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April 9, 2011

Finding Details About the Loyalist in Your Ancestry (Part 1)

When the American Revolution (Revolutionary War) began in 1775, individuals living in the 13 British colonies had to decide whether to remain loyal to the British King or to fight for independence. Loyalist is the term used to describe those who supported the King and who later fled to Canada with their families. You may sometimes see Loyalists  referred to as Tories but this is not the commonly accepted term.

Lands Confiscated

Loyalists were harassed socially and politically. Many were expelled from their land and their property was seized. Many were arrested. One Loyalist ancestor living near North River, New York was arrested and in 1779 his home was burned to the ground forcing his family to flee to Montreal Canada. My Loyalist ancestor from New Jersey did not take up arms  but remained sympathetic to the British forces and according to official documents 
"[he] suffered greatly both in his person and property in the Late War between Great Britain and America"
Fleeing to Canada

The first trickle of Loyalists into Canada was in March 1776 when 1 000 people fled Boston and accompanied the British Army as it retreated before the American forces. In 1782 when the Revolution ended, Canada consisted of two colonies: Quebec and Nova Scotia. Approximately 10,000 Loyalists went to Quebec, the rest to Nova Scotia. 

Quebec Settlements

Those who settled in Quebec ran into problems with the French feudal system of land ownership and agitated for the creation of an English-speaking province. As a result, the Quebec colony was divided into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791. Loyalists came overland to the Niagara Peninsula in the new area of Upper Canada. 

Ontario Settlements

Although there were exceptions, Loyalist settlement in 1784 in what is now the Province of  Ontario  was mostly by discharged servicemen from Ranger Units who settled in roughly the following pattern, going from east to west along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario:

   > Lancaster Township: Royal Yorkers settled there in 1785
   > Charlottenburgh Township: Roman Catholic Highlanders in the Royal Yorkers
   > Cornwall Township: Scottish Presbyterians in the Royal Yorkers
   > Osnabruck Township: German Calvinists in the Royal Yorkers
   > Williamsburgh Township: German Lutherans in the Royal Yorkers
   > Matilda Township: Anglicans in the Royal Yorkers
   > Edwardsburgh, Augusta and Elizabethtown Townships: Major Jessup's Loyal Rangers
   > Kingston Township: Captain Michael Grass and his New York Loyalists
   > Ernestown Township: Jessup's Rangers
   > Fredericksburgh Township: Major James Rogers' Co. of the King's Rangers and the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Yorkers
   > Adolphustown Township: DeLancey's Corps
   > Marysburgh Township: German mercenaries and disbanded English and Irish troops
   > Sophiasburgh Township: Americans who arrived after the Revolution
   > Ameliasburgh Township: no specific Loyalist units
   > Sidney Township: no specific Loyalist units
   > Niagara Region: Butler's Rangers

I'll discuss Loyalist Land Grants, Land Petitions, Rationing Lists and other available records and information on Loyalists in subsequent blog posts.


The New Genealogist said...

I never realized so many people fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War, or why the older Canada Census records sometimes refer to "Canada West." More reason for me to read up on both American and Canadian history!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Yes, Ontario for example was originally settled by Loyalists. To search for Canadian ancestors you do need to know the name and boundary changes.

See History of Ontario for a timeline and what various parts of the country were called.

For example Ontario was only called Canada West between 1842 and 1867. Before that it was Upper Canada, after that it was Ontario.

Sassette said...

I read this post with great interest, as I have Loyalist ancestors and am hoping to learn more about my Loyalist lineage. I am really looking forward to taking the journey through Loyalist history and anticipate further your posts on the subject.

linda lemons said...

one other place loyallists fled to was the eastern townships in quebec. my husg=bands ancestors helped start the area of brome, quebec and there were many loyalists there - most seemed to have come from vermont and new york

Brian McConnell, UE said...

Thank you for this very interesting post. Approximately 10,000 Loyalists came to Nova Scotia which included New Brunswick as a result of the American Revolution. For more information please contact the Nova Scotia Branch of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada. Brian McConnell, UE
NS Branch