“Loyalist Trails” 2014-51: December 21, 2014
In this issue:
– A Massachusetts Loyalist: The Dismal Christmas of 1781, by Stephen Davidson
– The First Christmas Tree
– A Highlander & Loyalist: Alan MacDonald
– 2015 Conference Loyalists Come West: Christmas Wishes
– Where in the World?
– Region and Branch Bits
– From the Twittersphere and Beyond
– Additions to the Loyalist Directory
– Editor’s Greetings
+ Loyalist Era Schools in New Brunswick by The New England Company
+ Response re Lawrence Lyons in KRRNY
A Massachusetts Loyalist: The Dismal Christmas of 1781, by Stephen Davidson
If there were a prize for the worst loyalist Christmas during the American Revolution, it would have to be awarded to Benjamin Marston. Marston was a loyalist from Marblehead, Massachusetts. His Harvard degree and success in business did nothing to spare him from rebel mob attacks once his loyalist principles became public knowledge. Marston was one of the 1,100 loyalists who fled Boston with the British forces in March of 1776. By December of 1781, Marston was 51 years old, attempting to make a living during the revolution as a merchant, chiefly in the West Indies trade. The Christmas of that year would be one the loyalist would always remember as “dismal.”
Mind you, most wartime Christmases were pretty awful for loyalists no matter where they were in the rebelling thirteen colonies. Some spent the holiday in prisons, others hid in the woods. The wives and children of fugitive loyalists had to fend for themselves as patriots seized their goods and livestock — and of course, there were the loyal soldiers who spent their Christmases near the battlefield. It was all pretty grim.
Benjamin Marston’s dismal holiday began with his storm-driven ship getting stuck in the ice near Nova Scotia’s Cape Canso in early December of 1781. Abandoning ship was just the opening act of a Christmas best forgotten.
Marston, his crew, and their dog Tiger left the brig Britannia where it was trapped by the early winter ice. They planned to walk overland to Halifax, a distance of about 150 km. Marston, now freed from writing in the ship’s log, nevertheless kept a record of his winter trek in a journal.
After cooking all of their remaining provisions (beef, duck, rice, potatoes and dumplings), the Britannia’s crew “travelled over much mountainous cleared country, very barren, some close and woody”. The eight men camped in the woods after sharing two ducks and four dumplings between. Marston’s entry for Wednesday, December 19th noted that they “lodged comfortably.”
The following day was wet and snowy. The men camped near the ocean, trying to sleep in wet clothing; snow dropped from the trees throughout the night. The next two days were “pleasant” but “very cold.”
Sunday the twenty-third was a day of encouraging discoveries. It began with finding four ounces of chocolate in their baggage. Adding this to their beef rations, Marston and his men made “a delicious breakfast”. However, as they took stock of their supplies, they came to the grim conclusion that they only had enough for two more days.
As they plodded along the coast, they searched vainly for any signs of local inhabitants. Finally, they stumbled upon an abandoned Mi’maq home that had a shallop (a small coastal sail boat) and was stocked with moose jerky. Marston wrote “thus it has pleased divine providence to relieve us … from the dismal apprehensions of starving.”
On Christmas Eve, the eight men squeezed into the shallop and crossed a wide bay. The next day they camped on an island, almost losing their vessel in the venture. “A dismal Christmas to us” noted Marston. The men crossed a “narrow arm of the sea” on the 26th and then abandoned their leaking shallop. If they were to get to Halifax, they were going to have to resign themselves to walking through the woods.
The situation suddenly took a turn for the worse just three days after Christmas. Trudging through the wet and cold had crippled Marston, and he decided to remain at their encampment in the woods. Reluctantly his crew left him. They only had the strength to continue because of the meat provided by slaughtering Marston’s dog, Tiger.
The sailors found some signs of Mi’kmaq in the area after travelling a day. The next day, they heard the barking of dogs and soon found a group of Native hunters. “The Indians received them with great kindness, and treated them with the utmost care and hospitality.” Marston’s first mate and two Mi’kmaq returned to find the loyalist captain who had been on his own for two days. The joy of Marston’s rescue was cut short by the death of one of the crew who drowned in attempting to cross a river.
Lame as he was, Marston continue to keep his journal. “Sunday, December 30. I arrived at the Indian huts, very lame and much exhausted with fatigue and long fasting. The Indians are very kind to us all, and do everything to make us comfortable.”
The events of the next ten days are lost because of the blots and stains in Marston’s diary. The ink, one researcher noted, was pale and seems to have been frozen. By the date that his words were legible once again, Marston and his six men had been with the Mi’kmaq long enough to call their host “my Indian landlord Michel”. In the time since their reunion with Marston, the loyalist crew had concocted a plan for their rescue. Two Mi’kmaq took a letter to Halifax with the loyalist’s promise that they would be given one hundred dollars for its safe delivery. Meanwhile, Marston accompanied Michel and his family to Country Harbour, a journey that took six days — and that brought them within a hundred miles of Halifax.
After arriving in Country Harbour, Marston and his Mi’kmaq host made a hut where they remained until the end of February. Marston then travelled northeast through the woods to the settlement of Chedabucto where settlers named Hadley cared for him for the next five weeks.
Finally, on Wednesday, April 10th, Marston sailed into Halifax harbour “being crowded in a little shallop” after “a ten day’s passage which was very uncomfortable”. It had taken Benjamin Marston four months to reach Halifax after abandoning his ship near Cape Canso — a remarkable story of survival.
However, the “dismal” turn of events that first attended the Massachusetts loyalist during the Christmas of 1781 would not improve until the April of 1783 when the Nova Scotia government made him the surveyor of loyalist settlements at Port Roseway. After being renamed Shelburne, Marston’s new home became the site of North America’s first race riots in 1784, an event that forced him to seek safety in Halifax. After a variety of jobs in New Brunswick, Marston finally became a surveyor on the West African island of Bolama off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. There he died of fever in 1792 at the age of sixty-two.
To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.
[This post on the blog “In The Words of Women” from 2012 noted an exhibit at the Haldimand County Museum and Archives in Cayuga titled “Early Settlers’ Christmas.”]
This area of Canada was the destination for [some] Loyalists who had fled from the United States after the Revolution. Many were British but there were also Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians, African Americans, and Native Americans who brought with them the customs and traditions of their home countries.
Those of German descent, from Pennsylvania and the Mohawk Valley, celebrated with Christmas trees. The first Christmas tree is said to have been lit in the Governor’s Residence at Sorel, Quebec, in 1781 by Baroness Fredericka von Riedesel, the wife of the commander of the Brunswick troops who had fought with the British in the Revolutionary War and surrendered with them at Saratoga. The general was eventually exchanged and assigned to duty in Upper Canada.
There, to celebrate Christmas, the Baroness, known affectionately as Lady Fritz, hosted a party for British and German officers with the traditional roast beef and plum pudding. But it was the fir tree decorated with fruits and berries and lit with candles that elicited oohs and aahs. The Canadian government in 1981 issued a stamp commemorating the Baroness’s Christmas tree. [See with pictures.]
A Highlander & Loyalist: Alan MacDonald
Alan MacDonald was a Highlander who settled in North Carolina in 1774 before the start of the American Revolution and accepted a commission as an Officer in the Royal Highland Emigrants. He was also the husband of Flora MacDonald, the Jacobite heroine who helped save Bonnie Prince Charlie from capture after the Battle of Culloden.
How was it that a Highlander should agree to fight for King George III ? In “Scottish Highlanders and the American Revolution” author G. Murray Logan notes:
“The highland emigrants in American were opposed to the American Revolution almost to a man. Considering their record in Scotland, of three revolts in three generations, this may seem surprising. However, the rebellion in Scotland had been a result of positive thinking, their loyalty to the house of Stuart. Although the clan system had been destroyed, the clan spirit still lived, as it does to a lesser degree today. Their leaders, at least, had taken the oath of allegiance to King George, and with a Highlander, an oath is a sacred thing, and binding. The clansmen had little faith in democratic government, the clan system having been essentially feudal. However, in the highlands, the feudalism was combined with paternalism, and comradeship. So the clansmen, as ever, followed their leaders and remained loyal to King George.”
Read the rest of this story here (PDF).
2015 Conference Loyalists Come West: Christmas Wishes
Read the details for Loyalists Come West – the 2015 UELAC Conference in Victoria BC May 28-30, 2015.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…
…and that you will make a new year’s resolution to join us in Victoria.
…2015 Conference Planning Committee Victoria BC
Where are Brooke Jarvis (York Pioneers), Diane Reid (Toronto), and Nancy Conn (Gov. Simcoe)?
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.
From the UELAC Branches, News & Events of Interest to Others
- Our Lady of Assumption church in Sandwich (Windsor) has been closed. It is the oldest Roman Catholic parish west of Montreal. It was founded in 1728 as a Huron Mission by the Jesuit order to serve the natives of the area. The services were expanded to include the French descendant population and the establishment of educational facilities (boarding and day school) which evolved into Assumption College / University of Windsor. Assumption Church is recognized for its heritage value by the City of Windsor and the Ontario Heritage Foundation. Read more, by Marvin Recker
- Congratulations. Brenda Eldridge of the Sir John Johnson Branch of the United Empire Loyalists is named to the Restoration Committee of the Paul H Knowlton House. House ready for winter following its relocation; restoration to come.
From the Twittersphere and Beyond
- A brief history of greenery during the Christmas holidays. Long before the advent of Christianity, plants & trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. In many countries folks believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, & illness. [Drawings, many around the Loyalist timeframe, with holly, mistletoe and other greenery]
- A description of a typical wedding on the frontier. Book by Doddridge, Joseph, Early Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1763 to 1783, inclusive, together with a Review of the State of Society and manners of the First Settlers of the Western Country (1824). Chapter XV “The Wedding and Mode of Living“, pp 102-104. [great description, very interesting]
- An Oration delivered March Fifteenth, 1775. At The Request of a Number of the Inhabitants of The Town of Boston, by Dr. Thomas Bolton. Read the full text of Bolton’s lampoon of Jos Warren’s 1775 Boston Massacre Oration.
- Picture of a 1770-1800 Canteen made in America of white pine, iron and leather.
- The History Channel released a rip-roaring new trailer for their upcoming miniseries, Sons of Liberty, and introduces the titular group of radicals as they initiated a revolution. I wonder how our Loyalist ancestors will be portrayed? [on the other hand, need I wonder?]
- Not so Loyalist-related. Photo of HRH The Duke of Connaught with his daughter Princess Patricia in Winnipeg at the Exposition in 1912. Check the hats.
Additions to the Loyalist Directory
As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions and updates are as follows:
- Depue (Depew), Charles – volunteer Sandy McNamara
- Dunham, Daniel – from William Smy with certificate application, Volunteer Bev Craig
- MacDonald, Alvan – from Brian McConnell
- Martling (Mailing), Barent – from Cynthia L. Hamilton
- McLean, Archibald – from Suzanne Davidson
- Merritt, Thomas Sr. & Jr. – from Suzanne Davidson
- Pawling, Jesse – from Suzanne Davidson
Please help us build the directory by contributing more information for it. Contact email@example.com for instructions and guidance.
As we enter the festive season, a toast to the Winter Solstice which occurs today (Sunday), in the Eastern time zone at 6:03 PM (may the days quickly begin to grow longer afterwards).
I wish each of you and your families a Merry Christmas. Remember the real spirit of Christmas, and enjoy!
Loyalist Era Schools in New Brunswick by The New England Company
I was interested in the article in your most recent issue by Stephen Davidson UE about the Reverend Frederick Dibblee, who was an Anglican minister, a Loyalist, and a teacher of Indians in New Brunswick, presumably under the sponsorship of as the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the parts adjacent in America.
The New England Company, begun in 1649, was a multi-denominational, but Protestant, missionary society. It sponsored missionaries to the First Nations peoples in the colonies in America until the Revolutionary War, at which time directed its missionary work to the remaining British colonies to the north, starting with New Brunswick. As the first English missionary society, it set the pattern of subsequent ‘missions to the Indians’ for the next two centuries. The New England Company was based in London, so it depended on a local board of commissioners, chosen from the most respectable level of society in the loyalist colony. Among others, this included Thomas Carleton who was the lieutenant-governor, as well as the Provincial Secretary, the Solicitor General, a few judges, and others.
When the Company came to New Brunswick, they chose to set up schools for young Indians; this was before any schools existed for loyalist children.
The purpose of the schools was to integrate Indians into colonial life by training Native children in the English language, providing them with a practical (i.e. colonial) vocation, and by exposing them to the Protestant faith. A number of schools were set up, but quickly they were centralized into one at Sussex Vale. A school was built as early as 1787, but the Natives were reticent to send their children to the school. They had to be bribed with gifts of blankets, clothes, provisions and tobacco to allow their children to be brought to the school. Still the school was not full. Consequently the school was opened to white children as well.
There was disagreement between the local commissioners and the Company Office in London as to whether the school ought to be residential, with London strongly against it. The local commissioners were for a residential school and eventually set it up as such, possibly without the knowledge of London. Also contrary to London wishes, the children were apprenticed to local families, who were paid a handsome sum and also received the free labour of the child. Over the next three decades, it became clear that Natives did not benefit from the school, while the local children did. Consequently, funding was withdrawn, the school closed in 1826, and Native families moved away.
In 1822, prior to the decision to close, Captain Walter Bromley was engaged by the New England Company to evaluate the school in Sussex Vale, and three years later, Rev. J. West was similarly asked to assess the school. The views of Bromley and West can be found throughout their manuscript reports. I have seen references to their reports to the New England Company: Bromley’s Report. 22 September 1822, New England Company; West’s Report, 1825, enclosed in West to Company. 20 September 1826, New England Company.
I wish to obtain a copy of these reports and would appreciate any directions which your readership may suggest.
Response re Lawrence Lyons in KRRNY
In response to a query about a Lawrence Lyons being a member of the KRRNY
There was only one Lyons who served in the Royal Yorkers and his given name was either John or James. He appears to have enlisted in 1778 and he was serving in 1781, but not after. I could not find any reason for him not serving beyond that date. However, a James Lyons settled in Royal Township No.1 in 1784.
A John Lyons was at the refugee community of Machiche in 1778 and then at St. John’s in 1779. He had been a private soldier in Jessup’s King’s Loyal Americans in 1777. He disappears after those entries.
…Gavin Watt, HVP UELAC