ICYMI: Loyalist ancestors

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 10 September 2015.]

Encampment of the Loyalists
“Encampment of the Loyalists in Johnstown, a new settlement on the banks of the River St. Lawrence, in Canada West,” courtesy of Archives Ontario.

Mabel Winters, my great-grandmother, left Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years old. She arrived in the United States about 1900, and first lived with her older brother George in Norton, Bristol County, Massachusetts. I have heard many wonderful stories about Mabel, and I wanted to learn everything that I could about her. As I began to research her life in Nova Scotia, I discovered that she was descended from several Loyalist families.

At the close of the American Revolution, thousands upon thousands of Loyalists fled the colonies. Seeking political asylum and refuge, many escaped to Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

According to his petition, he owned a farm near Hackensack and joined the British army … in 1776.

Fortunately, via census records, vital records, and published genealogies, I was able to identify some of Mabel’s Loyalist ancestors. Her great-great-great-grandparents, Peter Earle and Rachel Ackerman, fled Hackensack in Bergen County, New Jersey, and settled along the Tusket River in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. From Peter Wilson Coldham’s American Loyalist Claims, I discovered that Peter Earle petitioned the British Government to recoup losses suffered during the Revolution. According to his petition, he owned a farm near Hackensack and joined the British army under Lieutenant General Cornwallis in 1776. He was stationed at New York City until the British Evacuation in 1783.

Though I was lucky in establishing my connection to Peter Earle, you may have to refer to many sources to determine your Loyalist ancestry. My advice is to first consult a state based resource, like The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the other side of the American Revolution by James Henry Stark. If you cannot locate your ancestor in a state based source, then you may want to refer to a general Loyalist source. And if you still cannot find your ancestor in these sources, you can still learn where other local Loyalists settled in Canada. Loyalists from the same region tended to settle together, and you may be able to identify a specific township or county of settlement.

Here at NEHGS, we have a fantastic collection of resources to aid your Loyalist research, and I highly recommend a visit to the library. Here are a select few resources to get you started!

General sources

Region specific sources

About Sheilagh Doerfler

Sheilagh, a native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, received her B.A. in History and Communication from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her research interests include New England, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Westward Migration, and adoptions.

12 thoughts on “ICYMI: Loyalist ancestors

    1. My ancestors were from there. That’s who I’m looking for. A vicious circle looking from one source to another and ending up back where I started.

  1. If only I lived close enough to use the library in person. It looks like several promising sources are available but I’m way too far away. There’s nothing on line, I’ve looked.

    1. Please do not stop…those of us who are new to this site appreciate the info, even though we are “late to the party”. thanks.

    2. Jade, I’m sorry you don’t find ICYMI posts of value. This one has been read 725 times in the last day, which suggests that, for new readers or others who want a refresher on a topic, it remains of value. The last ICYMI post was published in September, so this is not a category that turns up often on the blog.

  2. Speaking of loyalists, several loyalist descendants of Stephan Gates (Hingham, 1638) left the Colonies at the time of the Revolution. I’m not particularly proud of them, but then I’m of a dieing, older and different generation. They are indicated, but not poimted-out in “Stephen Gates of Hingham and Lancaster, Massachusetts and his Descendants” by Charles Otis Gates, Brooklyn, N. Y. 1898.

  3. Your discussions about loyalist ancestors reminded me about research I did on a house in the Mohawk Valley in 1741. This was the oldest house west of Albany and owned by a British army officer. My investigation of the house lead to finding of the New York State Law of Attainder. Passed in October of 1776, it listed 54 individuals guilty of High Treason and subject to execution if caught. Properties and personal items were seized. I have since found the law with the list of the 54 people so listed, a list of those individuals escorted by a lawyer to Canada who applied for and was granted safe passage to do so. As part of the law, people who did not wish to migrate to areas under British control could apply for permission to remain.

    So there are reasons and places to look for those people who were caught in the American Revolution based on loyalties and where they were living.

    As a side note, NY’s Attainder Law included corruption of blood which meant direct and married relatives were considered disloyal and also warned out.

    Rick Porter
    Finger Lakes House Histories

  4. I do appreciate these “reruns”. Often if something doesn’t appear to be relevant to my search, I skim it. In the year or so since this first ran, I ran across some info about an ancestor who left Mass, and was found in Maine, from which he migrated west. There seems to have been some animosity between him and other members of the family. There is also a gap in his history, which has been filled in in all kinds of interesting and imaginative ways, none of which pan out. Rereading this, it occurs to me that perhaps I need to look for him further north. Leave no stone unturned…

  5. I have a problem, a Loyalist problem, which perhaps you can cast an eye upon … and in any case many thanks for the suggestions and sources.

    I have an ancestress, presumably Mary Ann Turner, who was apparently born in Quebec City about 1782 and married as her first husband a Bombardier, Andrew Gray.in that city in April 1797. Later she married a William Marshall and lastly a Patrick Hartney; she had children from each marriage. But I found her (and Patrick, who also had a claim) in successful Loyalist claims. Patrick Hartney was not a Loyalist as he was from Ireland and was in the British Army during the Revolution.

    I did a search in January of the microfilms of the claims for reparations under Mary or Mary Ann Turner ; I was at the LDS library in Salt Lake City and getting suggestions there and even looked at the microfilms from a couple of counties. Nothing. I had surgery shortly afterward so haven’t worked on the problem since, and another surgery coming up, but I’m not giving up!

    I just had a thought! Might she have made application as Hartney?

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