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Surviving the Winter of 1779-80
copyright Stephen Davidson UE
Extreme weather that used to occur “once in a century” has become all too frequent in the 21st century. But even before global warming wrecked havoc with our climate, extraordinary meteorological events were not uncommon in earlier centuries.
North American weather historians agree that the winter of 1779-1780 was the worst winter of the 18thcentury. An Arctic air mass had settled over the rebelling thirteen colonies for thirteen weeks, and no less than 28 snowstorms had pummelled the region. Three of them closed all of New England’s main roads for the entire winter. Connecticut saw snow accumulate to a height of four feet. Not surprisingly, it hampered the war efforts of both the Patriots and the British forces.
Diaries and correspondence written during the American Revolution put a human face on what it was like to experience the winter of 1779-80. The most detailed account can be found in the diary of a German soldier named Johann Conrad Döhla. A member of the Ansbach-Bayreuth Regiment, Döhla had been in New York for two years when he experienced a winter like no other.
Two days before the Christmas of 1779, the Bavarian born soldier wrote: “It was extremely cold here. The climate is almost like that at home except that the snow does not remain lying long and the cold is not so persistent.”
Things took a dramatic change five days later. “An astonishing wind rose, accompanied by rain, which was almost like an earthquake and lasted 24 hours. It severely damaged the ships in the Hudson Bay and New York Harbor. Many ships, which had put out two or three anchors, broke loose and were wrecked. Many old houses in the city collapsed, and the best and sturdiest buildings suffered noticeable damage. The inhabitants of New York remembered no such storms, and it was believed that the world and the city were sinking, and that it would be the day of final judgment.”
The weather was particularly hard on soldiers. On January 3, 1780, Döhla recorded that “the cold was so great that all watches had to be relieved at their posts every half hour.” Stephen Jarvis, a Connecticut Loyalist who would later settle in Toronto, was serving with the Queen’s Rangers on Staten Island at the same time. He remembered how rebel soldiers crossed over to Staten Island from New Jersey and attempted to attack a British post. “At the Narrows the cold was intense, and after remaining two nights and losing about forty men frozen to death, they returned to the Jerseys.” Later, Jarvis’ regiment would march across the ice to New York City from Staten Island – a distance of 11 miles.
The British forces that were based in New York City were dependent on wood from outlying regions to keep them warm. Loyalists who had fled parts of New England for sanctuary on Long Island were often employed as woodcutters to meet the need for fuel in New York City. The firewood they produced was then taken to the city by ship via Long Island Sound and the East River. Both water routes were blocked by ice in January of 1780.
Döhla’s diary provides a “ground zero” perspective on the fuel shortage brought about by blocked transportation routes. “I went to cut wood from a ship. There were many old ships at the ferry slip in the harbor. These were chopped up when the heavy ice, which covered the East River, prevented bringing any wood from Long Island and the stock of the wood in the city had been consumed. Often a small piece of wood or board is bought from a resident of the city for six to eight English pence, or even more.”
William Pynchon, a Loyalist based in Salem, Massachusetts, would later write to a friend in England, describing a winter that had so much snow that “the oldest inhabitant remembers not such quantities of it on the earth at any one time“. He noted that the price of wood had “fallen from $4.50 to $3.00 a cord” by early May of 1780.
It was not a good time to desert one’s regiment. Döhla recounted the arrest of a German deserter who had been absent without leave for 12 days. “He had frozen both feet, and they had to be amputated because of gangrene“. Despite the danger of exposure to such weather conditions, Döhla would later record that 5 American deserters had crossed the Hudson River to New York a week after the arrest of the German amputee.
On January 30th, Döhla noted that the previous month “was constantly raw and cold“. The ice on the Hudson and East Rivers was found to be 18 feet thick. “All ships were frozen in, and it was possible to cross over the North River on foot, riding, or driving without fear.” On February 16, his diary’s entry read, “Today the North River ice began to break after having been frozen for nearly seven weeks.
On the same day, Rivington’s Gazette carried a letter condemning the actions of a New Jersey rebel, stating, “among many of his persecutions, were imprisonments, keeping some {Loyalists} several days without meat, drink, or any fire in the severity of the winter, reducing others to bread and water only, stripping many women and children of their clothing, beds, and household furniture, and then banishing them without the necessaries of life.”
At the end of March, Lt. General Knyphausen summarized the winter in a letter to Lord George Germain in Britain. He reported that beginning on December 26th, “we have had the longest and most severe winter that ever was remembered.” The German officer outlined a number of failed rebel attacks in January and February: “By these little enterprises during the winter, as far as we can ascertain, we have made 320 prisoners, and killed about 65 of the enemy.”
Major General James Pattison also wrote to Lord Germain. “The severity of the weather increased to that degree, that towards the middle of January all communications with this city by water, were entirely cut off, and as many new ones opened by the ice. We could scarcely be said to be in an insular state. The passage of the North River, even in the widest part, from hence to Paulus Hook, was about the 19th practicable for the heaviest cannon.
Pattison was worried that the rebels would take advantage of the many new icy accesses to the city. There had been rumours that General Washington was planning “a great stroke upon New York“. Consequently, Pattison issued a proclamation “calling upon all the male inhabitants, from the age of 17 to 60, to embody and take arms. The cheerfulness and alacrity with which it was universally complied, exceeded all expectation; and in the space of seven days after the proclamation, we had the pleasure to see forty companies, from the six wards of the city, enrolled, officered, and under arms, to the number of 2660, many of the most respectable citizens serving in the ranks of each company.
By the end of March, the ice that encircled the city was thawing. Pattison wrote, “The rigour of the frost is now happily abated, and we are flattered with the prospect of a complete thaw; so that all ideas of an attack are now at an end.
The winter of 1779-80 was one whose memory would be indelibly etched in the minds of the Loyalist refugees that later settled in Canada – a land that was no stranger to extreme weather.
To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at

Crown in Canada Podcast Launch – Rooted in Treaty
For the past number of months I have been working on a Podcast, The Crown in Canada, which will explore how this institution has operated in Canada. The first episode, produced in two parts by Leaking Ambience Studio (and with the support of the Ontario Historical Society), naturally focuses on Treaty and other critical Crown-Indigenous Relationships.
Nathan Tidridge Honorary Fellow UELAC
Episode One: Rooted in Treaty

Part One will be released at 12:00pm EST (following The King’s Speech) on December 25th. This episode focuses on Treaty, the Treaty of Niagara, and the Crown’s role in these critical relationships.

Part Two will be released the following week and is a discussion between myself, Rick Hill and Dr. Alan Corbiere around the role of the Crown in 21st Century Canada.

Dr. Alan Corbiere of M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island is a well-known historian and student of the history of Indigenous Peoples and the Anishinaabe Language. He also serves as an Assistant Professor at York University and has a Ph. D. History from York University, an MES from York University and a B. Sc., University of Toronto. I first heard Alan at Rama First Nation in 2013 when he delivered a teaching around the wampum belts used at the great Council of Niagara in 1764.

Rick Hill Sr. of the Tuscarora Nation, a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a Distinguished Fellow – Adjunct Professor at Mohawk College. He taught at the University at Buffalo for 20 years and was the Director of Public Programs at the National Museum of the American Indian. He was the founding coordinator of the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic and currently teaches at Mohawk College. I first heard Rick during the 2014 gathering to commemorate the Treaty of Niagara, which he organized with Alan.
Link to Access the podcast once it is released

Reframing George Washington’s Clothing at the Second Continental Congress
by Shawn David McGhee 20 December 2022 Journal of the American Revolution
Dressed in defiance, Col. George Washington arrived at each session of the Second Continental Congress donning a new buff and blue uniform he helped design with fellow Virginian George Mason. Washington, a staunch but cautious Whig, fully embraced the American cause and, incredibly, his military exploits from the French and Indian War roughly two decades earlier thrust him to the crest of public affairs during the Coercive Acts Crisis. As the empire’s political turmoil escalated into a military crisis, six Virginia counties sought the colonel’s martial leadership in preparation for potential civil conflict. When John Adams endorsed Washington to lead the Continental forces on June 15, 1775, the Virginian exited the room to allow delegates political space to deliberate this touchy but necessary development. The following day, Washington accepted his unanimous nomination, metamorphizing from provincial colonel to commander-in-chief of the Continental army. He offered a carefully worded address to Congress, declaring “I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.” To the fiddle-playing fire-breather Patrick Henry, Washington predicted his nomination marked “the ruin of my reputation.” The newly-minted general next lamented to his wife that, “far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it.” Writing to his brother-in-law, he described his recent promotion as “an honor I by no means aspired to.” Historians have yet to adequately reconcile this discordant sequence of events. If Washington did not think himself qualified to lead an army and feared reputational ruin, why did he attend Congress immaculately clad in his war robes? Read more…

African and African American Music
Jon Beebe, 20 Dec 2022, Ben Franklin’s World
Jon Beebe, a Jazz pianist, professional musician, and an interpretive ranger at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, leads us on an exploration of how and why African rhythms and beats came to play important roles in the musical history and musical evolution of the United States.
As we explore the history of African and African American music in Early America and beyond, Jon reveals the origins of New Orleans music and how and why New Orleans developed into a musical hub of colonial America and the United States; How the everyday life activities of enslaved Africans and African Americans influenced the creation of new songs and musical genres; And, how and when African American music went mainstream throughout the United States. Listen in…

Christmas 1819 in England
By Sarah Murden, 12 December 2019, All Things Georgian
Today I thought I’d take brief look back at what was making the news in December in 1819, so here we go.
Christmas Shopping
Very much as it is today, advertising for Christmas was in full swing, with retailers mainly recommending books as gifts, but if you wanted to buy someone a gift with real possibilities then you could do as one gentleman did for his daughter at Blackheath, London… Read more…

American Generals of the Revolutionary War: Who Lived Longest and Who Died Youngest
by Daniel J. Tortora 22 Decembher 2022 Journal of the American Revolution
Which American generals lived the longest? Which generals died the youngest? Some generals had quite a long life while others died young and in their prime. Here’s what I discovered regarding the longevity (and lack of longevity) of some of the Revolutionary War generals on the American side. Read more…

Leith Award: 2022 Recipients Christine Manzer UE and Chris Hayes UE
The UELAC Vancouver Branch hosted their hybrid Christmas Branch Gathering on December 11th. It was great having virtual members from Manitoba, New York and Ontario visit us.
During the Christmas gathering festivities, the Phillip E. M. Leith UE Memorial Award was presented to two stalwart branch members across the region.
Recipients for the Award were – see details for each:

  • Christine Manzer UE (UELAC Vancouver Branch)
  • Chris Hay UE (UELAC Chilliwack Branch)

Carl Stymiest, UELAC Volunteer Recognition & Awards Chair

UELAC Suzanne Morse-Hines Memorial Genealogy-Family History Award
New UELAC Volunteer Recognition Award
We inherit from our ancestors’ gifts so often taken for granted. Each of us contains within this inheritance of soul.
We are links between the ages, containing past and present expectations, sacred memories, and future promise.
– Edward Sellner

The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada values the passion that members have for achievement in a variety of areas, but especially in the field of genealogy.
Recognition as defined by Merriam-Webster is “the state of being publicly acknowledged or known for something, such as achievement.” Achievement means ‘something that has been accomplished or achieved through effort – a result of hard work’. The UELAC wishes to honour and recognize our members’ research in genealogy and family history, their accomplishments, contributions, and actions towards genealogical success.
It is this acknowledgment of service, achievement, or ability that the UELAC Volunteer Recognition Committee and the UELAC Board of Directors wish to honour.
Nominees and those nominating must be current members.
Please read the attached documents for further detailed information. or check at and scroll to the end of the page to…
Log in at and in the Members’ Section, find

  • SMH Award – Terms of Reference
  • SMH Award – Nomination form

`Deadline for Nominations is 28 February- (Midnight ET)
The first Suzanne Morse-Hines Memorial Genealogy Family History Award will be presented at the 2023 UELAC Pacific Region Conference, “Where the Sea Meets the Sky,” Vancouver/Richmond, BC, June 01-04, 2023.
Carl Stymiest UE, Chair, UELAC Volunteer Recognition Committee

UELAC Loyalist Directory: New Contributions
Entries which have been added, or revised, this week, with thanks:

  • Information about Nicholas Selimser from Tag Atkinson has been added. Nicholas served in the King’s Rangers (Roger’s Rangers NY). He was married to Margaret and they had nine children, They settled in the Cornwall ON area.
  • More information about Capt. Thomas Merritt Sr. has been added to the Loyalist Directory. Thanks to Jocelyn Currie UE who contributed information submitted by Jo Ann Tuskin. From Long Island Sound, NY before the war, he settled in St. John, NB
  • Andrew Payzant who focuses on Nova Scotia has added information about the following, all initially added by Lynton “Bill” Stewart.
    • Sergeant William McKie received a 200 acre Loyalist Land Grant in Shubenacadie Rd. S.E., Halifax County, Nova Scotia.
    • Private Seth Bailey in 1784 received a 200 acre Loyalist Land Grant in Port Mouton, Queens County, Nova Scotia. A link to a WikiTree is included.
    • Drummer Wade (Waid) Blair in 1784 received a 100 acre Loyalist Land Grant in Port Mouton, Queens County. Wade first served as a drummer in the 3rd South Carolina Regiment, until captured and imprisoned. Wade subsequently enlisted as a drummer in Captain McPherson’s Company of the British Legion on June 21st, 1780 – this company was almost entirely composed of former Patriot soldiers who were willing to enlist rather than be imprisoned.
  • A new record for John Youngman was provided by Kevin Wisener. John arrived in Charlottetown with Loyalists from Shelburne NS and received a land grant . He was employed as a carpenter.
  • Lynton “Bill” Stewart provides a batch of about 150 to 200 records of land grants given to Loyalists in Nova Scotia every week or two. Based on information from he Public Archives of Nova Scotia, he is working his way through a county at a time. Thank you Bill for doing this.
  • Although we receive information about additional loyalists when a Loyalist Certificate is issued for a Loyalist not previously in the Directory, and some submissions by others, Bill has been responsible for much of the growth of the Directory from 9,450 when the new directory was introduced to 12,950 records now. Thank you for your help Bill.

If you are willing to submit some information, send a note to
All help is appreciated. …doug

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

Editor’s Note: Merry Christmas
As today is Christmas Day, I wish all of those who are celebrating a Merry Christmas.
To everyone, enjoy this time of the year, may it be with family and friends.

Published by the UELAC
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