In the American Revolutionary War (also known as the American War of Independence), the British, finding themselves short of the necessary troops to put down what it saw as the American rebellion, resorted to a number of tactics, including (not in any particular order):
While there undoubtedly were other tactics used, and other groups that assisted the British in the War, these were the three largest.
(i) The United Empire Loyalists
According to the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, the definition of a ‘loyalist’ was as follows:
They also note that others might qualify as well. An example cited was the widow and children of a Loyalist soldier who died in the American Revolutionary War, who then moved to Canada.
As happens to the losing side in most wars, the Loyalists essentially became refugees after the American Revolutionary War. They were forced out of their homes, and their property was forfeited to the government.
Many were evacuated through New York to various points in Canada, which at that time consisted of present-day Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. A set of documents, known variously as the British Headquarters Papers (MG 23 B1), the Carleton Papers, or the American Manuscripts, contains the following lists:
All United Empire Loyalists displaced as a result of the American Revolutionary War were promised free land in Canada on which to rebuild their lives.
See my page about Canadian Land Grants and Homesteading for more information on land grants to United Empire Loyalists.
Some lists of Loyalists, such as those outlined above, were prepared at various times during this tumultuous time period. Although the definition of a Loyalist appears straightforward, there were nuances within the language that resulted in some people being included on one list, but excluded on the next, and vice versa.
There therefore is no definitive ‘list’ of who was and who was not a United Empire Loyalist. In conducting research in this area, it would be wise to check more than one list, if available, to attempt to track your ancestors’ movements as a result of the American Revolutionary War. The land petitions are excellent sources of information with respect to who came from which American colony, and may help to ‘connect the dots’ in your research.
The provincial Archives for the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia each have some records with respect to United Empire Loyalists, and should be consulted in a search for your forebears displaced as a result of the American Revolutionary War.
For example, the Archives of Ontario has two lists which contain the names of various Loyalists:
Also located at the Ontario Archives is a group of records relating to Sir Frederick Haldimand (MG 21), a Colonel in the British army, who had risen to the rank of General and Commander-in-Chief by the time of the American Revolutionary War.
These Canadian military records contain many pieces of correspondence between Haldimand and the governors of Quebec, British cabinet ministers, other British colonels and generals, and many other high-ranking officials and “players” in the War. As such, they are a great resource for information relating to what was going on ‘behind the scenes’, in terms of strategizing, as well as a good account of what was happening ‘on the ground’.
Records in this series with respect to Loyalists and former soldiers from the American Revolutionary War include provision lists and muster rolls.
These documents are on microfilm, along with an alphabetical index, on reel C-1475. They can be consulted at the Ontario Archives’ Reading Room, or ordered to your local library through inter-library loan.
Loyalist Claims for Damages
Some of the Loyalists – especially those in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – filed claims with the British government for the losses they suffered as a result of their loyalty to the Crown in the American Revolutionary War. The Commissioners appointed to deal with the claims would receive ‘memorials’, or petitions, from the Loyalists with respect to those losses.
The claimants knew that they had to provide as much information as possible, if the claim was to be considered valid and compensable. Therefore, these records are a ‘goldmine’ for genealogists.
Written by the claimants themselves, they include information with respect to where the person lived, who was in their family, their military service, the type and duration of assistance to the British forces during the American Revolutionary War, property they owned that was left behind, their profession, annual income, and so on.
These petitions are included in the UK National Archives series entitled “Audit Office 12 and 13 (MG 14)”. Library and Archives Canada has copies of these records, under the same name.
Many of these memorials have been transcribed and the transcriptions posted online, with free access, at The Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies.
(ii) Black Loyalists
There were many black Americans – some say as many as 30,000 - who fought for the British cause. These men became known as Black Loyalists.
As noted above, the British were short of manpower in the American Revolutionary War.
At one point in the War, the Governor of Virginia, faced with an onslaught of American troops and a shortage of men to fight for the Crown, desperate for assistance, promised black slaves their freedom if they served on the British side in the War.
This tactic worked so well in recruiting more soldiers that it was expanded throughout the entire war effort.
When the British were defeated in the American Revolutionary War, these black Loyalists were granted Certificates of Freedom, and those who chose to leave the country were evacuated to Nova Scotia, along with the United Empire Loyalists.
A large number of these individuals, faced with racism, and seeing their demands for the same pay as a white man for the jobs they were doing falling on deaf ears, eventually relocated to then-new British colony in Sierra Leone.
The British Headquarters Papers, mentioned above, include a document called the Book of Negroes, which the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC) has indexed. This Book contains information listing the names, gender, health, distinguishing marks, status (i.e., free or enslaved), origin within the US, and white associates of black Loyalists, as well as the ships on which they travelled to Canada.
The entire book has been reproduced on the Collections Canada Electronic Documents site. Click here for free access to the searchable database index.
Many of the white Loyalists went to Nova Scotia with the intention of settling together, and creating a new settlement. Originally called Port Roseway, the settlement was renamed Shelburne not long after their arrival.
The newly-free Black Loyalists who went to Nova Scotia founded a separate community nearby, called Birchtown. A “Muster Book of Free Blacks, Settlement of Birchtown” is available online, at the Black Loyalist website.
(iii) German Troops
As previously noted, Britain enlisted the assistance of German soldiers in the American War of Independence. Of the 30,000 Germans who fought in North America during this time period, 10,000 of them were stationed in Canada. After the War, about 2,400 of them settled in Canada – that is, in present-day Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many records with respect to the German troops who served in the War of Independence. The originals are partly in the UK's National Archives, and partly from Germany. The documents relate mainly to the Brunswick, Hesse-Hanau, and Anhalt units.
Records which the LAC identifies as being of interest to genealogists include the following:
This series covers the period from the American Revolution to the mid-1800s. It includes a wide range of documents relating to the British Army in Canada, Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, the Canadian militia, etc. A nominal/subject card index and the actual records are available on microfilm. References located in the index provide a brief description of the document, date, C Series volume number and a page number. After consulting the index, refer to the list of microfilm reel numbers for the actual records.
The LAC used to provide a separate list of Hessian resources, but not includes this in a general description of German immigration to Canada. That page, as well as links to other relevant sources related to German troops in Canada at this time, can be accessed here.
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