“Loyalist Trails” 2010-29: July 18, 2010
In this issue:
– Montreal, November 1787 — © Stephen Davidson
– Before the Queen’s Garden Party – Unveiling of Designs for Queen’s Image in Senate Foyer
– Preserving Loyalist Domestic Architectural Heritage
+ Thomas Rawlins/Rawlings
In the fall of 1787, five commissioners gathered in Montreal to meet with loyalists who hoped to receive compensation from the British government for the losses they sustained during the American Revolution. There is only a meagre amount of family data to be found in the records of this compensation board. Nevertheless, in calling upon friends to give testimony on their behalf, the loyalists unintentionally revealed the strong, supportive relationships they had as they settled Lower Canada. This is the story of a one circle of 10 loyalist friends from New York who spoke on each other’s behalf.
The British government did not bend over backwards in expressing its gratitude for wartime losses. Although the five-man board mandate was to fairly compensate loyal Americans, they often behaved more like the Spanish Inquisition. Board members rigidly questioned the claimants, took careful notes of property seized by rebels, and recorded services rendered to the crown. The claimants then left the room, and the board called witnesses who could collaborate what had been said. If stories agreed, a loyalist might receive a third of his claim.
On Monday, November 12, 1787, Kenneth MacDonell stood before the five commissioners and shared his story. Fourteen years earlier, he had emigrated from Scotland to New York’s Tryon County. He owned 50 acres of land in Johnstown on the Mohawk River, and by the beginning of the Revolution had cleared seven acres. MacDonell had a furnished home and wheat stored in his barn as well as all of the utensils required to look after five cows and a mare.
The Scottish loyalist had to abandon everything at the outbreak of war. MacDonell fought in Sir John Johnson’s brigade, serving at the British fort on Isle aux Noix, an island in the Richelieu River. After 1783, he moved to Montreal and was then discharged. The compensation board transcripts noted that MacDonell was “a good man”.
After MacDonell left the hearing, the board called John MacDonell as a witness. He corroborated everything his friend Kenneth had said. John would later return to Montreal in January of 1788 to make his own claim before the board. He too was a Scottish immigrant to New York’s Tryon County, and had also fought in Sir John Johnson’s battalion throughout the war. Having cleared ten percent of his 100 acres by the outbreak of the Revolution, John was forced to leave his family behind when he sided with the British. He was at Carleton Island, near Kingston, Ontario at the Revolution’s end.
John’s witness was Ronald MacDonell, a man who knew both his service record and his property. Ronald lived about 20 miles from Montreal. Although he also served in Johnson’s regiment, he is noteworthy for having served in the Seven Years War as well as in the Revolution. Rebels took everything that Ronald MacDonell had on his leased land.
Ronald’s witness before the compensation board was John Cameron. Cameron grew corn in both New York and along the Delaware River, making sugar from his crops. A loyal Scot, he also served in Johnson’s Battalion.
Cameron’s witness was William Rose, a loyalist who “never joined the rebels in Word or Deed” while in Tryon County. He served at Coteau de Lac where the Red River joins the St. Lawrence, a crucial point of defense against the American rebels. Returning the favour for his friend, John Cameron spoke to the compensation commissioners on behalf of Rose, ascertaining that he was “a loyal man”.
Ronald MacDonell, who would give testimony in January of 1788 for John MacDonell, was also a witness for Finlay Grant, another man who came before the compensation board on Thursday, November 15, 1787.
Grant had only been in North America for four years when he left his family and their tenant farm to join the British. After fighting for seven years, Grant settled in Lower Canada. As well as livestock, furniture and property, Grant lost everything else he owned. “His wife did not bring anything away.”
While he was in Montreal on that Thursday, Finlay Grant gave testimony to support the claims of Donald Grant Junior. Grant’s background and homestead were similar to those of the loyalists already described. He had refused to join the rebels and had followed Sir John Johnson to Canada in 1776. Grant served in Johnson’s regiment until 1783, and then settled at Riviere Raisin. His friend Finlay ascertained that Grant had five cattle and had cleared 12 acres of land. He described him as ” an industrious man”.
On that same Thursday, Donald Grant’s father also came forward to give testimony for a loyalist named Angus Grant. The latter was a Scottish settler in Tryon County who had served in Johnson’s regiment, and like Donald Grant Junior, had settled in Riviere Raisin. The elder Donald backed up his friend in all of his claims for losses of livestock and a “very good house”, adding that he was “a hard worker” and had enough money of his own “to hire people to work.”
Donald Grant Senior also spoke on behalf of his friend Roderick MacDonell on that November 15th. A Scot of the background common to all of the loyalists already described, Roderick now lived 18 miles from Montreal. The compensation board felt he was “a good man”.
While their stories and circumstances were very similar, the testimonies given to the compensation board by these ten Scottish loyalists demonstrate what strong and supportive communities grew out of the hardships of the Revolution. Whatever inconveniences were required to make the trip to Montreal to seek financial redress, these loyalists were willing to make the effort to give one another support and encouragement. Such a high standard of personal commitment was a tremendous foundation for the future communities these loyalists would create as they made Lower Canada their home.
To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.
Before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth joined the Garden Party at Rideau Hall on June 30, she unveiled two designs for commissioned artworks in the presence of the artists. The design for the stained glass window to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of both her Majesty in 2012 and her great great grandmother in 1897 will be completed by the Goodman Zissoff Stained Glass Studio and installed in the foyer of the Senate. The Hon. Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate assisted Queen Elizabeth in unveiling the plaster maquette to be carved by Mr. Philip White, Dominion Carver, and installed in the foyer as well.
A full report including photographs, video clip and Loyalist connection can be found here.
From time to time, the media reports on attempts to save Canada’s architectural heritage. With the recent publication of a couple of articles, members of UELAC would be reminded of the fourth Mission Statement: to preserve, promote and celebrate the history and traditions of the Loyalist epoch in Canadian history by erecting, constructing and repairing buildings, monuments and memorials in Canada to perpetuate the memory of the United Empire Loyalists.
For several years now, Jon Jouppien, the builder of the Butler Homestead Memorial in Niagara-on-the-Lake, had been carefully restoring a home built by John Brown who was given a Crown land grant for his service during the American Revolution. Unfortunately, he has had to place the heritage site on the market as described by St. Catharines Standard reporter Peter Downs. Living in such a home, key to both local and national history would indeed be remarkable. According to Rod and Bev Craig of the Col. Butler Branch, “we understand that it has been referred to the St. Catharines Heritage Committee to investigate the possibility of obtaining government grants to purchase and maintain the house, cabin and property.”
A second and equally interesting story about preserving our architectural heritage comes from Shannon Kyles of Mohawk College. Shannon became quite attracted to a Regency cottage style home in Ancaster, Ontario, bought it, and dismantled it.
I took down the building that was commonly called ‘The Grove’. It used to face Wilson Street , but by 1980 there were little cul de sacs everywhere and it faced Rosemary Lane. I took it down because the owner was fed up with a leaky roof and a moldy basement. Now I have just bought some land in Consecon, Prince Edward County and I am going to rebuild it as a vacation home. I will be renting it out on a weekly basis to people I know. Prince Edward County is an amazing place, and many people will, I hope, want to stay in a house almost 200 years old while they visit it. I’m taking a full mortgage- so much for retirement – to do it, but I think it will work out.
She has described the experience in the Summer 2010 Issue of Arabella but the images can also be found on the Ontario Architecture website which she started back in 2002. If you would rather listen to her interview with Mary Ito of Fresh Air on Saturday June 26, the link is here.
Both stories will remind you of the ongoing struggle to preserve our past heritage.
Thomas Rawlins/Rawlings Ship Master and Loyalist. According to information from Lew Perry President of the Halifax/Dartmouth branch, Thomas appears on a list in Shelburne but there is no Land Grant for him and he seems to disappear. His 2 young sons were returned to, I think, Philadelphia with a family friend but as for Thomas he seems to disappear from the pages of history. There are 5 references to him in the Carleton Data base but they don’t tell what happened to him, so there is a big mystery. Some descendants of his in Arkansas are trying to track him down. Any information would be appreciated.