The People of Western Kings 1785 to 1901 -
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When I went into the background of the Loyalists I wanted to form some idea of why so many erstwhile American Colonists would leave the safety and security of their homes to build a township in the wilderness of Nova Scotia. What I found was that not many did so voluntarily. They were not much motivated by sentiments of loyalty to anybody. Most were just caught up in it and tried to escape as best as possible. The refugees of the American Revolution were running from madmen, some were running from British madmen and some were running from American madmen. It was a period when there was plenty of madness to go around. As Winston Churchill remarked about World War I it was "a lengthy period of general insanity".
The French and Indian Wars
I began looking at the time of the French and Indian wars in the 1750s when the British seemed to be losing. In North America there were five main groups involved in the war: There were two European factions the British and the French. There were the native French colonists who were generally called Canadiens or Habitants and who were quite distinct from and often quarreled with the European French. There were the English colonists or Americans who were finding it increasingly difficult to cooperate with the British. Lastly there were the Indians who generally sided with the French.
The French had established a line of forts from Montreal to New Orleans and were threatening to push the English colonists into the sea. This prodded the British into action. General Edward Braddock, a British major general, planned to carry out a siege on Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh. It didn't go too well. He had a George Washington from Virginia with him. George Washington in the British Army? When the American were describing the evils of the redcoats they didn't mention this. I wonder what color George Washington's coat was when he was in the British army. We know from contemporary accounts that Braddock's coat was as red as his face but if George Washington's coat was red it was never mentioned by American writers during the revolutionary era. I don't wish to offend American members of my family or any other American who is righteously patriotic but I can't help but wonder if George Washington was a redcoat.
There was a debate (if not outright hostility) between the British and the Americans over Braddock's methods in this attack. Braddock was going to attempt an European style siege. Washington and the colonialists thought this was madness and that they would be massacred by an enemy they would never see long before they reached the Fort. While Braddock was marching slowly across the wilderness at the rate of 3 or 4 miles a day the European French and the Habitants were also quarreling. The French knew that Braddock's forces outnumbered them over 2 to 1 and they hightailed it back to Montreal leaving the Habitants and the Indians to their fate. The Habitants and Indians bid them good riddance because they would no longer be in the way. And this decided the battle. The Habitants were free to act without European interference while the British refused to listen to the colonials who they really detested and looked down on. The Habitants slogged out of the fort in no particular order and selected a spot on Braddock's route which had high ground on either side and while most of them hid in the trees on either side a few waited for the British in the middle of the road. When the British showed up the Habitants in the middle of the road fired a few shots and began to retreat, leading Braddock directly into the trap. Braddock with his army in bright red coats, assuming that their enemy was beaten, marched in excellent order right into their hands, they made a splendid target, the Indian sharp shooters couldn't miss. A few hundred Habitants and Indians slaughtered them almost to a man. After Braddock was massacred Washington wrote to his mother:
[Fort Cumberland, July 18, 1755.]
As I doubt not but you have heard of our defeat, and perhaps have it represented in a worse light (if possible) than it deserves; I have taken this earliest opportunity to give you some acct. of the Engagement, as it happen'd within 7 miles of the French Fort, on Wednesday the 9th. Inst.
We March'd on to that place with't any considerable loss, having only now and then a stragler pick'd up by the French Scoutg. Ind'nd. When we came there, we were attack'd by a Body of French and Indns. whose number, (I am certain) did not exceed 300 Men; our's consisted of abt. 1,300 well arm'd Troops; chiefly of the English Soldiers, who were struck with such a panick, that they behav'd with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive; The Officers behav'd Gallantly in order to encourage their Men, for which they suffer'd greatly; there being near 60 kill'd and wounded; a large proportion out of the number we had! The Virginia Troops shew'd a good deal of Bravery, and were near all kill'd; for I believe out of 3 Companys that were there, there is scarce 30 Men left alive; Capt. Peyrouny and all his Officer's down to a Corporal was kill'd; Capt. Polson shar'd near as hard a Fate; for only one of his was left: In short the dastardly behaviour of those they call regular's expos'd all others that were inclin'd to do their duty to almost certain death; and at last, in dispight of all the efforts of the Officer's to the Contrary, they broke and run as Sheep pursued by dogs; and it was impossible to rally them.
The Genl. was wounded; of w'ch he died 3 Days after; Sir Peter Halket was kill'd in the Field where died many other brave Officer's; I luckily escap'd with't a wound, tho' I had four Bullets through my Coat, and two Horses shot under me; Captns. Orme and Morris two of the Genls. Aids de Camp, were wounded early in the Engagem't. which render'd the duty hard upon me, as I was the only person then left to distribute the Genl's. Orders which I was scarcely able to do, as I was not half recover'd from a violent illness, that confin'd me to my Bed, and a Waggon, for above 10 Days;
The British didn't even realize what was happening as men began to fall on the left and right of them. When it dawned on them what was happening they formed as best they could into groups and charged to the left or right but they had never seen their enemy and the places where the fire seemed to be coming from was always vacant when they got there and the fire seemed to be coming from somewhere else. This was warfare wilderness style, perfected by the Indians, and the American colonists had been practicing it for 100 years. Braddock was not only defeated, he was massacred and he personally died on the field. This long story of complicated idiocy is where the American Revolution, as far as I am concerned, had it's beginning and the later policies of George Washington were formed. The whole frontier now lay open to French and Indian raids because of the apparent stupidity of the British troops, who did not seem to know enough to put a tree between themselves and an Indian rifle. George Washington must have thought that if he were ever against the British he would know exactly what to do.
The American Revolution
When we look at the later events at Lexington, Concord and other places there's a familiar ring to them of British being strung out over a stretch of wilderness being shot at by an enemy they couldn't see. Whether you choose to believe or deny that the British won these events a body count would show that 10 British died for every American. And the British did evacuate Boston. And when they returned who was waiting for them? Who predicted exactly where they would land?
The genius of George Washington isn't widely appreciated even by those who wish to write favorably about him. He never saw fit to divulge his strategies even to his own congress and they have been mostly misinterpreted. I am certain that he intended to string the British out as far across the wilderness as they were fool enough to follow. Every step looks like it was planned months in advance. The British landed exactly where he was waiting for them in New York. When he retreated from Brooklyn to Manhattan there were boats waiting to carry his army, although he claimed it was just luck and fortune. When he retreated from Manhattan to Fort Lee there were boats waiting again to carry his army, once again he protested that it was just luck. On the far side of New Jersey there were boats waiting to carry him across the Delaware to Pennsylvania and Valley Forge and back again when he decided to return but that was just luck again wasn't it. He was careful to scare the hell out of his congress in the process with stories of lack of equipment and eminent disaster, a congress that couldn't reach a decision unless one used dynamite. The illusion of having won the conflict fooled the British into complacency and the myth of a starving army galvanized the attention of the congress who had no wish to be hung as rebels and thus any supplies or monies were speedily acquired by Washington and any other expedient if it would save the collective skins of the congress.
It also fooled many of the citizens of New Jersey. Washington's retreat across New Jersey from New York to Pennsylvania lasted from the summer of 1776 to Christmas. During this period young men came out in droves to join the British who everyone thought were winning. It all reminds one of the beginning of World War I. Everyone thought it would be over by Christmas. Young men were eager for a taste of the adventure and were afraid it would be over before they got a chance. They needn't have worried. Six battalions were formed called the New Jersey Volunteers. If one can judge from the optimism of the muster rolls they were filled with brave young men singing patriotic songs of glory eagerly awaiting their turn. When Washington turned around during the Christmas of 1776 they paid a terrible price. (If you believe the propaganda used by Washington to frighten the Congress, he routed a well fed, well armed British army some 30,000 strong with a couple thousand starving troops with no supplies). During the British retreat back to New York in early 1777 they suffered more than 50% casualties. They were reduced to 3 battalions whose ranks had to be filled out by new recruits. They and their families, who were camp followers, were stranded, mostly on Long Island, for the next 8 years in horrible conditions. For all this period they starved and became more and more despondent of a British victory or that they would ever be able to return home. The desertion rate soared during this period as the more fickle loyalists reconsidered their future. Many decided to become Americans.
When you go through the muster rolls and other papers you get the impression of an air of denial on Long Island in the summer of 1783. Surely, they must have thought, the British who had occupied New York for the whole war (and that's about all they occupied) would keep it after the peace was signed. This was not to be, as we now know, the peace was signed in September and New York was evacuated by the British in November of 1783. This evacuation was a mad scramble. The Americans had gone back to the pre-war practice of hanging loyalists or anyone who the suspected of siding with the British. This caused a certain amount of pandemonium. Disorganization was the order of the day.
They arrive in Nova Scotia
Thousands were dumped in Nova Scotia, mostly at Shelburne and surrounding area, at the beginning of winter with almost nothing and ignored for the next six months. They were hungry, tired and poor. Most of them had just spent eight years living in slum conditions or following the army. Among them were prostitutes, beggars, drunks and camp followers of every description. There were thousands of them. The Nova Scotians were not at all happy to see them. The British government couldn't cope with them. Some starved to death, some froze to death, the rest wandered around Nova Scotia looking for something, anything to stave off death.
There is very little documentation for the winter months from December 1783 to June1784. The officers who were charged with mustering the former soldiers spent the winter in Halifax where it was snug and warm and there was plenty to eat. This paucity of documentation draws a curtain over a scene that I'm sure many would find offensive if exposed to close scrutiny. I have examined the letters and reports of several officers and they are all dated from June of 1784. I have chosen Captain Charles Stewart who wrote regularly to Colonel Edward Winslow as clearly articulating a situation that other officers dealt with piecemeal. They are first hand reports of someone at the scene as opposed to the complete fairy tales composed by the memorialists and others who never actually visited the loyalists. He arrived 3 June 1784 and his first report is dated 5 June 1784. Although he does not deal with Aylesford Township specifically I don't think it matters. The loyalists were in such turmoil, moving from place to place, that his description probably applies everywhere. He writes of this turmoil in his first report:
"..... and I am very much concerned to acquaint you that the situation of the discharged and disbanded soldiers renders the instant execution of my orders absolutely impracticable, arising from the men of the different corps being scattered, by one, two, and three over the whole Island ..........."
In his second report dated 25 June 1784 he's becoming more aware of what is going on and writes:
"..... and my letter to his Excellency Governor Patterson, requesting his influence and assistance, to enable me to enforce the intentions of the Government, notwithstanding what his duty might require of him, in accomplishing so desirable an end. I think it incumbent on me to observe that His Excellency thought proper to decline paying any effectual attention to my request; ....... the second is the seduction of several of the Disbanded Soldiery from their Officers, this the schemes and contrivance of a Mr. McMillan, lately dismissed His Majesty's Service at Halifax by the sentence of a General Court Martial, but now encouraged, supported and abetted by the Governor in such practices ....... Another cause of delay, arises from the frequent practice of the soldiers, had before my appointment fallen into, of selling their Provisions for very inadequate Considerations, but tho' they should obtain full value, it removes the very possibility of settling ........ The effect of this is that the Men are now scattered about the Country in dissipation and idleness, the generality of them having previously drank out the amount of what they got for their provisions ......."
They were welcomed in Nova Scotia by the natives with all the hospitality that is usually reserved for a colony of lepers or a plague ship. For instance Captain Stewart wrote:
".... such of them as are now settling there are threatened to be driven from them by a [Wm or Mr] Halliburton an Attorney who claims all the Lands they now occupy under a former Grant of the Governor of this Province."
From the winter of 1783/1784 to 1786 they starved and wandered about in Nova Scotia before finally finding places to settle. Captain Stewart wrote on 31 July 1784:
"..... A ship arrived from Port Roseway & Shelburn with 54 men, women & children as settlers ........ The distress in which they arrived here, and the improbability of being able to procure any kind of vessels to convey them .... Provisions as they may require will, I hope, be ....... Many more refugees are expected ......"
It's the tone of these letters that struck me. They give me the impression that Shelburne was crowded and the refugees were talked into getting onto ships which they were told were bound for some place better. They arrived to find some place worse. Notice the subtle shift in terminology from loyalist and soldiery to refugee. Captain Stewart was later reprimanded for his too factual accounts of the loyalists and his criticism of officials.
Almost everything that is written today about the loyalists is wrong, so wrong that I hesitate to use the term "loyalists". There were two classed of people, neither of which were particularly motivated by loyalty to anybody.
The first group were the memorialists, so called because they wrote memorials. The memorials were mostly lies. They were intended to prove to the British government that the memorialist should be given large amounts of money and land grants to compensate them for their war effort. If half the stuff written in the memorials were true, the British would have won the revolution. Don't read them if you want to find facts. It worked for them; they got money and land grants and were mostly welcomed in Nova Scotia. It wasn't easy for them but none of them actually starved. After the war a British appointed investigator, a Mr. Hugh Gaine, wrote in his report:
"Many claim for property lost, who have got more by the war, than they could ever have got in any other way, had the war never happened.
Observation: It is conjectured that almost every man who had no fortune, became an adventurer and Freebooter, at first, and what is well known by the name of a Skinner and Whaleboater, and became Loyalists afterwards by consequence, as soon as the idea of reward and retribution was connected with that of loyalty."
The second group were the honest loyalists looking for a place settle. They were mostly refugees. They were honest and hard working people. They had the determination and initiative necessary to build a life in such a forlorn place. The prostitutes, drunks and beggars had moved on by then and it was from the honest loyalists that most of the early settlers of Aylesford Township were formed.
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