American Loyalists in Canada

by E.B. Lapointe

Canada was founded by three peoples: those of the Aboriginal community; those of French descent; and the American Loyalists, people loyal to Britain who fled the Thirteen Colonies* during and after the American Revolution. Approximately 40,000 fled to Canada and formed the basis of the English-speaking society in the country. In Canada, they settled in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia (including Cape Breton).

It has been 220 years since the American Loyalists came to Canada. They have included Harvard graduates, lawyers, merchants, craftspeople, farmers, old settlers, and newly immigrated peoples from Europe. Driven from their land and businesses by the American Patriots during the Revolution from the Thirteen Colonies, they settled in New York City, and it was from there that they eventually left for other lands as the Revolution came to an end in 1783.

The Welcome Sign to Canada’s First Loyalist Settlement
Shelburne, Nova Scotia

Welcome to Shelburne, Nova Scotia - Road Sign

Photo Credit: Charles Barclay

The United Empire Loyalist Association, 50 Baldwin Street, Suite 2002, Toronto, ON M5T 1L4 (http://www.uelac.org) has an excellent overview of the Loyalists and their history. They publish the Loyalist Gazette twice a year and give a listing (including e-mail addresses in all cases) of all the branches across the country. If proven, they can also confer "UE" to descendants of Loyalists: it is the only hereditary title in Canada.

In the Library and Archives of Canada facilities at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0N3 (http://www.archives.ca) there is microfilm of some of the records of the Loyalists. These inlcude land petitions in Ontario (Microfilm Reel C-2222 & C-1476, and claims from the Maritime Loyalists, of which there is a nominal index on Microfilm Reel C-9821). These microfilm reels can be borrowed from the archives through their interlibrary loan service. Reference is also made to them in the Archives booklet, "Tracing Your Ancestors in Canada," which is found online on their website.

The "On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies" (http://www.royalprovincial.com) is committed to posting original records to the Internet such as that of the military at the time, the history of the Loyalists, and their genealogy. One can also search the website by surname to see if Loyalist ancestors are included.

The "Canadian Genealogy and History Links" website (http://www.islandnet.com/~jveinot/cghl/loyalist.html) has a Loyalist section in which Internet resources are linked. The "Olive Tree Genealogy Homepage" (http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com) also has a Loyalist website on which databases can be searched.

There are also a number of listserves and message boards available, such as found at http://www.ancestry.com and http://www.rootsweb.com which can be extremely helpful when researching American Loyalists. Since their leaving the United States happened both during and at the end of a revolution, many of the papers which would have stated their residence—such as deeds, bills of sale of land, and passenger lists for ships coming to Canada—were probably lost during the conflict. Therefore, listserves and message boards have become important tools in the determination of the status of the individual. 

* Thirteen Colonies - They were made up of the following states: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

In 1783, these former colonies formed the basis of the new republic of the United States.

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    "A former newspaper reporter in Canada's capital, Ottawa, I became interested in writing about genealogy when researching my own ancestor, Andrew Barclay, an American Loyalist from Boston, Massachusetts, early in 1990. Quickly, my interest spread beyond my own family, and by 1994, I was editing a genealogy newsletter and by 1997, I was editing the Sourcing Canada series of books. Since then, I have gone on to write "My Ancestor Was French Canadian" and a series of booklets on Canadian genealogy. I love to travel the Canadian and American countryside looking for interesting people and places to photograph and to write about." - E.B. Lapointe

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