“Loyalist Trails” 2015-52: December 27, 2015
In this issue:
– Conference 2016: Why in July and not in June
– 1780, The Loyalist Leap Year (Part One): An Overview, by Stephen Davidson
– Book: American Loyalists to New Brunswick
– 18th Century Masquerade Balls
– Where in the World is Diane Reid?
– From the Twittersphere and Beyond
The 2016 UELAC Conference in Summerside PEI will be hosted by the Branches of the Atlantic Region: Abegweit, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on July 7-10. Information about the conference is now available – read here.
A “welcome” stands by the gate to the Loyalist Country Inn.
Why is the Loyalist Conference in July and not in June?
Some of the delegates or potential candidates for the Loyalist conference in Summerside may be wondering why the conference has been delayed by about a month. When the organizing committee members were putting the conference together, and in response to several requests from delegates at the Toronto and Victoria conferences, the committee requested a delay in the timing of the Summerside conference. Many people wanted to combine their conference experience with a summer vacation to sunny PEI. We expect an abundance of children and grand-children to accompany the delegates. Cottages by the beach are quite reasonable on the Island!
So for the next few months we will be feeding you information about what is happening around the Island during the first couple of weeks in July so you better plan your PEI conference experience.
…Peter Van Iderstine, Abegweit Branch
© Stephen Davidson, UE
There were two leap years during the course of the American Revolution. The first, 1776, was definitely a great year for the Patriot cause if for nothing other than the Declaration of Independence on the fourth of July. The second leap year was 1780. While there were battles that they lost during those twelve months, the British forces enjoyed a number of significant successes. All in all, 1780 was the best of the revolution’s leap years for the Loyalist cause.
Over the next five weeks, Loyalist Trails will feature a series of articles on the events of 1780, the “Loyalist Leap Year”. Attention will be given to the significant battles of the year, the impact that the war had on ordinary loyalists, the perspective of loyalists’ who found refuge overseas, and the importance of the year to Black Loyalists who made a break for freedom. 1780 had its dark side as well. Hundreds of loyalist men fled to Canada to escape persecution, eventually joining the British army in that year. Many loyalist women became widows in that same time period.
Being on the losing side of the revolution meant that loyalists had a number of their 1780 accomplishments and triumphs forgotten or ignored. A quick overview of the “loyalist leap year” is needed to appreciate all that individual loyalists experienced during the twelve months of 1780.
The year began with a mutiny of patriot soldiers at West Point, New York on New Year’s Day. William Heath, a general in the Continental Army, wrote in his diary that “Early in the morning about 100 soldiers belonging to the Massachusetts regiments. . . marched off with intent to go home: they were pursued and brought back.” The refusal of rebel soldiers to follow their officers’ orders would have to have been seen as a good omen for those loyal to the king. (Keep West Point in mind, it will be even more significant later in 1780.)
In February, Sir John Johnson began raids on rebel towns in New York’s Tryon County. Drawing on Native allies and displaced loyalists as his regiments’ recruits, Johnson prepared to lay waste the fertile lands of the Mohawk Valley and thus deny the Continental Army vital supplies of grain and flour. This frontier war would continue throughout 1780.
The impact of the war on New York’s frontier is evident in the number of references in later compensation claims. Dozens of men recalled that 1780 was the year in which they fled to Canada and signed up with Sir John Johnson, Major Jessup or Col. James DeLancey.
In August, the Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, led successful raids on the Canajoharie settlements, burning homes and stealing 300 head of cattle. Despite having 1,000 British soldiers, mercenaries, loyalists and Natives under them, Brant and Johnson failed to take New York’s Middle Fort. Four days after their defeat, the loyalist commanders overwhelmed Fort Keyser, killing its commander and a third of its defenders. When pursued by the local militia, Johnson ambushed them and narrowly escaped being captured. At the end of 1780, Johnson and Brant would live to fight another day.
Although the British had been battling American rebel forces for four years in the northern colonies, Britain had not managed to secure a major victory. Unlike wars in Europe, there was no capital city whose capture would end the conflict. No one decisive battle could defeat a war that was being fought on at least thirteen different fronts. Assured that there were more loyalists in the southern colonies that in the north who would rally to the British flag, the king’s military advisors decided to make 1780 the year in which they would conquer the south.
The first indication that this would indeed be the Loyalists’ leap year was the successful attack on Charleston, South Carolina, a feat that one often quoted historian would describe as “the one solid British triumph of the war”. Following a month-long siege, the city surrendered. The British captured 3,000 rebel soldiers. After May 12, 1780, the British had Charleston as a base from which to recruit loyalist soldiers and from which to wage war on the southern colonies. Within two weeks’ time, the British army under Colonel Banastre Tarleton defeated the Continental Army at Waxhaw Creek, South Carolina, killing 113 and capturing 203.
In the summer of 1780, Colonel Tye, a former slave, led his guerrilla force of white and black loyalists in a number of sensational raids against rebel targets around New York City. Tye’s victories had become the stuff of legends, forcing the patriots to recognize him as an important military threat. Unfortunately, this Black Loyalist hero would be dead by the end of 1780; he died from an infection in a minor wound.
Loyalist morale received a boost in July when seventy loyal Americans successfully defended the blockhouse at Bull’s Ferry, New Jersey against 1,800 patriot soldiers. The Royal Gazette of New York later reported “no veterans could have behaved better on this occasion than these few Loyalists. And his Excellency the Commander in Chief, has expressed his thanks and approbation to this loyal band, for their spirited and gallant behaviour.” One could hardly blame American loyalists for seeing omens of impending victory.
In September, both patriots and loyalists were astounded by news originating in West Point, New York. Rebel forces had arrested British Major John André and hanged him as a spy within little more than a week. André was found carrying papers outlining the surrender of the Continental Army’s fort at West Point — an action plotted by its commander, Benedict Arnold. Considered the greatest patriot general of the revolution after George Washington, Arnold sided with loyal Americans in 1780 and assumed the rank of brigadier-general in the British Army. That fall, the British made Arnold commander of the American Legion with orders to seek out and destroy Continental Army supplies and storage depots throughout Virginia.
Despite these military and propaganda victories, 1780 did have its setbacks for the loyalist cause. October’s Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina was a crushing defeat for the 1,100 loyalist combatants; the loss compelled the British commander, Cornwallis, to give up plans to invade North Carolina. In late December, Great Britain declared war on the Netherlands. How would this divide the British forces? Wouldn’t the king be more concerned about an enemy across the English Channel than one across the Atlantic?
1780 seemed to bounce back and forth between fulfilling and dashing loyalist hopes for victory. Given the events of the year, victory in the American Revolution could go to either side. Political developments in Europe could completely distract Great Britain, or its commanders –both British and loyalist– could win decisive victories in the southern colonies and the frontiers of New York.
To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.
Thanks to some gift money I was able to go to Amazon’s website and buy a fantastic new loyalist resource, David Bell’s American Loyalists to New Brunswick (2015 publication year). It is described in this way:
The Loyalists were colonial Americans who supported the British empire and opposed independence during the long revolutionary war. When the American Revolution ended in a peace treaty that was too feeble to protect them against persecution in the newly independent United States, tens of thousands fl ed to a new life in exile.
In 1783 many of them sailed northward from the New York City area to the St. John River valley in the future Canadian province of New Brunswick. This volume makes available for the first time the source materials documenting this vast migration. Most records were discovered at the National Archives of the United Kingdom.
In this book you can follow thousands of loyal American refugees at one or more critical points in their journey of exile:
- on registering their names at New York to take part in the exodus;
- on boarding a ship for the voyage northward;
- on drawing provisions from the army commissariat at St. John Harbour after arrival;
- as recipients of town lots in the future city of Saint John;
- as participants in the political turmoil that overtook the American Loyalists in exile.
This rich resource will be treasured by both family historians and those interested in New Brunswick’s colourful past.
I’ve just finished going through it with post-it notes and highlighter. The book should definitely be on the bookshelf of every loyalist historian, UELAC branch library, and in the homes of any loyalist descendant whose ancestors first arrived in New Brunswick. It contains ship manifests, petitions that were written before and after the loyalist exodus, and victualing musters (that show who received British rations). Lots of amazing data!
Check Amazon here.
Spend your Christmas gift certificates on Bell’s book!
Some things never change … today the newspapers and magazines are full of Royal & celebrity gossip with images of our royals, aristocrats and celebs. in their finery etc. Was it any different in the Georgian era? The simple answer is ‘no’, the media were just as fascinated with the nobility and aristocrats and one in particular — the Prince of Wales, later George IV who loved to party, as did our very own Grace Dalrymple Elliott along with the other demi-reps, any excuse to don the finery or the fancy dress costume! So with that in mind we thought we’d take a quick peek at how the media covered events such as Royal and masquerade balls.
The masquerade ball season took place indoors during the winter months, with most being around Christmas and New Year, whereas open air balls and ridotto’s were held during the summer months.
Where is Toronto Branch member Diane Reid?
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.
- Thomas Mathews, U.E., a Butler’s Ranger settled his small family in Upper Canada ca. 1787. Allowed privileges for his adherence to the unity of the Empire during the American Revolution, it is through the land records that glimpses of his life are revealed. An article by Lee Dickson, artist and researcher.,
- Learn about a Revolutionary War American Colonial Flintlock Musket with Charleville Marked Lock – series of photos
- In the Words of Women: Read the June 1783 letter from Phebe Fowler Ward to her husband upon having to give up possession of the family farm seven years after her husband Edmund had been imprisoned in 1776, escaped and fled to the British in New York.
- For anyone who missed the Queen’s Christmas message, and would like to hear it, listen here.
- Montmorency Falls, just downstream from Quebec City, has been a frequently referenced location in Canada for a long while. Here in winter, painted by Robert Todd in 1854
- Check out The Mapleleaf Legacy Project. It is with the greatest respect and appreciation for the memory and sacrifices of Canada’s War Dead that this project is undertaken. We are committed to creating a web site, in both official languages, that is dignified and professional and honours those men and women who have given their lives in the service of Canada and the cause of peace and freedom around the world. Submitted by Ray and Judy Adams
Another year draws to a close. I thank so many people who have contributed items for Loyalist Trails – without you, the newsletter would not exist.
As we look ahead to what the new year will bring, I wish you everyone a safe and Happy New Year’s celebration, and a healthy and enjoyable 2016.