“Loyalist Trails” 2018-43: October 28, 2018

In this issue:
Loyalists Roughing It in the Bush, by Stephen Davidson
Atlantic Loyalist Connections: The Loyalist’s Disloyalty: The Case of Zimri Armstrong
Borealia: Book Review – Property and Dispossession
Ben Franklin’s World: Considering Biography
Editor’s Note


Loyalists Roughing It in the Bush

© Stephen Davidson, UE

Loyalists have a knack of popping up in the most unexpected places in literature. In Roughing it in the Bush, Susanna Moodie’s classic account of pioneering in Upper Canada, the author describes a number of her encounters with Loyalists who lived near her.

Identifying him solely as “Uncle Joe”, Moodie recounted the immigrant experience of one of her loyalist neighbours. Uncle Joe’s father had been a New Englander who, instead of taking a grant of land in a Loyalist township, chose a plot of land that was noted for its good spring of water. Uncle Joe remembered his alcoholic father as drinking “up a good farm in the United States, and then he thought he could not do better than turn loyal and get one here for nothing. He did not a care a cent, not he, for the King of England. He thought himself as good, anyhow.”

On the advice of a woman who said that fresh water would help the Loyalist cope with his rheumatism, Uncle Joe’s father chose “poor, light, stone land on account of the spring, and took to hard work and drinking cold water in his old age.” It must have had some beneficial effect for over the next 20 years the Loyalist was healthy enough to clear his hundred acres of land and plant a fine orchard.

No doubt Susanna Moodie could sympathize with Uncle Joe. It wasn’t easy to establish a homestead in “the bush”. Born in England in 1803, Susanna Strickland was a published author before the age of 20. In addition to children’s books, she wrote about Roman history and was involved in the British abolition movement. At twenty-seven, Susanna married John Moodie, a retired army officer. In the following year, the Moodies and their baby daughter immigrated to Upper Canada, settling in a township north of present day Peterborough, Ontario.

Twenty years later, Susanna wrote Roughing it in the Bush, the book that brought her the greatest fame. Rather than being a guide for potential immigrants (as her editor intended), Moodie’s book was more of a cautionary tale – a very frank account of the trials and tribulations that were part of the experience of settling in Upper Canada. In addition to sharing observations on local geography, society, and wildlife, Roughing it in the Bush also introduces its readers to a motley crew of the colony’s settlers – including the loyal American refugees who had preceded Susanna and her family.

A second neighbour – who Susanna described as “Mrs. H.” – had settled in Upper Canada with her husband almost 40 years before the Moodie family. The “H” couple decided to leave the United States for the British colony in the midst of the “great winter”. Mrs. H. remembered that the snow was deep enough to block all the roads, allowing them to drive a sleigh over the tops of fences.

“All the cleared land was one wide white level plain; it was a year of scarcity, and we were half-starved; but the severe cold was far worse nor the want of provisions. A long and bitter journey we had of it; but I was young then, and pretty well used to trouble and fatigue”.

Mrs. H’s husband “stuck to the British government. More fool he!” She was “an American born, and my heart was with the true cause”. Her husband, she said, “dragged me from my comfortable fireside to seek a home in the far Canadian wilderness.”

As well as looking after her own son, Mrs. H. was breastfeeding the newborn baby of her sister who had died giving it birth. “We had to perform a journey of four hundred miles in an ox-cart, which carried, besides me and the children, all our household stuff. Our way lay chiefly through the forest and we made but slow progress. Oh! What a bitter cold night it was when we reached the swampy woods where the city of Rochester now stands. The oxen were covered in icicles, and their breath sent up clouds of steam.”

The young family survived the night in the woods thanks to the hospitality of two French woodsmen who welcomed them into their shanty, sharing a hot meal and their warm buffalo hides. When Mrs. H. had an occasion to return to the place where the woodsmen’s shanty once stood, she saw Rochester’s largest hotel. (By the 1830s, Rochester had seen its population double in just ten years, giving it the distinction of being America’s first “boomtown”. By 1838, it was the young republic’s greatest flour-producer.) Disgusted, Mrs. H. told Moodie: “And my husband left this fine growing country to starve here!”

Susanna Moodie’s third loyalist neighbour was “an old soldier… who had served during the American war”. This Ned Layton was “a perfect ruffian; a man no one liked, and whom all feared. He was a deep drinker, a great swearer, in short, a perfect reprobate; who never cultivated his land, but went jobbing about from farm to farm, trading horses and cattle, and cheating in a pettifogging way”.

While one might think that Moodie had a negative view of Upper Canada’s loyalist settlers, Roughing it in the Bush contains a very positive summary of the young colony’s society. Given that she wrote her tribute 50 years after the first loyal refugees began to make their homes along Lake Ontario, Moodie was describing the legacy left to Upper Canada by its loyalist pioneers.

“Canada has few, if any, native beggars; her objects of charity are generally imported from the mother country, and these are never suffered to want food or clothing. The Canadians are a truly charitable people; no person in distress is driven with harsh and cruel language from their doors; they not only generously relieve the wants of suffering strangers cast upon their bounty, but they nurse them in sickness, and use every means in their power to procure them employment. The number of orphan children yearly adopted by wealthy Canadians, and treated in every respect as their own, is incredible.”

In another part of her pioneer memoir, Moodie proclaimed, “Canada! Thou art a noble, free, and rising country – the great fostering mother of the orphans of civilization!”

The phrase “orphans of civilization” is certainly an apt one for the Loyalist refugees of the American Revolution. And like any group of humans, there were bound to be a few “perfect ruffians” in the mix. Thanks to what she recorded in Roughing it in the Bush, Susanna Moodie has given posterity a richer – if not always complimentary – picture of Canada’s loyalist pioneers.

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

Atlantic Loyalist Connections: The Loyalist’s Disloyalty: The Case of Zimri Armstrong

By Isabelle Goguen, 24 October 2018

Throughout the American Revolutionary War, the British government granted enslaved persons of colour their freedom in exchange for their service. The Philipsburg Proclamation issued on June 30th, 1779, by the British Army General Sir Henry Clinton, is one example of such. Accordingly, Zimri Armstrong served in the Revolutionary War and it would have been during this time that he would have been introduced to Samuel Jarvis. Samuel Jarvis, from Stamford Connecticut, fled to New York in 1776 and initially found employment with the commissariat – this department was in charge of supplying the British troops with food. Once the British evacuated out of New York, Jarvis was in charge of public accounts and papers; this position would eventually demand that he move to England. Presumably, this is when Armstrong indentured himself to the Connecticut Loyalist for two years on the condition that Jarvis would pay Armstrong and his family’s passage out of America, as well as establish him in a trade after the two years.

Jarvis, his young family and Armstrong travelled to Great Britain; however, shortly after the move, on July 12th, 1783, Jarvis was terminated from his position attending to public accounts and papers. Unlike his brother, William Jarvis, who remained in England, Jarvis decided to relocate to British North America, settling in Parr Town, present-day Saint John. However, Jarvis only remained in Saint John for one year, returning to Stamford, Connecticut.

Read more.

Borealia: Book Review – Property and Dispossession: Natives, Empires and Land in Early Modern North America

Property and Dispossession: Natives, Empires and Land in Early Modern North America, by Allan Greer. Reviewed by Gregory Kennedy.

This ambitious book considers “the ways in which Europeans and their Euro-American descendants remade New World space as they laid claim to the continent’s resources, extended the reach of empire and established polities and jurisdictions for themselves”. Greer’s principal goal is to challenge the notion inherited from the Enlightenment that property was “a single thing, a hallmark of civilization and modernity”. By exploding a binary conception of property in which Europeans had it and Native Americans did not, Greer highlights the diversity of practices of property formation across three primary zones – the central uplands of Mesoamerica, southern New England, and the St. Lawrence Valley. Each zone was a principal area of settlement of New Spain, New England, and New France respectively, as well as home to a wide range of Indigenous cultures. However, as Greer admits, this focus does neglect other indigenous and colonial spaces, notably along the periphery or frontiers of these regions. He does helpfully provide brief mentions and historiographical notes for places like Acadie, but I could not help but wonder if more study outside the central zones of European settlement would have helped further the arguments about the diversity of property formation practices and the relative importance of indigenous and settler agency.

Read more.

Ben Franklin’s World: Considering Biography

This episode marks the start of the Omohundro Institute’s 4-episode Doing History series about biography. This series will take us behind-the-scenes of biography and how historians and biographers reconstruct the lives of people from the past.

Scott Casper, Flora Fraser, and Annette Gordon-Reed join us to explore the origins of American traditions of biography; How ideas about biography and what it should be have changed over time; And how historians and biographers attempt to uncover and understand the lives of people from the past.

Listen to the podcast.

Editor’s Note

We are now in Yazd, Iran, having spent some days in Tehran and Kerman. Tomorrow, Persepolis.

There is no access to Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, so my sources are quite curtailed – time is rather limited as well. Hence a rather short issue.