“Loyalist Trails” 2015-46: November 15, 2015

In this issue:
The Loyalist Fire Series (Part Four): Setting Fires for Amusement, by Stephen Davidson
Earning a Living By Fire
Loyal Hill & Captain John Grant UEL (Conclusion), by Brian McConnell, UE
Local and Atlantic Sociability: Military Engineer William Booth, by Bonnie Huskins
His Majesty’s Indian Allies: 10 Notables, By Joshua Shepherd
Branch Histories Updated
Region and Branch Bits
Fall 2015 Issue of the Loyalist Gazette
Where in the World?
From the Twittersphere and Beyond
Certificates Issued in September and October 2015
Additions to the Loyalist Directory


The Loyalist Fire Series (Part Four): Setting Fires for Amusement, by Stephen Davidson

© Stephen Davidson, UE

As demonstrated in last week’s article, fire could have dangerous consequences for the loyalists in their first years of settlement in British North America. Devastating conflagrations reduced refugee communities to ashes and forced their citizens to consider settling in new locations. Fire destroyed what few family treasures had been rescued from the rebellious thirteen colonies and incinerated legal papers that might have persuaded the British government to compensate a loyalist family for its wartime losses. Stories of these tragedies have survived to this day in the diaries, letters, and newspaper accounts of the late 18th century.

In her diary entries for 1792, Elizabeth Simcoe provides us with a glimpse of the fire fighting techniques used in Lower Canada in the era of loyalist settlement. Simcoe was an English noblewoman, an artist, and the wife of General John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada.

On Tuesday, February seventh, Simcoe recorded “At two o’clock the kitchen chimney was on fire. It was soon extinguished, as the people here are expert in using fire engines. The houses being covered with shingles (wood in the shape of tiles), fires spread rapidly if not immediately put out.”

Just two days later, the Simcoes had another brush with fire’s destructive potential. “We went to the Assembly, where an account was brought of our house being burnt down. Col. Simcoe went home and found it only the chimney on fire.”

In 1796, Quebec City was in danger of being destroyed by flames. Elizabeth’s diary entries for September sixth tell the tale. “As I was getting into the carriage to go to the Chateau the street was full of smoke, which we supposed to be from a chimney on fire. Soon after we … were informed that the fire, which had begun in a barn of hay, was raging furiously in St. Louis Street and approaching the Bishop’s house. General Simcoe immediately went there and remained the whole afternoon, giving directions to some of the crew of the Pearl, by whose exertions the bishop’s house and houses adjoining were saved, tho’ they several times caught fire …”

“The churches and houses, being covered with shingles … burnt rapidly, and the shingles being light, were also easily blown by the wind, which was high, and had it not changed probably the whole town would have been destroyed. The ships in the river weighed anchor … I was terrified in passing the Parade. The heat was so great from the Recollect Church, {fire} engines kept playing on the Chateau, which was in great danger.”

The next day, “the ruins of the Recollect Church, brightened from within by fire, not yet extinguished, had an awful, grand appearance as we walked home in a dark night; the effect of colour was very rich. I sent an enquiry after the health of the Ursulines since their alarm and the exertions they had made in carrying water to the top of their house, which was endangered by the fire.”

From these brief diary excerpts, the modern reader might be left with the impression that Elizabeth Simcoe was a careful observer of tragedy and a sympathetic bystander. However, as one reads more of her journal, worrisome questions arise. Did she write about fire because – as in Quebec – “the effect of colour was very rich”? Was she contemplating the destructive force of flames with the eye of an artist? Or was Elizabeth Simcoe – and it seems almost impertinent to ask – a pyromaniac?

By definition, a pyromaniac is a person with has a regular, overwhelming desire to start fires as opposed to an arsonist who sets fires for monetary gain. A pyromaniac starts fires because of desire and compulsion; she derives pleasure just from watching fires. Simcoe’s diary entries suggest that she may have fit this description.

In July of 1792, she wrote, “I walked this evening in a wood lately set on fire by some unextinguished fires being left by some persons who had encamped there … Perhaps you have no idea of the pleasure of walking in a burning wood, but I found it so great that I think I shall have some woods set on fire for my evening walks. The smoke arising from it keeps the mosquitoes at a distance, and where the fire has caught the hollow trunk of a lofty tree, the flame issuing from the top has a fine effect. In some trees where but a small flame appears it looks like stars as the evening grows dark, and the flare and smoke, interspread in different masses of dark woods, has a very picturesque appearance, a little like the poet Tasso’s “enchanted wood.” Is Simcoe an artist or a pyromaniac?

A year later, she wrote, “We … walked in the evening where I observed some trees on fire; the flames, in part concealed, appeared like stars, and had a beautiful effect.” In November of 1793, Simcoe recorded, “We dined in a meadow on the peninsula, where I amused myself with setting fire to a kind of long dry grass, which burns very quickly, and the flame and smoke run along the ground very quickly and with a pretty effect.”

Two months passed. Simcoe wrote “Capt. Aeneas Shaw’s children set the marshy ground (the marsh at Ashbridge’s Bay) below the bay on fire; the long grass on it burns with great rapidity this dry weather. It was a fine sight, and a study for flame and smoke from our house.” The very next day, Simcoe confided “I walked below the bay and set the other side of the marsh on fire for amusement.”

If Simcoe wasn’t a pyromaniac, the reader is still left with the uncomfortable conclusion that, as a watercolor painter, she was quite willing to destroy natural resources simply for the artistic effect that their burning produced. It was not a perspective that her peers among Upper Canada’s loyalist settlers would have shared or understood.

Wood for fuel and timber as a building supply were simply too valuable to consume for an “effect of colour”. To refugee settlers, fire would always be an “element” that demanded respect and careful attention. The persecutions and attacks endured throughout the American Revolution had forever impressed the destructive potential of fire upon those loyal to a united empire.

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

Loyalists and Fire: Earning a Living By Fire

My loyalist ancestor, George Chisholm, made his living by fire in Kortright Township, New York from when he first arrived in 1773 up until the start of the Revolutionary War. He and his brother had a pearl ash business on the east branch of the Delware River. Ash was collected from burning the trees cleared from the land, and then sold for use in fine china.

…George Chisholm, UE, Oakville Historical Society

Loyal Hill & Captain John Grant UEL (Conclusion), by Brian McConnell, UE

[Read the full article with photos]

In August 1763 Captain Grant was appointed to take command of a company raised to protect the colonists and keep communications open between Albany, N.Y and certain outposts. The following year he marched his company from New York city to Fort Horkimer on the Mohawk River. There he saw action and was wounded several times. In later years when his body was prepared for burial no less than seven sword or bullet woods were visible. For his military service he received a grant of 3,000 acres of valuable land midway between the head of Lake George and the fort at Crown Point.

Although at the beginning of the American Revolution Grant’s father-in-law had asked for British protection, he and his family were strong in their attachment to the rebels. They tried to persuade John Grant to assume command of a regiment in the services of the American Congress. He viewed such a proposition with disdain and was forced to flee when his home was wrecked. He escaped to the West Indies leaving his wife and five children, Michael, Catherine, Rachel, Letitia, and Sarah, in the care of the Bergens.

After spending 18 months in the south, Grant learned that General Sir William Howe was in command of British troops on Staten Island, N.Y and he offered his services. He was appointed as Guide and given charge of the vanguard of the left column on the landing of the British on Long Island on August 27, 1776. During that year Grant’s son Stephen was born and two years later his seventh and last child, Ann.

During the conflict of the American Revolution John Grant and his family lost most of their material belongings. His original home was burned to the ground. When he was absent in the West Indies his wife moved house to Hackensack, New Jersey and took with her the best furniture, silver and dishes, along with the family’s best wearing apparel and the Captain’s valuable papers. However, there again everything was plundered and destroyed. The family farm at Jamaica, Long Island was also destroyed. Its hay and grain were either burned or confiscated by the rebels and 31 head of cattle and four horses seized. The total losses were estimated at five thousand pounds. When the war ended Grant realized that to remain in New York Province after the evacuation of British forces would likely be fatal.

In 1783 Grant left his family in New York and sailed on the Her Majesty’s. ship “Berwick” to Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving on July 1st. He visited Shelburne to see if he could obtain a grant of land there but was unsuccessful. Returning to New York he was advised he would be granted lands on the Hants shore in Nova Scotia in the Township of Newport and amounting to 3,000 acres. With his family he sailed on October 16th on the transport “Stafford” to Halifax, arriving 10 days later. They travelled from there overland to Windsor and arrived on May 23, 1784 at their new home which he called ‘Loyal Hill’.

Travelling with Captain Grant to Nova Scotia were his wife Sarah, and six of their seven children. Michael, the eldest who was nearly 20, remained in New York with his Bergen grandparents to complete his education. He joined the family four years later. They also brought with them black slaves by the names of Sam, Nance, Pompy, Fillis, Tom, Maso, Harry, and Betsy. The custom of bringing slaves as servants was common at the time.

Grant supervised the building of new homes at Loyal Hill. The slaves were provided with a house of their own. The old cellars are the only remaining signs of these homes nowadays. They are grass-grown depressions half filled with stones.

In 1790, Captain John Grant passed away from illness resulting from previous wounds and exposure. It has been noted by historian T. Watson Smith that “After the fashion of the time his body was interred in his own grounds, but some years since, owing to the encroachments of a quarry, the bones were removed to a granite monument erected in the burying ground of the Baptist Church in the neighborhood. The wife, whom faithfulness to her vow, to “keep thee only unto him”, involved so much unforeseen sorrow, ending in exile from all her kindred, survived him some years, dying in 1808.”(8)

After his father’s death, Michael Bergen Grant took charge of Loyal Hill and later married Sophia Nutting, daughter of another United Empire Loyalist, Captain John Nutting, who had served with the Royal Engineers. Nutting had been granted a large tract of land near that of Captain Grant.


(8) “Loyalist History – John Grant” by T. Watson Smith, in Acadiensis, Vol. 1, 1901, p. 18.

Brian McConnell, UE

Local and Atlantic Sociability: Military Engineer William Booth, by Bonnie Huskins

William Booth, an 18th-century British military engineer, was a citizen of the Atlantic World. He was posted to various locations throughout the British Empire, beginning in Gibraltar in 1774, where he was eventually promoted to Director of the Mines. He was sent home during the Great Siege (1779-83) due to shell shock, but was then posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1785. There he served as Acting Commander of Engineers until a year later, when he was posted further down the Nova Scotia coast at Shelburne.

Booth left behind traces of his life, including drawings and paintings (he was a talented artist), military and genealogical records, and at least two personal journals. Barry Cahill contends that the journal kept during Booth’s Shelburne posting is “among the most substantial and important but least known and least consulted documents of Loyalist Nova Scotia.” Comparing both journals provides valuable insights into two inter-related themes which inform much of my current research: the significance of sociability and social sets; and the relationship between the local and the global.

Read the full post at Borealia.

His Majesty’s Indian Allies: 10 Notables, by Joshua Shepherd

In many respects it was a sobering testament to Britain’s mounting resolve to suppress the Revolution at all costs. “It is his Majesty’s resolution,” explained Lord George Germain, “that the most vigorous Effort should be made, and every means employed that Providence has put into His Majesty’s Hands, for crushing the Rebellion.” The vigorous effort to which Germain referred was the employment of Indian auxiliaries, a grim war measure adopted for the purpose of “exciting an alarm” upon the American frontier.”

From the outset of the war both British and American authorities recognized the inestimable value of forging alliances with the Indians, or, at the very least, securing guarantees of neutrality. A number of native communities were rent by such decisions, but ultimately the majority of the tribes sided with Great Britain. Such Indian nations were not signatories to formal alliances in the European sense, but, in elaborate ceremonies often attended by British representatives, would both figuratively and literally “take up the hatchet” on behalf of the British. The Delaware chief Pipe later explained the ritual; the British, he said, “put a war hatchet into my hands, saying: Take this weapon and try it on the heads of my enemies … and let me afterwards know if it was sharp and good.”

Read the article by Joshua Shepherd in the Journal of The American Revolution (November 5, 2015).

Branch Histories Updated

As every budding family historian soon learns, it is challenging to build an understanding of the past if there are no records of what transpired. Genealogists can search the web or visit the archives for key documents of birth, marriage or death but what does a new branch member do to learn more about the history of UELAC or the branch that has welcomed them in support of our Loyalist heritage. Of course if they are lucky enough to find a copy of Loyally Yours, 100 Years of The UELAC they might be satisfied with a short history. However they may be more interested in the pursuit of a primary document with greater detail as to what happened ten years earlier. That is where the value of Branching Out comes into play.

Each issue of the Loyalist Gazette has provided the opportunity to document branch activities to share with the other UELAC members across Canada. When the new publication is distributed the reports submitted to the previous issue are transcribed and posted to the appropriate branch link on the Dominion website. Over time this accumulation of semi-annual submissions presents a richer view of the collected past with names of personalities and descriptions of events. For older members these records stimulate memories that stimulate remembrance of the past. For the newcomers, they suggest new ways to build for the future.

This week the thirteen submissions to the 2015 spring issue of Loyalist Gazette have been linked to the appropriate branch history. When was the last time you reviewed your branch history?


Region and Branch Bits

From the UELAC branches, news and events of interest to others.

  • Climbing your family tree has gotten easier. During her presentation Saturday at the Norfolk Archives’ Fall Genealogy Workshop, Hogan mentioned that genealogists tend to underestimate the online resources available through Library & Archives Canada. Read the article in the Simcoe Reformer
  • Dozens of dignitaries, including representatives of local Royal Canadian Legions, the SDG Highlanders Regiment and United Empire Loyalists, joined with Gallinger Jr. Descendants in attending an unveiling ceremony for Gallinger Jr.’s War of 1812 Veteran Marker at his final resting place in St. George’s Anglican Cemetery just inside western boundary of South Stormont, Ontario.
  • Old Hay Bay Church is the oldest surviving Methodist building in Canada. “Roots 2016” on Aug. 26, 27, 28 – a reunion for the descendants of the FOUNDERS of Old Hay bay Church, built in 1792, or related to the families of the youth who drowned in 1819. More details, or contact Kathy Staples – kathystaples@gmail.com

Fall 2015 Issue of the Loyalist Gazette

As noted previously, we expect the Fall 2015 issue of the Loyalist Gazette to be mailed soon to those who are paid-up 2015 members and to subscribers to the Gazette.

The digital version is available now to those who have registered for it.

If you have registered already and have forgotten or misplaced the userid and password, please email dominion.office.admin@uelac.org, noting “Digital Gazette Password” in the subject line.

Still wondering about how the digital colour version compares to the black and white paper copy? Check out this one-page comparison – what a difference!

…The Publications Committee

Where in the World?

Where are Barb Andrew, Manitoba Branch, and Bob McBride, Kawartha 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

  • November 13, 1775, Revolutionary Force commanded by General Richard Montgomery captured Montreal from the British under the command of Governor General Sir Guy Carlton. From The Halifax Chronicle.
  • Loyalist ancestors Robert Outhouse and Sarah Caldwell remembered in Tiverton, NS. Photo.
  • Visiting Trinity Anglican Church, Digby, NS & Cemetery; church built by Loyalists in 1788. Photo
  • Agent 355 was the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution, part of the Culper Ring. Her real identity is unknown. More.
  • When I see a portrait of the Queen, I am reminded of the incredible British gift to this country, and, indeed, the world. But what did England provide us “parliamentary democracy, rule of law, rights and freedoms built incrementally over the centuries.” Read column by Antony Anderson, God save the Queen (portrait) in the Globe & Mail on 13 Nov.
  • and for some trivia – easy for any buff of Canadian history. Test your knowledge of our home and native land

Certificates Issued in September and October 2015

The list of UE Loyalist Certificates has been updated to include those issued in September and October, 2015, and the Loyalist Directory has been updated accordingly.

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

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

  • Gastman, John Conrad – from Donald Praast (volunteer Sandra McNamara)
  • Grant, John [1], contributed by Brian McConnell, UE
  • Hatter, Thomas – from Donald Praast (volunteer Sandra McNamara)

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