“Loyalist Trails” 2018-42: October 21, 2018

In this issue:
This Arduous and Invidious Task: Part 3, by Stephen Davidson
Borealia: Early-Modern Place Names in Today’s Canada
JAR: Book Review: Washington in the Hurricane’s Eye
Ben Franklin’s World: Turning Points of the American Revolution
UE Loyalist Certificates Issued Recently
Where in the World?
Region and Branch Bits
From the Twittersphere and Beyond


This Arduous and Invidious Task: Part 3

© Stephen Davidson, UE

John Eardley Wilmot and the commissioners for the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists (RCLSAL) submitted their first report to the British government in August of 1784, months after the March deadline. It was very obvious that the RCLSAL had only just begun to scratch the surface of the whole process of compensating loyalists. Parliament renewed the act that created the commission and extended its deadline to May 1, 1786.

Having played judge and jury for hundreds of loyalists within their first year, the RCLSAL commissioners came to realize that they were only hearing the claims of refugees who had been able to find asylum in Britain. To be fair, they needed to send commissioners to British North America to hear the claims of the refugees who had settled in Canada and the Maritime colonies. This extension of the RCLSAL’s scope “showed their anxiety to do justice to their loyal fellow subjects, who might otherwise have been prevented from receiving the benefit intended them.”

In September of 1785, Col. Pemberton and Col. Thomas Dundas, who had served as commissioners in London, set sail for Halifax where they heard their first claimants on December seventh. Dundas and Pemberton recognized that granting compensation to the loyalists who had found asylum in British North America would aid “the progress and improvement of their infant settlements {and} would eventually prove beneficial to the whole province.” The two commissioners would not be finished hearing loyalist claims in North America until May 28, 1788.

Anxious to gather as much accurate background evidence as possible, the RCLSAL also sent John Anstey, a barrister at law, to the United States to collect lists that itemized the seizures of loyalist property, the names of banished loyalists, and any accounts that would substantiate or negate a loyalist’s claim.

As the RCLSAL carried on its “invidious” task, the deadline for loyalist claim submissions continued to be extended — and the act that created it continued to be renewed.

On April 5, 1788, Wilmot submitted the 11th RCLSAL report to the government. At this point in time, he had been responsible for the financial fortunes of thousands of loyalists for five years. The data that he received from overseas was making that task an easier one.

“The Commissioners in Nova Scotia, and Mr. Anstey in the United States, had made considerable progress in their different pursuits; the latter had sent over at various times the result of his Enquiries, by which much authentic evidence was obtained particularly as to the confiscation, sale, value, and total loss of the property of the claimants: this contributed much to aid the honest, to detect the fraudulent, or to correct the mistaken claimant; but more especially enabled the commissioners to do justice to many, who would otherwise not have been able to have substantiated their claims.”

Over the summer of 1788, the RCLSAL commissioners submitted the names of the loyalists who were to be compensated to the British government. Both sides of the House of Commons (and the Agents for American Loyalists) approved the “Plan of Relief and Compensation”. The commission was extended for one final year to hear the last of the cases for compensation. Anstey and the commissioners who had been in British North America reviewed the claims made by loyalists over the past five years “to correct any mistakes and to reconsider any points”.

On May 15, 1789, Wilmot and his fellow RCLSAL commissioners submitted their 12th and final report to the British government. As there were still a few matters outstanding, the commission was renewed yet again. However, by the spring of 1790 “the business was finally settled and adjusted by Parliament”. In the end, all “classes” of loyalists were compensated in the same manner.

Over seven years of testimony, interviews, and investigations, more than 5,000 loyalist claims had been considered. Compensation totaling £2,613,260 was distributed to loyalists scattered throughout the empire. Whether John Wilmot, Robert Kingston, and John Marsh, the longsuffering RCLSAL commissioners, received any sort of commendation for their years of labour goes unrecorded.

With the conclusion of the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists, John Wilmot’s life could now return to normal. He wrote a memoir of his service on the RCLSAL sometime over the next two years, and died in his 83rd year in 1792. His “arduous and invidious task” became the crowning glory of his lifetime of service to his king and country.

Twenty years after the commissioner’s death, the famous artist Benjamin West painted Wilmot’s portrait, a canvas that had in its background another painting showing how Britain received and rewarded its American loyalists. In 1815, Wilmot’s Historical View of the Commission was published “to give a faithful representation of the facts and persons connected with the whole transaction”.

Wilmot’s memoir of this important chapter in loyalist history sheds a very human light on what one might easily dismiss as a boring bit of bureaucratic history. It also reveals the heart of a hard working member of Parliament who laboured seven years on behalf of thousands of refugees in both England and North America.

“We cannot flatter ourselves that no errors have been committed,” confessed John Wilmot,” but we have this consolation, that the most assidious endeavours have not been wanting on our part to do justice to the individuals and to the public.”

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

Borealia: Early-Modern Place Names in Today’s Canada

by Lauren Beck, 10 October 2018

The Geographic Names Board of Canada (GNBC) provides scholars with a database of place names that allows users to look up the location of a place name, but that’s about all the information one can glean from this utility. The provinces provide their own toponymic research tools, and these tend to be more informative. New Brunswick, for instance, allows searchers to query a name and gives background on the name’s meaning and the town or feature’s history.

These research tools allow us to better understand our place nomenclature as well as how frequently certain names have been used across the country. Moncton, New Brunswick, also shares its place name with Sommet de Moncton in Charlevoix, Quebec, and the toponym appears in two street names located in this second province…

At odds with this place-naming practice are Indigenous and Inuit approaches to bestowing names upon features and settlements. Unlike Europeans and settlers in Canada, Indigenous names tend to be descriptive of the place and almost never commemorate individuals. Thus, when examining the subject of gendered toponymy, Indigenous names rarely arise.

Read more.

JAR: Book Review: Washington in the Hurricane’s Eye

An Interview with Author Nathaniel Philbrick; by David Kindy on 16 October 2018

If not for a series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean Sea in 1780, George Washington might not have met Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown and America may never have gained her independence. This serendipitous scenario comes to the fore in Nathaniel Philbrick’s fascinating new book In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory of Yorktown. Forever the sailor, the renowned author shows how the sea was such an important factor in Washington’s strategic plans for defeating the British. If not for these crippling storms, which forced the French fleet northward, the outcome of the American Revolution could have been decidedly different.

“It was a wonderful surprise,” Philbrick said in a recent interview for Journal of the American Revolution. “I had never heard how the hurricanes in the Caribbean a year before Yorktown were so integral to what would happen in 1781.”

Writing in his new book, Philbrick point outs that Washington was an accomplished sailor who owned a schooner. The general spent much of his life in the Tidewater region of Virginia where transportation by water was a way of life, if not a necessity. Philbrick describes how Washington was on a barge in the Hudson River a few months before Yorktown. It grew dark and conditions worsened. Washington calmly took the tiller and carefully guided the barge to shore and safety. “There are two accounts of him taking the helm under very trying conditions,” he said. “I find that fascinating!”

Read more.

Ben Franklin’s World: Turning Points of the American Revolution

By Nathaniel Philbrick

National Book Award-winner Nathaniel Philbrick joins us to explore the two events he sees as the true turning points in the American War for Independence: Benedict Arnold’s treason and the French Navy’s participation in the war.

As we explore the American Revolution and its turning points, Nat reveals the important role the sea has played in early American history and the American Revolution; Details about the Battle of Saratoga; And, why Nat sees Benedict Arnold’s treason and the French Navy’s participation in the war as turning points in the Americans’ quest for independence.

Listen to the podcast.

UE Loyalist Certificates Issued Recently

The list of UE Certificates issued since late in 2012 – showing the Loyalist ancestor, name of descendant (when permission is granted), branch and date – has been updated with the certificates issued in September of this year. The same updates have been applied to the Loyalist Directory.

Where in the World?

Where are Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Davidson (now deceased), James Davidson (of Gov. Simcoe Branch), Suzanne Davidson (Calgary Branch), and Allan Howard?

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 your submission to the editor at loyalist.trails@uelac.org.

Region and Branch Bits

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

  • UELAC Hamilton Branch’s October meeting will be held on October 25th starting at 7:30pm. The location is St Matthew-on-the-Plains Anglican Church 126 Plains Road E in Burlington, Ontario. Speaker Bob Williamson’s topic is “The Nelson Touch in Ontario’s Heritage”. Because of the efforts of senior naval officers like Bob Williamson from HMCS STAR, Hamilton is becoming a world class naval heritage attraction: HMCS HAIDA Canada’s Heritage Flagship, HMS RAMILLIES BATTLE OF ATLANTIC Ship’s Bell Memorial, HAMILTON & SCOURGE 1813 Memorial Garden, HMCS STAR Naval Museum, Naval heritage plaques and Naval Heritage books. From Bob’s presentation, you will discover the naval impact on UEL settlement in our area. Everyone is welcome.

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • Today in History: Lars D.H. Hedbor @LarsDHHedbor (see his page for associated photos):
    • 20 Oct 1775 Americans capture Chambly, Quebec; abandon & burn it the following spring.
    • 20 Oct 1775 Americans capture Chambly, Quebec; abandon & burn it the following spring.
    • 19 Oct 1781 British General Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown, effectively ending American War of Independence.
    • 18 Oct 1776 At Battle of Pellham, 750 Americans fought 4,000 British troops, ending in strategic American retreat.
    • 17 Oct 1777 British General Burgoyne surrenders army of 6,200 troops at Saratoga, convincing French to aid America.
    • 17 Oct 1781Day British Gen Cornwallis sent a drummer, followed by an officer under a white flag to seek surrender terms at Yorktown.
    • Oct. 16, 1777 Thinking it will distract American attention away from Bourgoyne, Gen. Clinton orders the town of Esopus, NY burned.
    • 16 Oct 1775 British Royal Navy arrives at Falmouth, Maine (later called Portland) and threaten to burn town. Two days later, they made good on that threat; called “an Outrage” by Washington.
    • 15 Oct 1780 Sir John Johnson and Chief Brant attack poorly-defended fort at Middleburg, New-York, but are repulsed.
    • 14 Oct 1774 The merchant ship Peggy Stewart arrives at Annapolis carrying tea; later burned in protest of Tea Act.
    • 14 Oct 1781 Alexander Hamilton led 400 men against Redoubt 10 while the French assaulted Redoubt 9 at the Battle of Yorktown. British & Hessian soldiers fought against overwhelming forces, but were driven away at the points of their enemies’ bayonets.
    • On 13 October 1812, Major General Sir Issac Brock died in battle repulsing the US Invasion at #QueenstonHeights. Thank God that #Canada remains an independent nation to this day.
  • 20 October 1803 – The Halifax Town Clock, built on the east side of Citadel Hill under the direction of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, began keeping time for the garrison and town residents. The Prince wished to resolve the tardiness of the local garrison.
  • Townsends: Did They Gamble in 1777?

Editor’s Note

I am editing the first portion of this during a stopover in the Vienna Austria airport; the internet here us much faster than that in Toronto’s Pearson. But I won’t complete even a shortened version in time to send it

Time passes along; now in our hotel in Tehran, Iran. Internet is not so fast, but improving as I work to finish this abbreviated issue. With luck this may get to you Sunday; we are 7.5 hours ahead of you in Eastern Time Zone – past midnight here.