ICYMI: Loyalist ancestors

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 10 September 2015.]

Encampment of the Loyalists "Encampment of the Loyalists in Johnstown, a new settlement on the banks of the River St. Lawrence, in Canada West," courtesy of Archives Ontario.

Mabel Winters, my great-grandmother, left Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years old. She arrived in the United States about 1900, and first lived with her older brother George in Norton, Bristol County, Massachusetts. I have heard many wonderful stories about Mabel, and I wanted to learn everything that I could about her. As I began to research her life in Nova Scotia, I discovered that she was descended from several Loyalist families.

At the close of the American Revolution, thousands upon thousands of Loyalists fled the colonies. Seeking political asylum and refuge, many escaped to Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

According to his petition, he owned a farm near Hackensack and joined the British army ... in 1776.

Fortunately, via census records, vital records, and published genealogies, I was able to identify some of Mabel’s Loyalist ancestors. Her great-great-great-grandparents, Peter Earle and Rachel Ackerman, fled Hackensack in Bergen County, New Jersey, and settled along the Tusket River in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. From Peter Wilson Coldham’s American Loyalist Claims, I discovered that Peter Earle petitioned the British Government to recoup losses suffered during the Revolution. According to his petition, he owned a farm near Hackensack and joined the British army under Lieutenant General Cornwallis in 1776. He was stationed at New York City until the British Evacuation in 1783.

Though I was lucky in establishing my connection to Peter Earle, you may have to refer to many sources to determine your Loyalist ancestry. My advice is to first consult a state based resource, like The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the other side of the American Revolution by James Henry Stark. If you cannot locate your ancestor in a state based source, then you may want to refer to a general Loyalist source. And if you still cannot find your ancestor in these sources, you can still learn where other local Loyalists settled in Canada. Loyalists from the same region tended to settle together, and you may be able to identify a specific township or county of settlement.

Here at NEHGS, we have a fantastic collection of resources to aid your Loyalist research, and I highly recommend a visit to the library. Here are a select few resources to get you started!

General sources

Region specific sources

Sheilagh Doerfler

About Sheilagh Doerfler

Sheilagh, a native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, received her B.A. in History and Communication from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her research interests include New England, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Westward Migration, and adoptions.View all posts by Sheilagh Doerfler