“Loyalist Trails” 2015-42: October 18, 2015

In this issue:
John Smyth: The One Hit Wonder of Loyalist Songwriters, by Stephen Davidson
Alexander Forbes: Highlander (Part 6), By Richard Nickerson
Last Call: Digital Gazette: Order Fall 2015 Now
New Book: Daughter of Conflict, by Jennifer DeBruin
Where in the World are Barb Andrew, Joyce Lidster and Gerry Adair?
From the Twittersphere and Beyond
Editor’s Note


John Smyth: The One Hit Wonder of Loyalist Songwriters, by Stephen Davidson

© Stephen Davidson, UE

There were no Top 40 radio stations during the American Revolution, but new songs were regularly being introduced in taverns and at social gatherings throughout the 1770s. Many of these “hits” were political in nature, marrying partisan lyrics to old familiar tunes. Both patriots and loyalists had their favourite drinking songs. John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth’s 1778 song, The Rebels, was especially popular with loyal Americans. While compilers of revolutionary war songs briefly describe Smyth as being a captain under Col. John Graves Simcoe in the Queen’s Rangers, they fail to shed light on the rest of the songwriter’s life. This is the story of a loyalist who was a “one hit wonder” of the American Revolution.

Smyth left Scotland for Virginia in the mid-1760s. Twenty years later, the loyalist claimed that he had been a physician, serving the people of New Kent County as a doctor until 1771. Six years later, Smyth raised a corps of 185 men at his own expense. Initially called the Royal Hunters, these men joined the Queen’s Rangers. Pleased with Smyth, the Ranger’s commander, Captain Weymss, made Smyth one of the chief recruiting officers for the regiment.

1778 was a turbulent year. The French became allies of the American rebels. General Clinton replaced General Howe as the commander of British forces. At some point during the war, the patriots made Smyth their prisoner Whether it was just one inspiration or whether it was the experiences accumulated during three years of war — something drove Captain Smyth to take up his pen and write a song. Fitting it to the bawdy drinking tune, Black Joke, the loyalist doctor submitted his composition to the Pennsylvania Ledger sometime in 1778.

The Rebels begins “Ye brave honest subjects who dare to be loyal, And have stood the brunt of every trial, Of hunting shirts and rifle guns; Come listen awhile and I’ll tell you a song; I’ll show you those Yankees are all in the wrong.” The song continues through seven verses, each one referencing the “hunting shirts and rifle guns” of the rebels.

The loyalist officer’s song ends with in hope. “May commerce and peace again be restored, And Americans own their true sovereign lord. Then oblivion to shirts and rilfe guns.”

It must have been very popular for it has since appeared in a number of revolutionary war song collections. However, for Smyth it was his one and only hit song. His star soon began to fade.

By 1779, unspecified “irregularities” in Smyth’s recruiting methods resulted in his dismissal. In addition to losing his commission, Smyth was upset that he had never been compensated for the bounty that he paid out to those he had recruited in 1777. Consequently, he brought charges against Colonel Simcoe, the new commander of the Queen’s Rangers, for “monies owed to him for bounties paid”. The court martial dismissed the charges, saying that they were unfounded and false.

A year later, Smyth moved to England “for his health”. Over the next few years, the loyalist doctor again picked up his quill pen –but not to write more songs. In early 1784, he had published a military memoir titled “Smyth’s Tour Through America”. He shamelessly referred to it at the loyalist compensation board hearings when the commissioner asked him to recount his “sufferings, services and exertions”. Although he did not elaborate on his war service at his compensation hearing, Smyth made sure that the board knew about his professional and property losses.

Unfortunately for Smyth, a number of his fellow loyalists believed his creative writing activities extended beyond song and memoir writing to include the fabrication of lies. Major Grymes, a Virginia loyalist, admitted that Smyth’s loyalty was “undoubted and his sufferings great”. However, despite Grymes knowing “almost all the people of property and consequence” in Virginia, he knew nothing of the property Smyth claimed to have lost during the war. Another witness admitted that the claimant was known locally as Dr. Smyth — but he was given that name by the customers who came to his shop. Was Smyth a merchant or a doctor?

Robert Nelson testified that Smyth came to America as an indentured servant and later tutored a local doctor’s children. Smyth later had a job as an assistant shopkeeper. In time, he left the store to practise medicine. According to Nelson, Smyth’s new profession was regarded as “a joke amongst the neighbours”. Another witness, a patriot, said that Smyth was “not looked upon as a man of substance”. John Anderson’s testimony was the most damning. Smyth’s character was such, he testified, “that he would not have trusted him for a shilling”.

On June 21, 1784, the loyalist compensation board completely dismissed the songwriter’s claim. It was of the opinion that “in his evidence he had committed gross and wilful perjury” and would report John Smyth to the Treasury.

Author, army recruiter, and songwriter, John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth nevertheless faded into obscurity. In the end, it was not his prowess in battle, his memoirs, or his service to the crown that guaranteed him a place in loyalist history — it was that fact that he wrote one of the most famous loyalist songs of the American Revolution.

The complete lyrics for Captain John Smyth’s “The Rebels”:

Ye brave honest subjects who dare to be loyal,
And have stood the brunt of every trial,
Of hunting shirts and rifle guns;
Come listen awhile and I’ll tell you a song;
I’ll show you those Yankees are all in the wrong,
Who, with blustering look and most awkward gait,
‘Gainst their lawful sovereign dare for to prate,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.

The arch-rebels, barefooted tatterdemalions,
In baseness exceed all other rebellions,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns:
To rend the empire, the most infamous lies,
Their mock-patriot Congress, do always devise;
Independence, like the first rebels, they claim,
But their plots will be damned in the annals of fame,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.

Forgetting the mercies of Great Britain’s King,
Who saved their forefathers’ necks from the string,
With hunting shirts and rifle guns,
They renounce all allegiance and take up their arms,
Assemble together like hornets in swarms,
So dirty their backs, and so wretched their show,
That carrion-crow follows wherever they go,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.

With loud peels of laughter, your sides, sirs, would crack,
To see General Convict and Colonel Shoe-Black,
With their hunting shirts and rifle-guns.
See cobblers and quacks, rebel priests and the like,
Pettifoggers and barbers, with sword and with pike,
All strutting the standard of Satan beside,
And honest names using, their black deeds to hide,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.

This perjured banditti, now ruin this land,
And o’er its poor people claim lawless command,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.
Their pasteboard dollars prove a common curse,
They don’t chink like silver and gold in our purse,
With nothing their leaders have paid their debts off,
Their honor’s, dishonour, and justice they scoff,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.

For one lawful ruler, many tyrants we’ve got,
Who force young and old to their wars, to be shot,
With their hunting shirts and rifle guns.
Our good King, God speed him! never used men so,
We then could speak, act, and like freemen could go,
But committees enslave us, our liberty’s gone,
Our trade and church murdered; our country’s undone,
By hunting shirts and rifle guns.

Come take up your glasses, each true loyal heart,
And may every rebel meet his due desert,
With his hunting shirt and rifle gun.
May Congress, Conventions, those damned inquisitions,
Be fed with hot sulphur from Lucifer’s kitchens,
May commerce and peace again be restored,
And Americans own their true sovereign lord.
Then oblivion to shirts and rifle guns.


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

Alexander Forbes: Highlander (Part 6), By Richard Nickerson

Alexander Murray was one of the Port Roseway Associates, the first group of Loyalists to apply for land in Port Roseway (renamed Shelburne in 1783). He was appointed Coroner in Shelburne in July 1783. (RKB 43,65)

Alexander Murray and his wife Betty can be tied to the Doctor’s Cove area, since they sold Barrington First Division Lot No.65 in that vicinity (originally granted to Enoch Berry), “with the Dwelling House theron standing”, to John Sargent on 14 Jul 1785 (Shelburne Co. Deeds, Book 2, pp.257-258). Modern maps designate the cove lying between Doctor’s Cove and Bear Point as “Murray Cove”.

Alexander Murray died in 1789 (his name in Nova Scotia lived on through Phoebe’s first-born son, Murray Alexander Forbes). Alexander Murray’s widow Betty would soon return to Virginia. In such a circumstance, it is quite plausible for us to imagine Phoebe Dennis, then about 17 years old, perhaps with no desire to return to the States, taking action to instead find herself a good man to marry, and thereby remain in Nova Scotia.

That would be our Alex Forbes, about 35 years old. Time for the old soldier to settle down.

In December of 1790, the Barrington Stockmark Book records, among ” Marriages at Barrington”, that of “Alaxander Forbis & phebe Dennes both of Barrington”.

Doane’s Notes state that the marriage took place on Cape Sable Island (which was a part of the Township of Barrington).

An old clipping from an unidentified newspaper claims that “For a while the couple lived at Doctor’s Cove”. Alexander, Doane’s first informant tell us in his Notes, “lived a year or two on Cape Island after he was married.”

Alexander & Phoebe – Woods Harbour

Sometime in the early 1790’s, Alexander and Phoebe moved southwest along the coast to Coquewit, alias Woods Harbour. This was possibly as early as 1792, depending on which raconteur’s version of tradition we choose. They were definitely there by 1794, as a plan drawn by Andrew Collins, surveyor, under date of 13 Dec 1794, showed, among a list of eleven settlers, a lot laid out to “Forbush … near the shore on the East side of the harbor, marked ‘held by improvements’ ” (the plan is now lost, but was reported in CBT 383-384).

(The various spellings of his name on the records, such as “Forbus”, “Forbis” and “Forbush”, makes it evident that Alexander pronounced his name in the old Scots manner, with two syllables.)

Coquewit, at that time, was a sparsely settled and comparatively isolated harbour lying just beyond the western territorial bounds of Barrington Township, it falling within the extreme easterly region of the Township of Argyle. The next community beyond it, to the northwest, was Abuptik or Pubnico, home to Acadians who had returned, in the 1760s, to the same area they had occupied prior to the expulsion of the 1750s.

Twenty years earlier, in 1772, Rev. Samuel Wood, the minister at Barrington, for whose brief stay Coquewit would ultimately be renamed, had received a grant of about 1000 acres on the east side of the harbour, “possibly to induce him to attend quietly to his ministerial work without stirring up the people to revolution” (CBT 383; N.S. Provincial Crown Lands Record Centre, Lib. 2 Fol. 165; Bk 9, p.311; Bk 10, p.36).

Wood lived at Coquewit “six months but did not like it there and came back to Barrington”. Due to his “sympathy with the American Revolution” Wood moved back to New England a few years later. “On June 27, 1775, he enlisted as chaplain in Capt. Smith’s Company, in Col. David Waterman’s Regiment of the Continental Army. He was taken prisoner at Fort Washington in the autumn of 1776 and died the next autumn in New York” on the ship Asia. Wood’s selling price for his spurned Coquewit land is said to have been £10 (CBT 599; FLJS 40n).

After the temporary sojourn there of Samuel Wood, various names and dates have come down to us as suggestions for the honour of being the earliest permanent settlers at Coquewit.

For our purposes here, let us be content to say that by the time Alexander and Phoebe arrived in Woods Harbour, say 1792, it is likely that the following settlers, accounting for an estimated 27 souls, were already there, some possibly for several years:

Abner Nickerson, who bought the Woods Grant. By 1792, his enclave would have included himself, his wife, a daughter, 6 sons, a daughter-in-law, and 2 little grandsons.

John Nickerson (who was Abner’s brother), his wife, 3 sons and 3 daughters.

One account of these two Nickerson brothers is that they “were Loyalists who got safely across the Bay … about 1780” (CBT 530). John, however, was in Barrington by 1767. The two may have conducted most of their lives with one foot in Nova Scotia and the other in Harwich, Mass.

Thomas Chatwynd and his son William. Thomas, “a native of England, was a baker in the British army in America” (CBT 444). William would marry into the Nickerson clan.

Duncan Rankin, his wife and a little son. They would soon move away, to Argyle.

John Cameron, marital status unknown. He would soon move, probably to Barrington.

Duncan McNevin, then single.


CBT: Edwin Crowell, A History of Barrington Township and Vicinity, 1923.

RKB: Marion Robertson, King’s Bounty: A History of Early Shelburne, 1983.

Last Call: Digital Gazette: Order Fall 2015 Now

Last call to receive ONLY the digital copy of the Loyalist Gazette

People who are 2015 paid-up members of a Branch of the UELAC and Gazette subscribers can now register for the digital copy of the Fall 2015 issue (and get access to the Spring 2015 issue in the same place). Each request is processed at Dominion Office (to check that the requirements are met) before the access details are returned (the office is open Tues, Wed, Thurs).

Those who have already subscribed need not do so again. Those who subscribed in the Spring AND received a confirmation message need not do so again.

We hope you will enjoy this year’s issues of the Loyalist Gazette – in digital full colour.

NOTE: The Fall issue of the Loyalist Gazette is currently in the design stage, a bit behind schedule. The printed copy will most likely be mailed about mid-November.

…The Publications Committee

New Book: Daughter of Conflict, by Jennifer DeBruin

With the October 30, 2015 release of her third fact-based, historical fiction novel, Daughter of Conflict, author Jennifer DeBruin follows up her popular novels, A Walk with Mary (2012) and Shadows in the Tree (2013), with another heart-wrenching story inspired by true events.

Based on a famous attack known as the “1704 Raid on Deerfield,” American colonists were carried off to Canada, including Sarah Allen, who was taken to the shores of the mighty St. Lawrence River.

For a quick synopsis, read this; more about the new book and about Jennifer, to order hard copy of ebook, visit jenniferdebruin.com and check under Novels/Ordering.

Where in the World?

Where are Barb Andrew & Joyce Lidster (Manitoba Branch) and Gerry Adair (Saskatchewan Branch)?

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 Twittersphere and Beyond

  • On 11 Oct 1776, the British defeated General Arnold on Lake Champlain, but delay causes them to return to Canada for the season
  • 1806 gravestone of Henry Magee, United Empire Loyalist, at Oak Grove Cemetery, Kentville, NS – Brian McConnell UE pays respects
  • Peekskill, New York is named after my 9th great grandfather Jan Peek (Peeke, Peeck). From Wikipedia: “In September 1609, Henry Hudson, captain of the Halve Maen, anchored along the reach of the Hudson at Peekskill. His first mate noted in the ship’s log that it was a “very pleasant place to build a town”. After the establishment of the province of New Netherland, New Amsterdam resident Jan Peeck made the first recorded contact with the Lenape people of this area, then identified as “Sachoes”. The date is not certain, (possibly early 1640s), but agreements and merchant transactions took place, formalized in the Ryck’s Patent Deed of 1684. The name Peekskill derives from a combination of Mr. Peek’s surname and the Dutch word for stream, kil or kill.” Ken Swanston, Manitoba Branch UELAC
  • Nice United Empire Loyalist Heritage postcard from Nova Scotia. Brian McConnell UE
  • At Borealia: Elizabeth Mancke on Unrest, Violence, and the Search for Social Order in British North America. From the mid-eighteenth century to the early Confederation era, British North Americans and then Canadians confronted a wide range of phenomena that could engender disorder: imperial wars, rebellions, the arrival of immigrants, epidemics, political unrest, and relations with First Nations. All, directly or indirectly, presented challenges to maintaining social and political order. In response, British North Americans and then Canadians engaged in protracted discussions about the definition of order and experimented with strategies to confront and limit disorder when it broke out. These discussions and processes reinforced the pervasive belief, held by both Canadians and outsiders, that Canada developed historically distinct relations shaped by notions of “peace, order, and good government,” or, in the terms of this project, themes such as unrest, violence, and the search for order. Processes of negotiating order and disorder, however, varied dramatically across British North America. But despite distinct political, social, and cultural dynamics, the colonies shared enough practices and temperaments that something recognizably Canadian emerged as part of the national identity. Yet very little inter-colonial analysis has been done to comprehend what British North Americans understood by “peace, order, and good government.” Rather, scholars who study incidents of unrest and violence in Canadian history more often employ comparisons to events in Europe or the United States, often with the effect of highlighting the distinctiveness of British North American developments. Read more

Editor’s Note

On a bit of R&R through early November, so I have not done much extra for this issue, and probably won’t for the next two or three following. But there is good material, in any case, thanks to our great contributors. Go Jays! (This issue from aboard ship in the harbour at Palermo, Sicily).