The United Empire Loyalists in Canadian History
Canada and the Aftermath of the American Revolution
The name, United Empire Loyalist is an honorific given to the British refugees from the American Revolution who resettled in British North America.
Some sought to recover land and property that was confiscated after the Continental Congress enacted laws calling for the confiscation of property to pay for the war.
The Loyalists and the American Revolution
Most Loyalists were attracted by the British offer of free land, while others rejected American ideas of Republicanism, which many Loyalists saw as anarchistic. Some Loyalists settled in the Province of Quebec, while others settled in what is now Ontario and New Brunswick, in addition to Nova Scotia.
During the American Revolution, a significant portion of the population of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina remained loyal to King George III. The Loyalists believed in the peaceful evolution toward independence, such as what occurred in Canada in the 19th Century. New Brunswick Chief Justice Daniel Bliss wrote, “Better to live under one tyrant a thousand miles away, than a thousand tyrants one mile away.”
Following the end of the American Revolution, many Loyalists were evacuated from New York City and resettled in other parts of the British Empire. Most went to Canada, but some also went back to Britain while many Loyalists in the south resettled in Jamaica and the Bahamas. One of the direct effects of the Loyalists settling in Canada was the establishment of the Eastern Townships in Quebec as a Loyalist enclave. The British also divided Nova Scotia, creating the colony of New Brunswick. They would later divide the province of Quebec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada. This was done to allow the Loyalists to keep their British laws and traditions, and not flood Quebec with a tide of refugees.
The Loyalists After the American Revolution
In 1789, it was decided that some form of official recognition for the Loyalists was necessary. To that end, Lord Dorchester, the Governor General of British North America decreed that any Loyalist who had moved to Canada before the end of the American Revolution would be distinguished with the addition of the letters UE at the end of their name. The letters UE stand for United Empire and remains Canada’s only hereditary title.
The use of this post-nominal title is rare outside of genealogical and academic circles. It is also not considered to be part of the Canadian honours system. However, Loyalist family crests can be recognized by a coronet, either of crossed swords, cannon balls and maple leaves, or oak and maple leaves.
The Loyalists’ Legacy
Even today, the impact of the Loyalists in Canadian history can still be felt. The Loyalists’ ties to Britain and their distrust of American-style republicanism ensured that Canada stayed distinct and separate from the United States. During the War of 1812, the descendants of the Loyalists formed the backbone of the British army led by Sir Isaac Brock, which defeated the American invasion force. The Loyalists have also been credited with being key players in what has been called Canada’s “paper strewn” road to Confederation.
Patrick Bode, “Upper Canada, 1793: Simcoe and the Slaves.” Beaver 1993 73(3): 17-19
Ronald Rees, Land of the Loyalists: Their struggle to shape the Maritimes, Nimbus, 146 p., 2000
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- August 24, 2009 / 5:53 pm
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