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So Much Loyalist History: A Milestone Thank You to Stephen Davidson
Only three weeks ago I noted that in Loyalist Trails” UELAC newsletter 2006–38: September 23, 2006 — 15 years ago (plus 3 days) — the first article by Stephen Davidson in Loyalist Trails was published — My Calamitous Situation: The Life of Polly Jarvis Dibblee.
Initially Stephen submitted a column periodically, but they soon a regular column. Over that time he has taken us in many directions, certainly broadening my understanding from my own ancestors’ stories in what is now eastern Ontario.
Just to give a sense of how much effort the articles represent, think about the time to research, write and proof an article of roughly 750 words. Now do one of those each day, every day for two years. Then for twenty of those days, write two articles.
Yes, the article following is number 750.
A couple of times Stephen has sent a note suggesting that the well of topics had run rather dry, but from somewhere another has popped up.
Thanks Stephen for being for being such a contributor to my personal understanding of the Loyalist presence in and following the American Revolution. I rather expect that many of our subscribers to Loyalist Trails feel the same way.
Your articles will always be welcome. And please, not to worry if the well does run dry, or you decide it is just time to take a break.
You have made such a wonderful contribution. Thank you.
….doug, editor

A Palace Fit for a Loyalist, Part Two of Two
copyright Stephen Davidson UE
Michael Wallace was the commissioner charged by the Nova Scotia general assembly with overseeing the construction of a major government building in the early years of the 19th century. In an 1807 letter, he spoke of the “satisfaction in seeing a Building erected in this comparatively infant province equaled by few, perhaps exceeded by none in the Western Hemisphere”. Wallace was referring to Government House, the official residence that had been built for Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor, John Wentworth. Wentworth, like Wallace, was a Loyalist who had made the northern colony his home following the American Revolution.
Historian Brian Cuthbertson later wrote, “The building of Government House was a personal triumph for Wentworth, a triumph of taste, and a worthy and beautiful monument to the Loyalist ascendancy in Nova Scotia”.
The man usually credited as being the architect for Government House was Isaac Hildrith, a Loyalist from Virginia. Hildrith had moved to the American colonies from Yorkshire, England where he had been involved in the construction of inland canal routes.
Because Hildrith refused to join Virginia’s rebels, they regarded him “inimical”, and he became, “subject to frequent abuse and insult”. In 1775, he joined with Lord Dunmore, the colony’s last royalist governor. In addition to his work in supervising fort construction, he also recruited volunteers for a Loyalist corps. When the British abandoned Norfolk, Hildrith lost a great deal of his merchandise and all his household furniture.
Over the next seven years, Hildrith returned to Yorkshire, travelled to South Carolina, evacuated to Jamaica, sailed for New York City, and finally settled in Shelburne, Nova Scotia in the summer of 1783.
After constructing Christ Church, Shelburne’s largest structure, the 59 year–old Hildrith was commissioned by John Wentworth to build Government House in Halifax. It is now recognized that rather than designing the official residence, the Virginia Loyalist drew on plans found in a British architect’s book of English country estates. Nevertheless, he had a good eye, choosing a design that future generations would describe as being “the most elegant structure” in Nova Scotia.
Wentworth had chosen a plot of land on what was then the outer perimeter of Halifax as the site for his new official residence. Before the cornerstone could be laid in 1800, the land had to be prepared for construction. British soldiers and Jamaican Maroons made up the work force that did the digging and blasting that the 21st century has replaced with massive construction vehicles.
The Maroons were descendants of enslaved Africans who had been brought to Jamaica. Following a series of wars with British colonial forces, a group of Maroons was deported to Nova Scotia where they settled outside of Dartmouth.
Not wanting to become farmers, the men found work as labourers, contributing to the construction of the city’s fortifications as well as Government House. In an era noted for its racism, it is interesting to note that the Maroon labourers worked alongside whites, were clothed “in the manner of English servants of their class”, and received the same pay. Although John Wentworth had hopes of their staying in Nova Scotia, the Maroons did not remain to see the completion of Government House; they left for Sierra Leone in the summer of 1800.
Built in the Georgian style that was popular in English colonies between 1720 and 1840, Government House was among the first stone buildings to be found in Halifax. A series of fires in the colonial capital over the past decade had underscored the wisdom of using fireproof materials. Stone, however, was expensive and helped to swell the final cost of Government House to three times what was originally budgeted for its construction. But at least most of it was quarried in Nova Scotia.
According to Government House records, “The stone … was from Pictou, Antigonish, Cape Breton, Lunenburg, Lockeport, Bedford Basin, and the North West Arm. Wood came from the Annapolis Valley, Tatamagouche and Cornwallis. Sand was brought from Shelburne, Eastern Passage, and McNamara’s Island. Bricks came from Dartmouth. Very few materials came from abroad, but among those, mahogany for the doors was sourced from Cuba and Belize, while Scottish slate was used for the roof.” Its marble fireplace mantles were made in England.
The interior decorator for the lieutenant–governor’s residence was John Merrick, a man born in Halifax within a decade of its founding. Merrick was recognized as one of the region’s three master painters and had fulfilled a number of contracts with Nova Scotia’s government and the Royal Navy’s dockyard. He advertised that he could provide services for “House, Sign, Carriage and Ornamental Painting, Gilding, Glazing, Varnishing, etc.”
The man who looked after the bills for labourers, supplies, and artisans was Michael Wallace, a Loyalist refugee from Virginia who found sanctuary in Nova Scotia prior to 1780. Once a merchant in Glasgow, Scotland, Wallace established himself as a trader in Halifax.
The historian D.A. Sutherland has summarized Wallace’s rise in fortune and influence in the first decades of Loyalist settlement in Nova Scotia by saying it seemed “to have derived primarily from his ability to ingratiate himself with loyalists prominent in the local administration.”
However, Wallace did have his opponents. During his time as the commissioner in charge of Government House’s construction, the house of assembly censured him for “having acted without the concurrence of those associated with him, and for exceeding the limits prescribed him by law”. Although it did not deem his actions to be based on “corrupt motives”, the assembly refused to increase Wallace’s salary.
The building Government House needed regular infusions of cash to see it through to completion. The first floor’s construction absorbed all the original budget of £10,500. The assembly reluctantly allocated £3000 more in 1803.
In the next year, £2,500 was voted to “complete the building”, only to find that £4,292 had been expended on the building in 1806, which was £2,000 more than had been voted. There were some years when Nova Scotia was pouring more funds into the construction of Government House than it was spending on all of the roads in the colony.
As the project finally neared completion, Isaac Hildrith resigned as the construction overseer. On January 23, 1807, the colonial assembly voted £50 “as a testimonial of the favourable opinion entertained by the legislature of his ability, integrity, diligence, and zeal.”
Sir John Wentworth and his wife Frances had moved into Government House in 1805, two years before its interior had been completely finished. As it turned out, the Wentworths only lived in their opulent residence until 1808. Given the likelihood of a war with the United States in the near future, officials in Great Britain felt it was important to have a military governor at the helm in Nova Scotia. After serving 16 years as the colony’s lieutenant governor, Wentworth left office at 71 years of age.
Upon his death at age 84 in 1820, the former lieutenant governor was buried in St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just three blocks north of the official residence that had once mattered so much to him. Government House would be Wentworth’s architectural legacy to Nova Scotia, a palace that he felt was fit for a Loyalist.
See two current day photos.
To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at

Hidden Toronto: John Cox Cottage (aka, the Gilpin House)
Toronto’s oldest (still occupied) house played a small part in a treasonous bit of history during the War of 1812.
Most stories about John Cox cottage — or John Cox house as it’s sometimes referred to — begin with the fact it’s the oldest residence in the city that’s still occupied.
It’s not clear when it was built but most historical records put the date around 1795. At the time, most of the barracks that would form Fort York had yet to be built. And the area known today as Riverdale was a forested expanse with the Don roaring past.
“Captain” Cox, the cottage’s namesake, was a former British soldier and United Empire Loyalist, part of the contingent of colonists loyal to the Crown who streamed into Upper Canada following the American Revolutionary War.
Cox’s property was one of the first plots parcelled off by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe as part of a land granting system to see that York developed into a settlement and not just a government outpost where land speculation ran rampant. Read more…

JAR: Terrain and Tactics: Detailed Perspectives From William Howe’s War Plan of 1776
by Ronald S. Gibbs, Courtney Spikes, and Thomas Paper on 12 October 2021
The objective of the 1776 British campaign was straightforward: capture New York and crush the American rebellion. The plan was the brainchild of British commander–in–chief Gen. William Howe and the Secretary of State for the American Department George Germain. Howe had every reason to think he would make quick work of it. His invasion was supported by the largest force ever sent to America: 32,000 soldiers, 10,000 seamen, 400 transports and over 70 warships. New York also had a large Loyalist population, and there was unity of command as General Howe’s older brother, Admiral Richard Howe, led the over 400–strong Royal Navy fleet. Of critical importance, the geography heavily favored the British. As shown in figure 1, the New York area was a network of bays, rivers, inlets, creeks, islands, hooks, coves, peninsulas, points and necks giving the British, who controlled the waterways, the initiative of where, when, and how to attack.
A highly detailed eighteenth century British battle map and a detailed accompanying letter by General Howe give insight into the terrain and British tactics. The title of this map is “A Plan of New York Island; with part of Long Island, Staten Island and East New Jersey, with a particular Description of the Engagement on the Woody Heights of Long Island . . . 27th August 1776.” For short, it has been variously referred to as The Howe War Plan, Faden’s Campaign Map, and The Battle of Long Island map.
The map was published by one of the most prominent London map makers and dealers of his time, William Faden (1749–1836). Born to a Scottish family, whose name was originally MacFaden or MackFaden, William Faden became an apprentice in London by age fifteen and by 1773 had earned his position as a partner in the map firm of Jeffreys & Faden. In 1776, as the American War of Independence was taking shape, Faden became the sole owner of the business. His timing was perfect as the war created great demand in London for maps of North America, especially battle maps, and Faden’s reputation as a respected map maker and importer served him well. By the time the war ended in 1783, Faden received a royal appointment as Geographer to King George III. Read more…

JAR: Skirmish at James’s Plantation: Victory and Defeat for Benedict Arnold in Virginia
by Patrick H. Hannum and Christopher Pieczynski 14 October 2021
Virginia Beach, Virginia. my mind quickly flashed back to February 15, 1781 and what the area may have looked like on that day. Morning dawned that day in Virginia with Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene’s army safely across the Dan River. After a two–week pursuit across the rain–filled rivers of North Carolina, relentlessly hounded by Lt. Gen. Lord Cornwallis’s army, Greene’s forces could now rest with the swollen Dan River between his forces and those of Cornwallis. With extended lines of operation and short of supplies, Cornwallis consolidated his territorial gains in North Carolina and contemplated his next move. Greene found himself in Virginia, the Whig’s breadbasket of the revolution, with interior lines and access to supplies and manpower. Yet Virginia was far from the secure base of operations the Whigs or Patriots needed to rebuild their Southern Army. As British strategy focused southward the revolution was entering a new phase. Virginia was now open to direct attack from both land and sea; Virginia’s role in the American Revolution now involved direct combat on Virginia soil.
In the Tidewater Region of Virginia, just 160 miles due east of Greene’s position another little–known engagement unfolded at James’s Plantation, as British forces executed a hasty attack on Patriot militia. Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold, now a British officer after his defection from the revolutionary cause the previous October, executed his own campaign against local Whig militia units in an attempt to reestablish British authority in Virginia. Arnold wanted to build on the military success he achieved during his raid on Richmond the previous month to secure his main operating base in Portsmouth, on the Elizabeth River, from attack. Apparently, Arnold believed his stature as an effective leader and battlefield commander would awe the local population and result in shifting their allegiance to the Loyalist cause. From his base in Portsmouth, Arnold ordered two of his most able commanders, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe and Capt. Johann Ewald to move into Princess Anne County in pursuit of Whig militia, reportedly operating there. While Lord Cornwallis would experience no victories on February 15, 1781, after a difficult two–week campaign, Arnold and his subordinates would again take center stage and build on his previous military success. Coastal Virginia was about to become the major military theater of the American Revolution and one of the opening salvos unfolded this day with the skirmish at James’s Plantation. Read more…

Benedict Arnold’s House: The Making and Unmaking of an American
By Laura A. Macaluso in Common Place October 2021
Arnold’s unceasing efforts to elevate himself in society through marriage and professional work can be viewed through the lens of the houses he bought or built throughout his life.
Benedict Arnold (1740/41–1801) was a member of the Revolutionary generation whose life and legacy took a different turn from the men with whom he was most closely associated. Before signing the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America in 1778 at Valley Forge, Arnold had lived his thirty–seven years as a subject to the British Crown. In a few short years full of activity, Arnold became George Washington’s most capable field general, someone Washington came to trust and depend on. But in 1780, feeling slighted both financially and professionally, Arnold attempted to give over both Washington and West Point to the British in exchange for money and a higher rank in King George III’s army. The plan, which would have divided the colonies in two, was discovered at the eleventh hour when evidence incriminating Arnold was found in his British accomplice John André’s boot. Arnold’s oath and material world evaporated overnight and his name became a synonym for “traitor.” Arnold’s image and name are regularly revived in popular culture and in our image–steeped digital media environment as shorthand for treasonous behavior. Even if they don’t know much about the Revolution, many Americans know that to be a “Benedict Arnold” is not a good thing.
Historians have examined the many aspects, both positive and negative, of Arnold’s impact on the course of events leading to the establishment of the United States. Yet the largely unanalyzed material culture of his existence–the objects he acquired and the buildings in which he and his family resided–can offer us much more about the contours of his life as he fashioned it, and how others crafted his historical memory. Read more…

1777 Epidemic: Washington Inoculates the Continental Army
By Edward Ayres 13 October 2021 at Blog for American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
Of the many problems facing the newly formed Continental Army surrounding Boston in the summer of 1775 the most vexing was how to keeping the men healthy. In addition to finding ways to feed, clothe, arm and train these new recruits, it was essential to prevent the spread of diseases in the encampments.
Every European army during this period had to deal with the usual gamut of infectious camp illnesses such as typhus, typhoid, dysentery as well as other sickness caused by scabies and malaria. However the disease that was the most deadly and that struck fear everywhere was smallpox. This highly contagious virus had been around for centuries and seemed to occur in two forms, one much more virulent that the other. The most dangerous cases occurred when someone inhaled airborne particles from an infected person. Read more…

Washington’s Quill: George Washington: Winter Soldier
by Benjamin L. Huggins, October 15, 2021
At the height of the Revolutionary War in 1779, a large part of Gen. George Washington’s responsibilities, which he shared with the Continental Congress, consisted in clothing and supplying the Continental army, providing transportation to move the supplies, and maintaining manpower. Without these his army could not fight, and his indefatigable effort to supply these things for his soldiers was impressive. His perseverance in this area was a key facet of his generalship. At the same time that he had to deal with these issues, however, Washington detected among his countrymen an apparent decline in patriotic zeal, which he held responsible for the lack of effort by some states in providing manpower and provisions for the army.
At the end of 1778 and in 1779, Washington wrote several private letters to trusted friends that set out his candid views of the country’s situation. These letters reveal insights about his attitude regarding the state of the nation rarely conveyed in his public letters. Read more…

Ben Franklin’s World: The Marquis de Lafayette
Mike Duncan joins us to explore the life and times of Marie–Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette. Mike is a historian and the podcaster behind the award–winning podcast The History of Rome and the popular podcast Revolutions. He’s also the author of three books, including Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution.
During our investigation, Mike reveals the important role classical political thought and theory played in the Age of Revolutions and in Lafayette’s political thinking; Details about Lafayette’s early life and education as a French noble; And how and why the Marquis de Lafayette became involved with two revolutions: the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Listen in…


Fort Plain Museum. Celebrate Hallowe’en.Rebels, Recoats & Zombies“. Costume Judging at 7 PM. Saturday, October 30th, 5 PM to 8 PM. More

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • Halifax, Nova Scotia from George’s Island, by G.I. Parkhymes, 1801; a strategic port and for some gateway to North America. (Source: Citizen Lord, Edward Fitzgerald, 1763 — 1798, by Stella Tillyard) Brian McConell UE @Brianm564
  • Mourning brooch, American 1792 @mfaboston collections. The mother shown is Ruth McConnell of Huntington, Pennsylvania; the back reveals that she is mourning her two children, aged six & two.
  • King’s Chapel is home to the famous King’s Chapel Bell, originally hung in 1772. It is well known for cracking in 1814, but was recast and rehung by Paul Revere and Sons. Whether you’re attending a service or walking down Tremont Street, the one–ton bell can still be heard today.
  • This Week in History
    • 11 Oct 1774, the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in Concord, in direct violation of the Massachusetts Government Act. More towns sent delegates to this extralegal legislature than to a typical Massachusetts General Court session.
    • 14 Oct 1774 The merchant ship Peggy Stewart arrives at Annapolis carrying tea; later burned in protest of Tea Act.
    • 14 Oct 1774, the First Continental Congress adopted the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (also known as the Declaration of Colonial Rights) in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament.
    • 13 Oct 1775 Continental Congress orders construction of a naval fleet, marking birth of the U.S. Navy.
    • 11 Oct 1776 British defeat Gen. Arnold on Lake Champlain, but delay causes them to return to Canada for the season.
    • 12 Oct 1776 Americans thwart effort to land British forces at Throg’s Neck, New–York.
    • 9 Oct 1779 Polish General Pulaski mortally wounded leading Patriots in attack on Savannah.
    • 10 Oct 1780 Great Hurricane strikes Caribbean, killing over 22,000 & sinking over 50 British & French warships
    • 15 Oct 1780 Sir John Johnson and Chief Brant attack poorly–defended fort at Middleburg, New–York, but are repulsed.
    • 15 Oct 1780 Gov and Gen Don Bernardo de Galvez sails from Havana with a mixed force of Spanish regulars, Spanish settlers, natives, and adventurers to attack the British held fort at Pensacola, FL.
    • 16 Oct 1793 executed #OnThisDay Marie Antoinette whose last words were “Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose,” when she stepped on the executioner’s foot. Read more facts about her you may not know.
  • Clothing and Related:
    • Shoe covered in white silk damask, figured in a blue floral design. Curved sole of brown leather in two pieces, Louis heel covered in white kid. 1715–20
    • Evening dress (open robe) @ROMtoronto collections. Cotton tabby with open work embroidery of gilt lamella, English 1795–1800.
    • 18th Century Court dress, Rear view, robe à la francaise of cream silk brocaded with blue floral motifs, linen lining, golden lace trim. 1765–1770
    • 18th Century women’s cape, this particular type of cloak, called a “cardinal” because of its colour, made of closely woven wool. The vestee is a practical solution for keeping the upper torso warm while leaving the hands free. 1770–1790’s
    • French hooded cloak 1780–90 @ROMtoronto. Padded & finely quilted for warmth, glazed finish offering resistance to mud & rain. Finely printed with a repeat pattern of bouquets & floral sprays. Lining made from 2 patterns of loosely woven printed Indian cotton.
    • Stays, late 18th century
    • 18th Century waistcoat, a fabulous favourite — silk embroidered with various fishes, 1780’s –1790’s
    • 18th Century men’s ribbed silk coat with matching covered buttons, paired with a beautifully fine silk waistcoat embroidered with floral design, 1790’s
  • Townsends


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