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Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, 2008 Archive

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"Loyalist Trails" 2008-38: October 19, 2008


Bermuda's Loyalist Governor -- © Stephen Davidson

In the historical records of the War of Independence, the islands of Bermuda are usually forgotten. Sharing the same latitude as South Carolina, Bermuda was a strategic port for the British navy's fleet in the New World. By 1781, it had already withstood the attacks of rebel ships and had been cut off from its usual food supplies. Smallpox and typhus had swept through the islands; starvation was a very real threat.

Anxious to hold on to this crucial portion of North America, the British government appointed a new governor to make sure that Bermuda would survive the war intact as a viable part of the empire. The prime minister selected a loyalist from Salem, Massachusetts named William Browne. Was it another strategic blunder on the part of a government that would soon lose almost all of its North American empire?

William Browne certainly would not strike one as an ideal governor for a troubled colony that had to defend itself against the new rebel navy. The owner of almost 10,000 acres of land, a 17 room, three-story mansion, and 11 enslaved Africans may have been able to manage a large estate, but that might be more attributable to inheritance rather than ability.

However, Browne was certainly not lacking in ability. At 18 he graduated with a Harvard law degree, at 25 he represented Salem in the Massachusetts assembly, at 34 he was made the colonel of his local militia, and at 37 he was a judge of the superior court of Massachusetts Bay.

In 1774, rebels were gaining greater influence in Massachusetts. To secure a loyal colonial government, Governor Gage created an appointed loyalist council to replace the elected assembly. William Browne was one of these councilors. Massachusetts’ rebels immediately branded him a "notorious conspirator" and demanded that he resign. Browne replied that he "would not from persuasions or threats do anything derogatory to the character of a councillor of His Majesty's Province."

The rebels' threats compelled Browne to take his family to safety in Boston where they stayed until Massachusetts loyalists were evacuated to England in March, 1776. Most of the family's effects were left behind, but it was later noted that they did manage to save their "plate and linen". Two years later, patriots seized Browne's extensive holdings, and he was officially banished.

(According to some accounts, the Browne mansion was kept exactly the way it was when the family fled because the caretaker believed the family would eventually return. In time, it was neglected and considered haunted. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a native of Salem, wrote a short story in 1860 titled "Browne's Folly" in which boys entered the house and opened a closet. Portraits of men and women in wigs and brocade came tumbling out, convincing the frightened boys that ghosts were rushing into the room.)

Once in England, William Browne came to the attention of Lord North, the British prime minister, who appointed the former judge as the new governor of Bermuda. Arriving in a semi-tropical colony in the early weeks of 1782 might have seemed a plum assignment, but Bermuda was in the midst of a series of crises -- the kind of situations that would prove whether Browne’s appointment was based on his connections at court or his abilities.

The revolution had cut Bermuda off from its food sources in the southern colonies. Women outnumbered men due to the hardships of war and commerce. Loyalist refugees were flooding onto the tiny islands, raising the prices of food and housing. The rebel navy might attack at any moment, and the governor's residence was in complete disrepair.

Where a lesser man might have been overwhelmed by these challenges, Browne rose to the occasion. With a keen grasp of Bermuda's geographical location, he was convinced that the colony would become a strategic British outpost if the rebels did indeed win the revolution. Browne built up the small garrison, reinstated the local militias, and appointed capable loyalists from Virginia and Massachusetts to key leadership positions. The capital was moved from coastal St. George's to the more protected Hamilton. Bermuda was ready to become the "Gibraltar of the West".

The loyalist refugees who had fled the southern colonies congregated in eastern Bermuda, but most went on to other colonies, relieving the demands for food and housing. When loyalists left New York in the refugee fleets of 1783, Browne saw to it that they were reprovisioned when they docked at St. George's. After peace was declared, Browne was quick to renew trade with the United States and sought to make Bermuda a free port.

By 1788, things had calmed down enough that William Browne had the time to seek compensation for his wartime losses, a journey that would bring him to what would one day become Canada. He travelled to Halifax to stand before the loyalist board with 14 deeds, the written recommendations of British officials, and the personal testimonials of fellow loyalists. Despite all of his evidence, William Browne had to appear before the compensation board two years later in Montreal before finally being recognized as a loyalist worthy of financial redress.

William Browne served as governor of Bermuda from 1782 until 1788, retiring at the age of 51. He left the islands in better shape than he found them, and had set them on a course of commerce with the United States that would ensure their economic sustainability. A practical man, Browne is noted as saying that "Bermuda is divided on domestic business, but it is united in its loyalty to His Majesty".

On February 13, 1802, William Browne died in England, just two weeks before his 65th birthday. A man who had begun life among the rich and powerful of Massachusetts served his king well by preparing Bermuda for a new and significant role in the British Empire. Browne was indeed --as his old friend John Adams had once described him-- a man of "solid judicious character".

To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at {stephendavids AT gmail DOT com} how do I email him?

New Articles About Sir John Johnson

The Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch Website now has two new articles on Sir John and Lady Johnson by Earle Thomas. These are Lady Johnson’s Escape from the Rebels and Loyal Sir John Johnson, and both deal with their activities and difficulties during the time of the Revolution. The articles appear in the History section of the site.

...Rod Riordon UE, President, Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch

Sir Johnson in Esprit de Corps Magazine

The current issue of the Esprit de Corps magazine contains an article on Sir Johnson and his family history by Mark Jodoin who has written a series of historical articles for this publication under the umbrella title Shadow Soldiers. On his recent return from conducting research in the New England States, Mark Jodoin met with some members of the Sir Johnson Centennial Branch to discuss his writings and took the opportunity to visit the site of the Sir John Johnson burial vault on Mont St. Gregoire, formally Mount Johnson.

...Rod Riordon UE, President, Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch

Updated List of Books for the Young at Heart

Books for the Young at Heart - a Recommended Reading List for Elementary Schools has now been updated. New Additions include Letters for Elly by Stephen Davidson as well as listings for the two new internet resources created by the University of New Brunswick. “Black Loyalists in New Brunswick” and “Loyalist Women in New Brunswick” were described originally in Loyalist Trails issue 2008-14. In addition, the URL for study guides for books by Connie Brummel Crooks has been changed.

The webmaster for the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch, James Riordon, has advised me that their website has been updated with more resources on Sir John Johnson. For those interested in learning more about Sir John Johnson, check out the October issue of Esprit de Corps for an article by Mark Jodoin.

...F.H. Hayward

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions, all from Jo Ann Tuskin, are:
- Leech, Catharine Reid Munro - Widow (includes certificate application)
- Munro, Daniel (UE, son of Catharine)
- Munro, Hon'l Captain John

Last Post: Jean Irene Lake

LAKE, Jean Irene, U.E. (United Empire Loyalist) - Suddenly at Toronto General Hospital on Friday October 10, 2008. Member of the Ontario Genealogical Society of Toronto and a founding member of the Kawartha Branch of the O.G.S. Jean had also been a member of the Kawartha Ancestral Research Association since 1995. After retiring from Bell Canada, Jean joined the Bell Pioneers and had served in various capacities in all of these organizations. Jean Lake (nee Dafoe) of Peterborough in her 89th year was born in Havelock, Ontario on October 2, 1920. Wife of the late Jarvis Lake. Daughter of the late Grace Dafoe (Olson) (nee Anderson) and Allan Dafoe. Sister of the late Warden Dafoe and Conrad Dafoe. Sister-in-law to Marion Dafoe and Merle Dafoe both of Peterborough. Jean will be missed by several nephews, nieces, great nieces, great nephews and cousins. A funeral service to celebrate Jean's life will be held in the Nisbett Chapel on Friday October 17, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. Interment at Maplegrove Cemetery, Havelock. If desired, memorial donations to the Kawartha Ancestral Research Association or to the United Empire Loyalists, would be appreciated. Friends may sign the on-line book of condolences at (From the Peterborough Examiner, October 14th, 2008.)

Jean Irene Dafoe Lake, U.E., was a founding member of Kawartha Branch in the fall of 1979. She was already a Regular member of the UELAC and a member of Toronto Branch but when it was decided to form a branch in Peterborough she made Kawartha her primary branch. She served two terms as President, two terms as First Vice President and three terms as Second Vice President. As well she served as program convenor, social convenor, and many years as Past President and Director. In all she was an executive member of Kawartha Branch for 29 years. She also served as acting President at the time Kawartha Branch hosted for the first time, the National Conference, and she served on the committee when Kawartha hosted the Conference the second time in 2004. She took an active part in Kawartha Branch and will be remembered for her smile, her laughter, her clear thinking and good advice. Jean was a proud Canadian, proud of her U.E.heritage and she supported a number of Heritage groups in the area and was a founding member of most of them. Many of us will remember her willingness to share her knowledge and expert research skills to help others find their lineage as well. Jean was a descendant of Capt. John Ernst Dafoe, U.E. and his wife Mary Keller. She had other Loyalists families too, Varty, Holcomb, Peck, and Wright. Kawartha Branch will truly miss her.

[Submitted by the Kawartha Branch]