Revolutionary War Tory Descendants in Nova Scotia Part 1

A slice of American history about the descendants of the Tories after the Revolutionary War in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The Revolutionary War Tory Descendants in Nova Scotia

On a chill autumn day in 1783, 1,500 men and women stood on the decks of the British ships anchored in the Bay of Fundy off Nova Scotia. They looked at the coastline--the site for the new town they would call Digby--with both apprehension and determination. They had chosen life in a new country and that life included allegiance to the British Crown rather than allegiance to the infant United States of America. Behind them lay landholdings, mercantile fortunes, and positions of authority, all confiscated by American Revolutionary forces either during or immediately following the bloody war years.

Tories in the Colonies had ranged in social rank from farmers to merchants to lawyers to office-holders appointed by the Crown. Their motives for remaining loyal varied as much as their stations in life. Colonial governors and other officials were, of course, anxious to hold on to the influence and remuneration that came along with their appointments. Farmers and landholders, too, were loathe to relinquish the material benefits that came to them under British rule. Royal land grants had brought enormous wealth to such families as the Penns in Pennsylvania, the Calverts in Maryland, the Pepperells in New England, the Johnsons in New York, and Lord Fairfax in Virginia. Merchants had little to gain by severing connections with the British for a nation still caught up in its birth pangs and not yet affluent enough to replace the loss of trade with the home country. Clergymen of the Episcopal Church were also largely in the Tory camp, as were lawyers, whose income derived chiefly from Crown fees.

When the Continental Congress, on November 27, 1777, recommended to the States that they seize Loyalist property, sell it, and use the proceeds to finance the War, Loyalists had reacted bitterly to the loss of their holdings and became even more staunch supporters of King George. There was, too, the strong pull of tradition, and many who had nothing to lose in terms of worldly goods found it impossible to turn against their homeland. Among the Dutch, Scotch, Irish, and Germans who had emigrated to America, there also were many who chose not to cast their lot with the revolutionaries.

From the beginning, those with Loyalist sentiments were subjected to confiscation of personal property, public harassment, tar-and-feathering, and imprisonment. Because of this, Tories began leaving the Colonies as early as 1776, when over 1,000 fled Boston with the British. Another 9,000 left New York City and a like number departed from Charleston, S.C., when those cities were evacuated by British troops. All told, about 100,000 eventually left, to be scattered around Great Britain, Canada, Florida, and the British West Indies.

When peace was negotiated in 1783, the British attempted to assure the Loyalists that they would be compensated for their losses. But all that the Continental Congress included in the treaty was an "earnest recommendation" that the States recompense the Loyalists, a provision that was almost totally ignored.

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