From Exile to Nova Scotian: The Impact of the Loyalists on Nova Scotian Identity

Now, if you want to know all about us and the Bluenoses—a pretty considerable share of Yankee blood in them too, I tell you; the old stock comes from New England, and the breed is tolerable pure yet, near about one half apple sarce and t’other half pure molasses, all except to the easterd, where there is a cross of the Scotch.” – T.C. Haliburton, writing as Sam Slick.[1]

 The latter half of the 18th century in Nova Scotia was a period of great demographic upheaval and change, with the supplanting of Acadian settlements by the New England Planters, the further marginalization of Aboriginals to the interior, the settlement of German Protestants in Lunenburg and other communities, and the arrival of Loyalists in the wake of the American Revolution. As such, historians are careful in assigning primacy to one faction over another when addressing questions of Nova Scotian identity. This paper seeks to argue that the Loyalist population that settled Nova Scotia in the wake of the American Revolution had a greater impact on the resultant Nova Scotian identity than the pre-Loyalist Planters, due to, and in spite of, a multitude of factors. These factors include: outmigration of the loyalists to the United States and England, settlement patterns and population numbers, gradual assimilation with previous and subsequent immigrant groups, and the dominance of the Loyalists in the press, the legal profession, and its associated offices in subsequent years. It is clear that the “Loyalist” identity itself was short-lived, but nonetheless became a key part of what it means to be Nova Scotian. B.C. Cuthbertson provides a succinct description of this fusion:

“By the 1790s they (Loyalists) had achieved an ascendancy that was maintained until the 1830’s, when intermarriage had fused Loyalist and non-Loyalist into a new generation of native-born Nova Scotians with a particular sense of their own distinctiveness. Out of this fusion of Loyalist and non-Loyalist emerged the characteristic Nova Scotian of today, whose loyalty to Nova Scotia remains his most distinguishing trait.”[2]

The movements of the Loyalists into Shelburne, Halifax, and other locales provided a boost to the population of Nova Scotia, but as Cuthbertson points out, they “came to an already settled colony with a history going back to Champlain.”[3] This contrasts with the regions now known as Ontario and New Brunswick, where Loyalist settlers occupied “empty”[4] territories that would soon be loyal provinces of the ascendant British regime.[5] In order to understand the impact of the Loyalists in Nova Scotia, it is important to recognize the contributions of their direct predecessors: the New England Planters, also known as the “pre-Loyalists.”

In the case of Nova Scotia, the Planters came by sea in the 1760s to occupy the lands made vacant by the deportation of the Acadians five years before.[6] They came primarily from the Connecticut epitomized in the story of the Yankee salesman Sam Slick,[7] with a portion emigrating from the then-British possessions of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Planter settlement was a distinctly rural phenomenon, as they primarily settled the coastal areas of the Minas basin and the Annapolis valley made vacant by the great upheaval. In the spring of 1960, sizeable groups of settlers began to move across the Gulf of Maine, forming the townships of Annapolis, Granville, Cornwallis, Falmouth, and Horton in the Annapolis Valley. Within a year a further influx settled old Cobequid, establishing Truro and Onslow. On the South Shore Planters were instrumental in establishing communities such as Chester and Liverpool. The subsequent years saw further movement of the Planters, settling Amherst, Sackville, and Cumberland in the vicinity of what the Acadians called Beaubassin, or the isthmus of Chignecto.[8] Furthermore, as Reid suggests, the rural settlements of Planter Nova Scotia were scattered and lacked effective interconnecting routes.[9]

Longley points out that while the Planters helped to repopulate the township of Annapolis in the wake of the removal of the capital to Halifax, they gave little uplift to the town and contributed little more than 100 additional settlers.[10] Conversely, from the autumn of 1782 through 1783 more than two thousand Loyalists settled in the vicinity, a number of which had been in their former homes “leaders in politics, business, church, and society.”[11] Longley gives credence to this in his paper on the DeLancey brothers; the pair had fought in the revolutionary war as high officers on the side of the British, and their ability and integrity was recognized by their subsequent appointment to represent Annapolis County in the provincial assembly.[12]

In contrast to the service to the Crown Loyalists such as the DeLanceys provided, the Planters were often unable to overcome their ties to the colonies and take up arms against their “blood brothers” in the thirteen colonies. J.B. Brebner’s study of the “Neutral Yankee” Planters goes so far as to compare them to the Acadians whom they displaced:

The Nova Scotian settlers were weak and exposed, and knowing this, like the Acadians whom they supplanted, asked the belligerents (the Americans) to treat them as neutrals.[13]

However, Brebner’s study does ignore the fact that the Planters formed a sizable portion of the British privateers that plundered American vessels in the wake of the loss of the colonies. Recent scholars have shown that the Planter families who settled in Liverpool in the 1760s produced some of the most successful privateers in British North America.[14]

Nonetheless, the impact of the actions of some of the Planters, such as refusing to muster a militia, opposing taxes, and protesting martial law in the revolutionary period[15] suggests that, at least initially, they were unwilling to  drop their ties to New England and show the loyalty expected of citizens of British North America. The Planters had more concerns about, and closer ties to, their aboriginal neighbours than the Imperial state.[16] Reid posits that in effect, “the Planters—from being the provocateurs of the 1760s, had become the new Acadians of the 1770s.”[17] However, Mary Ellen Wright proposes that by the 1780s, Planter townships such as Truro reflected “an ambivalent attitude towards the actions of the ‘thirteen colonies.’”.[18] As well, rather than welcoming the Loyalist exiles as kinsmen, the Planters perceived the influx to be a political and economic threat due to the sheer force of their numbers.

At least 30,000 Loyalist refugees flooded into Nova Scotia, which from 1784 onwards was divided into the three provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Cape Breton.[19] Others chose the West Indies, Bermuda, and the far reaches of British North America as their destination. Over 2,500 Blacks settled in Birchtown, quickly creating the largest community of free Black men in North America. There was a myriad of options available to the Loyalists, although as Patricia Rogers points out “the opportunities were not necessarily easy or pleasing to many.”[20]

It is common parlance that the Loyalist settlers of 1783-84 were more than a little disappointed with the lands given to them in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately for them, the Planters had already received the pick of the crop in the farmlands of the dispossessed Acadians. Their attitudes reflected a general sentiment that the British Government had failed to provide adequate compensation for good land in an easier climate.[21] MacKinnon suggests that by 1789 all of British North America was experiencing conditions of famine, and requests for additional provisions from townships such as Digby and Annapolis fell upon deaf ears.[22] For Calhoon, the Loyalists had made an “ironic discovery that they were victims of both American aggression and British incompetence.”[23]

The harsh changes endured by the new arrivals that came to Nova Scotia proved disheartening. They arrived as exiles out of necessity, rather than choice ,and the early promotion of Shelburne as a virtual paradise[24] compared to the colonies proved to be short-lived. These and other factors led to outmigration, to such a degree that by the following decade Shelburne went from being the largest settlement in British North America with an estimated population of more than 13,000 souls,[25] to a shell of its former self.[26] In the case of Birchtown and other Black Loyalist settlements, the majority left for Sierra Leone, dissatisfied with their meager entitlements. MacKinnon directly links the outmigration of the Loyalists with a shift in the Loyalist attitude towards the United States,[27] as the majority of those leaving Nova returned to the colonies. The fact that the Crown granted portable pensions to half-pay officers in 1787, allowing them to receive their benefits even if residing outside of the empire, was another mitigating factor.[28] Especially among the affluent, those who believed it safe to return chose to do so.[29]

However, many of those that remained behind contributed to Nova Scotian society at a level disproportionate to their numbers. The easing of the animosity towards Americans led to commercial, familial, and social ties that allowed the Loyalists an advantage in contacts with the nascent United States.[30] Also, as a group the Loyalists proved to have a strong emphasis on the valor of public duty.[31] As well as the aforementioned DeLancey brothers, other Loyalists and their direct descendents began obtaining primacy in the political and professional spheres in the decades following their settlement. Many Loyalists abandoned their holdings in order to stake a claim in the rising metropolis of Halifax. John Howe, father of Joseph, quit New York for Halifax in 1780 and promptly began publishing the Halifax Journal.[32] By 1792 a loyalist, John Wentworth, became governor and under Wentworth many Loyalist refugees moved into positions of power and influence in the Halifax establishment.[33] A Loyalist named Jonathan Sterns had obtained the post of solicitor general in 1797,[34] and Sterns and others would prove to be prominent voices in the legal profession by the turn of the century.

MacKinnon asserts that from their arrival there was a progressive weakening of Loyalist identity.[35] However, the Loyalists that remained were an instrumental part in shaping the identity of Nova Scotia as more than just a “marginal colony” into the nineteenth century. While the obsession with Loyalist sacrifice gradually dissolved, the cultural impact of the Loyalists would last for over 75 years,[36] even as their identity transformed into that of Nova Scotian, and later Canadian. A culturally diverse group themselves, with a heritage that was European, Aboriginal, and African in addition to British Protestant, the descendents of the Loyalists simply became part of the mosaic of Nova Scotian identity.

Bibliography

Brebner, John Bartlet. The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia: A Marginal Colony During the Revolutionary Years, New York: Columbia University Press, 1937.

Calhoon, Robert M. “The Loyalist Perception,” Acadiensis [Online], Volume 2, No. 2 (Spring 1973): 3-13.

Condon, Ann Gorman. “The Family in Exile: Loyalist Social Values After the Revolution,” in Intimate Relations: Family and Community in Planter Nova Scotia, 1759-1800, edited by Margaret Conrad, 42-53. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1995.

Conlin, Daniel. “They Plundered Well: Planters as Privateers, 1793-1805,” in Planter Links: Community and Culture in Colonial Nova Scotia, edited by Margaret Conrad and Barry Moody, 20-35. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2001.

Cuthbertson, B.C., introduction to The Loyalist Guide: Nova Scotian Loyalists and their Documents, compiled by Jean Peterson, Halifax: Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 1983.

Haliburton, Thomas Chandler. Sam Slick, edited by Ray Palmer Baker. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1923.

Longley, Ronald S. “The Coming of the New England Planters to the Annapolis Valley,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Volume 33 (1961): 81-101.

Longley, Ronald S. “The Delancey Brothers, Loyalists of Annapolis County,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Volume 32 (1959): 55-75.

MacKinnon, Neil. This Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalist Experience in Nova Scotia 1783-1791. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986.

MacKinnon, Neil. “The Changing Attitudes of the Nova Scotian Loyalists to the United States, 1783-1791” Acadiensis [Online], Volume 2 No. 2 (Spring 1973).

MacNutt, W.S. “The Loyalists: A Sympathetic View,” Acadiensis [Online], Volume 7, No. 1 (Autumn 1976): 3-20.

McCreath, Peter L. and John G. Leefe, A History of Early Nova Scotia, Tantallon: Four East Publications, 1982.

Reid, John G. “Pax Britannica or Pax Indigena? Planter Nova Scotia (1760–1782) and Competing Strategies of Pacification,” Canadian Historical Review 85:3 (December 2004): 669-692.

Rogers, Patricia. “The Loyalist Experience in an Anglo-American Atlantic World,” in Planter Links: Community and Culture in Colonial Nova Scotia, edited by Margaret Conrad and Barry Moody, 165-174. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2001.

Wright, Mary Ellen. “The Cobequid Townships and the American Revolution,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Volume 42 (1986): 27-40.

Wright, Esther Clark. “The Evacuation of the Loyalists from New York in 1783,” Nova Scotia Historical Review, Volume 4, No. (1984): 5-26


[1] T.C. Haliburton, Sam Slick, edited by Ray Palmer Baker. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1923), p. 46

[2] B.C. Cuthbertson, introduction to The Loyalist Guide: Nova Scotian Loyalists and their Documents, compiled by Jean Peterson, (Halifax: Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 1983), p. 5

[3] Cuthbertson, p. 3

[4] That these were “empty” provinces at the time of Loyalist settlement is a matter of debate, considering the established Native populations, and the arrival of other immigrant groups prior to the Loyalists. However, there seems to be a consensus among historians that Ontario and New Brunswick were Loyalist provinces, and this will not be challenged in this essay.

[5] Neil MacKinnon, This Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalist Experience in Nova Scotia 1783-1791. Montreal & (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986), p. xi

[6] R.S. Longley, “The Coming of the New England Planters to the Annapolis Valley,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. 33 (1961), p. 81

[7] Ibid, p. 81

[8] Peter L. McCreath and John G. Leefe, A History of Early Nova Scotia, (Tantallon: Four East Publications, 1982), p. 251

[9] John G. Reid, Pax Britannica or Pax Indigena? Planter Nova Scotia (1760–1782) and Competing Strategies of Pacification,” Canadian Historical Review 85:3 (December 2004), p. 687.

[10] R.S. Longley, “The Delancey Brothers, Loyalists of Annapolis County,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Volume 32 (1959), p. 55

[11] Ibid, p. 55

[12] Ibid, p. 56

[13] J.B. Brebner, The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia: A Marginal Colony During the Revolutionary Years, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1937), p. 313.

[14] Daniel Conlin, “They Plundered Well: Planters as Privateers, 1793-1805,” in Planter Links: Community and Culture in Colonial Nova Scotia, edited by Margaret Conrad and Barry Moody, (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2001), p. 23.

[15] This was mentioned in a lecture by Dr. James Morrison on November 18th, 2008 titled “The Angloyalists Influence: Language and the Crown.”

[16] Reid, “Pax Britannica or Pax Indigena, p. 690.

[17]Ibid, p. 687.

[18] Mary Ellen Wright. “The Cobequid Townships and the American Revolution,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Volume 42 (1986), p. 38

[19] Reid, p. 688.

[20] Patricia Rogers. “The Loyalist Experience in an Anglo-American Atlantic World,” in Planter Links: Community and Culture in Colonial Nova Scotia, Margaret Conrad and Barry Moody eds., (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2001), p. 168

[21] W.S. MacNutt, “The Loyalists: A Sympathetic View,” Acadiensis [Online], Volume 7, No. 1 (Autumn 1976), p. 13

[22] Neil Mackinnon, This Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalist Experience in Nova Scotia 1783-1791. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986), p. 150.

[23] Robert M. Calhoon, “The Loyalist Perception,” Acadiensis [Online], Volume 2, No. 2 (Spring 1973), p. 12.

[24] Neil MacKinnon, “The Changing Attitudes of the Nova Scotian Loyalists to the United States, 1783-1791” Acadiensis [Online], Volume 2 No. 2 (Spring 1973), p. 45.

[25] Mackinnon, This Unfriendly Soil, p. 137.

[26] Judith Fingard estimates that by 1790 Shelburne had lost 4/5 of its population, and Digby about one half. See Fingard, The AnglicanDesign in Loyalist Nova Scotia (London, 1972), pp. 43, 204.

[27] MacKinnon, “The Changing Attitudes of the Nova Scotian Loyalists…”, p. 47

[28] Mackinnon, This Unfriendly Soil, p. 170

[29] MacNutt, p. 12.

[30] Rogers, p. 174.

[31] Ann Gorman Condon, “The Family in Exile: Loyalist Social Values After the Revolution,” in Intimate Relations: Family and Community in Planter Nova Scotia, 1759-1800, edited by Margaret Conrad (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1995), p. 53.

[32] Cuthbertson, p. 6

[33] MacKinnon, This Unfriendly Soil, p. 180

[34] Ibid, p. 181

[35] Ibid, p. 182

[36] Condon, p 53.

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About paulkhillier

I am technical writer with a wealth of experience in education and design. Currently, I am furthering my advanced knowledge by studying Technical Communication at Seneca College in Toronto. Producing effective, readable documents is my passion, and I take pride in producing quality work.

Posted on October 19, 2011, in History. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I had always known a significant number of Loyalists had left the Colonies for Nova Scotia during the American Revolution, but I had no idea that they had such a hard time of it in their new home. Very informative. Thanks for posting.

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