“Loyalist Trails” 2014-52: December 28, 2014
In this issue:
– A British Wife Remembers Boxing Day 1791, by Stephen Davidson
– Hon. Alfred Gilpin Jones and the Loyalists of Nova Scotia
– Addendum to The First Christmas Tree
– 2015 Conference Loyalists Come West: Tour Victoria’s Architecture
– Where in the World?
– Region and Branch Bits
– From the Twittersphere and Beyond
– Additions to the Loyalist Directory
– Editor’s Greetings
A British Wife Remembers Boxing Day 1791, by Stephen Davidson
Question: What is significant about December 26, 1791?
Answer: It was the date that separated the old colony of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada, re-defining the British Empire’s Francophone colony and creating its second loyalist colony.
One eyewitness to the events of 1791’s Boxing Day was Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim. Although not a loyalist herself, she was the wife of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of the loyalist colony of Upper Canada. Her diary, which she kept throughout her stay in North America, gives us a glimpse of that year’s Christmas holidays as they were observed in Quebec City.
Before peeking into Elizabeth’s diary, it would be good to review the events that brought this British heiress to North America. Elizabeth Gwillim was 16 years old when she met the 30 year-old John Graves Simcoe in the spring of 1782. Simcoe was a hero of the American Revolution. His wartime record as the commander of the Queen’s Rangers included being wounded in battle, enduring six months as a prisoner of war, and leading his loyalist soldiers to victory in several encounters with rebel forces.
As Simcoe recovered from his war wounds in Devon, he met a young heiress who was his godfather’s ward. Although an orphan, Elizabeth Gwillim was quite wealthy, having a 5,000-acre estate. Her father, who died before she was born, had been with General Wolfe at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 1759.
Records of the era note that Elizabeth was only five feet high, smaller than the average woman of that time. She could speak German, French and Spanish, enjoyed being in the outdoors, sketched maps for amusement, and had a knack for drawing. John and Elizabeth were married on December 30, 1782, and established a home in Exeter.
As Simcoe pursued a political career over the next nine years, Elizabeth gave birth to five daughters (Eliza, Charlotte, Henrietta, Caroline and Sophia) and one son (Francis). Little Francis was born shortly before the Simcoes were notified that the British government had appointed John as the lieutenant governor of the new colony of Upper Canada. Putting aside all of their plans to improve their manor and lands at Wolford, Elizabeth now had to decide which of her children should go with them to North America.
In the end, the four oldest Simcoe children were placed in the care of their friends, the Hunts. Taking two year-old Sophia and three month-old Francis with them, the Simcoes bid farewell to their older daughters and Wolford on September 17, 1791. This is the date of the first entry in Elizabeth’s diary. Nine days later, the Simcoes sailed from Weymouth, arriving in Quebec City on November 11th. Thirty-two years after her father had scaled their heights, Elizabeth looked out of her ship to see the rising cliffs of Quebec.
Elizabeth’s first impressions were not especially positive. “At seven, I looked out of the cabin window and saw the town covered with snow, and it rained the whole day … I was not disposed to leave the ship to enter so dismal looking a town as Quebec appeared through the mist, sleet and rain.” Later, persuaded by an officer, Elizabeth ventured out in a small sleigh. “The snow was not deep enough to enable the carriole to run smoothly, so that I was terribly shaken, and formed a very unpleasant idea of the town which I had come to.”
While Elizabeth was thus diverted, her husband was presenting a personal letter from King George III to his son, Prince Edward. The letter commended Simcoe as the designated lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. Prince Edward had been in Quebec City since May, serving as the commander of the Seventh Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers. John Simcoe and the prince became lifelong friends during this time; they stayed in contact right up until Simcoe’s death in 1806.
Although the city did not impress Elizabeth Simcoe, within a month’s time she had become friends with Marie-Anne, the wife of Francois Baby, a member of the colony’s legislative council. Just five years younger than Elizabeth, Madame Baby took Mrs. Simcoe under her wing, showing her the sights of Quebec City. And thus, Marie-Anne appears in Elizabeth’s diary for December 25th, 1791.
“Sunday 25th Christmas Day: I went with Madame Baby at 5 in the morning to the Cathedral Church, to see the illuminations of the altar, which to those who have not seen the highly-decorated Roman Catholic churches in Europe is worth seeing. The singing and chanting was solemn. I was wrapped up very much, and wore a kind of cloth lined with eiderdown, a very comfortable head-dress; but the cold was intense, for the Roman Catholics will not admit of fires in their churches, lest the pictures should be spoiled. I saw no fine pictures.”
Given the disdain with which Protestants and Roman Catholics regarded one another, it is interesting to note that a devout Anglican such as Elizabeth Simcoe had no difficulty in accompanying her new friend to church – or at such an early hour.
What is noteworthy by its absence in her Christmas entry is any reference to the Simcoes’ distant children or how the couple celebrated their first Canadian Christmas. The Simcoes was noted for their hospitality and parties back in Wolford, but – much to our dismay – Elizabeth says nothing about their Christmas observances. Given its impact on her life, she hardly comments on the significance of that year’s Boxing Day.
“Mon. 26th This day the division of the Province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada, and the new constitution given to the former, was announced by proclamation. There were dinners at the hotels and illuminations at night to commemorate this event.”
Two days later there was a “very pleasant ball” held in the city’s chateau, giving Elizabeth the opportunity to dance with King George III’s son, Prince Edward. On the 30th, Elizabeth and her husband went for a scenic drive to Lorette. Here her diary notes that she bought deerhide moccasins from the Hurons for her children. (Again, surprising us by its omission, Elizabeth did not note that this day was the Simcoes’ 9th wedding anniversary. We can only hope that John remembered!)
Elizabeth’s only mention of an anniversary was one that occurred on December 31st. “Those gentlemen who particularly distinguished themselves in the defence of the town” sixteen years earlier met for a special dinner. These veterans were commemorating the first major defeat of rebel American forces when General Richard Montgomery attacked Quebec City in 1775.
Much to the modern reader’s disappointment, Elizabeth recorded nothing about the events of 1792’s New Year’s celebrations. The last entry that describes her first Canadian holiday season concerns an excursion with Marie-Anne Baby on January 6th:
“Le Jour des Rois – the Epiphany visit of the Wise Men to Christ. I went with Madame Baby to the Cathedral, and heard Monsr. du Plessis, the Bishop’s Chaplain, preach a most excellent sermon on the subject of the Kings of the East seeking Jesus Christ. His action was animated and his sermon impressive.”
Elizabeth Simcoe kept her diary for the next five years, recording impressions of the people and scenery of Upper Canada. Her memories of life in a loyalist colony will be the subject of future articles in Loyalist Trails.
To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.
Hon. Alfred Gilpin Jones and the Loyalists of Nova Scotia
A loyalist association started in 1897 in Nova Scotia had as its first President the Hon. Alfred Gilpin Jones, a prominent politician and former Minister of Militia and Defence. Alfred Gilpin Jones was born in Weymouth, Nova Scotia on September 24, 1824, the grandson of Stephen Jones, a Loyalist refugee from Massachusetts who settled on the Sissiboo River near present day Weymouth. Stephen Jones was originally from Weston, Massachusetts where his father Elisha Jones was active in local affairs. Elisha Jones was town treasurer, selectman, justice of the peace, deputy sheriff and a representative to the General Court. He owned 274 acres of land around Weston as well as 60 acres in Princeton and almost 9000 acres in western Massachusetts. He also he ran a store in Weston and acted as a banker.
At the earliest stages of the struggle in the American Revolution, Elisha Jones made his support for the Crown clear by recruiting locals for an army to support King George III in the summer of 1774. His sons Elisha, Jonah, and Stephen are listed as members of the Third Company of Associators, which was formed in Boston on July 5, 1775, one of five Loyalist units organized in the Boston area to defend the British Crown in the early stages of the conflict.
Alfred Jones was the first President of the UELA of Nova Scotia. Read more about the Jones family (PDF) and also about another officer of the Association, William Johnston Almon, a grandson of William James Almon, a physician in New York City at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
…Brian McConnell, UE, Nova Scotia Branch
Addendum to The First Christmas Tree
Interesting was the account of the Riedesel’s Christmas tree in the last issue. Her nickname among troops of her husband’s regiment was Red Hazel (from the German pronunciation of Riedesel). I have an ancestor who was granted 300 acres by Simcoe in Markham for his service to the king. He was a soldier from Trautenstein, Germany, in Brunswick. His regiment saw action at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 where he was taken prisoner but escaped from prison near Boston and eventually came to Canada as a settler in the 1790’s. Thus, he is not a Loyalist as so designated today, but he was on the once published Loyalist Supplementary list as being in Baron Riedesel’s Regiment. His name was Wilhelm Tippe, (listed as William Tip there). The Baroness was taken prisoner with her husband (a portrait of General Baron Riedesel) and marched to the Carolinas for the duration of the Revolutionary War where they were wined and dined in fine fashion as noted in her famous diary.
I also have a German ancestor, born in the US who fought at the Battle of Bennington and Saratoga. He arrived in Canada at Brome-Mississquoi where he took the oath. Another late loyalist who fought for the king during the Revolutionary war and doesn’t get counted either. Alas!
…David Woodward, Hamilton Branch
2015 Conference Loyalists Come West: Tour Victoria’s Architecture
Read the details for Loyalists Come West – the 2015 UELAC Conference in Victoria BC May 28-30, 2015.
Victoria began as a replacement for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, now Vancouver, Washington. The company correctly surmised that once the boundary between British Territory and what was to become the United States was settled, it would no longer be the Columbia River. In 1849 Britain leased the entirety of Vancouver Island to the HBC with a condition that a colony was to be created. James Douglas, Chief Factor, moved the headquarters of the Company north to Vancouver Island. Due to the natural protection Victoria’s Inner Harbour afforded, this became the chosen location of the new headquarters.
The original Fort Victoria was a stockade structure with all buildings located within. As the area’s population increased it could no longer be contained within the Fort’s walls. The Conference 2015 “Loyalists Come West” image is derived from this earliest of Victoria structures.
Over the intervening years architects designed many structures in many styles. The designs ranged from simple cottages to grand, opulent residences. Buildings for commercial, business and government uses also ran the full gamut of style and size.
Read more about Victoria’s architecture (PDF) in anticipation of a tour at Conference.
…2015 Conference Planning Committee Victoria BC
Where are Bonnie Schepers and Carl Stymiest?
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 and events of interest to others.
- The item last week on Our Lady of Assumption Church in Sandwich (Windsor) caught the eye of Jean Rae Baxter. She notes: “My great-great-great-grandmother Marguerite Maisonville was baptized at the Church of the Assumption in 1803. See the upper left-hand corner of the attached page. She was the granddaughter of Alexis Maisonville, a proven Loyalist. Marguerite, also known as Margaret and as Mimi, produced 24 children. Another intriguing fact about her is that she was part Pottawatomi. I am dismayed to learn that the church has been closed. But there’s nothing new about church closures nowadays, unfortunately.”
From the Twittersphere and Beyond
- Even before the revolution, some people were “favoured.” It was unprecedented for a physician (Dr. Joseph Warren) to be appointed to such a high profile executorship, to play the lawyer and advocate in court, and to prevail. Perhaps not a lot has changed.
- After the British occupation of Philadelphia, a skirmish between a few hundred Pennsylvania militia and British regulars occurred just outside Germantown on 24 December 1777
- Rebel meets Santa just outside Valley Forge, Christmas 1777.
- War of 1812, bicentenary of the signing of the peace treaty at Ghent on Dec 24, 1814, subject to ratification, by the British and Americans
- The monarchy survives thanks to George VI. Britain’s wartime King thought he didn’t belong on the throne — but his sense of duty was just what the Royal family needed, writes Philip Ziegler.
- The Book of Negroes Series Premiere Wed. January 7, 2015 on Wednesdays at 9:00 PM / 9:30NT on CBC
- Peter Macdiarmid and Getty Images Archive show Christmas celebrations in London then and now, in the Guardian
- Family Christmas traditions through the years. Did you know that Christmas trees were originally hung upside down from ceilings in some countries? Or that up until 100 years ago, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in parts of the United States?
Additions to the Loyalist Directory
As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions and updates are as follows:
- Ball Sr., Jacob – from Roxsane Rysdae
- Bennison, George – from Victor L. Bennison
- Best, Jacob Sr. and sons Conrade, Adam, Hermanus and Jacob Jr. – from Albert Smith
- Farrel, John – volunteer Sandra McNamara
- Ketcheson, William – from Barry Baker with certificate application
- Lemon, Joseph – from Bev Craig with certificate application
Please help us build the directory by contributing more information for it. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions and guidance.
From the @uelac twitter roll: Happy Holidays from the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada – a beautiful picture. May you have a good celebration to bring in the new year, and best wishes for it.