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.  

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