This Week in History


Loyalists Arrive in New Brunswick

For the week of Monday May 4, 1998

On May 10, 1783, the Spring Fleet carrying more than 2000 Loyalist refugees appeared at the mouth of the Saint John River. The American War of Independence was ending and the "Loyalists," people who supported Britain, faced a frightful situation. In the eyes of some Americans, these men, women, and children were traitors to the cause, and deserved to be punished. Fearful of what could happen, many Loyalists packed their bags and began a new life in Canada.

Sir Guy Carleton

Sir Guy Carleton
© Library and Archives Canada / C- 6150

Seven years earlier, in 1776, thirteen of Britain's American colonies had joined to fight for their independence. Many colonists refused to support the Revolution, and either helped Britain or remained neutral. These people were often harassed, some were tarred and feathered, and some had their homes burnt! Britain offered free land in Canada as a refuge for her supporters. Under Sir Guy Carleton, around 50,000 came north. These refugees represented many origins: Germans, African-Americans, Gaelic-speaking Scots, First Nations people and even Quakers. A small, rich minority could dream of creating a bustling city, replicating Boston or London, but life in Canada was extremely hard for the majority.

Nova Scotia (which in 1783 still included New Brunswick) was not equipped for the large number of arrivals. Very little land was prepared for settlement, and many Loyalists suffered through winter in tents, with inadequate supplies from the British government. Anger and disappointment drove some of the wealthy Loyalists to give up and return to England, but most settlements took root and grew.

The Union Flag at the time of the American Revolution

The Union Flag at the time of the
American Revolution

© Parks Canada / Krista Banwell

The sudden arrival of the Loyalists changed the political, economic and cultural face of Great Britain's remaining American colonies. Because of the huge population growth, the large colonies of Nova Scotia and Quebec were divided into Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (1784), and Upper and Lower Canada (1791) respectively.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board has recognized many parts of the Loyalist story. Ontario's Loyalist heritage is commemorated by Butler's Barracks National Historic Site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, by Sir John Johnson House National Historic Site in the old Scottish Loyalist settlement at Williamstown, and by numerous plaques, including one for Joseph Brant, the celebrated Mohawk leader and founder of the Six Nations territory at Brantford. A plaque for Sir Guy Carleton, the British General who co-ordinated the Loyalist exodus, is in Québec City. Designations in Nova Scotia include The Founding of Shelburne, a town that sheltered nearly 16,000 Loyalists by 1784 (today's population is roughly 2132), and the Black Loyalist Experience at nearby Birchtown. The Landing of the United Empire Loyalists in New Brunswick is commemorated at Saint John.

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