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Sybil Kane: A Loyalist’s Wife Remembered, Part Two of Two
copyright Stephen Davidson UE
Although she favoured the Patriot cause, Sybil Kane endured the persecution and hardship meted out to her Loyalist husband throughout the American Revolution. The November of 1783 found her and her large family crowded into the home of her sister, Mary Morrison in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. It was a town that had been swamped by Loyalist refugees, and housing was at a premium.
Given that her husband John Kane was on his way to England to seek compensation for his wartime losses, it fell to Sybil to find accommodations for her 13 children, one grandchild, and two African slaves.
Sybil sent her 24 year-old son John Kane Jr. and Charles, his 21 year-old brother, out into the countryside to look for a house for the family. Five miles up the Annapolis River, they found a large abandoned house, which may have once been the home of an exiled Acadian family.
Sybil hired a boat that family lore described as a “gondola” to take all of their goods, provisions, clothing, money and “chattel” upriver. The two brothers and the Kanes’ slaves travelled inland on a flood tide until its ebb. After tying up their boat, they stayed at a nearby house for the night. In the morning, the boat was nowhere to be seen.
What had not been lost during their hazardous sea journey now seemed to have quietly drifted away on a river. Fearful that all their worldly goods had floated out to the basin, the men divided into two parties and scoured each side of the river. Fortunately, the boat had drifted into a sheltered bay. The Kanes’ luck, it seemed, was changing for the better.
Sybil’s daughter Sarah, who would have been five when the family arrived in Nova Scotia, recorded her memories of the Kanes’ time in Nova Scotia. “My next recollections are of a pleasant society, scattered within a few miles of us, consisting of educated, respectable emigrant Tory families, ‘poor and proud.’ Aunt Morrison and Aunt Grant’s families were in our neighborhood. Our young gentlemen used to build bush-houses or sunny or shaded lawns, where music and tea-drinkings appealed to my childish imagination as the perfection of enjoyment. Our old tutor, Stephen Camm, joined us, and we used to meet in a small church or meeting-house to study or recite lessons.
Over time, the family met Dr. John Prescott Lawrence, a Loyalist physician from Boston who had served in the British Naval Hospital in New York City. Abigail Kane, then 20, became his wife in 1785.
Tragedy rocked the Kane family when Sybil’s sister, Sarah Grant, died on a voyage across the Bay of Fundy. Armed with an affidavit from her brother-in-law Malcolm Morrison and escorted by her 18 year-old son Robert, Sarah was bound for Saint John, New Brunswick to seek financial compensation from the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists. A violent snowstorm drove Sarah’s ship into cliffs, wrecking the vessel.
The passengers managed to make it to shore, and once the sun rose, they headed inland to find shelter. Robert Grant tried his best to keep his mother safe, lying next to her under evergreen branches to keep her warm. But when he awoke on the morning of Friday, March 9, 1787, he found that Sarah had died of exposure during the night.
News of the tragedy finally reached Annapolis Royal, and it fell to Sybil to take her sleigh to her sister’s home to tell her three nieces what had happened to their mother. Helen (18), Elizabeth (17), and Lucy (14) Grant “were all but distracted” when they learned of their mother’s demise. In the years that followed, Helen and Elizabeth married local men and remained in Nova Scotia. Robert and Lucy returned to the United States.
When Sybil’s husband returned from England with news of a life-long pension of £80 a year from the British government, he also brought his two oldest sons the opportunity of receiving commissions in the British Army. Sybil adamantly opposed the plan. Instead, she drew up a plan for John and Charles to return to New York.
Go, my sons,’ she said, ‘to your father’s old commercial friends — they know he was always an honest man — ask them to credit you to a small amount — look out for a good situation and commence business. I will draw on your father for a sufficient sum to fit you out for the enterprise.”
After becoming employees of their father’s business friends, the oldest Kane brothers wrote back to Annapolis Royal to have James, their 14 year-old brother, join them. Later, Oliver (6th child) and Elisha (7th child) sailed for New York.
Their sisters followed. Martha Livingston and her child – who had sailed to Nova Scotia with her mother in 1783 – travelled back to the States with Sybil’s second daughter, Maria.
Elias, Sybil’s 9th child, was a valued asset for his refugee family. Described by his mother as a “mighty hunter”, he kept his family fed with moose, deer, geese, turkeys, and pheasants. But the draw of New York was too strong, and so Elias and his brother Archibald (11th child) joined their older siblings.
By 1792, nine years after the Kane family had sought refuge in Nova Scotia, they had all returned to New York thanks with the assistance of their son Elisha. He sailed north to Annapolis Royal to escort his parents as well as Sybilla and Sarah, his two youngest sisters, back to the nation that had once despised them as enemies of the state. The fate of the Kane family’s two enslaved African men goes unrecorded.
Within seven years, John and Sybil Kane had a home in Schenectady, New York. Their sons had become prosperous businessmen and the daughters had formed “very happy and honourable connections“.
However, by 1804, three of Sybil’s six daughters had died. Little Susan had died in Nova Scotia at the age of ten in 1790. Mary, who had married the mayor of Schenectady, died on October 26, 1797, a month after giving birth to a daughter. Abigail Kane Lawrence, who had married a Loyalist doctor in Annapolis Royal, died “in childbed” in 1801, leaving seven children to grieve her loss.
By October of 1804, John and Sybil were living in the home of their youngest son, James, in Albany, New York. The 70 year-old Loyalist and his 66 year-old Patriot wife had 27 grandchildren scattered from New York to Nova Scotia.
At some point in time, Sybil had her portrait painted. Surviving into the 21st century, it was treasured by her son James who felt that through it his mother was watching him “with eyes that seem to love whate’er they look upon“.***
Sybil Kane died a month before her 68th birthday on Friday, July 18, 1806 in Red Hook, New York. She was laid to rest in Albany’s First Presbyterian Church graveyard. Staunch Anglican that he was, John Kane was buried next to the wife he had described as “one of the greatest women that this earth ever bore up” in the same Presbyterian graveyard following his death in 1808.
Sybil Kent Kane, the wife of a New York Loyalist, had lived a remarkable life as the chatelaine of a great estate, a refugee in Nova Scotia, and the matriarch of a prosperous family that stretched from the American western frontier to Eastern Canada.
(***Editor’s note: See Sybil’s portrait as photographed by Julia Bright.)
To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at

Attended with Disagreeable Consequences: Cross-Border Shopping for Loyalist Provisions, 1783–1784
by Stuart Lyall Manson UE 14 March 2023, The Journal of the American Revolution
In the months following the end of the American Revolutionary War, British authorities in Canada desperately required supplies for refugee Loyalists slated to be resettled in that northern colony. The cross-border market that they targeted to meet these supply demands was ironic. They looked southward to a region of the United States that, during the recent military conflict, British, Loyalist and Indigenous troops had recently raided and ravaged.
By 1783 the war and its effects had turned tens of thousands of American Loyalists into landless refugees. They were no longer welcome in the Thirteen Colonies—now the newly-minted United States of America—where they formerly made their homes and where they had lived for years or decades. In the case of Indigenous Loyalists such as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), their wartime displacement disrupted a history that spanned centuries. Many factors contributed to the Loyalists’ plight: siding with the Crown during the conflict in general; enlistment and service in Loyalist military regiments; and indirect acts such as supporting raiding parties or gathering intelligence for the British war effort against their rebellious neighbours. Moreover, throughout the war, Loyalist lands and possessions in the thirteen colonies were seized and sold by their enemies. In some areas, both sides waged vicious campaigns in which vast amounts of property and numerous lives were destroyed.
In particular, during the previous eight years of war, detachments of Loyalist regiments and allied Indigenous war parties based in Canada (also known as Québec) launched destructive raids into the northern colonies. Originating from British posts on the Great Lakes, the upper St. Lawrence River, and the settled parts of Québec, the Loyalists were often joined in these raids by British regular regiments and occasionally by German auxiliary troops. Their objectives focused on the fertile regions of the Mohawk River valley in central New York. Occasionally targeted were the communities nestled among the green mountains along the eastern shoreline of Lake Champlain in what is now known as western Vermont. One such raid against the latter was commanded by Major Christopher Carleton, the nephew of Guy Carleton who was an earlier Governor of Québec and who would soon to become its governor once again. Read more…

Book: “How WRIGHT You Are” – Third Edition
By Wright Research Team & Duncan (Darby) MacDonald
Published by Global Heritage Press, Carleton Place, March 2023
This book focuses on the descendants of Lt. Able Wright (1621-1725) and Martha Kitcheral of Springfield, Massachusetts. Of particular interest to Canadians are a number of United Empire Loyalist descendants, some of whom migrated to Eastern Ontario after the American Revolution. Check out a detailed description and online Index: Read more…

Book Review: From the Battlefield to the Stage: The Many Lives of General John Burgoyne
Author: by Norman S. Poser (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023)
Review by Michael Barbieri 13 March 2023, The Journal of the American Revolution
It has been three decades since the last attempt at an in-depth biography of John Burgoyne. Max Mintz in his 1992 book,The Generals of Saratoga, looked at both Burgoyne and Horatio Gates and the similarities and differences between the two men. For a study solely of Burgoyne, one has to go back another decade to Richard Hargrove’s General John Burgoyne. With that background, Norman Poser’s new biography of the British general, From the Battlefield to the Stage: the Many Lives of General John Burgoyneshould be a welcome addition.
The preface and introduction can tell a lot about a book. This book’s print and formatting are comfortable to read and Professor Poser has a pleasant, easy to comprehend writing style. More importantly, that prefatory material leaves the reader with a desire to read on, to find answers to questions about General Burgoyne.
First chapter . . . first paragraph . . . first sentence—a question I did not expect: Burgoyne’s birthday? Most sources give February 24, 1722, but this author presents it as February 4, 1723. A misprint? Confusion over the year is understandable given England’s 1752 change from Old Style to New Style calendars. Read more…

Book: Feeding Washington’s Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778
By Ricardo A. Herrera, The University of North Carolina Press (June 15, 2022)
In this major new history of the Continental Army’s Grand Forage of 1778, award-winning military historian Ricardo A. Herrera uncovers what daily life was like for soldiers during the darkest and coldest days of the American Revolution: the Valley Forge winter. Here, the army launched its largest and riskiest operation—not a bloody battle against British forces but a campaign to feed itself and prevent starvation or dispersal during the long encampment. Herrera brings to light the army’s herculean efforts to feed itself, support local and Continental governments, and challenge the British Army.
Highlighting the missteps and triumphs of both General George Washington and his officers as well as ordinary soldiers, sailors, and militiamen, Feeding Washington’s Army moves far beyond oft-told, heroic, and mythical tales of Valley Forge and digs deeply into its daily reality, revealing how close the Continental Army came to succumbing to starvation and how strong and resourceful its soldiers and leaders actually were.

Ben Franklin’ World: Women and the Making of Catawba Identity
Brooke Bauer, an assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, joins us to explore Catawba women and their significance in Catawba culture with details from her book, Becoming Catawba: Catawba Women and Nation Building, 1540-1840.
During our investigation, Brooke reveals the ancestral history of the Catawba Nation and the role Catawba women play in sustaining the Catawba culture; the importance of women’s pottery practices in Catawba culture and the Catawba Nation’s economic survival; And, the unique use of land-leasing by nineteenth-century Catawba peoples to reinforce Catawba identity into the nineteenth century. Listen in…

Upcoming Events

The American Revolution Institute: The Wandering Army. Tues Mar 21 6:30pm

The Wandering Army: The Campaigns that Transformed the British Way of War, by author Huw J. Davies
Join us on Tuesday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m., for an author’s talk featuring Dr. Huw Davies discussing his recent book and how Great Britain’s accumulation of military knowledge in the late eighteenth century impacted its army’s campaigns during the Revolutionary War. More details about the presentation, the author and registration.

New Brunswick Branch: Delancey’s Brigade and AGM, Wed 22 March 2:00 AT

Our guest speaker for this occasion will be member Jane Simpson, who will share her research on Delancey’s Brigade in Westchester County around 1781. The presentation will be followed by the AGM.
It is scheduled for Wednesday, 22 March at 2:00 pm (Atlantic time). Register with (the zoom link will b returned closer to the event)

Saturday, 25 March 2023 – Irish Family History Research Day

The Ulster Historical Foundation is a non-profit organisation with a long established and reputable research and publishing history. It is based in Belfast, N. Ireland and uses its knowledge to help those looking for their Irish and Scots-Irish ancestors.
Two of our staff – Fintan Mullan and Gillian Hunt – will present a series of seminars on Irish and Scots-Irish genealogy for beginners and active family historians.
The Chamber, Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Dr., Ottawa ON (9:00am-4:30pm, doors open 8.15am)
Host: British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO)
$40 for non-members; $30 for BIFHSGO members

Kawartha Branch Spring Banquet and AGM Sat 15 April (31 March deadline)

Kawartha Branch UELAC is inviting you to our annual Spring Banquet and AGM at the Baker’s Hill Banquet Centre 555 Parkhill Road East, Peterborough, ON Saturday, 15 April 2023, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Featuring music by Stephen Medd, balladeer For more details, registration (deadline 31 March) etc contact Grietje McBride UE 705-295-4556

Fort Plain Museum: The Revolutionary War Conference 250 in the Mohawk Valley, June 9-11

Registration now open.
Friday, June 9: Bus Tour – Forts and Fortified Homes of the Mohawk Valley
Opening Reception and Registration
Saturday, June 10: Program and reception
Sunday, June 11 until noon: Program
See details: schedule, registration, lodging et

In the News:

New book is Black Loyalist monument fundraiser
Middleton author’s book about Anglican church includes chapter about Black settlers
By MIDDLETON, N.S. — A man writing a book about Middleton’s Old Holy Trinity Church is hoping sales from the new volume will help fund a monument to Black Loyalists, possibly in the church’s cemetery.
“This book that is due for release early in June, I call it First Church, because it’s the first of three churches the Anglicans have here,” said Brian McConnell. “It’s also going to have one or more chapters dealing with the Black Loyalists here.” Read more…

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • Since before the country was formed Irish people have had a role to play. “17 “UE” Loyalists of Ireland & Northern Ireland” discusses some who settled here after the American Revolution. Read more… By Brian McConnell UE.
  • Common Irish heritage acknowledged in headstones at Digby, NS. First two were also United Empire Loyalists and arrived from New York to settle in 1783. 1. Jane Hill d. 6 June 1800 consort of Richard Hill..born in Ireland 2. Robert Timpany d. 16 Feb. 1844 a native of Newtownards, Ireland 3. George Lynch d. 5 Oct. 1910 native of Donegal, Ireland
  • Townsends
  • This week in History
    • 12 Mar 1776 Appreciation of the support of women for war effort is published in several Baltimore-area newspapers.
    • 14 Mar 1776 Alexander Hamilton receives commission as Capt. in NY artillery company, leading with great distinction.
    • 16 Mar 1776 British naval commanders learn that Americans are loading military supplies at three Spanish ports.
    • 17 Mar 1776 British forced out of Boston following Washington’s fortification of Dorchester Heights over city.
    • 17 Mar 1776 Evacuation Day as British troops finally leave Boston after holding the city for so long. Abigail Adams Writes “they have carried of every thing they could possibly take, and what they could not they have burnt, broke, or hove into the water.”
    • 13 Mar 1777 Through its agents in Europe, Congress calls for foreign military experts to aid in leading rebellion.
    • 14 Mar 1778 the British cabinet met to respond to the alliance between France and the US. The ministers ordered troops & warships moved from America to the Caribbean, 16 ships brought home to protect Britain, 10,000 militiamen called up.
    • 11 Mar 1779 Army Corps of Engineers created to build & maintain fortifications.
    • 13 Mar 1780 Mobile, AL. Spanish Gen Bernardo Galvez launches 1.4K men in an attack on Ft Charlotte, capital of British West FL. American sloop West Florida under Capt William Pickles assists the Spanish.
    • 15 Mar 1783 Washington persuades Continental Army officers at Newburgh, NY to abandon uprising over unpaid wages.
  • Clothing and Related:
  • Miscellaneous
    • 13 Mar 1781 astronomer William Herschel discovers Uranus. This was the first planet to be discovered since antiquity, and he became famous overnight. As a result of this discovery, George III appointed him Court Astronomer & was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society


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