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Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, 2011 Archive

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"Loyalist Trails" 2011-17: May 1, 2011


Brockville's Historic Courthouse -- By Roy Lewis

Anyone visiting the historic downtown area of Brockville Ontario cannot help but be impressed by the Brockville Courthouse.

The building and the broad open space in front of it known as Courthouse Green, is perched on a site rising from the St. Lawrence River. Prominent Loyalist William Buell donated the land for the courthouse and the attached jail located at the eastern end of the neo-classic building.

The courthouse for the Johnstown District, which included this entire region, was originally located in Johnstown about 24 kilometres (15 miles) east of Brockville. In the early 1800s, the courthouse was moved to the faster-growing community of Brockville due in part to this community's better port facilities. The court was housed in an original brick building which was demolished and replaced with the current courthouse built in 1842.

Along with serving as a place to hold criminal and civil trials, the court building was also a community gathering point where public meetings, band concerts and church services were held.

Among more interesting stories about the courthouse is one involving the birthplace of the Ottawa Citizen – now a leading daily newspaper in the nation's capital. Ogle R. Gowan, a firebrand Irishman who started the first Orange Lodge in North America in Brockville, was also a newspaper publisher. He founded The Brockville Statesman in 1836.

A printer by the name of William Harris worked for Gowan but disagreed in public with his employer's political positions. Gowan, who argued Harris had defamed him, had the printer arrested and charged. Harris was tried and convicted of defamation of character. He was sentenced to 30 days and led off to the jail attached to the courthouse.

While in jail, he wrote a one-page newspaper. Harris later moved to Prescott where he published a second edition and finally moved to Ottawa where he founded the Bytown Packet in 1845. The newspaper was renamed The Citizen in 1851.

Many murder trials have taken place in the courthouse including one held in the early 1890s involving Charles Luckey – accused of killing family members on their farm north of Brockville. At his trial, Luckey was convicted of murder after which he was taken to the courtyard in the adjacent jail where he was hung, the last man in Brockville to be sentenced to capital punishment.

Over the 169 years of its existence, the courthouse has undergone numerous renovations and expansions. The largest, costing $15 million, was started in 2000. When it was officially opened in June of 2005, the expanded facility housed a total of five courtrooms, two conference rooms, two jury rooms and a group of ancillary offices.

In the courthouse foyer is a display cabinet containing an old document establishing the right of certain residents in this region to administer local justice. Entitled a Confirmation of the Peace District of Johnstown, the document, which has also been described as a part of the very beginning of local government, is also significant not only for what it is authorizing but the very fact that it has survived for over 200 years.

Issued by Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter of Upper Canada (now Ontario), the document also referred to as a legal patent, granted exclusive rights to certain individuals. The Johnstown patent confirms the appointment of 30 gentlemen, many of whom were prominent citizens in the early history of Leeds and Grenville, as justices "to keep the peace in the District of Johnstown and to keep and cause to be kept all ordinances and statues for the good of the peace and for preservation of the same and for the quiet rule and government of our people….."

The third of a series of articles describing interesting historical facts about Brockville and the surrounding region of the St. Lawrence River and the 1000 Islands where Conference 2011 "Catch The Spirit" of our Loyalists’ Ancestors will be held. Hosted by the Col. Edward Jessup Branch, the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada’s annual Conference will be held from June 2 to 5.

Samuel Curwen: Withdrawing from the Storm -- © Stephen Davidson

Most loyal Americans hoped that they could remain on their land with their families as the War of Independence raged around them. Angry threats forced some to leave, potential imprisonment led others to seek sanctuary elsewhere, and vicious pillaging pushed others north to Canada. There was no common "withdrawal" experience for any of the loyal refugees of the American Revolution. But thanks to the journal that Samuel Curwen kept during the "Troubles", we have the fascinating story of how one member of the Massachusetts ruling class found sanctuary far from home.

Ten years after his graduation from Harvard, Curwen had been an officer with the New England forces that overthrew the French fortress of Louisbourg. In the decades that followed, Curwen became a successful businessman, a commissioner of the peace, and a judge of the admiralty. However, all of his accomplishments would not spare him the ruin that came with the rising tide of revolution. In a colony where only the patriot point of view was tolerated, Samuel Curwen was a self-professed loyalist.

"I think it a duty I owe myself to withdraw for a while from the storm which to my foreboding mind is approaching," Curwen wrote in his journal in May of 1775. He found the "spirit of the people" rising, and their tempers "more and more soured and malevolent against all moderate men, whom they see fit to reproach as enemies of their country by the name of tories, among whom I am unhappily (although unjustly) ranked."

A year earlier, Curwen and 47 other Salem loyalists signed their names on an "address" that welcomed Thomas Gage, the new royal governor, to Massachusetts. The colony's patriots published the list of those who had dared to pledge their loyalty to the new governor. Within a year after signing the "address", anti-loyalist sentiment had built to the point where the 59 year-old Curwen felt he had to flee. He later regretted making so public a show of his loyalty.

"It has been my wish ever since I have been from my own home, that all who are in a state of exile ... had been prudent enough to have kept their political opinions to themselves, especially after the frenzy had worked itself up so high in the minds of our zealous patriot neighbors, and remained at their own dwellings, and made the best shifts they could in these troubles."

However, in the spring of 1775, the "best shift" that Curwen could make was to seek refuge outside of Massachusetts. His 50 year-old wife, the former Abigail Russell, refused to leave their Salem home. Her "apprehensions of danger from ... a people licentious and enthusiastically mad ... being less terrible to her than a short passage on the ocean". Abigail gave Samuel her blessing to go to Philadelphia where he anticipated that his cousin, Samuel Smith, would receive him with open arms.

Smith's greeting was a cold one. "We will protect you though a tory," he said as he met Curwen. A meal in his cousin's home during which Curwen had to endure a scolding for his loyalist principles made it clear that he could not stay with the Smiths. As he went looking for lodgings, he found that every house was full or would not take him. He began to wonder whether "like Cain, I had not a discouraging mark upon me, or a strong feature of toryism. The whole city appears to be deep in congressional principles, and inveterate against {British supporters}".

Fortune was clearly not on Curwen's side. He had arrived in the city just as the Second Continental Congress was convening. Philadelphia was not the neutral or pacifist sanctuary he had believed it would be. In his journal, Curwen confided that "Philadelphia is wholly American, strong friends to congressional measures; at least, no man is hardy enough to express a doubt of the feasibility of their projects. ... The inhabitants are displeased that the New Englanders make it their city of refuge."

A loyalist friend advised Curwen that the wisest course of action would be to sail for England. If the patriots of Philadelphia knew that Curwen was an "addresser", they would compel him to sign a recantation, which, he confessed "may contain more than in conscience I can subscribe."

Time was running out for the Salem loyalist. Benjamin Franklin had just returned to Philadelphia; his arrival "was announced by the ringing of bells to the great enjoyment of the city". After making a purchase of quantities of flour to sell in England, Curwen "determined to proceed to London."

The Salem loyalist had to bide his time until his ship set sail. Three days before he left Philadelphia, Curwen attended a dinner party which had among its guests, none other than Colonel George Washington. While the conversation drifted to how the patriots might prevent British ships attacking Philadelphia, Curwen nevertheless found Washington to be "a fine figure and of a most easy and agreeable address".

On May 12, 1775, Curwen loaded his luggage onto the Lively, collected correspondence from Philadelphians to be delivered in England, received a letter of introduction, and bought a copy of all the colonial newspapers that he could find. It was, after all, going to be a very long sea voyage, and he would need reading material to while away the hours.

Curwen made it safely to England by July 4, 1775. On the following day, he rendezvoused with old friends at London's New England Coffee House. He had every reason to believe that the "Troubles" back in the Thirteen Colonies would be resolved within a matter of months and that he would soon be able to return to his wife and friends in Salem.

However, Curwen was forced to stay in England for almost a decade. The observations and stories that he recorded in his daily journal during his lonely years of exile will be featured in the next edition of Loyalist Trails.

To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.

John Moore (1730 - 1827): Fourth Generation in America © George McNeillie

Writing to her two girls, Maria and Eliza, in July, 1840, their mother tells them that their little sisters, Jane and Hannah, aged 10 and 7 years, go to school at 8 o'clock in the morning and do not return till evening; both are learning fast. To little John in Newtown the mother writes expressing her happiness in his progress at school. She adds, "You ought to think it a great blessing to have such a chance. Your little sister, Hannah, has never had an opportunity of going to school until this month (July). She will only be able to go a few months when it will be too cold to go such a distance.*" [Hannah was then only about seven years old.]

Maria and Eliza made many friends in Newtown. They started homeward early in 1806, accompanied by their brother "little John." The voyage was very stormy and disagreeable. During the next year correspondence flourished, and many of the letters preserved in the old cabinet are lively and interesting. Their Aunt Patience Dougan laments that "none of the young and elegant beaus visit us now," and much more to the same effect. In 1808 the letters express regret as this "monstrous embargo," which allows only a smuggling trade and furnishes few opportunities of sending letters." Party feeling in the United States now ran high, and war with England was advocated in many quarters. The next year young John Moore, the only boy of the St. Mary's family, died "at the dawn of manhood."

The letters still in existence, written by the young people to their mother at this period and by others of their correspondents, show that our young "Blue-noses" won the esteem of their friends and made many pleasant acquaintances while in Newtown. Their mother's first reference to her daughter Maria's future husband reads: "Mr. Sam. Carman called, just as Eliza's letter came, and desired his love and his sister Maria's to each of the girls."

In July, 1810, Jane (Garden) Thompson, who was a great friend of the two girls, writes in a letter to Eliza: - "Give my love to Eliza and tell her I wish her a great deal of happiness in the married state; I am told she intends soon to enter it."

At this time Eliza Moore was engaged to marry Augustus Thompson, a brother of her friend Jane Garden's husband, but for some reason the match was broken off. Jane Garden was nearly related to Dr. Spohn's mother whom we knew in Toronto (1920). The wife of Dr. Spohn is a very warm personal friend of our daughter Winifred. She and her husband have just gone to live in Vancouver and Winifred and George [McNeillie] have come from Vancouver to live in Toronto. Such are the "changes and chances of this mortal life."

[* I think the school house was more than two miles distant. W.O.R.]

Excerpt from Book of Family History, by The Ven. William Odber Raymond, LL.D, FRSC. © 2009 George McNeillie - all rights reserved [published here with permission; see footnote].

...George McNeillie

Loyalist Day Celebrations in New Brunswick

Loyalist Day - the celebration of the landing of the first group of Loyalists on 18 May 1783 (and the granting of the charter of the City of Saint John on 18 May 1785).

The celebrations will start on Sunday, 15 May with a Loyalist Church Parade at Trinity Anglican Church in Saint John. Members, in period costume if desired, will gather at 10:15 a.m. at the front of the church (i.e. at the Germain Street entrance) in preparation for the 10:30 service.

The festivities on Wednesday, 18 May will get under way at 10:15 a.m. with a concert to be presented by St. Mary's Band at City Hall Plaza. This band has a history in Saint John stretching back more than 100 years and has participated in many Loyalist Day celebrations in the past.

This will be followed at 10:30 by welcoming remarks from the gathered dignitaries and the raising of the Canadian, New Brunswick and Queen Anne flags by the colour party and dignitaries. The Mayor of Saint John will then invite all attendees to enjoy a piece of the City's birthday cake.

At noon the City will be honoured by a 21-gun salute by the 3rd Field Artillery (the Loyal Company).

The celebrations wil close with a reception and dinner at the Union Club in Saint John. This historic location has been the site of many important meetings over the decades and is a wonderful place to commemorate the contributions made by our ancestors. Reception at 6:15 p.m., dinner at 7:00 and then a presentation by noted architect John Leroux who will talk about "The Loyalist influence on Architecture". You may reserve places at this event at a cost of $40 per person by contacting me. Guests are very welcome. In fact, we would really like to open all these events to the largest possible audience. Reserve before May 11.

Dave Laskey, President, NB Branch, UELAC

Seminar: Encountering Revolution: Print Culture, Politics, and the British American Loyalists

Monday, June 13- Friday, June 17, 2011

American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts

The 2011 Summer Seminar in the History of the Book in American Culture at the American Antiquarian Society will offer an alternative account of the print culture and literary history of the American Revolution. Over the past few decades the Revolution, traditionally the purview of early American historiography, has become a crucial period in American literary and cultural studies. Yet in spite of these important shifts, contemporary scholarship continues to characterize "Revolutionary America" as essentially Patriot writing and printed media. Our approach to the AAS seminar directly intervenes in this critical narrative whereby the Patriot movement becomes a synecdoche for "American" culture; we offer an alternative history of writing and printing that accounts seriously for the British American Loyalists.

What happens, in other words, to the dominant critical models in Revolutionary history—those that govern the way we conceptualize the meanings of print, the nature of authorship, the rhetorical forms of expression, and the very notion of "public" culture—when we reinsert the Loyalist presence into Revolutionary American Studies?

For a full description and seminar details, go here.

...Stephen Davidson, UE

Book Review: The Loyalist Corps: Americans Fighting in the Service of the King

A Must-Have Book for Every UELAC Branch Library

One of the first new loyalist history books published this year is The Loyalist Corps: Americans Fighting in the Service of the King written by Thomas B. Allen (Tories) and Todd W. Braisted (The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies). Within its 225 pages are succinct descriptions of over 150 loyalist military units.

But the book is more than simply an ideal gift for the military historian. The Loyalist Corps is an easily accessible reference tool for the loyalist descendant who wants a quick source of information on the battalion in which his/her ancestors once fought. Without having to wade through long descriptions of battles, generals' biographies or political intrigues, one can quickly look up any loyalist unit that fought for the king between 1775 and 1783 to learn its history and the theatres of war in which it fought.

The Loyalist Corps also gives definitions for military words that were current in the 18th century but are confusing to the 21st reader. Uncertain of the meaning of reduction, pioneers, provincial, convention, associators, fencible or establishment? If you've scratched your head over such puzzlers, you will immediately appreciate Allen and Braisted's scholarship.

In addition to brief histories and word clarifications, The Loyalist Corps also contains valuable information about where various loyalist military units disbanded, data that may help loyalist descendants connect their ancestors to particular battalions. For example, if you know that your loyal forbearers settled in Nova Scotia's Cumberland County, Country Harbour, and Manchester Township, along New Brunswick's St. John River, or in Prince Edward Island (Island of St. John), then this book will let you know which loyalist units disbanded in those various locations.

What makes this book so accessible to the genealogist as well as to the historian, is that the loyalist units are arranged alphabetically. Sometimes --where it eases the job of locating them-- the battalions are listed by the colonies in which they formed. (Those with New York and New Jersey ancestors will especially appreciate this arrangement.)

Two other valuable features of The Loyalist Corps are the index of names and a timeline of the American Revolution (1754 - 1784). An instant classic resource, this book deserves to be in the library of every UELAC branch in the country -- and on the shelves of any serious loyalist genealogist. If it is not yet available at your local bookstore, The Loyalist Corps: Americans Fighting in the Service of the King may be purchased for $7.33 (Cdn) at

...Stephen Davidson, UE

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