The United Empire Loyalists : A Chronicle of the Great Migration

This etext was produced by Gardner Buchanan.


Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton

In thirty-two volumes

Volume 13


A Chronicle of the Great Migration







The United Empire Loyalists have suffered a strange fate
at the hands of historians. It is not too much to say
that for nearly a century their history was written by
their enemies. English writers, for obvious reasons, took
little pleasure in dwelling on the American Revolution,
and most of the early accounts were therefore American
in their origin. Any one who takes the trouble to read
these early accounts will be struck by the amazing manner
in which the Loyalists are treated. They are either
ignored entirely or else they are painted in the blackest

   So vile a crew the world ne’er saw before,

   And grant, ye pitying heavens, it may no more!

   If ghosts from hell infest our poisoned air,

   Those ghosts have entered these base bodies here.

So sang a ballad-monger of the Revolution; and the opinion
which he voiced persisted after him. According to some
American historians of the first half of the nineteenth
century, the Loyalists were a comparatively insignificant
class of vicious criminals, and the people of the American
colonies were all but unanimous in their armed opposition
to the British government.

Within recent years, however, there has been a change.
American historians of a new school have revised the
history of the Revolution, and a tardy reparation has
been made to the memory of the Tories of that day. Tyler,
Van Tyne, Flick, and other writers have all made the
amende honorable on behalf of their countrymen. Indeed,
some of these writers, in their anxiety to stand straight,
have leaned backwards; and by no one perhaps will the
ultra-Tory view of the Revolution be found so clearly
expressed as by them. At the same time the history of
the Revolution has been rewritten by some English
historians; and we have a writer like Lecky declaring
that the American Revolution ‘was the work of an energetic
minority, who succeeded in committing an undecided and
fluctuating majority to courses for which they had little
love, and leading them step by step to a position from
which it was impossible to recede.’

Thus, in the United States and in England, the pendulum
has swung from one extreme to the other. In Canada it
has remained stationary. There, in the country where they
settled, the United Empire Loyalists are still regarded
with an uncritical veneration which has in it something
of the spirit of primitive ancestor-worship. The interest
which Canadians have taken in the Loyalists has been
either patriotic or genealogical; and few attempts have
been made to tell their story in the cold light of
impartial history, or to estimate the results which have
flowed from their migration. Yet such an attempt is worth
while making—an attempt to do the United Empire Loyalists
the honour of painting them as they were, and of describing
the profound and far-reaching influences which they
exerted on the history of both Canada and the United

In the history of the United States the exodus of the
Loyalists is an event comparable only to the expulsion
of the Huguenots from France after the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes. The Loyalists, whatever their social
status (and they were not all aristocrats), represented
the conservative and moderate element in the revolting
states; and their removal, whether by banishment or
disfranchisement, meant the elimination of a very wholesome
element in the body politic. To this were due in part no
doubt many of the early errors of the republic in finance,
diplomacy, and politics. At the same time it was a
circumstance which must have hastened by many years the
triumph of democracy. In the tenure of land, for example,
the emigration produced a revolution. The confiscated
estates of the great Tory landowners were in most cases
cut up into small lots and sold to the common people;
and thus the process of levelling and making more democratic
the whole social structure was accelerated.

On the Canadian body politic the impress of the Loyalist
migration is so deep that it would be difficult to
overestimate it. It is no exaggeration to say that the
United Empire Loyalists changed the course of the current
of Canadian history. Before 1783 the clearest observers
saw no future before Canada but that of a French colony
under the British crown. ‘Barring a catastrophe shocking
to think of,’ wrote Sir Guy Carleton in 1767, ‘this
country must, to the end of time, be peopled by the
Canadian race, who have already taken such firm root,
and got to so great a height, that any new stock
transplanted will be totally hid, except in the towns of
Quebec and Montreal.’ Just how discerning this prophecy
was may be judged from the fact that even to-day it holds
true with regard to the districts that were settled at
the time it was written. What rendered it void was the
unexpected influx of the refugees of the Revolution. The
effect of this immigration was to create two new
English-speaking provinces, New Brunswick and Upper
Canada, and to strengthen the English element in two
other provinces, Lower Canada and Nova Scotia, so that
ultimately the French population in Canada was outnumbered
by the English population surrounding it. Nor should the
character of this English immigration escape notice. It
was not only English; but it was also filled with a
passionate loyalty to the British crown. This fact serves
to explain a great deal in later Canadian history. Before
1783 the continuance of Canada in the British Empire was
by no means assured: after 1783 the Imperial tie was

Nor can there be any doubt that the coming of the Loyalists
hastened the advent of free institutions. It was the
settlement of Upper Canada that rendered the Quebec Act
of 1774 obsolete, and made necessary the Constitutional
Act of 1791, which granted to the Canadas representative
assemblies. The Loyalists were Tories and Imperialists;
but, in the colonies from which they came, they had been
accustomed to a very advanced type of democratic government,
and it was not to be expected that they would quietly
reconcile themselves in their new home to the arbitrary
system of the Quebec Act. The French Canadians, on the
other hand, had not been accustomed to representative
institutions, and did not desire them. But when Upper
Canada was granted an assembly, it was impossible not to
grant an assembly to Lower Canada too; and so Canada was
started on that road of constitutional development which
has brought her to her present position as a self-governing
unit in the British Empire.



It was a remark of John Fiske that the American Revolution
was merely a phase of English party politics in the
eighteenth century. In this view there is undoubtedly an
element of truth. The Revolution was a struggle within
the British Empire, in which were aligned on one side
the American Whigs supported by the English Whigs, and
on the other side the English Tories supported by the
American Tories. The leaders of the Whig party in England,
Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke, Colonel Barre, the great
Chatham himself, all championed the cause of the American
revolutionists in the English parliament. There were many
cases of Whig officers in the English army who refused
to serve against the rebels in America. General Richard
Montgomery, who led the revolutionists in their attack
on Quebec in 1775-76, furnishes the case of an English
officer who, having resigned his commission, came to
America and, on the outbreak of the rebellion, took
service in the rebel forces. On the other hand there were
thousands of American Tories who took service under the
king’s banner; and some of the severest defeats which
the rebel forces suffered were encountered at their hands.

It would be a mistake, however, to identify too closely
the parties in England with the parties in America. The
old Tory party in England was very different from the
so-called Tory party in America. The term Tory in America
was, as a matter of fact, an epithet of derision applied
by the revolutionists to all who opposed them. The
opponents of the revolutionists called themselves not
Tories, but Loyalists or ‘friends of government.’

There were, it is true, among the Loyalists not a few
who held language that smacked of Toryism. Among the
Loyalist pamphleteers there were those who preached the
doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance. Thus
the Rev. Jonathan Boucher, a clergyman of Virginia, wrote:

Having then, my brethren, thus long been tossed to
and fro in a wearisome circle of uncertain traditions,
or in speculations and projects still more uncertain,
concerning government, what better can you do than,
following the apostle’s advice, ‘to submit yourselves
to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake; whether
it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors, as
unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of
evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well?
For, so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye
may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as
free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of
maliciousness, but as servants of God. Honour all men:
love the brotherhood: fear God: honour the king.’

Jonathan Boucher subscribed to the doctrine of the divine
right of kings:

Copying after the fair model of heaven itself, wherein
there was government even among the angels, the families
of the earth were subjected to rulers, at first set
over them by God. ‘For there is no power, but of God:
the powers that be are ordained of God.’ The first
father was the first king… Hence it is, that our
church, in perfect conformity with the doctrine here
inculcated, in her explication of the fifth commandment,
from the obedience due to parents, wisely derives the
congenial duty of ‘honouring the king, and all that
are put in authority under him.’

Dr Myles Cooper, the president of King’s College, took
up similar ground. God, he said, established the laws of
government, ordained the British power, and commanded
all to obey authority. ‘The laws of heaven and earth’
forbade rebellion. To threaten open disrespect of government
was ‘an unpardonable crime.’ ‘The principles of submission
and obedience to lawful authority’ were religious duties.

But even Jonathan Boucher and Myles Cooper did not apply
these doctrines without reserve. They both upheld the
sacred right of petition and remonstrance. ‘It is your
duty,’ wrote Boucher, ‘to instruct your members to take
all the constitutional means in their power to obtain
redress.’ Both he and Cooper deplored the policy of the
British ministry. Cooper declared the Stamp Act to be
contrary to American rights; he approved of the opposition
to the duties on the enumerated articles; and he was
inclined to think the duty on tea ‘dangerous to
constitutional liberty.’

It may be confidently asserted that the great majority
of the American Loyalists, in fact, did not approve of
the course pursued by the British government between 1765
and 1774. They did not deny its legality; but they doubted
as a rule either its wisdom or its justice. Thomas
Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, one of the
most famous and most hated of the Loyalists, went to
England, if we are to believe his private letters, with
the secret ambition of obtaining the repeal of the act
which closed Boston harbour. Joseph Galloway, another of
the Loyalist leaders, and the author of the last serious
attempt at conciliation, actually sat in the first
Continental Congress, which was called with the object
of obtaining the redress of what Galloway himself described
as ‘the grievances justly complained of.’ Still more
instructive is the case of Daniel Dulany of Maryland.
Dulany, one of the most distinguished lawyers of his
time, was after the Declaration of Independence denounced
as a Tory; his property was confiscated, and the safety
of his person imperilled. Yet at the beginning of the
Revolution he had been found in the ranks of the Whig
pamphleteers; and no more damaging attack was ever made
on the policy of the British government than that contained
in his Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes
in the British Colonies
. When the elder Pitt attacked
the Stamp Act in the House of Commons in January 1766,
he borrowed most of his argument from this pamphlet,
which had appeared three months before.

This difficulty which many of the Loyalists felt with
regard to the justice of the position taken up by the
British government greatly weakened the hands of the
Loyalist party in the early stages of the Revolution. It
was only as the Revolution gained momentum that the party
grew in vigour and numbers. A variety of factors contributed
to this result. In the first place there were the excesses
of the revolutionary mob. When the mob took to sacking
private houses, driving clergymen out of their pulpits,
and tarring and feathering respectable citizens, there
were doubtless many law-abiding people who became Tories
in spite of themselves. Later on, the methods of the
inquisitorial communities possibly made Tories out of
some who were the victims of their attentions. The outbreak
of armed rebellion must have shocked many into a reactionary
attitude. It was of these that a Whig satirist wrote,

   This word, Rebellion, hath frozen them up,

Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ... | Single Page