Sir John Johnson House National Historic Site of Canada

United Empire Loyalists

The American Revolution, which took place between 1775 and 1783, was a struggle for independence from British rule of the thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America.   During this struggle, some Americans remained loyal to the British Crown, and eventually some 40,000 to 50,000 people fled from the United States to what is now Canada. 

Most loyalists came to the British Province of Quebec in 1783 and 1784.   After some time, usually spent in refugee camps, they were sent to specific regions, generally in company with friends and neighbours who had fled as well.  In what was to become Upper Canada and then Ontario, loyalists, like John McDonell and Edward Jessup, settled along the St. Lawrence River and north shore of Lake Ontario, in the Niagara Peninsula and on the Detroit River. 

First nations people, mainly Six Nations Iroquois, free blacks and escaped slaves also fought in the loyalist corps and came to Canada with the rest of the loyalists.  Many loyalist Iroquois settled in the Grand River corridor, while the black loyalists gravitated to Nova Scotia. 

McDONELL, (Aberchalder) JOHN: McDonell was born c. 1758 at Aberchalder House, Scotland. In 1773 Alexander and his brothers led one of the first major migrations of Scottish Highlanders to North America, where they settled on Sir William Johnson’s estate in the Mohawk Valley of New York. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, McDonell became an ensign in the Royal Highland Emigrants, and then transferred to John Butler’s Rangers as a captain. McDonell participated in the infamous attack at Cherry Valley, and commanded a large ranger contingent supporting Sir John Johnson’s attack on the Mohawk Valley. He retired to the St. Lawrence River among other Highland Loyalists in 1784. After the war, McDonell played an important role in the local militia, politics and society. He was chosen as the speaker of the house of Upper Canada’s first parliament and commanded the Upper Canada Battalion. He retired again in 1802, settling at the impressive home he had built near Cornwall. Due to financial insecurity, McDonell returned to military service in 1806 as paymaster to the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion stationed at Quebec. Already in poor health, McDonell succumbed to the harsh Quebec climate and died in November, 1806.

JESSUP, EDWARD: Jessup was born in Stamford, Connecticut in December 1735. At 29 years of age, Edward and his brother Ebenezer moved to Albany, New York where they engaged in land speculation. They established a colony with mills and a ferry, which became known as Jessup’s Landing, and was a focal point of loyalism before the revolutionary war. In June, 1777 the King’s Loyal Americans was formed with Ebenezer as lieutenant-colonel and Edward as captain. The unit never established strength, but did aide Sir John Johnson’s regiment in building, repairing, and garrisoning fortifications around Montreal, as well as participating in raids into New York. Edward participated in these raids, and as a result, in 1781 he was chosen by Governor Haldimand as major commandant of the new corps of Loyal Rangers. The corps eventually became known as Jessup’s Rangers. After the war Jessup spent time supervising the settlement of his men on their new land and eventually took up his own land in Augusta Township on the St. Lawrence River. He practiced land speculating and was appointed as a justice of the peace, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and lieutenant-colonel of the Edwardsburg, Augusta and Elizabethtown militia. In 1810 Jessup and his son laid out the town of Prescott. Two years later, their land was expropriated by the army to build Fort Wellington. Jessup died in February of 1816 after a long illness.

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