United Empire Loyalists and late loyalists

The American Revolution blazes a hasty trail to British Québec and the blazing continues into Upper and Lower Canada until 1815. Two kinds of American folkways come to Upper and Lower Canada: first round (pro British) in 1784, and second round (pro American) in 1790.


Ruth McConnell says the immediate effect of the American Revolution (1775-1783) is south-to-north immigration, which carries on, unbroken, until around the end of the next ‘civil’ war (the end of the War of 1812, in 1814-1815). “American settlers continued to move into British North America [post revolution], and within a generation after 1783 the area that later would become Ontario had a population of over 90 000 – largely land-hungry settlers from the United States, with a sprinkling of British and German soldiers and other immigrants . . .. The base of Canadian English is the North American English spoken by those first settlers of the 1780s and 1790s.” McConnell explains why we sound the way we do. Many students of Canadians Studies, University of Alberta (1979-2001), imagined American loyalists join in with long-established English-speaking communities in Upper Canada. Not true. American-born settlers, both United Empire Loyalists (UEL) and late loyalists, are the first critical mass of English speakers in the upper country we know as Ontario. 

But one must insist American influence does not stop with idiom and intonation. With the late loyalists, American ideas about democracy, republicanism and responsible government also make the trip. 

Egalitarian-minded American “late” loyalists (layered with post-1815 Calvinism imported from the British Isles) have a great deal to do with the fact many modern Canadians, unlike the UEL, tend to mock those who believe they are to the manor/manner born.

Many Canadians do not appreciate an entrenched aristocracy. Men and women should earn their place. Republicanism, brought north with the late loyalists, marks a great part of the Canadian mindset: plain living and indefatigable industry qualify one for leadership. Meritocracy, however idealistic, is a superb weapon to use against an inherited elite. 

United Empire Loyalists (UEL) versus late loyalists: think city mouse and country mouse

To be clear. American-born late loyalists are not identical in folkways to American-born United Empire Loyalists. Unlike the UEL, who slavishly cling to and/or imitate gentrified English custom, noticeable in urban centres, late loyalists are simply themselves. Late loyalists are mostly American farmers and trades people. They take their tea from wooden or clay noggins and not, with pinkies raised, from Wedgwood bone china. Like boll weevils they are looking for a home. After the American Revolution human migration from south to north is massive. At the outbreak of the second Anglo-American war, the War of 1812, so-called, a full 80% of English speakers in Canada are American-born. They sound American. They think American. On a census form they may write “British” (the Crown’s pre-requisite to acquire land) but they are acculturated Americans [see Weird Tit-for-tat: the game of our lives for ordinary people]. All loyalists arriving between 1784 and 1812 speak in a Northeastern American dialect but the prime difference between the UEL and late loyalists lies not only in their time of arrival but also in their political attitudes.

Having faced death and expropriation in the northern states, the UEL grow ever more frantically and fanatically loyal to England. UEL fear American expansion. Late loyalists are meh. UEL arrive in 1784, which is the year they celebrate their flight from Pennsylvania (or New York or New Jersey), but the late-comers arrive in Upper Canada and the Eastern Townships post 1791. The conversion date for late loyalists, not nearly so merry as the one celebrated for the UEL in 1784, comes on 20 July 1814 – with the lesson of the Bloody Assize. Be loyal or hang.

Why are 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 leaves Great Britain with a pressing problem in Upper Canada: how to hold a sparsely populated British territory against the might of the First Nations, who own the territory, and how to resist an expanding French-Canadian settlement, who want it.

Though significant, UEL numbers in 1784 are 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 Joseph Brant has the same problem: how to hold on to the territory designated for the Six Nations/Haudenosaunee with sparse Indigenous numbers [see Classic demonization: Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, Canajoharie Mohawk.] 

To solve the problem of the Protestant, English-speaking sparsity in the upper country, the Crown turns to citizens of its erstwhile enemy.

Calling on American patriots is a strange thing. Even dangerous.

By 1812 the Home Office will regret it.

Two decades years earlier, though, Britain feels it needs 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, remains, shakily, in Britain’s grasp. Lower Canada and Nova Scotia are home to diverse but large French populations. Beautiful places. Montréal. Québec City. The villages of Acadie. But there are gaps.

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

The invitation – and different folkways. 

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

United Empire Loyalists are English loyalists. They flee war and persecution to save their English hides but the late loyalists are, of course, late.

During peacetime on 7 February 1792 Lieutenant-Governor Clarke of Lower Canada decides the land above the Vermont border will be open to settlement and all a citizen of the United States must do to receive the Crown’s munificence (land and land and land) is to take an oath of allegiance to King George lll. 

Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe of Upper Canada finds inspiration here. Accordingly Simcoe invites American patriots to try out his new colony. Late loyalists take up the Crown’s kindly offer and move over the border to claim land in British North America. They travel north because king and colonial minions assure them all will be well. Understood is 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 set of English-speaking folkways settles in Upper Canada. These folks do not share the UEL’s passion for Mother England. For many late loyalists, feelings are quite the opposite. They are small r republicans.

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

Late loyalists, being rural, tend to stick to their curious old-country ways. They hunt for food. A late loyalist has quite a matter-of-fact and pragmatic puritan-American manner. A late loyalist may be a pacifist. He may be a blacksmith. She may be a teacher or a farmer or a nurse. Maybe there’s a land jobber among them. Or a retired officer. Or an old Indian fighter. But land is wealth. What New Jersey (or New York or Pennsylvania) man or woman with no reasonably priced farmland available stateside will not respond to the king’s siren call? It is 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 move north and sign up for Crown land in the 1790s and duly swear their oaths to King George. Late loyalists are painfully familiar with British militarization. However. They also know the British political system has responsible government [elected agents are responsible to the people and not the king].

The new American immigrants to Canada want freedom. English or not, they want to enjoy the rights of Englishmen. After land-acquisition, peace, order and civil rights lie uppermost in the minds of the disciples of several pacifist religions, always treated rather badly in the USA.

Simcoe assures 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 they are welcome in Upper Canada

Various other pacific sects settle in the Haldimand tract and the Huron tract and the Home District. Simcoe promises them exemption from military service. Late loyalists of the extreme pacifist stripe most definitely do not ape Englishness. They have the egalitarian manners of their own cultures to cling to. (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 assume up a decidedly non-pacifist stance against the Family Compact. They stoke an uprising against the Crown and its colonial administration in Toronto over the latter’s failure to grant responsible government to Upper Canada.)

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.”






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