. This (Morning) Sunday School, after an existence of about fifty years was, about 1903, merged with the afternoon Sunday School. Jarvis Bedell’s mother was a sister of S.D. Berton. The Loyalist ancestor of this family, Captain Peter Berton, came to St. John in charge of a Company of Loyalists in June, 1783, in what is commonly called the “Summer Fleet.” In the same fleet came my wife’s ancestors, on her mother’s side, William and Sarah Frost, concerning whom something will be said later in this book.

Excerpt from Book of Family History, by The Ven. William Odber Raymond, LL.D, FRSC. © 2009 George McNeillie – all rights reserved [published here with permission; see footnote].

George McNeillie

How Many Loyalist (Refugees) Were There?

The following paragraph is from A History of New York During the Revolutionary War, by Thomas Jones. He wrote his account of the Revolution between 1783 and 1788, but it was not published until 1879. Since he lived in New York during the war and knew fellow refugees in England after 1783, he is a contemporary source for the estimated numbers. Notice that this paragraph only refers to those evacuated through New York and not those who travelled overland to the Canadas or left in earlier fleets.

“The articles of peace arrived at New York in March, 1783. The provisional ones were not ratified by Congress till the month of May following. Yet by the 25th of November, in the same year, did Sir Guy send from New York not less than 100,000 souls, who, finding the treaty violated in every instance by the Americans, who, seeing their friends and relations who returned home in consequence of the peace, tied up to trees, publicly scourged, insulted in every shape, many of them even ham-stringed, and all sent back to the British lines … and recollecting, also, the cruelties inflicted upon the loyalists upon the evacuations of Savannah, and Charleston, determined to leave the places of their nativity, rather than put themselves in the power of persecuting, merciless, and unrelenting, enemies.”

Loyalist Trees – Part 1: Hardwoods

With the burgeoning of trees across the land once again, I am reminded of the recurrent search for appropriate Loyalist symbolism. No doubt, there is also a strong remembrance by many of our members of what was called Arbor Day and celebrated on the last Friday of the month of April. (Nova Scotia celebrates Arbor Day on the Thursday during National Forest Week, which is the first full week in May.) When it was first recognized in 1872 in Nebraska, the state offered prizes to the groups and people who planted the most trees with the result that more than one million trees were planted. In 2007, Enterprise Rent-A-Car chose to celebrate its 50th year of business with the planting of 50 million trees over the second 50 years in the national forests of the United States, Canada and Europe. One of those sites was the Kamloops Indian Band Reserve in British Columbia. There is considerable symbolism in visualizing the descendants of United Empire Loyalists planting the trees that served their ancestors so well. Is there one tree that would be the most appropriate?

The Member’s Badge has a clear connection to Canada’s forests in the placement of the leaves of the maple and oak. ” The Maple Leaves are of obvious relevance as the Association is ‘of Canada’. On the other hand, the Oak Leaves and Acorns are a long held symbol of loyalty and fidelity to the Monarch. In the British traditions, this has been particularly so since Charles the II was hidden in the Oak Tree after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. As a consequence. he chose an Oak Tree as a symbol for his Coronation Medal following the Restoration, and ever since, the oak had this particular symbolism of fidelity for loyalists.”

There are many examples of the maple tree being chosen for commemoration in Eastern Canada. The Loyalist Gazette Vol. II No. 1 of February 1932 reported the United Empire Loyalists planted a Canadian hard sugar maple tree in front of the Hamilton Court House on the morning of Remembrance Day, November 11th, 1931. Judge Colin G. Snider, K.C., B.A., U.E., officiated. “All Loyalists present grasped the tree, so that it may be truly recorded that this maple tree was planted by the United Empire Loyalists. This ceremony was in remembrance of the Members of Loyalist Families who served their King and Country during the Great War of 1914-1918, and many of whom made the Supreme Sacrifice”.

On November 5, 1983, a tree planting ceremony was held in the Halifax Public Gardens. Great care was made to list the names of the dignitaries gathered to commemorate the Loyalist Bicentennial 1783-1983. It has been suggested that a Black Walnut was chosen, but the original tree was destroyed during the devastation by Hurricane Juan. The replacement growing by the original plaque is equally indeterminate.

In May 1991, as part of the 14th Annual Heritage Walk organized by the Dover Mills Historical Association, the Grand River Branch chose to plant a pyramidal English oak to commemorate the 1814 Burning of Dover Mills by the Americans under Captain Campbell. The tree, dedicated by Mrs. Harriet Walker is still thriving in Heritage Park at the western entrance to the town of Port Dover.

The Burr oak was selected to commemorate the 2005 visit of Queen Elizabeth to Edmonton when Alberta celebrated its centennial. The Calgary Branch has joined the Edmonton Branch in marking the occasion, the planting of the tree in 2007, the United Empire Loyalists and the dedication of a larger plaque in 2009.

Is there really such thing a Loyalist tree? In part 2 we will look at the choices in the softwood forest and their connections to our Loyalist ancestors.


Loyalist Quarterly: April Issue Now Available

The latest issue of the only U.S. journal devoted to Loyalist studies contains, among others, these topics:
– The Hereditary Order of the Descendants of the Loyalists and Patriots;
– Article on Black Loyalists; Worth A Look!;
– Royall House and Slave Quarters Receives Major Grant for Interpretation;
– Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs (ANSA);
– Washington wrote of ambitious plan to conquer Canada;
– Prominent Loyalists;
– Military Action in Woodbridge New Jersey;
– Loyalist Women in Colonial New Brunswick;
– Underhill Loyalist History & Genealogy;
– Black Brigades-Book of Negroes;
– Loyalist Refugees from New York, in 1783;
– Black Loyalists Go To Canada;
– A Great New Brunswick History Book.

More information including subscription information at Paul J. Bunnell’s website.

…Editor/Author Paul J. Bunnell, UE


Response re Christian Wanner/Warner

Christian Wanner/Warner is my 4th great grandfather. The land petition which you refer to is located on C_2950 RG1, L3;Vol 523 Bundle W3 no1. I found it at the Archives of Ontario. I have digitized the petition and will forward it if you wish.

His death announcement from Death Notices of Ontario by William D. Reid ISBN 0-912606-06-1 24 April 1833 “On 21st March, Christian Warner, of Stamford, said to be the oldest Methodist class-leader in Upper Canada. He was born at the Beaver – Dams, County of Albany, N.Y. on Nov 7th, 1754. He joined the British Standard in 1777, and came to Canada in that year settling in Stamford. He held a commission as Captain of Militia since 1797.”

I have collected additional information about him if you are interested.

…Linda Young


I read, in the Loyalist Trails newsletter, that you have a land petiton for Christian Wanner/Warner and that you need its source information. This man made 15 petitions so it is difficult for me to be precise in response to your request.

Attached is a snapshot of the petitions this man made that I have taken from the Upper Canada Land Petitions index. Perhaps you can identify exactly which petition you have from this list. If so, let me know and I can give you the full source info for your petition.

If you cannot recognize your petition in this list, please scan the pages you have in your possession and send them to me as jpg e-mail attachments. I will find your petition in the Land Book microfilms and provide you with the appropriate source info early next week.

…Rod MacDonald, Niagara Falls, Ont.

Parents and Family of William Conley

“Our GGGG grandparents were Weedin Walker Sr. (5 Jul 1762 Rhode Island – 1834 Ernestown) & Sarah Irish, both of whom were U.E.L. Their granddaughter was Mary (Polly) Walker (b 4 May 1819 probably in Dorchester South, Elgin, Upper Canada), daughter of John Walker Sr. & Hannah/Anna Davy (latter was also U.E.L.)

“Mary (Polly) Walker married William Conley on 19 Jan 1835 in Dorchester South. Their children were Julia Ann, George William (our great grandfather), John, Isaac, James H., and Johnston. I am searching for the parents and family of William Conley. I know only that William was born between 1809-1815 somewhere in Upper Canada, was a Laborer by occupation, and that he had an older brother named Charles Conley b 1805-1810 in Upper Canada, who was also living in Dorchester South in the 1851 Census.

Bob Swenson

How many Loyalists Died During the Revolution?

A writer friend wants to list all of the Patriot and Loyalist soldiers who died during the Revolution. He goes on to say “The U.S. Department of Defense lists 4,435 battle deaths on the “American” side. Other sources put deaths of non-combat causes at 20,000 to 38,000. But in none of these counts is there an estimate of Loyalist deaths (as opposed to “casualties,” which includes wounded and missing). Do you have any idea how many Loyalists died in battle? Or any suggestions about where I could find possible sources?”

I’m not a military historian, so I wouldn’t know where to suggest he should begin. Would you have suggestions about how one might determine how many loyalists (soldiers and civilians) died during the Revolution – what are some good sources to seek out.

Doug Grant