In determining who was eligible for compensation for war losses, Britain used a fairly precise definition: Loyalists were those born or living in the American colonies at the outbreak of the Revolution who rendered substantial service to the royal cause during the war, and who left the US by the end of the war or soon after. Those who left substantially later, mainly to gain land and to escape growing intolerance of minorities, are often called "late" Loyalists.
The Loyalists supported Britain for highly diverse reasons. Many evinced a personal loyalty to the Crown or a fear that revolution could bring chaos to America. Many agreed with the rebels that America had suffered wrongs at the hands of Britain, but believed the solution could be worked out within the empire.
Others, seeing themselves as weak or threatened within American society and in need of an outside defender, included linguistic and religious minorities, recent immigrants not fully integrated into American society, blacks and Indians. Sympathy for the Crown was a dangerous sentiment: those who defied the revolutionary forces could find themselves without civil rights, subject to mob violence or flung into prison. All the states finally taxed or confiscated Loyalist property.
During the Revolution over 19 000 Loyalists served Britain in specially created provincial corps, accompanied by several thousand Indians. Others spent the war in such strongholds as New York City or in refugee camps such as those at Sorel and Machiche, Qué. Between 80 000 and 100 000 eventually fled, about half of them to Canada. The vast majority were neither well-to-do nor particularly high in social rank; most were farmers. Ethnically, they were quite mixed, and many were recent immigrants. White Loyalists brought sizable contingents of slaves with them. Free blacks and escaped slaves who had fought in the Loyalist corps and as many as 2000 Indian allies, mainly Six Nations Iroquois from NY, settled in Canada.
The main waves of Loyalists came to what is now Canada in 1783 and 1784. The MARITIME PROVINCES became home for upwards of 30 000; most of coastal NS received Loyalist settlers, as did Cape Breton and St John's Island [PEI]. The 2 chief settlements were in the Saint John River valley and temporarily at SHELBURNE, NS. The Loyalists swamped the previous population of 20 000 Americans and French, and in 1784 New Brunswick and Cape Breton were created to deal with the influx.
Of about 2000 who moved to present-day Québec, some settled in the Gaspé on Chaleur Bay and others in the seigneury of Sorel at the mouth of the Richelieu River. About 7500 moved into what would become Ontario, most settling along the St Lawrence River to the Bay of Quinte. There were also substantial settlements in the Niagara Peninsula and on the Detroit River, with subsidiary and later settlements along the Thames River and at Long Point. The Grand River was the main focus of Loyalist Iroquois settlement. The Loyalist influx gave the region its first substantial population and led to the creation of a separate province, UPPER CANADA, in 1791. Loyalists were instrumental in establishing educational, religious, social and governmental institutions.
Though greatly outnumbered by later immigrants, Loyalists and their descendants, such as Egerton RYERSON, exerted a strong and lasting influence. Modern Canada has inherited much from the Loyalists, including a certain conservatism, a preference for "evolution" rather than "revolution" in matters of government, and tendencies towards a pluralistic and heterogeneous society.
Author BRUCE G. WILSON
W. Brown, The Good Americans (1969); M.B. Fryer, King's Men (1980); B. Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution (1972); Bruce G. Wilson, As She Began (1981); E.C. Wright, The Loyalists of New Brunswick (1955).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
French Canada and the Early Decades of British Rule (1760 - 1791)
A digitized copy of a booklet that examines the issues and policies that defined Britian's administration of its North American colonies in the decades preceeding the implementation of the Quebec Act and the Constitutional Act. From the Canadian Historical Association and Library and Archives Canada.
Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People
This site features an extensive collection of personal stories and other historical documents that shine a light on the life and times of Black Loyalists in Canada. From Canadian Digital Collections.
The United Empire Loyalists
The website for the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada, an organization dedicated to promoting the history of the United Empire Loyalists and their contribution to the development of Canada.
This UNB website provides access to extensive references and resources about the United Empire Loyalists and their descendents.
This illustrated website features an extensive profile of Mary Brant. Produced by the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation.
Records of Old and Their Widows
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick has within its holdings many highly interesting and valuable historical documents. Among these are records which relate to the soldiers who fought as loyalists in the American Revolution.
A profile of Guy Carleton, governor of Québec and leader of British North American Forces, during and after the American Revolution. From the "Black Loyalists" website.
A biography of John Butler army officer, office-holder, and Indian agent. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Joseph Brant Museum
A brief profile of Joseph Brant from the Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington, Ontario.
Revolution Rejected: Canada and the American Revolution
This illustrated Canadian War Museum website recounts the story of the failed American invasion of Canada in 1775–1776 and the migration of American Loyalists to Canada after 1783.
Sir John Johnson House National Historic Site
This Parks Canada website features a profile of Sir John Johnson and an illustrated tour of the national historic site in Williamstown, Ontario.
Settlement of Adolphustown
This RootsWeb.com website focuses on the early Loyalist settlements in the Napanee region of Ontario.
John Graves Simcoe
This Archives of Ontario website profiles John Graves Simcoe, leader of the Queen's Rangers during the American Revolution and the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.
Archives of Ontario: Black History
A selection of archival documents that relate to Black history in Ontario. An Archives of Ontario website.
Fort Wellington National Historic Site
The website for Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Ontario. Features an illustrated overview of the War of 1812, the 1837 rebellions, and related topics. From Parks Canada.
The Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives
The Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives (ACVA) is designed to showcase some of Atlantic Canada's rich archival sources. From the University of New Brunswick.
Ward Chipman Slavery Brief
A great information source about anti-slavery issues in Canada during the 19th century. Features the full court transcript of the “Chipman Brief” which was part of an 1800 New Brunswick anti-slavery case. Also offers biographies of Ward Chipman and others related to this case.
St. Peters Canal National Historic Site of Canada
This site chronicles the history of the St. Peter's region and St. Peter's Canal, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with Bras d'Or Lake.
Nova Scotia's Black Heritage
A series of articles about the history of Nova Scotia's Black community.From the website for Highway 7 magazine.