A STATED Meeting of the Society was held at its House, No. 87 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, on Thursday, 23 April 1959, at half after eight o’clock in the evening, the President, Mr. Richard Mott Gummere, in the chair.
The records of the Stated Meeting in February were read and approved.
The Treasurer reported the receipt of $9,082.37, bequeathed to the Society by James Lyman Whitney, elected a Resident Member in 1898 who resigned in 1910, which had been set up in a fund without restrictions as to its use.
Messrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Rudolph Ruzicka, of Boston, were elected Honorary Members; Mr. Leonard Carl Faber, of Boston, was elected a Resident Member, and Mr. Nicholas Biddle Wainwright, of Philadelphia, a Non-Resident Member of the Society.
Mr. Whitehill reported on the journey to Charlottesville, Virginia.
The chair appointed the following committees in anticipation of the Annual Meeting:
To nominate candidates for the several offices,—Messrs. Fred Norris Robinson and Elliott Perkins.
To examine the Treasurer’s accounts,—Messrs. William Bradford Osgood and Arthur Stanwood Pier.
To arrange for the Annual Dinner,—Messrs. Walter Muir Whitehill and David Britton Little.
Mr. W. Stewart MacNutt, Professor of History at the University of New Brunswick, read a paper entitled:
TO a greater extent than any other Canadian province New Brunswick is a by-product of the American Revolution. The visible evidences of this important historic fact have steadily diminished through the years but still today there are striking manifestations of the close connection between this new British colony of 1784 and what its founders sentimentally recalled as “the old Thirteen.” The places of honor in the New Brunswick legislature, to the right and left of the speaker’s throne, are occupied not by portraits of the present sovereign and her consort, but by those of King George III and Queen Charlotte, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and purchased in 1821, the year following the king’s death, by his afflicted subjects. The royal coat-of-arms of the province of Massachusetts Bay hangs in Trinity Church, Saint John, where it was finally deposited by Edward Winslow of Plymouth after he had rescued it from the rancor of the rebels during the evacuation of Boston in 1776. A gentleman of Fredericton possesses the drinking mugs, said to be the finest silverware in Canada, of the first Edward Winslow of Plymouth to whom Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts owed so much. The University of New Brunswick, in frequent recollection of its founders, has had occasion to recall that it, too, is a product of the American Revolution. Of the seven loyal refugees who in 1785 addressed Governor Carleton for the establishment of an academy of liberal arts and sciences six were New Englanders.
New England had always looked to the great seaward area of Acadia or Nova Scotia that hovered over its eastern approaches as a land to be occupied by her children and grandchildren. Her fishermen had enjoyed the free use of its creeks and inlets, its beaches and islands for the purposes of their trade. Half a dozen times the French and once the Dutch had been the victims of expulsions or token expulsions in consequent of the truculent attitude of proprietorship over this undefined, debatable land that was so pronounced at Boston, Salem and Marblehead. New Englanders had occupied the rich marshlands of the Acadians, had brought to Nova Scotia the outspoken qualities of their democracy that resulted in the establishment of the first representative assembly in what is today Canada. To use the expression of a native Canadian who became a distinguished American historian, Nova Scotia was New England’s outpost. The short sea voyage of two or three days made the country the logical repository for the surplus energies of New Englanders. Boston was the metropolis for the first English-speaking inhabitants of Nova Scotia. It is not surprising that a century later a Canadian governor-general on a visit to the Maritime Provinces spoke with a certain degree of annoyance on the prevalence of the Boston cut and the Yankee twang.
The cultural and commercial pattern was to remain for a long time unchanged but Nova Scotia with its sister province, New Brunswick, partitioned from it in 1784, became, in consequence of the Revolution, a New England irredenta. Generations of New Englanders had fought for the triumph of their interests and their ideals in this northern hinterland. During the rebellion it had seemed possible that the American population of Nova Scotia would rise to declare their independence from the Crown and become the fourteenth colony in revolt. But Nova Scotia became a land in which the dispossessed and despised Tories ruled. Scarcely had the peace of 1783 been signed when Lord Sydney, the Colonial Secretary, declared that Nova Scotia should become the envy of all the American states. Thirty thousand Tory Loyalists, including, it was widely proclaimed, most of the men of honor, talent and education of the thirteen colonies had come to its shores. A new British Empire in North America would rise from the ashes of the old. A new dispensation would preserve the proper gradations in society, would award to deserving subjects of the Crown the preferments of public office. A landed gentry and an established church would guarantee that the leveling principles of New England could make no impact on the minds of men who would rejoice in the stations in life to which it had pleased God to call them. Parliament agreed that the laws of trade and navigation should remain in effect and the rebellious Americans would be made to realize the high price they had paid for their independence. The commerce of New England would be crushed. The British colonies, enriched by the bounty of the mother country and governed by enlightened principles, would draw off from the American states the best elements in their populations who would flee from the anarchy that was certain to prevail and from the demagogic government that held the loosely bound American confederacy together.
The eleven hundred Loyalists who left Boston with the British Army in June of 1776 were dispersed to the four winds. Many of them sat out the war in London, surveying with critical eye the conduct of affairs in America, pamphleteering and propagating their Loyalist sentiments, presenting to the British Government the account of their sacrifices and their hopes for compensation. The conclusion of the peace found a significant number of them taking up residence in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, especially on the new lands on the St. John River. The vast majority of those who opened up the greatest of the new areas of Loyalist settlement were those who had spent the war within the British lines at New York and who hailed from the middle colonies. But a very great proportion of those who managed the migration and who aspired to high office came from New England. The aspiration was, in the words of Edward Winslow, “the most gentlemanlike government on earth.” Yet New Brunswick was to have a very turbulent political history and the first conflict was one that might fairly be described as a fight between a New York democracy and a New England aristocracy. New Englanders, said an early issue of the New Brunswick Gazette, make good commissaries and foragers but dangerous legislators.
There were probably about a score of able New Englanders, mostly men in the prime of life, members of the oldest and most honored families in the country, who took leading places in the public life of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia after the Revolution. Most of them lived long lives, imparting their ideologies and their prejudices to the young provinces where they had chosen to make their homes. Probably the most eminent of all was Sir John Wentworth who moved his office as surveyor-general of the King’s woods from New Hampshire to Halifax and there asserted the same authoritarian jurisdiction that had made him one of the most feared of the King’s officials in the older colonies. Later his great office was joined to that of lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia and, until his death forty-five years after the Revolution, he was one of the most influential men in British North America. One can say with confidence that his early experience with the lumberers of Maine and New Hampshire impelled him later in life to deal cautiously with those of New Brunswick and Canada, and that he performed his office without loss of his reputation as a consummate man of business. His patronage was great and many of the New England Loyalists, united in memories of broken fortunes and hopes for a prosperous future, looked to Wentworth as their most likely intermediary for the favors that could be expected from the British Government.
The most martial and the most spectacular was John Coffin, a scion of the famous family of Tristram Coffin of Nantucket. A seafaring lad of Boston, he volunteered for service with the royal forces on the day of Bunker Hill. On the ascent of that fire-swept slope his conduct was so fearless that he was awarded a commission on the field and throughout the remainder of the war he was famed as one of the most redoubtable cavalry commanders on the British side. At Eutaw Springs, at the head of seventy of the King’s American Dragoons, he shattered three hundred of the enemy in open fight, losing only three of his own men and killing sixty of the rebels—all with swords, for in the precipitation of the charge he had scorned to order his men to fire. Following the battle the American General Greene, though placing a price of $10,000 on his head, publicly pronounced upon his valor. When Charleston was occupied by the enemy he made an entrance to the city in order to visit the lady to whom he was betrothed and, when his rendezvous was interrupted by a wary American patrol, he escaped capture by concealing himself beneath a hooped skirt, though he was a man of six feet, two inches. Awarded a handsome sword by Lord Cornwallis in honor of his distinguished services, he led the King’s American Dragoons to New Brunswick. His good New England reverence for genealogy was symbolized by the establishment on the St. John River of Alwington Manor, so designated from a manor of the same name on the British Channel in England that had been founded by a Norman ancestor in the eleventh century and from which Tristram Coffin had come to America.
Coffin’s career continued to be remarkable for a long time after he came to New Brunswick. He took the lead of the governor’s party in the legislature and, though some of his political methods were as abrupt as the charge at Eutaw Springs, he ultimately succeeded in discomfiting what respectable men considered to be a factious and disloyal opposition. New Brunswick was a poor country that could not support a squirearchy but Coffin continued to the end of his days to be a supporter of “the landed interest” against the rising power of the mercantile classes. Across the water in the British House of Commons his brother, Sir Isaac Coffin, was a leader in the fight to destroy the tariff preferences on British North American timber and John Coffin believed that the newly risen timber trade, devouring the country like a plague of locusts and drawing off labor from the farms, would be the ruination of the province. The Tory faith in the settled, ordered life of villages where every man would know his place but where there would be a place for every man was to have short shrift in New Brunswick.
When he died in 1838 Coffin was the senior general in the British Army. A son, following his footsteps, became a general of the Royal Artillery and two other sons became admirals in the Royal Navy. Such devotion to the Crown was not inconsistent with love for his native land. It was his custom to declare: “I would give more for one pork-barrel made in Massachusetts than for all that have been made in New Brunswick since its settlement.”
Two of the detested mandamus councilors of 1774 came to New Brunswick. One was Colonel John Murray who owned a great estate at Rutland and who never was sworn in because his journey to Boston was interrupted by a rebel mob who sacked his household. The second was Abijah Willard, said to be the wealthiest man in Lancaster, who on the morning of 19 April 1775 was riding to Beverly for the purpose of supervising the planting operations on his estate there. On his way he met the Minute Men who were marching to Concord and Lexington. He kept on riding but not in the same direction, quickly joining General Gage at Boston. On another memorable morning, two months later, he was again in company with General Gage when he saw through a field glass the tall figure of his brother-in-law, Colonel William Prescott, directing defensive operations on the heights occupied by the rebels. “Will he fight?” asked Gage. “Aye, sir,” was the reply, “he is an old soldier and will fight as long as a drop of blood remains in his veins.” Though Abijah Willard was also an old soldier he could not bring himself to take up arms against his countrymen. He became a commissary at New York and acquired a rather loathsome reputation among the generality of the Loyalists because his name stood at the head of the notorious Fifty-Five, a list of leading partisans of the Crown who applied for the extraordinarily large grants of five thousand acres of land in Nova Scotia. Though he never saw his native Lancaster again he founded a new Lancaster in New Brunswick, becoming a member of the first council of the province for the few short years before his death in 1789.
A leading Tory of Massachusetts who might reasonably be suspected of impulsiveness was William Paine, son of Timothy Paine, the mandamus councilor of Worcester. As a student of medicine in England he had been presented to the King and Queen wearing the court dress prescribed for medical men, a gray, cloth coat with silver buttons, a white satin waistcoat, satin small clothes, silk hose, a fall of lace from the collar and lace in the sleeves, a sword by his side. In 1775 he wrote to his friends in Worcester, “The colonists had better lay down their arms at once for we are coming over with an overwhelming force to destroy them.” A good story is told of this sprightly young man whose letters nearly always abound with such certain opinions. During the unsure course of events following Lexington when men’s loyalties were being determined he entertained John Adams at dinner and, following its conclusion, he rose from his place and proposed a toast to His Majesty the King. A hush descended upon the cheerful assemblage and there was a slight murmur of surprise as Adams, with darkened brow, rose to honor the toast. The relief lasted only for a moment for Adams lost no time in proposing a toast to His Majesty the Devil. Unable to accept the certain implication with dispassion, Paine was about to become unpleasant but was restrained by his clever wife who exclaimed, “Do, my dear, permit the gentleman to do honour to his friends.”
Paine served with the British forces in Rhode Island and New York, and the year 1783 found him in New Brunswick. The undisturbed possession of a small island on the Bay of Fundy coast failed to satisfy him and he moved to Saint John where he earned a precarious living by practicing medicine, keeping a garden and serving as a deputy surveyor of the King’s woods. In 1787, for the purpose of “gathering up a little property in New England,” he applied, as a half-pay officer, to the War Office for permission to visit the United States. Since his father had never been an absentee the great estate Paine was to inherit had not been confiscated. He never returned to New Brunswick, passing out a long life in wealth and dignity in his homeland.
He may have been a recreant Tory but his short residence in New Brunswick assured that he would never be forgotten. Of the seven memorialists who, in the days when New Brunswick was an almost completely unbroken wilderness, petitioned for the establishment of an institution of learning in the new province, the antecedent of the University of New Brunswick, it was Paine’s name that headed the list.
Another medical man who came to New Brunswick from Massachusetts was Adino Paddock, a descendant of one of the Pilgrim Fathers and the son of the father of the same name who cared for the famous Paddock elms on Tremont Street that adorned Boston for so long a time. As surgeon of the King’s American Dragoons he served during the latter part of the war under the command of that most notable citizen of New Hampshire, Benjamin Thompson, whose fame as a soldier was to be outstripped by his prowess as a scientist and philosopher. For a great many years Paddock was the foremost medical practitioner in New Brunswick.
In the number of its Tory partisans medicine yielded to the law for a whole host of legal luminaries departed from New England to serve in distant parts of the British Empire. James Putnam of the Salem family, a cousin of Rufus and Israel Putnam, practiced law in Worcester and was widely regarded as one of the ablest lawyers in America. In 1777 he became the last attorney-general of Massachusetts under the Crown. John Adams was his student-at-law and business partner, and, while a youth, boarded in his home. Putnam became one of the first judges of New Brunswick but his health was broken after the long conflict in which he lost almost everything he possessed. Sabine, the American historian of the Loyalists, after visiting at Putnam’s home in Saint John, said, “I have often stood at his grave and mused upon the strange vicissitudes of human condition, by which the Master, one of the giants of the American colonial bar, became an outlaw and exile, broken in fortune and spirit, while his struggling and friendless pupil, elevated step by step by the same course of events, was finally known the world over as the chief magistrate of a nation.”
Other notable barristers of Massachusetts who came to New Brunswick were Daniel Bliss of Concord, one of the addressers of Governor Hutchinson, and Jonathan Bliss of Springfield, one of the notorious seventeen rescinders from the resolutions of the General Court. Both held leading positions all their lives and both, like so many of their contemporaries, died virtually impoverished. Jonathan Sewell, attorney-general of Massachusetts, became judge of the admiralty court for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. But the man who made a greater impression on the new institutions of the province of New Brunswick than any other was Ward Chipman of Marblehead. His father, John Chipman, was so highly respected by the members of the Massachusetts bar that when he suddenly died while pleading in court at an early age, a number of them undertook to pay for the education of his young son at Harvard College. It is on record that when Ward Chipman entered Harvard he was seventh in a class of thirty-four in order of social prominence and that when he graduated he was sixth. Perhaps his graduation alone entitles him to a degree of notice for he was the first college orator whose speech was given in the vernacular language.
From the founding of the province Chipman, an able lawyer remarkable for his plain speech and his absence of affectation as well as for his knowledge of the law, was the right-hand man of Governor Carleton especially when difficult business lay in hand. He was the writer of the first laws of the province. He drew up the charters of the city of Saint John and the college of New Brunswick. He fought the elements in the legislature who were trying to make New Brunswick a replica of any one of the disorderly colonies that had been lost. The great Loyalist principle was to avoid the errors that had produced faction and social upthrust in New England, to keep New Brunswick and the other rising colonies as unlike New England as possible. So far as this was possible in an environment similar to that of New England the governing classes of New Brunswick succeeded to a considerable degree and Chipman, among others, achieved a great reputation as a champion of Church and State. But the reason for his long success as a man of affairs lay in his ability to bargain like a good New Englander, to trim his sails according to the weather, and to subject his very businesslike type of Toryism to the public opinion of a new age. He finished a long career of public service as the champion of the mercantile classes of the province whose interests opposed the dominance of a hereditary aristocracy, an established church and the control of patronage by the Colonial Office.
Histories of Maine abound with expressions both of irritation and respect for Chipman. As agent for the British Government he won the first two rounds in the long quarrel over the northeastern boundary. When he died in 1823 he was masterfully delaying the settlement of the final round, desperately searching for new expedients in a case that was becoming increasingly hopeless. His loyalism was not of the desperate variety. He kept a good connection with his brother-in-law, William Gray of Boston, and invested a substantial portion of his savings in the Far Eastern enterprises of that most successful merchant. He sent his son to school at Salem and later to Harvard College, though at the time a legal education at Harvard was considered in some quarters as a stigma upon the career of a New Brunswick barrister. This had to be remedied somewhat later by a term or two at the Inns of Court in London. In the Chipman Papers at Ottawa there is a simple but revealing letter that testifies to the quality of the Loyalist mystique. Twitted by his rich and influential relatives upon the possibilities of his becoming a citizen of the United States, the younger Ward Chipman when he was a boy of twelve declared that “never, never, never” would he abandon his heritage as a British subject.
A quite different type of Tory, absolutely without qualities of moderation, was George Leonard, a member of the affluent Taunton and Norton family who were noted for their landed wealth and their pioneering work in ironmongery in Massachusetts. He spent the war in that happy hunting ground for leading Tories, the royal commissariat, and at one time operated a squadron of small armed vessels from Newport in Rhode Island, harrassing rebel trade and communications. He was the doctrinaire type of Tory who insisted on seeing all things in principle, turning a blind eye to immediate necessities. One of his leading principles was that public office should go to the right people and he was a persistent lobbyist at the Colonial Office, insisting that the laws should be rigidly enforced, especially against the upstart Americans who were drawing off the trade of New Brunswick to their great advantage. To the end of his days Leonard continued to fight the war of the American Revolution. He held the office of superintendent of trade and fisheries, holding authority to enforce the laws of trade and navigation in all the seas of the Maritime colonies. The task was manifestly impossible but Leonard enjoyed it. His Majesty’s right was occasionally vindicated by the seizure of a fishing vessel engaged in the illegal transit of tea and other produce of the East Indies or by the commandeering of American goods smuggled into New Brunswick by subjects of the Crown who could not perceive that such practices were false to their Tory faith.
The facts of life in colonial New Brunswick were well illustrated by the conflict between Leonard and William Wanton, collector of customs at Saint John, who was a son of Joseph Wanton, a former governor of Rhode Island. Wanton assumed his important post in 1785, greatly surprised that the Imperial Government intended to enforce the laws of trade and navigation against the United States and it is reasonably certain that he never made any attempt to enforce the laws at all. “Trading on the lines” was a profitable occupation for the subjects of both nations and Wanton made a curious arrangement with the American collector at Eastport by which the narrow channel between Moose Island and Campobello was to be regarded as neutral water. The consequence was the development of a most voluminous international trade and this slender stream, this Filum Aquae, as David Owen, the squire of Campobello, called it, became renowned as the safest anchorage in the North Atlantic.
Leonard’s seizure of the American sloop Falmouth in 1805 brought into the open the arrangement Wanton had made with his American counterpart. The trial before the court of admiralty revealed that the owner of the cargo of the Falmouth was the son of the surveyor and searcher of His Majesty’s customs and that the collector at Saint John had favored a contraband trade with the Yankees. Leonard rigorously pressed his triumph but by the time that the commissioners of customs at London brought about an investigation of the transactions at Campobello Wanton was, as they said, incredibly rich, incredibly fat and over eighty. He finished his days in peace. Yet, amid the complexities of King’s officials who used their posts to enrich themselves, of men who accepted or discarded British citizenship at the convenience of the hour, of British who acknowledged American brothers with whom they engaged in trade, of an international seagoing community of men on the Bay of Fundy to whom all restrictions on trade were alien and oppressive, Leonard, with a sense of divine mission, persisted in his course without flagging.
Of all the New Brunswick Tories he possessed the greatest pride. His estate was at Sussex Vale where as His Majesty’s Councilor, head of the bench of parish magistrates, colonel of militia and church warden, he strove to inculcate in a small population the Tory faith in a gentlemanly caste of landed proprietors whose sense of public duty would be equivalent to that of the parish magistrates of England. Adjacent was the parish of Norton, so designated from his ancestral home in Massachusetts. “The people of Norton,” he wrote to his old friend, William Knox, former under-secretary of state to Lord George Germaine at the American Office, “are peasants like those in any other part of America.” His family possessed a reputation for elegance and frequently boasted of their great connections in England. But New Brunswick could not foster such great pretensions for more than a generation. When Leonard died in 1826 and the salary payments from London came to an end, the Colonial Office witnessed the undignified spectacle of a son and a son-in-law pleading their rival claims for the continuation of the office by virtue of Leonard’s past services. Today at Sussex Vale not only the patrician attitudes he displayed but the very name of Leonard are known only to antiquarians.
There were other New England Loyalists who came to New Brunswick but no roster could be considered at all comprehensive without reference to the one who, by reason of unique qualities, became best known of all. This was Edward Winslow of Plymouth. He was the great-great-grandson of the founder of Plymouth Colony and had been the first man in Plymouth County to take a bold stand in defiance of the revolutionary committees. On the dark morning following the battle of Lexington he had guided Lord Percy’s shattered battalion back to Boston through the strange and hostile countryside. He had rescued Peter Oliver, the Chief-justice of Massachusetts, from a hostile patriot mob outside the Province House. At the evacuation of Boston he had carried off not only the royal coat-of-arms from the walls of the council chamber but the public archives of Massachusetts as well and a few years later, when peace returned and tempers cooled, he returned them to the custody of Governor Bowdoin. Like so many others he served out the war in New York where he was muster-master general of the Provincial Army, that broken, disappointed host whose apologists boasted that it was more numerous than the forces who served under Washington, whose cause was stultified and betrayed, at least in the minds of a great many of them, by the ineptitude of the King’s ministers.
Yet it was Winslow’s literary qualities that ensure him a permanent place in Canadian history. A great many years ago the Reverend W. O. Raymond of Saint John learned of the existence of a vast collection of papers in Chatham in New Brunswick and in 1901 there appeared in print a copious representation of the private correspondence of this likable and energetic man. No collection of correspondence in Canadian historiography is more readable. None can match it for eloquence and wit, for plain, blunt words that catch the spirit of America’s lost and almost forgotten Tories. Through the Winslow Papers there follow the fortunes of the Loyalists in their disillusioned days at New York, in the excitements and hazards of entrance to a new country, in the disappointments of old age as the great venture in New Brunswick failed to produce the society that was perfect and gentlemanlike. Edward Winslow’s ambitions and failures, his financial distress in later life, his refusal to submit to the frequent manifestations of a lesser perfection that he saw all around him in New Brunswick may be taken as a mirror for the times and travails of the Loyalists. Burdened with debt and by a multitude of offices that yielded him little income, he died in 1815. Among his friends his wit and good cheer were proverbial. His adversity never dimmed his spirit. “I shall go up to Heaven and shake hands with Lazarus for damme if there is any man on this earth poor enough to keep me company,” he once declared.
New Brunswick was a land of promise only for the young and the strong who could labor with their hands. When the Loyalists came the country was almost completely untouched by settlement, the dark forests brooding over slender tracts of interval land on the banks of the rivers. Gentlemen of education and some substance who were well advanced in the course of life were compelled to plant and harvest their own crops for, in a new country where free grants of land were available to all who wanted them, tenantry was an institution that could not take root. Every man had all the land he needed but land was worth only the labor expended upon it. Had the Loyalist immigration not been financed by the British Government, had the King’s bounty not been freely expended in compensations, pensions, half-pay, it is extremely dubious whether or not a permanent settlement on a large scale could have taken place on the banks of the St. John in 1783 and the years following. The hopes of New Brunswick and of all the remaining colonies in North America lay in the continued flow of public money from Britain. In 1793, when the war of the French Revolution broke out, these expectations were destroyed. For twenty-two years the British Government could afford no money and very little attention to the development of the remaining empire in North America.
The commercial prospects of the exiled Tories were blighted for a dozen years by that astute American negotiator, John Jay, who, taking advantage of Britain’s urgencies, secured the entrance of American shipping to the British West Indies. Wartime insurance rates against British shipping rose so steeply that Saint John’s fleet of sixty square-rigged vessels disappeared from the seas. Commerce languished and no fresh flood of immigrants arrived to reinforce the slight impact made by the Loyalists on the New Brunswick wilderness. That invariable barometer of impending disaster, a fall in the value of real estate, caused consternation among the few men of capital who had staked everything they possessed in the creation of landed estates in the new country. Twenty years after the establishment of the province no gain in population had been recorded. Morals declined and, amid the swelling waves of agrarian and commercial discontent, New Brunswick produced its Samuel Adamses and John Hancocks in miniature, its tinkers and shoemakers and small storekeepers who cried out for their share of the loaves and fishes of public patronage. There was no happy unanimity in dutiful obedience to the established authorities in Church and State. The politics of New Brunswick rang with contempt and envy for the privileges of the placemen, painfully reminiscent of the faction and strife that had characterized the very worst of the former thirteen colonies, Massachusetts.
Only the more long lived of the Tories saw the day when a new prosperity arrived. When it finally did come it was owing to a number of adventitious factors that had never been foreseen. One of these was President Madison’s magnificent embargo. For twenty years the small traders and fishermen of New Brunswick had been bondsmen to the Americans. But after 1808 the process was reversed as the commercial men of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia wholeheartedly entered upon the business of persuading the Americans to break their own laws. A thriving exchange of American provisions and British manufactured goods at steep discounts developed at the free ports of Saint John and St. Andrew’s. Relaxations in the laws of trade that enabled colonial vessels to enter the Mediterranean and sail directly homeward were made by the British Government. Most important of all was the interruption of the Baltic trade in timber, brought about by the compliance of the Czar of Russia to the strictures of the Napoleonic blockade. This caused the British Government to offer its expanding domestic market for timber to the North American colonies on an exclusive basis. The prosperity that resulted was of the kind never contemplated by the Tories who had dreamed of rural delights and social stratifications. The economy of New Brunswick became one of impetuous skyrocketings and disastrous tailspins, of fortunes suddenly made and just as suddenly lost, of reckless and lawless exploitation of the province’s forest resources. Timber became the great staple and the people of New Brunswick, instead of becoming a happy and bucolic peasantry revering their squires, became dedicated to the desultory habits and dubious morals of nomads and adventurers.
The War of 1812 gave fresh impetus to the favorable elements that were at work. Sheepish New England skippers made their way through the fogs of the Bay of Fundy, hove to beneath the guns of British men-of-war and offered their vessels as prizes. They were directed to sail to the nearest port, usually Saint John or St. Andrew’s where they were magnanimously reimbursed for their cargoes, either in case or in goods, and exhorted to come again on other equally inglorious but highly profitable voyages. So far as the seas about New England were concerned, the avowed British policy was to trade with the enemy. Shipwrights and carpenters of New England in order to find labor came to Saint John where their industry revitalized the city. There were humiliations too. The work of New England privateers roused the Tory animus to try reprisals. In October of 1812 there was great elation in Saint John when word arrived of the capture of the large ship Reward out of Boston along with half a dozen lesser prizes. But the cheers subsided to a murmur of dismay when it became known that the master of the Reward bore letters of safe conduct from the British consul in Boston and that her cargo of flour and dry provisions was destined for the British armies in Spain and Portugal. Again there was no reward for valor at the conclusion of the war when the British Government failed to take advantage of its favorable military position and to insist that the boundaries of New Brunswick should be pushed to the Penobscot so that a secure communication with Canada could be established.
Out of the consequences of the embargo and the War of 1812 New Brunswick and Nova Scotia found their way to a destiny of their own. This destiny was mercantile and oceanic. By the middle of the century their shipping rivaled that of New England. By the third quarter of the century it was commonly asserted that the two Bluenose provinces possessed the third or fourth largest volume of merchant shipping in the world. During the American Civil War the shipping interests of Saint John, finding the business of running the blockade highly profitable, were hoping for a southern victory and the subsequent capture of all the coastal trade of the seceded states. Yet it is scarcely possible to credit very much of this success to the Tories of the American Revolution or to their descendants. Numerically they had been overpowered by the English, Scots and Irish who had come to New Brunswick following the Napoleonic Wars. Even as early as 1825 the lieutenant-governor of the province told the Colonial Office that the Loyalists were socially on the way down, that something should be done for the representatives of the older families who had sacrificed so much for the province in its first days. Even by 1825 the affectations of a gentleman could be taken as the mark of a poor politician. The established Church of England was being dragged from its pedestal. Landed estates were being sold by the sheriff for debts contracted in the timber trade. The politics of the pork barrel, ominously similar in philosophy to that of the American Democrats, were replacing the older ideas of the privileges of the educated and of noblesse oblige.
History has dealt uncharitably with the Loyalist exiles from the victorious states of the American Union. It would be unkind, to the authors as well as to the subjects, to recapitulate upon the treatment they have received from the earlier, patriot historians of the United States. But even from the quarters where it might be expected that their virtues should be immortalized a confused and enigmatic picture emerges. Historians share the frailties of human kind, and it is both plausible and popular to magnify success and to punish failure. The punishment of King George III inexorably continues. The so-called liberal historians of both Canada and Great Britain have, in the tradition established by Charles James Fox, continued to admire and applaud the success of the great Republic. Revolution has been their breath of life and resistance to change their cause for condemnation.
That great British historian, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, whose reverence for his Whig ancestors largely inspired him to write his History of the American Revolution, had no more to say that was good for the American Tories than for the ministers who served George III. Echoing the prejudices of the English Fens, from which so many of the pioneers of Massachusetts had come, of the strenuous anti-episcopacy of Protestant dissent, of the University of Cambridge, the mother of so many enlightened young Whigs, he loses no opportunity to praise the patriots and to scorn those who opposed them. Even when, as in the back parts of the Carolinas, the war was one for Whig beef or for Tory cattle, it was for him plainly perceptible that the Whigs were a superior breed of men. Sublimely ignoring the pleas of Washington and all kinds of other good evidence that could be used to show that on the rebel side there were deserters, thieves and scavengers, he takes great delight in showing that the Tories were poltroons in battle as well as rogues in politics. He has only one good word to say for the men who served the Crown—and even here there is an ambiguity of intention—that if they had remained behind in their homeland the march of temperance legislation in the New England states would have been seriously arrested.
It has been the Trevelyan thesis that has been blown to the four winds by journalists, popularizers and oversimplifiers. Even the more sober ranks of Canadian historical scholarship have shown a disposition to make Canadian history as much as possible like American, to interpret the behavior of the Tories of the eighteenth century from the perspective and hindsight of nineteenth-century thought. Even in Canada the elemental notion that prominently emerges is that they were ridiculous in their pride, quaint because they subordinated their interests to their principles, stupid because they chose the losing side. New Brunswick, where a slender Loyalist core of the population is still sensitive to the meaningfulness of the past, has produced native historians who are censorious of Loyalist morals, critical of Loyalist arrogance and superfluous in their assertions that the Loyalist idea of managing a popular legislature was not that of the enlightened times in which they themselves lived.
Yet nobody of any consequence has ventured to dispute the importance of the task performed by the leaders of the Tory refugees from New England and the other states of the American Union. One of the most eminent of contemporary Canadian historians has entitled his chapter on the period following the American Revolution as “The Survival of British North America.” On the face of things it is perhaps one of the minor miracles of history that a British nation ever developed to the north of the emancipated and triumphant lost thirteen colonies. In 1783 to give assurance to the promise there were little more than seventy thousand French Canadians, admittedly more fearful of Boston than of Westminster, yet still only nominally loyal to Britain, and the Tories. Of these there were in the lower provinces by the sea about thirty thousand, in Canada rather less than ten thousand. This thin line of Loyalist colonization, extending from the Atlantic to Lake Huron, held firm for forty years against American assertions of manifest destiny, against all the centrifugal and disruptive forces that a hostile geography and adverse commercial pressures could muster. Somehow or other these authoritarian and determined Tories created the conscience of a common citizenship, that, two generations later, was to be the most fundamental factor in the making of Canadian confederation. An historian of persuasion as well as of learning and understanding might very well adopt as his theme that not one commonwealth but two arose out of the tumults surrounding Boston Common in the years before 1776, that the Tories who evacuated Boston took with them some of the necessary ingredients of Canadian nationality.
They brought more than mere loyalty to their new homes. As some writers have implied they were not simple and uncritical cyphers for the royal perogative. Many of them had, until the actual outbreak of hostilities, sympathized with the protests that had been made against British imperial policies in a constitutional way. Just as sincerely as the patriots they were upholders of “the rights of Englishmen.” They brought to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia the ideas of government to which New Englanders had so of frequently given expression, those of the right of a popular assembly to control taxation, the equality of all before the law and freedom of speech and of assembly. They were not very good republicans but they loved liberty. In the story of how Nova Scotia and New Brunswick advanced to self-government within the British Empire no two names are more notable than those of Joseph Howe and Lemuel Allen Wilmot. Both were sons of Tories of the American Revolution. Howe was the son of John Howe, publisher of the Massachusetts Gazette who fled to Halifax in 1776. Late in life the son, the most eloquent and reasoned of all British North Americans who sought political reform, made a speech in Boston in which he described how his father, though he had lost everything he possessed in the Revolution, never lost affection for the home of his youth or the opportunity to do a kindness to a Boston man. During the War of 1812 John Howe, King’s printer at Halifax, redeemed Boston sailors from His Majesty’s prison at Melville Island and, when he was an old gentleman, frequently returned to Boston in order to improve his health and to walk on his beloved Common.
The unrepentant Tory historian, seeking for evidence to vindicate the men who were loyal to the Crown, can find much in the times and the lives of the Tories, to sustain the allegations they themselves so frequently and rather arrogantly made, that they constituted the greater part of the wealth, the talent and the educated classes of the thirteen colonies. Especially with reference to New England, where there were fewer and more conspicuous Tories, this is so. It may be difficult to find a test for an aristocracy, but a rough and ready one is available. Historians of Harvard and Yale have not yet competed for the dubious honor of taking a census of their living graduates of the generation of the Revolution in order to discover how many of them were in the ranks of the patriots and how many were not. Certainly British North America and the colonies in the West Indies must have acquired a large proportion of them. One authority states that nearly one hundred graduates of Harvard evacuated Boston with General Gage in 1776. For the Tory it is more than mildly satisfying to discover that, when Harvard was employed as a barracks during the siege of Boston, young Benjamin Thompson was instrumental in saving the books and the scientific apparatus in the library from destruction at the hands of a revolutionary mob who believed that the college was a hotbed of Toryism. During the excitements of Shays’ Rebellion and the other uncertainties that followed in the wake of the Revolution New England may have missed the firm hands of men who had been trained to govern. But the Tory historian must ruefully record that the Tories were entirely unaware of New England’s capacity to reproduce aristocracies whose spendor would exceed their own.
It is unreasonable to suppose that even Massachusetts, where political rigors were sharper than in any of the other colonies, lost all its Tories. Tradition records that at least two rather remarkable ones, definitely not of the hole-in-corner variety, lived on in Boston, openly proclaiming their faith for fifty years after the Revolution. These were the Byles sisters who resided at their family home on the corner of Tremont and Nassau, now Common, Streets. Their brother had become the clever and erudite rector of Saint John. Their father had been the only clergyman of the Congregational Church of New England who adhered to the royal cause. Through their long lives they missed no opportunity to declare that it was better to live under a king than under a republic and to remind their hearers that as young women they had walked arm-in-arm on Boston Common with Prince William, General Howe, Lord Percy and other British dignitaries. When in 1830 the same Prince William became King of England they wrote to him to say that the family of Doctor Byles of Boston always had been and would continue to be loyal to their rightful sovereign.
Even in the twentieth century Tory murmurs have arisen. A publisher of Milk Street in Boston, James H. Stark, came to the conviction that the reputation of the Tories had been grossly abused, that important historical truths had been concealed from his fellow-citizens, that the legend of British tyranny and oppression had no sound basis in fact. His History of the Loyalists of Massachusetts, published in 1910, is a manful attempt to remedy injustice. There is nothing simple in human affairs, and the American Revolution, like other great conflicts, cannot be reduced to a contest between right and wrong. The addressers of Governor Hutchinson and of General Gage, the mandamus councilors, the victims of the Banishment Act, were, like other citizens of New England, capable of good intentions and they loved their country. Yet in the United States they have been allowed little of the chivalry and understanding that have been accorded to another group of vanquished Americans in another great civil war, the leaders of the Southern Confederacy. So long as the great debate on the American Revolution continues the American Tories cannot be completely ignored. Their points of view, their strengths and weaknesses, require interpretation by American historians that will reflect the virtues of the great American democracy, those of generosity and tolerance.