Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Loyalist Wednesday: Some of The People

Last week I examined what might seem to some a paradox in the nature of people who were Loyalists: Scots who’d come to America after Culloden remaining loyal to the British crowd.

Some history books attempt to make it sound as if all the loyalists were wealthy, elderly conservative (kinda ironic, right?) landowners wanting to keep their own privilege.

But such was not the case.

People had many reasons for taking one side or the other in the revolution. Often it was a case of families divided. I’ve read sources that suggest the Revolution was in fact a Civil War.

Most of the Native tribes were on the side of the British. They are personified by Molly Brant and her bother Joseph (Thayendanegea) .  Molly was the widow of one Sir William Johnson as well as a prominent leader in the Mohawk tribes of New York State.  (The Mohawks had a strong matrilineal leadership tradition).  Molly was very influential in persuading the Iroquois to fight along with the British.  Molly Brant is considered a Canadian heroine and has appeared on a stamp.
Across the Bay of Quinte from Prince Edward County, is the First Nations Reserve of Tyendenaga.  This is Loyalist territory.  The Mohawks lost their land when their side lost the war, moved to Canada, and were given land of their own.   

Joseph settled further west in the area now known as Brantford.

Many black people were loyalists also.  When the revolution began several of the colonies declared that any slave who fought with the British would be given their freedom.  Some then went further and declared that any slave who deserted the Rebels would be given “full protection, freedom, and land.”

Thousands of black people did so, and were later settled mostly in Nova Scotia.  Some went from there back to Africa and settled in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  

The story of the black Loyalists is told in Lawrence Hill’s exceptional novel, The Book of Negros.  (  In the US the book has been retitled Someone Knows My Name (

It is worth noting that the slaves of Loyalists were not given their freedom, and when the black Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia it was to find that many promises to them had not been kept. But,  as I have discussed earlier, slavery was outlawed in Upper Canada in 1791 and throughout the British Empire in 1834.

The British made use of German mercenaries called Hessians.  Many Hessians (including deserters) settled in the County after the war rather than return to Germany.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Loyalist Wednesday: Why remain Loyal?

American history sometimes represents the Loyalists as a small handful of rich reactionaries determined to stand against the tide of freedom in protection of their own selfish interests.

History, as we often forget, is far more nuanced.  In fact, sources I have read say that a good 1/3 of the residents of the American colonies were not in favour of independence.  Only a few years prior to 1776 almost no one in the colony, including those who became the leading “patriots”, were even arguing for independence, but for a slightly fairer tax system.  It can be argued, and often has, that the revolution could easily have been prevented if the British had merely bent a little rather than remaining firmly intransigent.  See: The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman.  (Highly recommended - one of the books that has had the most influence on my political thought.)

Tarred and Feathered
Many Loyalists simply thought that there was no reason to go to war over a tax dispute.  Many agreed with aims of eventually achieving some degree of independence, but thought that Treason was not a good way to begin a county.  Many were appalled at the actions of the mob – outright ‘confiscation of property’ aka theft, beating and killing supposed opponents – and thought no good could come of it. (In the famous quote attributed to Mather Byles, Boston Clergyman, “which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or by three thousand tyrants not a mile away?” ) Many simply didn’t want to take sides, and found themselves being forced to when their homes were torched and their property taken. 

I was surprised to learn what firm Loyalists many Scots were.  One would assume that having fought so hard against the British in 1745 they would be on the anti-British side. Nope.   A lot of Scots who’d come to America after Culloden were Loyalists.  They feared what rebellion could do.   One of Scotland’s greatest heroines, Flora McDonald, saviour of Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden, moved to America when she was released from prison, and was a staunch Loyalist.   She returned to Skye via Canada after the American Revolution where she remained until she died. 

According to a source I read, the Jacobites did not consider themselves to be ‘rebels’ in any way. They supported what they considered to be the true King of Scotland. Thus were not inclined to support rebellion in America.
Flora McDonald

The Loyalist characters in More than Sorrow are Hamish and Maggie Macgregor, as I wanted to pay homage to those tough Scotsmen and women.

The Loyalists were an incredibly mixed bag, and next week I’ll try to talk a bit more about the type of people they were.

Caveat:  I am not a historian and I am not an expert on this period.  All my sources come from reading other people’s work.  If I am wrong, please feel free to let me know.  I’d also appreciate hearing from those who know far more about the Loyalists that I do.

Pre-order:  More than Sorrow is now available for pre-order.  Books and Company in Picton, and Greenleys in Bellville are taking orders.  Also at,, Chapters/Indigo.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

25 Years in the Rearview Mirror

Here's a fun little project I was involved in.  For one year the writer Stacy Juba featured stories on her blog to do with something that happened 25 years ago.  The stories could be real life experiences or characters' lives.  At the time, I was about to release Negative Image, which concerns the murder of Eliza Winter's ex-fiance.  By sheer coincidence, in the book Eliza remembers when she met John Winters - 25 years ago. I sent Stacy a short segment as Eliza thinks about that fateful night.

It now appears, along with 52 other short essays, in the book 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror, and is available on Amazon and other online sources.

25 Years in the Rearview Mirror: 52 Authors Look Back - This collection of poignant and uplifting essays is the perfect book to enjoy over your morning coffee.  Read about school days, quirky jobs, romance, raising a family, hard times, the writing journey, and find out what makes your favorite characters tick. The stories will warm your heart, raise your spirits and compel you to examine your own life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Loyalist Wednesday: Hardship

 I live in Prince Edward County, Ontario. A pleasant land of soft rolling hills, prosperous farms, neat county roads, stately stone century homes, fashionable new houses and plenty of cottages.

The View from my desk 

When I first sat down to write the backstory in my novel More than Sorrow, about the Loyalist settlers, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I guess I had in mind some 18th century version of neat prosperous farms and soft rolling hills and cheerful welcoming townsfolk eager to help the newcomers out.

Fleeing their homes
I hadn’t been aware that there was almost nothing in the way of settlement in what we call  Ontario today.    The French had settled along the shores of the St. Lawrence, built cities – Montreal and Quebec City – towns, and prosperous farms. As we all know the English took Quebec in 1759, but it remained a French-speaking, Catholic area, governed by French civil law.  When the Loyalists began arriving from the United States they were not welcome in Quebec, and they didn’t want to live there, under foreign laws and customs, in any event.   Many Loyalists went to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, where there were some small settlements already established.  As for Ontario there was a rough settlement near Niagara, and that was it.

About a thousand decided to head off into the great Canadian wilderness to carve out new lives and new futures.  The group I followed in my novel was led by Captain Peter Van Alstine, formerly of Kinderhook, New York.   They left New York City, the last outpost of the British in the United States, in late summer of 1783.  All who wanted to leave were given transport by the British on ships. Van Alstine’s group spent a thoroughly miserable winter in Lachine, near Montreal. Remember that most of these people left their homes with little more than the clothes they wore and few were even farmers, much less woodsmen or soldiers.

My Loyalist character, Maggie Macgregor, was the only daughter of one of the wealthiest families in the Mohawk Valley. She married into an equally well-off family.  Her’s was a life of servants, fine clothes, good and adequate food, watercolour lessons and piano practice. She and Hamish honeymooned in Charleston:  a joyous month of dances and parties and teas.  

A few years later she was living in a tent during a Quebec winter, then setting out on a bateaux down the St. Lawrence River and into Lake Ontario.  The county they came to was nothing but dark, foreboding forest and storm-tossed open lake, and rock-filled ground. The settlers were given land on which to settle.  The land ran in long strips back from the lake or river because there were no roads.  No roads, no towns, no shops, no doctors.  And not much in the way of farming implements, livestock, or even knowledge.

Nor did they have local experts around to offer advice. A few Natives visited the area on hunting and fishing trips, but by the 18th century there were no longer any Indians living permanenty in what is now the County. 

It’s a wonder any of the settlers survived.

But they did.

And I’m living here today on the land they cleared and on which they prospered.

PERSONAL APPEARANCE:  I will be at Vicki’s Veggies ( in the County on September 1st and 2nd as part of their popular Heirloom Tomato tasting weekend.  I’ll be signing MORE THAN SORROW, so please stop by and say hi.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Loyalist Wednesday – Sir John Graves Simcoe

Sir John Graves Simcoe
Quick! What was the name of the holiday you enjoyed on Monday? (If you were lucky enough to have one).  

If you live in Ontario, you might be forgiven for not knowing.

For some reason, the official name of the August Long weekend in Ontario is a confusing mess.  No one really knows what they are supposed to call it.

 It is not the Civic Holiday as it was for a long time.

Simcoe Day, you might have said. You’d be right, if you lived in Toronto.

If you live in Ontario outside of Toronto it is Emancipation Day.  A very little known fact – I didn’t even know that until last year when my friend the writer Thomas Rendell Curran pointed it out.  What starred this train of thought was that I was in the grocery store in Picton, a few days ago and was greeted by a sign 
informing me of the “Simcoe Day” opening hours.


Sir John Graves Simcoe opening the first parliament of Upper Canada
In 2008, the Province of Ontario dedicated its August Monday holiday as "Emancipation Day”. Toronto, however, seems to have suck with Simcoe Day.

The two names are quite closely related.

When the Loyalist settlers arrived in what is now Prince Edward County in the summer of 1784, the territory was so unsettled it didn’t even have a name or a leader.  There was no Toronto, and until the Loyalists began arriving, the tiny settlement of Cataraqui (renamed Kingston in 1788) wasn’t much more than a muddy fort with a tiny village.

It wasn’t until 1791 that the place got a leader, a government, and a name. John Graves Simcoe (February 25, 1752 – October 26, 1806) was first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe  founded York (now Toronto) and was instrumental in introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, and freehold land tenure. (

Elizabeth Simcoe
The diary of his wife, Elizabeth, provides a valuable record of life on the frontier, as do her extensive series of watercolours.

One of his most memorable accomplishments was the ending of slavery in Upper Canada, long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole 

Painting by Elizabeth Simcoe
A personal long-time opponent of slavery, Simcoe introduced a law, titled An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province in 1793.  This law stated that while all slaves in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves after passage of the act would be freed at age 25. (  – Thus slavery ended forever in 1810, well before it was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834 and long before it ended in the United States.

Sir John Graves Simcoe was not a Loyalist, but he was instrumental in establishing the colony of Upper Canada, later the province of Ontario, where the rag-tag band of Loyalist Settlers could grow and prosper.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Loyalist Wednesdays

My Klondike Friday feature proved to be quite popular, so I thought I'd enjoy starting a new series called Loyalist Wednesdays.  My new book, More than Sorrow, will be released on September 4 by Poisoned Pen Press. It's a standalone, a modern Gothic novel of suspense. A contemporary thriller with a backstory of the Loyalist Settlers in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

To kick things off, today I've written about how little I knew about the Loyalists when I moved here four years ago, and what I have learned.  You'll have to pop over to PoisonedPenPress Authors Blog to read that, but please return every week in August, and I'll have something new and hopefully interesting to talk about.