“Loyalist Trails” 2020-35: September 10, 2020

In this issue:
Well-to-Do Loyalist Widows in London (Part 2 of 4), by Stephen Davidson
Sir Guy Carleton Branch Certificate Applications
Where in the World?
Additions to the Loyalist Directory
Last Post: Dennis Lachlin Lloyd, UE
Editor’s Note


Well-to-Do Loyalist Widows in London (Part 2 of 4)

© Stephen Davidson, UE

During its sessions in London, England, the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists (RCLSAL) heard the testimony of 25 Loyalist widows. As we saw last week, only four of these female claimants were – in the language of the day – determined to be Loyalists themselves. The fourth widow who was considered “a Loyalist – and her husband an active and zealous Loyalist” – was Isabella MacDonald of North Carolina.

Like so many Loyalists in the Carolinas, James MacDonald and Isabella were Scottish immigrants who had the great misfortune of settling in the New World one year before the outbreak of the American Revolution. Soon after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, rebels began organizing themselves into military units.

Josiah Martin, the last royal governor of North Carolina, raised a Loyalist militia to fight alongside the British in early 1776. Isabella’s husband joined this militia, and was made the captain of a company of 25 men. The militia first saw action on February 27, 1776 at what has become known as the Battle of Moor’s Bridge.

Wearing tartan garments, playing bagpipes, and carrying more swords than rifles, the Loyalist militiamen were little match for the Patriots. Cannon fire mowed down the attackers, killing as many as 50 soldiers in a battle that lasted only ten minutes. Over the days that followed, the militiamen either fled to their homes or were put in prison.

As one of the 850 Loyalists who were captured, Isabella MacDonald’s husband was given the opportunity to swear an oath of allegiance to the Patriot cause in North Carolina, a pledge that would have guaranteed his freedom. He refused to swear allegiance to the Americans.

Instead, MacDonald was marched off to jail in Pennsylvania. In October of 1776, the imprisoned Loyalist officers – including Isabella’s husband – sent a memorial to the North Carolina members of the Continental Congress.

“After a long separation of eight months from our Families & Friends, We the under subscribers, Prisoners of war from North Carolina now in Philadelphia Prison, think ourselves justifiable at this period in applying to your Honours for permission to return to our Families; which indulgence we will promise on the Faith & honour of gentlemen not to abuse, by interfering in the present disputes, or aiding or assisting your enemies by word, writing, or action.”

Their pleas fell on deaf ears. The Patriots thought it was much more prudent to keep Loyalist leaders locked away. James MacDonald would remain in prison for two and a half years.

Missing from Isabella’s testimony to the RCLSAL is her own reaction to her husband’s confinement and the details of how she lived during his time in jail. To discover this missing component of Isabella’s story, one needs to refer to a declaration made by North Carolina’s rebel government.

The wives, mothers, and sisters of the imprisoned Loyalists had been living in perpetual fear of retaliatory Patriot raids on their homes. The state government responded to the distress of the women by issuing a declaration saying that they “warred not with those helpless females, but sympathized with them in their sorrow,” and recommended them to the compassion of all, and to the “bounty of those who had aught to spare from their necessities.”

Isabella’s husband was eventually released from jail, and the couple moved to Camden, South Carolina. After a little more than a year, James MacDonald died of a fever in 1781. When the local rebels learned of her husband’s death, they “robbed and plundered” Isabella’s home.

Isabella decided to join other Loyalists who sought refuge in St. Augustine, East Florida. This often forgotten British colony had 4,000 settlers before the American Revolution and eventually received 12,000 Loyalist refugees. However, as part of the negotiations that ended the revolution, East Florida was officially returned to Spain in 1783. It would take two years for its loyal colonists to leave and find new homes within the empire.

Isabella arrived in London in late September of 1784. Within ten days, she appeared before the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists. Fifteen days later, the board’s commissioners’ recognized her as “A Loyalist and her husband an active and zealous Loyalist”. After she received compensation for the losses of her husband’s property in North Carolina, Isabella MacDonald disappeared from the pages of history.

Not every widow who appeared before the RCLSAL was treated so well. Mary Ann Gibbes had her entire claim disallowed. On the surface it was very much like the stories of other Loyalist women. Her South Carolina house had been accidentally burned down by the British Commissary Department. Her character witness testified that Mary Ann always presented herself “in conversation {as} a friend of the British government”. She took no active part in the revolution and “never did anything to promote the cause”.

However, whatever Mary Ann’s politics may have been, her late husband John Gibbes was remembered as being “inimical to the cause of Great Britain” and a “favourer of the rebellion’s cause”. No compensation was granted to his widow who had crossed the ocean from South Carolina in hopes of financial assistance.

Mary Hamilton’s husband was a Scottish surgeon with the British navy. Based in New York, Dr. Hamilton served aboard the Zebra, a Man of War. The couple had married before Dr. Hamilton’s departure in 1775, but for undisclosed reasons, Mary never joined her husband. It may be that with the outbreak of the American Revolution, it was considered safer for Mary to remain in England.

In 1780, Hamilton returned to England to acquire a variety of drugs for his practice and to inform Mary that he had “lost everything” in New York. Presumably, rebels had seized the doctor’s possessions. A witness would later list Hamilton’s effects to the RCLSAL: furniture, horses, an enslaved African, cattle, pigs, and “a considerable quantity of plate”.

Mary’s husband died on his return voyage to New York while a passenger aboard the Centaur. Ships’ surgeons were well paid, and their widows were well compensated, receiving an annual pension of £20. Although Mary had received this pension for the past three years, a friend advised her to go to the RCLSAL to seek further compensation for her husband’s losses in New York. With her, Mary brought a certificate from a naval captain affirming her late husband’s loyalty. The RCLSAL transcript included a note, saying, “Mrs. Hamilton’s husband appears to have been loyal”.

The compensation board took six months to make a decision, and in the end it decided to reject Mary Hamilton’s entire claim. It seems that the evidence for the doctor’s possessions in New York was too flimsy. The Loyalist’s widow would have to be content with her annual pension.

See next week’s Loyalist Trails for more stories of well-to-do widows in London.

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

Sir Guy Carleton Branch Certificate Applications

To all members of the Sir Guy Carleton Branch, and others, who are in the process of applying for a United Empire Loyalist certificate, or who wish to apply for a certificate, the Branch has been experiencing some difficulty processing certificate applications for the past several months. We apologize for the confusion. Please do not contact our Genealogist directly. All questions regarding certificates should be sent directly to the Branch either by mail (address below) or to the Branch e-mail address, CarletonUEL@hotmail.com.

Sir Guy Carleton Branch
P.O. Box 5104,
19 Colonnade Rd.,
Nepean, ON

K2C 3H5

Where in the World?

Where is is Stephen Davidson – and who is he with?

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.

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

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

  • Walter Scott – contributed by Pam Wood Waugh
  • James Kelsey – contributed by Garry Kelsey
  • Ezra Benedict – contributed from Branch records by Jo Ann Tuskin
  • Dougald McMillan – contributed by Sunday Moran

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

Last Post: Dennis Lachlin Lloyd, UE

We are sad that a long time Vancouver Branch member has passed away.

Dennis was born November 3, 1935 in Vancouver and died July 29 2020 in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Because of his health Denny was never able to attend any of the Vancouver Branch meetings or events. Still, Denny was very proud of his Loyalist heritage receiving Certificates for George Henry Loyd (2015), John Benn (2018) and Conrad Sills (2020).

Denny was the father of three daughters and one son. He was also a proud grandfather. Denny once told me that he flew to White Horse (or was it Yellow Knife…) so he could be at a grandson’s first birthday. Family was extremely important to Denny and they shared special travel adventures over the years.

Denny was a man of few words. I could write a 50 word email to Denny and would get a three word response. But you always knew that Denny had a gentle heart.

As the Genealogist of the Vancouver Branch, I will miss Denny – and the loss will leave a very large hole in the Lloyd family. Rest in peace Denny.

…Linda Nygard, UE, Genealogist, Vancouver Branch UELAC

Editor’s Note

My bicycle and I came together with some rather hard objects on August 28. After spending eight days in hospital with broken ribs, a brain bruise, a collapsed lung, and assorted swellings, scrapes, etc. – without any access to my UEL email – I finally returned home late Sunday.

Broken ribs involve a long, painful recovery of 6 to 8 weeks. The issue above consists of what had already been put together before my accident. The frequency and volume of the newsletter will decrease, but Loyalist Trails is not going anywhere, it may just be a bit less active for a while. Thanks to those who have reached out.