Loyalist ancestors

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.

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.

23 thoughts on “Loyalist ancestors

  1. Thank you for providing these wonderful resources. I am a volunteer genealogist for DAR and occasionally we have a prospective member who doesn’t have a patriot but does have a loyalist or two. I will be sure to share this article when I encounter that situation in the future.

    1. How does the DAR handle such cases ? I for one would not consider even applying for DAR membership since most of my New England ancestors were Loyalists. But other than leaving the American colonies …. they just went underground. Just like the matter of the Acadia Neutrals, to be either a Loyalist (1/3 of the colonists) or even neutral (1/3 of the colonists) meant that as described in one of Jewetts novel’s , your homestead would be destroyed by the Boston militia (the Patriots) and you would be either murdered or forced to flee into Canada, the West Indies or the United Kingdom.

      1. I can only speak for how we handle this situation in my chapter. We work as hard as we can to help our prospective members locate a patriot ancestor but if no qualifying ancestor can be found we encourage them to explore other lineage societies (there are so many!). We allow guests at our meetings. For those that support our mission but don’t qualify for membership, we welcome their participation at public events and charitable activities (such as assembling care packages for our deployed service members) and we make sure they know how appreciated they are.

        Hopefully some of the links in this article will help you research your loyalist ancestors!

      2. Statistics about Loyalists such as how many were jailed or physically punished, how many refused the Association Test, fled before being asked to sign it etc would be interesting research.

        My 3rd great grandfather, Abner Sanger (1739-1822) of Cheshire County New Hampshire, was a Loyalist. I was surprised to learn in his published journal that he was jailed a few times for a just few months but for most of the war he more or less freely went about keeping up his farming.

  2. Thank you Sheilagh for this great article on our Historical Links to family members. I have links to the Winter, Ackerman and Morris Families that are forming a great deal of interst to me. I have many links to the Morris(s) who originated Centuries long past in Monmouth, Wales at Chepstow Castle and other interesting places. The Morris link is via my Mother Hila Morris Hilton who was born in Wallace, Nova Scotia-1899 and died in New Brunswick in 1994. My Father- Smith Albert Hilton who was born in Haverhill, Mass. and died in 1994 also. William Morris who was born in Tintern, Monmouth, Wales in 1575 (1620) is directly related to my Family and this link goes back much further also to 1100-1200 s. It is great to have you and many others who are interested in our history to be working with the NEGHS. I am 75 years of age and retired in a Specail Care Home because of injuries in a Car Accident in 1983. My address Is tinym81@rogers.com if you or ay of our family or friends wish to get in touch. Sincere Best Wishes to all, Paul Morris Hilton.

  3. In proving my Mayflower ancestry, a great granddaughter of John Howland married a Loyalist, Gideon White (also a Mayflower descendant) who moved to Nova Scotia. His granddaughter married a Davis. I have a copy of the father’s (also Gideon, of course) letter to William Davis grating permission to court his daughter. There os also Gideon’s complete list of monies spent on his daughter’s trousseau.

    1. I have several links to John Howland of the Mayflower and more Hilton links on the Fortune and Anne who came from England. Please let me know who the ancestor may be. Thank you for all the great links, Howland. Best Wishes, Paul

      1. Paul – Which ‘the’ ancestor are you asking about ? I am going to guess which of John Howland’s. I am descended from John -> Joseph -> Thomas ->Joanna -> Gideon White -> Gideon White -> Joanna White etc.

        1. Hi Howland. I have links to John Howland -born 1597 & Elizabeth Tilley who came to North America(Plymouth, Mass.) on the Mayflower. William Hilton who came to Plymouth in 1621 on the Fortune and eventually Settled in Maine. The Hiltons- William and Edward were brothers and Edward (brother0 settled in New Hampshire. William Hilton who named Hilton Head Island after himself were half/ brothers born about 12 years apart. Your ancestry mentioned above were related to my ancestry. I have DNA links to William Hilton born in 1488 in Co. Durham, England at Hylton Castle and further back also. More info will be sent to you if you wish Sincere Best Wishes, Paul Morris Hilton

        2. Good Morning Howland. I have links to John and Thomas and possibly the rest of those ancestors you have mentioned. I will have to do more research on this info. Thanks for your help with our ancestry. I have YDNA and Family Finder DNA links to John Alden, -to the Howlands and to several other Mayflower passengers and crew. As I have mentioned the links date back to at least 1488 and William Hilton. Best Wishes with your research, Paul

  4. Great and informative article, but my “brick wall” lies in the fact that I only have a (probable) surname, Turner. My ancestress was probably born in Quebec City in 1782, but apparently was orphaned as she married, again in Quebec, at the age of 16 “with consent of her friends.” But in 1824 we find her as “Mary Hartney – American Loyalists Claims, Series II Return by the Commissioners appointed by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor…. ” and the award was 50 pounds. So at some point she applied for reparation, giving her parent(s) names … but if such documents exist, where?

  5. You might add United Empire Loyalists: A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada by Brenda Dougall Merriman (Global Heritage Press).

  6. Just as it’s both rather interesting and because it shows how the colonists were often torn between the two sides, thought I’d menition my ancestor Angus McPhee. He fought as a Patriot from Connecticut three different times (altho he was from Westchester NY) and was with Washington at White Plains….and then he fell in love with Deborah Wheaton. Next we find him fighting with Oliver DeLancey’s Loyalist Troops in NY. Her family were Loyalists, so he ended up with them and other NY Loyalist troops evacuating to Sackville, NB, in 1783, where he and Deborah were awarded 200 acres for his British service. This change, some say, was because of his Scottish family ties. Some of us call him “the family turncoat”, but it’s with affection. Love does funny things to people, and Angus must have been very much in love with Deborah to change his loyalties mid-war.

    Thanks so much, Sheilagh, for the references! Havent checked a few of those; should fill out a bit more bio information on the family. And thanks to Sarah for the interesting insight into the DAR!

  7. I have a Loyalist ancestor who first signed on as a Patriot but when Charleston SC was occupied by the British he then was commissioned as an officer in the British Army. At some time during the war, his company supplied provisions under contract to the colonials.

    After the war, he was forced to leave Charleston and went to a British colony in Florida but petitioned to return to his family stating that he had engaged in no violence and had needed to remain in Charleston during the occupation to tend to his debts and debtors. The new legislature turned the decision about his fate over to those in his community. His plea was granted and he kept his business in Charleston where he was a factor.

    I have had challenges discovering much about his time in Florida and his ancestry so I hadn’t even wondered about DAR rules on an instance such as this. Having a dozen other Revolutionary War ancestors who didn’t go over to the Dark Side, finding another was not a priority.

  8. Just seeing this today. Thank you so much; I will be back when I can to explore the links.

    Peter Earle was one of my Loyalist ancestors. I knew from land records that his wife was named Rachel, but did not have her surname until now.

    1. Hi!! It was exciting to find your post! I am a descendant of Peter Earle as well. My father still resides on the original land grant given to Peter in Nova Scotia. I am very interested in any other information you may have uncovered about Peter. What branch are your ancestors? You can e-mail me good(dot)cooker(at)hotmail(dot)com I would LOVE to hear from you Sheilagh and Karen!

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