“Loyalist Trails” 2014-47: November 23, 2014

In this issue:
History Hidden in a Poem, by Stephen Davidson
2015 Conference – Loyalists Come West: Loyalist Food and Drink
Sarah Kast McGinness Memorial Unveiled
Do You Need a Speaker for a History (Loyalist Era) Talk?
Resource for History Buffs: Historical Plaques in Ontario
Scholars Wanted!
The Loyalist Gazette: All Mailed
Where in the World is Barbara Law?
Region and Branch Bits
From the Twittersphere and Beyond
Certificates Issued Since December 2012
Additions to the Loyalist Directory
      + A Query to Gavin Watt About Donald McDonell


History Hidden in a Poem, by Stephen Davidson

Since it shattered on a shallow ridge of rocks, the Martha has fascinated loyalist historians. Only a handful of eye-witness accounts survived to tell the tragic story of the one hundred thirteen men, women, and children who lost their lives in the cold Atlantic on September 23,1783. Was Gabriel West one of the sixty-eight who was rescued at sea? His name is nowhere in the all-too-scarce resources that tell the tale of the Martha‘s destruction. In fact, West’s name is only found in a poem that was written eighty years after the Martha‘s shipwreck.

Margaret Gill Currie was the granddaughter of a loyalist who settled in New Brunswick in 1783. Currie grew up hearing stories of the American Revolution, and she turned the stories that she loved best into poetry. When only 23 years of age, she published her first book, Gabriel West and Other Poems. The book’s dedication reads, “To The Descendants Of The Loyalists Throughout The Province Of New Brunswick, The Following Work Is Respectfully Inscribed By One Of Their Number”. In its opening lines, Currie wrote:

I love to pour on youth’s attentive ear,
The tales I from my father used to hear;
Traditions that his father treasured well
Of what his comrades and himself befell.

But how accurate, wonders the historian, is the story of Gabriel West that is contained within Currie’s poem? Given the sentimentality of the Victorian era in which the poem was published, can any details be trusted? Did Gabriel West actually exist or was he a fictional creation like Longfellow’s Evangeline? At this point, the historian becomes detective, judge, and jury to try to determine the veracity of the details of Currie’s poem.

Currie’s grandfather, the source of her story about Gabriel West, was Lt. Thomas Gill. He had been a member of the First Battalion of Maryland Loyalists. Eighty-three of the regiment’s men and twenty-seven of its wives, children and slaves boarded the Martha in New York City on September 15, 1783. Among that number, according to Lt. Gill, were Gabriel West, his wife Margaret (Clay) and their infant son.

The loyalist soldiers and their families were just days away from the mouth of the St. John River when a violent gale caught the ship off of Cape Sable, driving the Martha onto rocky shoals near Seal Island. Within a matter of hours, the Martha began to come apart, casting the ship’s passengers and wreckage over a wide area.

Among the sixty-eight survivors were Margaret Currie’s grandfather, Elizabeth Woodward, Patrick Kennedy, and Joseph Carroll. Thanks to memoirs recorded by the latter three survivors, we have eye-witness accounts of the Martha‘s shipwreck. If the details Currie heard from her grandfather, Thomas Gill, match the published accounts of the tragedy, then Gabriel West’s name can also be included in the list of the shipwreck’s survivors.

Patrick Kennedy had his account of the shipwreck published in the New York Weekly Museum magazine in 1800. Elizabeth Woodward’s story was the subject of an article in Scotland’s Edinburgh Evening Courant in 1816. Finally, Joseph Carroll’s memories of the shipwreck were included in his son’s autobiography that was not published until 1882. It is highly unlikely that Thomas Gill or Margaret Currie would have read the American and Scottish publications; her Gabriel West poem was published decades before Carroll’s details of the shipwreck came to light. Therefore, any details in Currie’s poem that agree with the other eye-witness accounts will – at minimum – substantiate the veracity of her grandfather’s memories and – at best – prove the existence of a loyalist named Gabriel West.

Joseph Carroll gave his son precise details about the Martha that do not occur in any other accounts of the shipwreck. He remembered that the Martha was an East Indiaman. This type of ship had gun ports painted on it so that at a distance their enemies would think that they were bristling with cannon. Carroll told his family that the Martha was “an unseaworthy old hulk.” It had been repainted and “insured for a fabulous sum”. The loyalist maintained that the captain and crew “in collusion with the fraudulent underwriters, escaped in their boats.”

Currie’s 1866 poem contains the following lines:

A company, designing, crafty, base,
Had pondered well the vessel’s worthless case;
And, with a wicked captain and his crew,
Promised to share the rich insurance due,
If they would guide the painted, rotten bark
To its sure ruin o’er the waters dark.
The faithless shipmen with the fair pretence
That duty at the foreship called them hence,
Cast forth the open boats upon the sea,
And from the hopeless wreck made haste to flee.

It does not seem likely that a young woman in her twenties who had never been to sea herself would include such details in her poem; their most likely source would be a shipwreck survivor such as her grandfather. The latter’s oral history agrees with other details found in Kennedy’s account of the wreck.

Kennedy remembered, “The timbers and planks of the decks were torn from the body of the wreck, and floated in large compact pieces – the main-deck floated in two divisions”. He particularly remembered that one section had 25 castaways clinging to it, including two women and three children. Kennedy also recounted in details the night’s freezing temperatures and his efforts to stay warm by clinging to a large warm dog. Those who did not find a way to stay warm gradually succumbed to the cold and slipped into the ocean.

Currie’s poem recounts: “And many, with forlorn and frantic hope, Clung to the floating wreck to bear them up. To one huge piece there clung a score and ten, Slight women, helpless babes, and sturdy men;” {And} “On icy planks lay the unconscious head And slept, to wake on a far distant shore.”

Currie’s timeframe for the rescue of the loyalists also agrees with Kennedy’s — the castaways were at sea for two days. The fact that 20 of the thirty who had clung to the wreckage in Currie’s poem perished also fits the mortality rate that Kennedy recorded. The latter remembered that as sunset approached, one of his fellow castaways saw a sail on the horizon. They desperately waved a plank with a handkerchief tied to its end. Sighting the castaways, three New England fishing sloops turned. The fisherman took the castaways into their punts and brought them aboard.

Elizabeth Woodward’s account of the shipwreck recalls how sloops from Boston came to the rescue. While all of the castaways were given fish chowder, only the women were warmed up with cups of tea. Kennedy’s memoir includes “Though weak, fatigued and enfeebled as I lay, I was rejoiced to hear the detail of their several sufferings, while floating on the sea, after separating from the body of the wreck, for we had on board our sloop men from different rafts.”

Currie’s poem says: But others of his regiment, saved before, By the same ship, explored the waters o’er, And, at a distance, deemed the floating speck On the wide sea, a portion of the wreck, And gladly to their help and succor came. They reached them; called aloud on Gabriel’s name.

Kennedy remembered “Nor were they wanting in offices of kindness to me. I had my feet, legs, and arms fomented with warm spirits.”

Currie says: “Then, in their kindly arms, the sailors bold, To their snug vessel bore the sufferers cold; And with the simple cordials she contained, Revived and fostered what of life remained.”

There are too many “coincidences” between known fact and Currie’s poem to dismiss Gabriel West as a fabrication. It is interesting to note that where Currie does not know a particular detail (the origin of the rescue ships, the geographical location of the wreck, or the particular regiments that made up the passengers), she does not make up details to fill the gaps. (Longfellow, on the other hand, posits a nonexistent forest of “pines and hemlocks robed with moss” in Nova Scotia for his Evangeline.)

At minimum, Currie’s account is a record of her grandfather’s memories. But was the subject of her poem – Gabriel West – a real loyalist, a pseudonym for her grandfather, or a purely imaginary character?

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

See Todd Braisted’s paper, “Wrecked in a Thousand Pieces,” and Davidson’s previous Loyalist Trails articles on the Martha:

2015 Conference – Loyalists Come West: Loyalist Food and Drink

Loyalists Come West – the 2015 UELAC Conference in Victoria BC May 28-30, 2015.

The Friday Loyalist Night attendees will have the experience of a totally Loyalist meal including some drinks from the 1700s.

Early settlers from Europe had learned not to drink the local water lest they become extremely ill. No-one knew where cholera came from. It had yet to be discovered that water polluted with various pathogens caused many diseases but Europeans knew that it was safer to drink beer, rum, wine, cider, i.e., any form of alcohol. They brought those sensibilities with them to the New World.

Read more about food and drink in the Loyalist era (PDF); make your plans now to attend the conference to really “get into the experience.”

2015 Conference Planning Committee, Victoria, B.C.

Sarah Kast McGinness Memorial Unveiled

Sixteen years ago, Donald W. Diminie expressed his pleasure in receiving his Certificate of Loyalist Lineage as a descendant of Sarah Kast McGinness. He wrote, “I was especially happy to get this one. You see, Sarah, as far as we know, killed no one in the American Revolution, wasn’t a soldier and perhaps never ever carried a weapon. But as documentation shows, she was as much a Loyalist as any soldier….Still a widow in 1775, it is most important to understand that in a time when women often had no voice in matters of import, Sarah made her own decision to remain loyal to the Crown” (Loyalist Gazette, Fall 1998, p.22).

Responding to an earlier LG article, “A Women’s Service in the Revolution,” by Lt. Col. Wm. A. Smy, Evelyn Drew of Picton and Edgar Clow of Brockville started the McGinness Project to erect a memorial to their ancestor. With the financial assistance of other descendants, the United Empire Loyalists’ of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Communications, the unveiling ceremony took place on the 200th anniversary of Sarah’s death, September 8, 1991.

Thanks to an enquiry from Barbara Hopper and a picture from Marie Barrons Patterson, the Sarah Kast McGinness Memorial has now been included in the UELAC Monuments and Commemoratives Folder.

For those who use an Apple product, I have found that when I open the home page of the Dominion website on my iPad, I need to use the Site Map at the bottom to locate this folder as well as the Education folder.

…Fred Hayward, UELAC Education Chair

Do You Need a Speaker for a History (Loyalist Era) Talk?

Gavin Watt, UELAC Honorary Vice-President was guest speaker at Gov. Simcoe Branch recently here in Toronto. He spoke about his decision to write his latest book Loyalist Refugees: Non-Military Refugees in Quebec 1776-1784 (featured in LT 2014-#40), the many challenges in researching a topic which has been little studied, the assistance he had, and the difficulty in putting it all together. It was a compelling presentation, thoroughly enjoyed by members of the audience who asked lots of questions during and afterwards. Gavin’s vast knowledge – passion – of the American Revolution in general, of the military campaigns, of the Loyalists, of the reenactors, helped us all further our own understanding of the Loyalist era. Thanks Gavin. For more information about Gavin and his favourite topics, visit him on the web at gavinwatt.ca.

If you are in southern Ontario, and would like a great speaker, I highly recommend Gavin. He can present on many different aspects of the above. To read more about his latest book, follow the book’s link above.


Resource for History Buffs: Historical Plaques in Ontario

A website called Ontario’s Historical Plaques (ontarioplaques.com) was started in 2004 after after Alan Brown retired from his job as an elementary school librarian. Currently the site contains 1458 pages, each with a photo of the plaque, a location map, the plaque text, links of interest and comments from visitors. The plaques can be located through an index, a subjects list, a locations list, and by a search box.

All the plaques on the site are ones erected either by the provincial government’s Ontario Heritage Trust or the federal government’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Alan L. Brown

Scholars Wanted!

The UELAC mandate includes the understanding of the role and impact of the Loyalists on our country of Canada. While part of that comes from family histories, genealogies, military records and existing published works, ongoing research and analysis is needed.

To promote and reward such scholarship, the UELAC Scholarship is available to Masters and PhD students who are undertaking a program in relevant research. This topic should further Canada’s understanding of the Loyalists and our appreciation of their, or their immediate descendants, influence on Canada.

The award is for $2,500 per year and will be provided for each of two years for Masters and three years for PhD students, depending on satisfactory progress in their studies. The student must intend to use the award in the academic year following the receipt of the award and use the money for fees and books.

Upon completion, a copy of the thesis must be presented to the Association.

Preference may be given to students who have taken an undergraduate degree in history, to those who are of proven Loyalist descent, and to students at Universities in Canada.

For more information, visit The UELAC Scholarship.

The Loyalist Gazette: All Mailed

Several notes were received indicating that members had received their copy of the Gazette. If you haven’t, it should be there soon.

Digital Loyalist Gazette:

For those who registered, we hope you have been enjoying the full colour digital version; comments are always appreciated.

As a member or subscriber, you can still request the full-colour digital version, just go to Request the Digital Version.

The 2013 Spring and Fall issues are openly available to all.

…Bob McBride, Editor, Loyalist Gazette

Where in the World?

Where is Colonel Edward Jessup Branch president Barbara Law?

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.

Region and Branch Bits

  • It’s now over year since I received my Loyalist certificate from the association (9 September 2013) but I still want to acknowledge and say thanks for the cheerful help I received from Myrtle Johnston UE who works with great enthusiasm and energy for the Col Jessup Branch. She is a gem. Gratefully Lt.-Col. (Ret) Rev. Donald Maclean CD, UE, Nepean, ON
  • From Bev Loomis Little Forks Branch comes a history of the Gaspé “Two Centuries of Settlement of the Gaspé Coast by English Speaking People” by David J. McDougall, Concordia University. One section is titled “Loyalist Settlement: 1784-1800”. Visit the Genealogy Ensemble blog for more research information.
  • A second Gaspe resource passed along by Bev is a recently updated compilation of “The Loyalist Churches of the Gaspe Peninsula” by Jacques Gagné. It seems well documented and has many links. Visit the Genealogy Ensemble blog for more research information.

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • The Book of Negroes “is better than Roots and 12 Years a Slave,” says miniseries actor Lou Gossett Jr. The highly anticipated series, based on Lawrence Hill’s book, gets a special screening Tuesday in Toronto
  • Martha Washington’s Encampment Tool Kit. While others wielded weapons and words, Martha Washington preferred using a diminutive tool kit when serving in close proximity to the Revolutionary battlefields near her husband, General George Washington. A needle case or needle book was always at her side – literally. At Valley Forge, her needle case was attached to her waistband by a grosgrain ribbon. From this approximately 3-inch bit of textile we glean much of her identity and efforts to help her husband and those under his command. It is not widely known that Martha spent substantial time every year with her husband at various encampments, from 1775 until December 1783. Read article with photos of her tool kit (The SilkDamask blog)
  • Winter comes (for some, here already) Paul Holland Knowlton House has been prepared for winter with a temporary roof.
  • Coping With Cold. Wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1805: “The Canadian glows with delight in his sleigh and snow; the very idea of which gives me the shivers.” Was the president recalling that January night in 1772 when he spirited his pretty bride, Martha, away from two weeks of wedding revelry at her family’s estate – and out into a blinding snowstorm? [a well-written interesting article especially as we now face winter, but in most instances without most of the challenges our forebears did]. Also from Colonial Williamsburg.
  • 18th-C Trades: The Wheelwright; wheels must be round above all else! Who knew all the details about making a wooden wheel – Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Amidst the Star Spangled Spectacular in Baltimore earlier this summer, Canadian visitor Lavinia Sharp offered a different [Canadian] take on the War of 1812 – So you think you won the war, eh? The columnist does a great job – a good read. Thanks Lavinia!
  • Sweet Potato Pudding in time for American Thanksgiving, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, with both 18th and 21st century recipes. (Wow, check out the butter and sugar!)

Certificates Issued Since December 2012

When members apply for and receive a Loyalist Certificate, they indicate whether they would like to have their name listed in the Loyalist Directory and give permission for other publishing of the material.

These specific permissions were first requested in December of 1912. One of them was to print the applicant’s name and Loyalist ancestor’s name in the semi-annual Loyalist Gazette magazine. Due to the costs of printing and mailing, the list will no longer be included in the Gazette, starting with the Spring 2015 issue. In the future and for ongoing reference, this same list from the magazine with additions as they occur month by month is now on the website:

Click here for the list of certificates issued since December 2012. Newly issued certificates will be added on an ongoing basis.

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions and updates are as follows:

  • Denike, Andrew – from Wayne Sharp
  • Hanes, Christopher John – from Kathleen Perry (volunteer Linda McClelland)
  • Porter, John (and brother Thomas) – from Dorothy J. Moss Smith
  • Willcox, Hezekiah – from Richard Hedegard (volunteer Stephen Botsford) with certificate application
  • Wood, Benjamin – from James Edgar with certificate application

Please help us build the directory by contributing more information for it. Contact loyalist.trails@uelac.org for instructions and guidance.


A Query to Gavin Watt About Donald McDonell

My ggggg.grandmother Ann McDonell b. 1777 made a claim for land in Glengarry on the grounds that her father Donald McDonell had served in the KRRNY and had been killed at Fort Stanwix in 1777 (the year of her birth). When I examined the muster roll printed in your most recent book, it appears that there were at least 7 Donald McDonells in the KRRNY at different times, all of whom survived, however. The only man with this name who was killed is given as Captain/Lieutenant Donald John McDonell (Scotus), apparently the son of “Spanish John McDonell” who also served in the KRRNY, if I am understanding your notations in the roll.

When I google various online genealogies of “Spanish John McDonell” however, he is listed as having a son Donald who lived on into the 1800s and is buried in Notre Dame cathedral in Montreal, and a son John “Le Pretre”. A son who died at Oriskany is not listed. Has the captain who fell at Oriskany disappeared from genealogies because he died young? Has your work brought to light a relationship that had been overlooked before?

And lastly, I’m interested in your opinion as being perhaps the person alive most familiar with the KRRNY muster rolls, whether my Ann McDonell’s father Donald could be anyone else? There don’t seem to be any other Donald McDonells who died in Aug. of 1777 during the siege of Fort Stanwix but Captain Donald John McDonell, son of Spanish John. Perhaps you have a sense from your years of dealing with this material whether the muster roll for the regiment is complete, and whether it is possible there were other Donalds that lost their lives that August for which records have been lost? Your book says that Captain Donald John had “5 other McDonells” in his party that day, and that 12 others died with him, but doesn’t provide the names of the other dead.

Thanks for any opinion or insight you would be willing to share.


Why did you have to pick one of the most difficult loyalist names to trace?? <grin>

My information that the John McDonell killed in action at Oriskany was the son of Spanish John came from Elizabeth Blair, who, at the time, was the Dominion Genealogist for the UEL Assoc. of Canada. She was of Scottish loyalist descent from eastern Ontario and had submerged herself in the local history, so I accepted her findings without question. Yep, I kept looking for proof during my own research, but anything that I found seemed to be circular, that is, coming ’round to Mrs Blair again.

As to your note that a Donald, son of Spanish John, lived into the 19th c and was buried in Montreal – it would be useful to have his birth or death date so his age can be determined. Where I’m coming from, was he born after 1777 I wonder? If so, it would not be at all unusual that he was given the same Christian name as a dead brother.

Was the John who died at Oriskany dropped from genealogy rolls inadvertently? Simply forgotten? OR, was that John not of the Scotus family? Groan. . . I don’t know. My opinion – yes, he was a Scotus and later folks have lost him from history, but I cannot prove it.

As to the reliability of the muster rolls – from my experience, they are reasonably reliable, but by no means infallible. A very common error is a man’s reported year of birth. On a muster roll it might be shown as 1745, but in his memorial or claim for losses, the man or his descendants give a date of 1752, or 1732. You’ve just got to give your head a shake on this. How could someone miss so many years of his life? How could his relatives not have a better idea? Or, was the clerk keeping the rolls, or transcribing the memorials, simply sloppy?? There are no answers.

Is the muster roll complete? Well, as complete as years of research has been able to make it. But, the McDonells are truly a nightmare. There are far too many of them with the same given name to be absolutely sure you’ve got them pegged properly. When I published my second Master Roll (2006), I had reduced the number of McDonells that were on my originally published roll (1984) by a significant number. For the 2006 roll, I had built the records on a computer and was able to easily juggle information about. Back in 1984, everything was on handwritten file cards and they were not so easily manipulated.

Then, with the given name Donald, the researcher has the confusion with Daniel due to the Scots’ pronunciation Donell and Danell. If you were the sergeant keeping the roll and you were of English or German extraction, it would have been very easy to confuse the two.

Sorry I haven’t given you a definitive answer. Good hunting.

…Gavin Watt HVP UELAC