“Loyalist Trails” 2013-28: July 14, 2013

In this issue:
More Captain’s Letters (Part IV), by Stephen Davidson
Irish Palatines in Ontario Tour
Where in the World?
Loyalists and War of 1812: Elijah Merritt, Son of Joseph Merritt
From the Twittersphere and Beyond


More Captain’s Letters (Part IV), by Stephen Davidson

With fears of rebel attacks diminishing, Captain Alexander McDonald’s men still faced “dangers in Nova Scotia. “The Devil had almost entered Into Some of our Young fellows for getting wives, it was with the Utmost difficulty I saved Lt Laughlin McLean from destruction, that is to say, from being Married to a girl who had not a sixpence on Earth, its true she is so very handsome that I Could kiss her myself if I was not a married man. It couldn’t have been the officers’ uniforms that attracted the girls. “The Men made a horrid & Scandalous Appearance on duty, insulted & despised by the Soldiers of Other Corps.

After the British conquest of New York City, McDonald sailed to Staten Island, gathered up his wife and four children whom he had not seen for 16 months, and brought them back to live with him in Halifax. Things were looking up. In November, McDonald wrote “I hope the Neck of the Rebellion is broke – Now Government will only have to Settle & punish the Americans, for believe me Who knows this People, Lenity will Never make them good Subjects.

But a rebel attack on Fort Cumberland (on today’s border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) demonstrated that the revolution and all of its minor irritations were not yet over yet. McDonald wrote about how expensive it was to keep a horse and a cow in Halifax. Local bakers were supplying his men with bread made from flour “exactly like chalk and sour as vinegar … sufficient to destroy all the regiment.

In December, the loyalist captain wrote “our men are dying every day owing in great measure to colds and fevers. In May of 1777, he noted “we had above an hundred men Sick all winter & almost lost as many.

After the birth of their fifth child, McDonald began to make enquiries with relatives back in Europe to see if his two oldest boys could be educated there. Although he was open to his sons pursuing any career but the army or the church, he observed that “when matters are settled in this country it will be a fine field for lawyers.”

By February of 1778, McDonald wrote that “this certainly {is} the most peaceable corner now in America. A month later, things had changed – “not knowing whether we are to be attacked in the spring or not. His wife was also pregnant again, expecting in July.

Sometimes McDonald had to draw on his fatherly skills to counsel his younger officers. Ensign James Robertson, who was about to command a detachment of the second battalion at Fort Howe (present day Saint John, N.B.), received this advice from his captain. “Justice leaning rather toward Mercy then to Severity with affability & attention to the men are the Only Necessary points – Do all you can to supply their wants reasonably – When they apply to you, answer them Kindly & without Harshness. When … you must punish them do it with regret – accompanied with Advice & Instruction. In short, let them love & fear you as they would a kind parent.

In the summer of 1778, McDonald had little hope of a British victory over the rebels. “I don’t see how it’s possible to reduce the Americans now to their former Obedience & allegiance … I am mad to see how Matters have and are likely to turn out. However, by the autumn, the RHE captain reported “we have got a reinforcement & erected a good many Batteries to defend ourselves from any Enemy that will come to annoy us.

With Halifax so well protected, the RHE moved their headquarters about 45 miles northwest of the capital to Fort Edward. Accommodations were rather cramped.

“I must keep One of the little Closets where all my papers Books & dispatches are & in order to have that Closet Clear for that business I have Crammed all my Children & Servants in the Same Room with my Sister- in-Law Mrs. Macleod, and you know it would never do for the officers Servants & mine to be Cooking at one Fire Place … I Suppose a few more Soldiers maybe Crammed into the Barracks, but I can’t see how any more Officers can Come into the Fort than what there are.

Despite the crowding, the officers’ wives made plans for an early winter “dancing assembly or ball. Apparently the lack of a sufficient water supply did not hinder their hopes. McDonald “directed the Assistant Engineer in public orders to finish some necessary work before the winter would set in very Severe – Such as Spouts to Catch the rain all round the banks for the Use of the Officers & men as no water can be got within a great Distance from the fort to Wash the men’s Clothes.

That November saw McDonald cross paths with a loyalist who would be prominent in his own lifetime and who would be the ancestor of the most famous doctor in another war – China’s Communist Revolution. McDonald had just acquired a chaplain for the RHE. “{H}e is a young man of very good character though a Presbyterian and unknown to me though from the very same part of the Country I came from. His name is John Bethune.

But the RHE was still lacking some basic items. A December letter contained the observation that an “ensign or flag for the garrison is much wanted as well as a wish “for many happy returns of the approaching season. McDonald’s best Christmas present was the news that his regiment had been elevated from a mere provincial (colonial) one to a regular regiment within the British army, the 84th Regiment of Foot. This meant that, among other things, McDonald could look forward to a military pension at the end of the revolution, relieving much of the anxiety he felt during his stay in Nova Scotia.

McDonald’s joy was short-lived. In January of 1779, he wrote a friend that his beloved Susannah had died and “left me behind a miserable wretch with five children much at a loss which way to turn myself to provide for them.

McDonald had no time to grieve. A day later, he picked up his pen, letting his superior officer know that his men continued to be in want of clothing and drums. The drummer boys had been careless; rats had destroyed almost all of the battalions’ drums and drumsticks. Alexander McDonald’s four-year record of correspondence ended with a plea that the new drums be “properly painted with the regiment’s new name.

The loyalist captain’s correspondence reveals a wealth of details about life during the American Revolution, a trove that will be explored in future issues of Loyalist Trails.

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

Irish Palatines in Ontario Tour

In the April 14 issue of Loyalist Trails, there was an announcement about the Irish Palatines, Loyalists and Ontario Bus Tour. The OGS special interest group on Irish Palatines has organized this special event.

There’s an exciting addition; the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen (Teskey) Harper, is an Irish Palatine descendant, and has invited the tour group for tea at 24 Sussex Drive (the Prime Minister’s residence) on one of the days the group is in Ottawa. She will also lead a guided tour of Parliament Hill. These special events are only open to full-tour participants. You can find more information and booking details about the tour at Irish Palatines in Ontario Tour.

…Phyllis Chapman, Communications Chair, IP-SIG

Where in the World?

Where is David Hill Morrison?

To participate, submit a photo of yourself in UELAC promotional gear at a place of some note and tell us where it is. If you are a member of a branch, please indicate that as well – send to Jennifer Childs.

Loyalists and the War of 1812

Thanks to those who have contributed to the slowly growing index of Loyalists and the War of 1812.

We have added a new entry for Elijah Merritt, Son of Joseph Merritt thanks to Marilyn Whatley.

If you have a family ancestry which qualifies (see the heading of the page with entries), please submit to loyalist.trails@uelac.org. Our rich history continues to emerge through these family histories.

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich Connecticut, and the town is starting to commemorate that. A musical, a museum display etc. But some are unhappy.
  • DECADENT cakes, dancing and the newly invented delight of tipsy-nips … Rob Lucas helps celebrate the first annual Dress Like A Georgian Day at a Georgian Picnic in St James Park, London (fabulous photo gallery)
  • Ceremony on Friday July 12 honoured 199th anniversary of Battle of Chippawa