The United Empire Loyalists
by Frances Morrisey


In 18th century America many people recognized that changes in the system of government were necessary. England needed money to administer the colonies after the debilitating Seven Years' War. To the profound annoyance of everybody, taxes were levied to the Thirteen Colonies to help pay their expenses. Those who were loyal to the Crown, believed changes could be brought about peacefully whereas others were determined to achieve independence by any means.

The American Revolution began with the Battle of Lexington in April, 1776. Pamphleteers published propaganda sheets to sway the populace. The Declaration of Independence was formulated; "Committees of Safety" developed to force Loyalist suspects to denounce the Crown and swear allegiance to Congress. Those who chose to be loyal were ostracized and their property confiscated. Atrocities were committed and there was a great deal of suffering on both sides: crops and homes burned, farms destroyed, torture, atrocious prison conditions and other deeds common to war in the 18th century. When men enlisted, women had to support large families in spite of the many difficulties, partly caused by their Rebel neighbours. Many became camp followers, accompanying the troops, assisting them by mending and washing clothes, nursing the sick and looking after the children. It is estimated that about 500,000 people were actively loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary War.

British troops were sent to quell the rebellion. France, their perpetual enemy, came to the aid of the Colonies. Germany sent Hessians to assist the English and Loyalist troops. Both sides enlisted the help of various aboriginal peoples. About 50 Loyalist regiments were mustered, such as, Butler's Rangers, the King's Royal Regiment, Maryland and Pennsylvania Loyalists and the Queen's Rangers.

Eventually, the British were defeated and the Treaty of Paris signed in Sept 1783. Between 60,000 and 80,000 Loyalists fled to British North America, Great Britain and the West Indies. The Loyalists came from a variety of national backgrounds: Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh, German, Dutch, French, African and First Nations. Socio-economic status prior to coming to British North America varied widely from the very wealthy to the very poor, university educated professionals to the illiterate. There were all types of white and blue-collar workers such as farmers, merchants, carpenters, weavers, shoemakers and blacksmiths, labourers, servants and slaves. Transport ships took them to Nova Scotia, and what is now New Brunswick and Quebec while others walked or travelled by ox cart or other means to Ontario.

When the Loyalists arrived in their new country, land grants were distributed in proportion to military rank and social status, some receiving as much as 5,000 acres and others as little as 20. Most of the land was uncultivated and quality varied widely. For the first three years, provisions of food, tools, blankets, material for clothing and other necessities were distributed. Most lived in tents until they were able to build primitive log and bark huts. Those who arrived in the spring or summer were able to make themselves fairly comfortable while pitiful conditions prevailed among refugees who arrived late in the autumn. Many perished from exposure in the severe winter that followed or suffered deterioration in health, the effects of which remained for the rest of their lives.

Peace, order and good government was the motto of many of the Loyalists and progress toward this aim began soon after their arrival. Churches and schools were built and the military maintained peace and order until governmental structures could be set up. At first, professional men were at the helm and educational facilities were available only to the elite. Eventually democracy prevailed and citizens of lesser rank were educated and elected to municipal and legislative assemblies.

Loyalist Ancestors of Members of the N.B. Branch