English-Canadian Folkways and Republican Late Loyalists

In English-speaking Canada, American influences do not stop with speech, idiom and intonation. With the “late loyalists” (coming to the British colonies after the American Revolution), American ideas about democracy, republicanism and responsible government also make the trip north.  

Egalitarian-minded American “late” loyalists, layered with post-1815 Calvinism imported from the British Isles (especially Scotland), have a great deal to do with the fact many modern English-speaking Canadians tend to mock those who believe they are to the manor/manner born. Unlike the United Empire Loyalists (UEL) (known as the Family Compact and the Château Clique), late loyalists were agrarian.

Late loyalists are the reason many present-day Canadians do not appreciate entrenched aristocracy. Men and women should earn their place. Latent republicanism marks part of the Canadian mindset: an admiration for plain living, plain speaking, and indefatigable industry.

Meritocracy, however idealistic, is a superb weapon to use against an inherited elite. 

United Empire Loyalists (UEL 1784) versus late loyalists (1791-1815): think city mouse and country mouse

To be clear. United Empire Loyalists (UEL) were civic leaders; late loyalists were farmers. UEL stepped into a vacuum and assumed many offices necessary for colonial governance. Late loyalists wanted land.

UEL and descendants slavishly clung to and/or imitated gentrified English custom, which was most noticeable in urban centres; late loyalists, conversely, were simply themselves. Late loyalists were mostly American farmers and tradespeople. They took their tea from wooden or clay noggins and not, with pinkies raised, from Wedgwood bone china. 

After the American Revolution, human migration from south to north was massive. This puts to bed the notion that loyalists seeking land in BNA were English-born and unestablished in the USA. They sounded American. They thought American. On a census form they swore they were “British” (the Crown’s prerequisite to acquire land) but they were acculturated Americans. All loyalists arriving between 1784 and 1812 spoke in a Northeastern American dialect but the prime difference between the UEL and late loyalists lay not only in their time of arrival but also in their political attitudes. UEL were happy with executive government, responsible to the Crown. Late loyalists were not. They want a government responsible to the people.

Norman Knowles writes “there is little truth in the image of the Loyalist as an Anglophile who venerated all things British and detested all things American. Governor Haldimand [sic] was shocked when Associated Loyalists insisted upon ‘a form of government as nearly similar as possible to that which they Enjoyed in the Province of New York’ ” (Inventing the Loyalists, p18).

UEL loyalism, as Knowles points out, waxed and waned, until, by 1884 (the centennial anniversary of the UEL’s flight from USA), the platonic ideal of Englishness in literature, historical knowledge, public symbols “suffocated” (see James Paxton and Joseph Brant, Canajoharie Mohawk) the genuine  North American character of the newest North American country. (See also Sara Jeannette Duncan’s The Imperialist).

Having faced death and expropriation in the northern states, urban UEL, over the years, grew ever more frantically and fanatically loyal to England to make sure the Canadian culture was as distinct as possible from republican American culture. UEL feared American expansion.

Late loyalists were meh about England, and confirmed in puritan, egalitarian ways, and remained so.

Anti-American rhetoric, an attitude so well appreciated in English-speaking Canada, had its early beginnings in loyalty. 18th-century British governors wanted to pinch a looming rival in the bud. For many years after the American Revolution, the Crown and colonial administrators feared the growing power of the USA, but most of all they dreaded the “soft” American invasion of BNA. To combat such a dire and humiliating occurrence as the soft takeover of Canada, and to gin up the base, as it were, the Crown and colonial governance in Canada badmouthed America, non-stop, slinging at the republic various derogatory names. After degenerate and republican, the worst slur was disloyal.

Why are the country mice– late loyalists (American patriots and the former enemy) – allowed into British territory anyway?  

Ending the American Revolution, the Anglo-American Peace of Paris in 1783 left Great Britain with a pressing problem: how to hold sparsely populated British colonies against the might the new republic, against the First Nations, who owned the territory, and against an expanding French-Canadian settlement, who wanted it.

Though significant, United Empire Loyalists’ numbers in 1784 were not enough to fill the upper-Canadian empty spaces with the critical mass of agriculture-minded settlers necessary for a thriving British colony to feed itself. Pine Tree Mohawk Chief Thayendanegea Joseph Brant had the same problem: how to hold on to a vast territory with few numbers. (We know how that turned out.) In the event, to solve the problem of Protestant, English-speaking absence in the upper country, the Crown turned to citizens of its erstwhile enemy. Britain felt it needed an immediate influx of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to take up agricultural pursuits in the Maritimes and Québec. And fast. Québec, divided, and after 1791 called Upper and Lower Canada, remained, somewhat shakily, in Britain’s grasp. Lower Canada and Nova Scotia were home to diverse but large French populations. Beautiful places. Montréal. Québec City. The villages of Acadie. But there were too many gaps.

We do well to remember the human emptiness of central Canada. In the late 1780s in western “Québec” (soon to be Upper Canada), there was yet no English Toronto. No Hamilton. No London. An impressive and dense Carolinian forest blanketed the country above Niagara. Huronia, former home of the Huron/Wyandot/Wendat, was done. The Great Lakes’ lands, which hover over the border, belonged to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League/Six Nations Confederacy). Massive cross-border Indigenous territory was close, too close, to (expansionist) America. Britain needed to populate the upper country with English-speaking farmers who knew and understood how to conquer the Carolinian expanse. Incredible as it seems, population density two hundred years ago was the exact reverse of today. An invitation to the former enemy was issued and the stage was set for the Bloody Assize.

The invitation – and different folkways. 

City mouse “UEL” and country mouse “late loyalist” have different attitudes to governance.

United Empire Loyalists were English loyalists. They fled war and persecution and expropriation and tarring-and-feathering to save their hides. Late loyalists were, of course, late. During peacetime on 7 February 1792 Lieutenant-Governor Clarke of Lower Canada decided the land above the Vermont border would be open to settlement and all a citizen of the United States had do to receive the Crown’s munificence (land and land and land) was to take an oath of allegiance to King George lll. 

Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe of Upper Canada found inspiration here. Accordingly Simcoe invited American patriots to try out his new colony. Late loyalists took up the Crown’s kindly offer and moved over the border to claim land in British North America. They travelled north because king and colonial minions assured them all would be well. Understood was the following: “Declare your allegiance to the Crown and move in and make improvements. By all means squat on Indian land. Our biased anti-aboriginal colonial courts will support you [see Harring, White Man’s Law: Native People in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Jurisprudence].” And so, another “culture club” of English-speaking folkways settled in Upper Canada. These folks did not share the UEL’s hysterical passion for Mother England. For many late loyalists, feelings were quite the opposite. They were small r republicans. Many were Quakers or Anabaptists.

Most particularly in Toronto, the UEL overloaded their American speech intonations and two-hundred-year-old continental customs with an icing of received la-di-dah Englishness, clipped t’s. UEL Englishness required quaint landed-gentry amusements, like (coyote) fox-hunting. 

Late loyalists, being rural, tended to stick to their curious old-country ways. They hunted for food. A late loyalist had quite a matter-of-fact and pragmatic puritan-American manner. Late loyalists might have been pacifists. Maybe there was a land jobber among them. Or a retired officer. Or an old Indian fighter. But land was wealth. What New Yorker or Pennsylvanian man or woman with no reasonably priced farmland available stateside would not respond to the king’s siren call? It was far easier to travel north into the British colonies – the Canadas or the Maritimes – than to make the trek west into dangerous Indian country: Ohio or Kentucky or Indiana.

Thousands of land-hungry Americans moved north and signed up for Crown land in the 1790s and duly swore their oaths to King George. Late loyalists were painfully familiar with British militarization. However. They also knew the British political system had responsible government. The new American-born immigrants coming to Canada wanted freedom. They wanted to enjoy the rights of Englishmen. After land, late loyalists wanted civil rights, which were uppermost in the minds of the disciples of several pacifist religions, always treated rather badly in the USA.

Simcoe assured the pacifists – such as the Anabaptist Mennonites and the “inward light” Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Children of Peace who settle at Sharon (see Bella Davis) – that, signing on as British subjects, they were welcome in Upper Canada. Various non-violent sects settled in the Haldimand tract and the Huron tract and the Home District. Simcoe promised them exemption from military service. Unlike UEL, late loyalists of the extreme pacifist stripe most definitely did not ape Anglican Englishness. They practised the egalitarian manners of their own cultures.

Take a peek into the future: in 1837, American-born pacifists who have pioneered in the Home District, and their pacifist sons and daughters, will take a decidedly non-pacifist stance against the Family Compact. They stoke an uprising against the Crown. They despise the snooty colonial administration in Toronto. They loathe the Family’s Compact for its failure to grant responsible government to Upper Canada. UEL historians have written extensively about this messy chapter in Canada’s development. The story they tell is not the whole story. UEL historians belittle the rebels. We look forward to folkways’ historians giving us a better picture of the period and outlining the grievances and praising the courage of the rebels.

Sharon Temple. Children of Peace, Society of Friends (Quakers)

David Mills (The Idea of Loyalty in Upper Canada, 1784-1850says “few Loyalist leaders articulated their fundamental beliefs because they were not concerned with analyzing the reasons for their loyalty; instead they sought to capitalize on that loyalty by linking it with such tangible rewards as land grants, government offices, and political and social influence.”