The United Empire Loyalists Come to Upper Canada

May 16, 2018 | lfeesey

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MAP British North America 1739

Map of the British plantations, 1739

United Empire Loyalists (or Loyalists) is an honorific that was given in 1799 by Lord Dorchester, the governor of Quebec and Governor General of British North America, to American Loyalists who resettled in British North America during or after the American Revolution.

The Loyalists were originally American colonists. During the American Revolutionary War, they remained loyal to the British Crown. Over 19,000 served in militias to put down the rebellion. The last major campaign under British General Charles Cornwallis ended in defeat at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. Negotiations between the Crown and the Americans wound up in 1783.

The Loyalists were punished for defying the revolutionary cause. They were subjected to mob violence, and their property was vandalized or confiscated. If caught, those on a Black List (fully digitized by Toronto Public Library) were imprisoned for treason. 

UEL yankee black list
Black list, 1802, English

Between 80,000 to 100,000 Loyalists fled to territory still under British control; either north to Canada and the Maritimes or south to the Caribbean. The majority migrated in the years 1783 and 1784 with what they could carry, as well as their slaves. 

In 1874, Loyalists and disbanded British soldiers were instructed to make their way and assemble at departure points at Quebec, Sorel and Lachine. From there, they sailed down the St. Lawrence river in 'bateaux' big enough for four or five families in flotillas of 12 boats or so with a guide to navigate the rapids. They would be given land around Oswegatche (Prescott) or Cataraqui (Kingston) in ten newly surveyed townships. 

UEL encampment 1896
Encampment of the Loyalists at Johnstown, 1896

The Crown wanted to develop the western frontier of Canada. To encourage settlement there, Loyalists were given land grants of 200 acres per man. With the influx of Loyalists, what is now Eastern Ontario and the Niagara region received their first substantial white English-speaking settlement. In 1791, the population increase initiated a separation of Canada into two provinces, Lower Canada and Upper Canada.

UEL land grants proclamation 1796
This Proclamation notes Simcoe's instructions to the United Empire Loyalists to confirm their land grant, 1796

For a glimpse into the lives of these early Ontario settlers, read the digitized book,  Spring Fleet A.D. 1783 by Walter Bates

Old book cover

"Spring fleet" of A.D. 1783 | 1889