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Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, 2015 Archive

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“Loyalist Trails” 2015-27: July 6, 2015


His Name Meant Freedom, by Stephen Davidson

A person's signature can be very powerful. On a peace treaty, it can signal the end of a war. At the bottom of a will, it can change the life of an heir. On a cheque, it can free another person from debt. In the case of Brigadier General Samuel Birch, his signature on an emancipation certificate meant the end of slavery for over 3,000 Black Loyalists.

While the grateful African loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia named communities in Shelburne County and Guysborough County Birchtown in his honour, history has almost forgotten this British officer. Some historians recognize him as the officer in charge of issuing the emancipation certificates, but deny that he had any meaningful relationship with the former slaves. One contemporary colonist charged Birch with robbing the loyalists of New York. Was Birch a villain or a saint? This is his story.

Samuel Birch was a captain in the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons when it was raised in 1759. By the time he set foot in America, Birch had been promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel. His name first appears in the primary sources of the American Revolution in the diary of Lieutenant John Barker.

In October of 1775, a spacious Boston church known as the Old South Meetinghouse caught Samuel Birch's eye as a potential facility for his 17th Regiment of Dragoons to use as a riding school. John Barker's diary reports that the "pulpit, pews, and seats {were} all cut to pieces and carried off in the most savage manner... the beautiful carved pew with the silk furniture... was... made into a hog sty." At first glimpse, Birch hardly seems to be the type of man who would later come to the aid of oppressed Africans.

By the fall of 1776, Birch's cavalry regiment was stationed on Manhattan Island. Two years later, Birch was in Philadelphia when he wrote a memorial that asked for a raise in pay. Other than this document, the records of the dragoons' wartime service indicate that Birch remained relatively close to New York City.

It is interesting to note that Birch was in command of a regiment that was comprised of more than just men who rode horses into battles. The 17th Dragoons also included a chaplain, a surgeon, trumpeters, carpenters, smiths, masons, bricklayers, sawyers, wheelwrights and plasterers. It may be that it was in the course of finding men to fill these varied positions that Birch first met Black Loyalists.

On July 11, 1779 Samuel Birch commanded his regiment to burn down all of Bedford, Connecticut. He would have been an infamous villain in American history books except for the fact that until 1980, it was generally believed that Banastre Tarleton had issued the arson order rather than Birch.

After Birch was promoted to Brigadier General in 1782, Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander-in-chief, recognized his organizational skills. He made Birch the commandant of New York City and put him in charge of evacuating thousands of troops and loyalist refugees.

While Carleton appreciated Birch, a loyalist judge named Thomas Jones did not. In his History of New York During the American Revolution, Jones accused the brigadier general of seizing houses, plundering the people of Long Island, destroying churches, and taking livestock. Since Jones' book was not published until 1879, Birch and the others involved in these incidents could never respond to the validity of his allegations.

Jones disliked Birch intensely and had little love for those of African descent. He complained that rebel homes in New York City were "occupied by a pack of dirty, idle, thieving Negroes invited into the lines by a proclamation of General Clinton, promising them protection and maintenance." Jones could not believe that these "black runaways" were considered "His Majesty's loyal and faithful refugee subjects". He was outraged that Black Loyalists made up the majority of wagon drivers that the British hired in New York City.

Throughout the American Revolution, New York City had been a refuge for loyalists all along the Atlantic seaboard. It was, in fact, the largest refugee camp on the continent. Most of those with patriot sympathies had fled the city after the British occupied it in August of 1776. Over the next seven years, loyalists streaming into the city from the northern colonies filled the houses abandoned by rebels. Following Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, desperate refugees in the southern colonies sailed north to New York, swelling the city even further. Black Loyalists were a significant component of these displaced populations.

Whatever his faults may (or may not) have been, Samuel Birch took an interest in the African runaways who trusted the British to emancipate them from slavery. The Dragoons included black fugitives within their regiment, and this seems to be how Birch first came to know the men and their situations. Birch made sure that African veterans were provided with housing and meals. Such considerations, as we have seen in Jones' case, did not sit well with all loyalists.

The British had promised freedom to the slaves of patriots who served the crown for at least a year. Despite the fact that the Treaty of Paris contained clauses instructing slaves to be returned to their masters, Sir Guy Carleton felt that anyone who had joined the British before the end of the war was a free person and not a slave.

Early in 1783, Carleton decided to provide legal documentation for this new status and had Birch create a certificate that gave its bearer his/her freedom and the right to go to "Nova Scotia, or wherever else he may think proper". It cited the names of the British officers who had issued the initial offers of emancipation and gave permission for the certificate holder to leave New York. The final touch was Brigadier General Birch's signature. (When Birch was not available a General Musgrave signed for him.)

After the Black Loyalist refugees heard how the British would help them leave the new United States, they went to see the commandant to apply for their "Birch certificate". Sometimes referred to as the "Birch Trials", the application process was conducted by the British-American Board of Inquiry. It was made up of Samuel Birch and a group of American and British officials who met at Fraunces Tavern each Wednesday from April to November of 1783. Its members judged each black on the testimony that he/she offered as evidence of loyal service.

Every one of the thousands of Africans who was subsequently recognized as a free Black Loyalist was given a certificate with Birch's signature that allowed him/her to board ships for free transportation to other parts of the British Empire. For some, the certificate would become an heirloom that some families treasured for generations.

Birch also supervised the creation of the Book of Negroes, a ledger that listed the names of both free blacks and enslaved Africans who left New York on evacuation ships during 1783. This book would later be the source of invaluable genealogical data for the descendants of Black Loyalists and would provide historians with a unique glimpse into the circumstances and contributions of Africans during the American Revolution.

The name that meant freedom to the Black Loyalists of the American Revolution then disappeared from the historical records. Samuel Birch's men in 17th Dragoons had two choices at the end of the war: settle in Nova Scotia or return to England. What their brigadier-general chose to do, however, is unknown. But what is known of Samuel Birch is his legacy. It was he who facilitated the greatest emancipation of slaves within North America before the end of American Civil War.

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

Anthony and Andrew Westbrook (Part 6), by Doug Massey

© Doug Massey, UE

On July 20, 1779 Joseph Brant, with sixty warriors and twenty-seven white Volunteers returned to attack the "lower neighbourhood" of Minisink. To do this they had to travel over four hundred kilometres through very difficult terrain. The testimony of Moabary Owen, a double deserter, places Anthony Westbrook, and one Ebenezer Allen among Brant's party of twenty six "Toreys and about sixty Enions" at the destroyed village of Chemung on July 8. [40] Twelve days later Brant's party, guided by Anthony Westbrook, descended on Minisink in search of provisions, and to capture or kill active whigs such as Major Johannes Dekker of the militia. They burned Dekker's stone house which had been fortified with a stockade, and which protected the furniture of neighbours. Ironically Anthony's confiscated furniture was also in that house when he burnt it down! Moreover, as Anthony was in the process of destroying his own property, Johannes Dekker's mother, Magdelena Westbrook Dekker, dumped two buckets of water on the flames trying to put them out! Houses, barns, and crops were also torched and a number of inhabitants who resisted were killed before Brant's party left. However, Anthony's revenge on his neighbours and relatives may have been bitter sweet. Mackhackemack Church was also burnt to the ground. How did Anthony feel about that?

The Goshen militia pursued Brant hoping to set up an ambush, only to be ambushed them selves. The action was a hot and close run thing, but the Patriot's ammunition ran out first and the forty plus Patriot militiamen who had stood their ground were killed to a man. Brant, the tactical genius, had saved his party from disaster. By August 11, they returned to Chemung, only to find them selves caught between the armies of Generals Sullivan and Clinton. Again Brant was able to evade the enemy. On August 28, Brant and all his Volunteers took part in the Battle of Newton. On September 12 they were at Kanaghsaws where Brant wanted to ambush Sullivan but had to abort. When did Anthony return to Niagara and his family? It is not known. This one raid, which most likely started in June with a long march from Niagara to Minisink, had lasted over three months by the end of September. And it continued into October as Brant and his men shadowed Sullivan through New York as he returned to New Jersey.

But his family would see even less of Anthony in 1780 as Joseph Brant led his Volunteers against the Mohawk and Schoharie Valley Patriots' settlements. Campaigns started in February against Harpersfield. In July, Brant struck the Oneida Villages. On August 2, he obliterated Canajoharie, and on August 9, settlements in the Schoharie Valley. On October 17, Brant was at it again, joining Sir John Johnson fire raids against the settlements on the Fort Hunter side of Schoharie Creek. On October 19 they were part of the force that destroyed the militia detachment from Fort Paris led by Col. John Brown. They then torched Stone Arabia and all along the river to Canajoharie, including two hundred villages and 150 000 bushels of wheat. It was a yearlong campaign to avenge the scorched earth policy of the Sullivan Expedition of 1779 against the Haudenosaunee. If Anthony was not fighting, he was walking hundreds of kilometres from Niagara or back to Niagara as part of the campaign. He was never at Niagara for any long stretch of time. Even so, 1781 would be worse. Joseph Brant went west to Fort Detroit without his white volunteers. This had dire consequences for Anthony, his wife and children.

Anthony's service in 1781 is unknown up to October of that year when he found himself part of the ill-fated raid by Major John Ross and his King's Royal Regiment of New York on the Mohawk Valley. The party did extensive damage at Warren's Bush on Oct. 24, burning and destroying farms and crops. Anthony Westbrook was there and did his part. Years later, Robert Kerr, J.P. would certify that "the Bearer Anthony Westbrook was at the burning of Warren Bush in the fall of 1781 – and behaved as a good soldier and faithful Loyalist". [41] Although Patriots would not have been pleased with this characterization of Anthony as a "good soldier", they would have been happy with the fact that this campaign would not go well for Westbrook or his fellow soldiers. Facing stiffened resistance, Ross's group was forced to retreat after the Battle of Johns Town and were pursued by the Americans to West Canada Creek. Later, Lt. Col. Marinus Willet, the American commander, would call the whole British scheme "a Dirty trifling piece of business". But he was astonished that Ross's men, who had gone four days "in the Wilderness with only half pound of horse flesh for each man per day", yet had been able to "trot" thirty miles before they stopped. [42] On October 30th, the Americans caught up with Ross at a particularly nasty ford on the West Canada Creek. And it was there that Anthony Westbrook was captured. He was either part of a party of "upwards of forty men with some Indians" sent to secure provisions, [43] or he was part of Lieutenant John Ryckman's men acting as the rearguard covering the retreat of Major Walter Butler across West Canada Creek. [44] At any rate, both parties were overrun and had to surrender. Anthony fell into the hands of the rebels and was "one Month in Prison with irons on his Hands and Feet and suffered every hardship that was in the power of the Rebels to inflict..." [45] The torture he had to endure greatly affected his health. But we do not know how long, in total, he was imprisoned, or where. Not knowing Anthony's fate and fearing him dead would have hit his family hard.


[40] "The Examination of Moabary Owen, Taken by Henry Wisnor, Esq.", in the Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Vol. 7, 1907, Minisink, pg. 68; Kelsay, pg. 249-50.

[41] Certificate of Robert Kerr, J.P., Newark, July 8, 1793, Upper Canada Land Petitions, N.A.C. "W" Bundle Petition Number 1a.

[42] Marinus Willet to Governor Clinton, Nov. 1781, in "Willet's Letter Book", New York State Library, Mss # SC16670.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Gavin K. Watt, A Dirty, Trifling Piece of Business, Vol. 1, Dundurn Press, Toronto, 2009, pg. 357.

[45] Upper Canada Land Petition of Anthony Westbrook, Newark, July 3, 1796.

...Doug Massey

Cairn to Westchester Loyalists in North Wallace, N.S.

On the North shore of Nova Scotia, at North Wallace in Cumberland County, stands a solemn cairn to over 400 Loyalists, mostly from Westchester, New York, who fled there as refugees to take up lands granted by the Crown. A plaque on the front of the Cairn states it is a Province of Nova Scotia Heritage Site and reads:

"To commemorate the United Empire Loyalists who remained Loyal to the British Crown and came here during the American Revolutionary War to establish new homes under severe hardships. This monument is erected on land occupied by the Dotten Loyalist Family since 1785. It is part of the Townsite of 239 three acre lots laid out by the British officers in 1784."

Land for the Cairn was donated by James Dotten, the fifth great grandson of one of the Loyalist settlers. The Cairn at North Wallace facing the present day town of Wallace, formerly Remsheg, was unveiled and dedicated on October 27, 1981.

For more abut the monument, the Loyalists, Remsheg, and a transcription of the land grant, click here.

...Brian McConnell, UE

Seriously, though, was the American Revolution a Civil War?

On February 18, 2014, Tom Cutterham asked, "Was the American Revolution a Civil War?" According to Cutterham, understanding the Revolution that way might be useful. If we did, he suggested, "we'd better understand the way the modern world--the nexus of state, citizen, and property--was born in and determined by violence."

Understanding the American Revolution as a civil war is an accepted concept. In 1975, John Shy argued that the Revolution was a civil war. Since then, a number of historians have made similar propositions. More recently, in 2012, Alan Taylor delivered a talk, in New Mexico, titled "The First American Civil War: The Revolution." There are other instances, too, and they are not hard to find or engage with. I don't think historians will jettison the civil war framework, either. Indeed, we will be understanding the Revolution as a civil war indefinitely.

Was the American Revolution a "civil war," though? I mean, seriously? Or, is framing the Revolution as a civil war another way to package the conflict with hopes of making it more appealing? Read the full post at The Junto.

...Christopher F. Minty

Loyalist Quarterly by Paul Bunnell: June 2015 Issue Now Available

The latest issue of the only U.S. journal devoted to Loyalist studies contains, among others, these topics:

  • Stephen Thorne UE
  • Black Loyalist Heritage Centre Now Open in Birchtown, Nova Scotia
  • New Jersey Volunteers Barbarie's Coy
  • Fort Griswold Today
  • Great Exodus Fleet from New York
  • Losses & Claims Sources
  • Loyalist Children in Portrait
  • A patriot's letter to his loyalist father, 1778

More information including subscription details ($21 U.S. & $24 Can./yr) at Paul J. Bunnell's website.

...Paul J. Bunnell, UE, Editor/Author

Cutler-DesBarres Long Case Clock

The library in Kingston, New York has a periodical, Watch & Clock Bulletin, May/June 2015. This has an article: 'A War of 1812 Shannon & Chesapeake Clock'. It is called the 'Cutler-DesBarres long case clock'. It was owned in Halifax, but apparently has changed ownership recently.

There is Loyalist history involved in the clock, and an involvement with J. F. W. DesBarres, 1721 - 1824. DesBarres had a Halifax house at Poplar Grove. The house was demolished in 1960 as part of the first big 'urban renewal' scheme in Halifax. I removed some pieces of architectural woodwork from it, one of which I still have.

...John Stevens

Dominion Day and Canada Day

The enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act), which confederated Canada, was celebrated on July 1, 1867, with the ringing of the bells at the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto and "bonfires, fireworks and illuminations, excursions, military displays and musical and other entertainments", as described in contemporary accounts. On June 20 of the following year, Governor General, the Viscount Monck, issued a royal proclamation asking for Canadians to celebrate the anniversary of Confederation, However, the holiday was not established statutorily until May 15, 1879, when it was designated as Dominion Day, in reference to the designation of the country as a Dominion in the British North America Act. Canada Coat of Arms.

Dominion Day was officially renamed as a result of a private member's bill that, on July 9, 1982, two years after receiving first reading in the House of Commons, there received third reading when only twelve Members of Parliament were present. (This was actually eight members less than a quorum, but, according to parliamentary rules, the quorum is enforceable only at the start of a sitting or when a member calls attention to it). The bill was passed by the House in five minutes, without debate, which inspired "grumblings about the underhandedness of the process". It met with stronger resistance in the Senate--some Senators objected to the change of name; Ernest Manning, who argued that the rationale for the change was based on a misperception of the name, and George McIlraith, who did not agree with the manner in which the bill had been passed and urged the government to proceed in a more "dignified way"--but finally passed. With the granting of Royal Assent, the name was officially changed to Canada Day on October 27, 1982.

...Bill Smy

Where in the World?

Where are Peter Johnson, David G. Moore and Anne Redish?

To participate, submit a photo of yourself in UELAC promotional gear at a place of some note and tell us where it is. If you are a member of a branch, please indicate that as well – send to Jennifer Childs.

Region and Branch Bits

From the UELAC branches, news and events of interest to others.

  • Loyalist Day in Kingston ON is celebrated each year on June 12th, in recognition of the Royal Proclamation of George III received by Governor Haldimand at Quebec on the 12th June, 1784 stating "His Majesty approves the plan you have proposed for settling some of the Loyalists at Cataraqui and places adjacent". This decision is considered by historians to be the catalyst for establishing the first permanent community in Upper Canada. Read more about the 2015 celebration. More notes about Loyalist Day in KIngston.
  • The Loyalist Fifes and Drums is a recreated fife and drum corps of the American Revolution period (1776-1784). The purpose of this group is to honour the important role played by Loyalists during this conflict. Read more about them at
  • Gov. Simcoe Branch day bus trip from Toronto to see historical sites between Cobourg and Trenton and return on Saturday July 18. Seats available. Details

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • Ever wonder what the leaders of the armies in the Rev War lived out of? One of George Washington's RevWar camp chests
  • A 'Treasure Trove' of African American genealogy resources to go online. There's a project currently in the works to digitize all the records of the Freedman's Bureau which. contains not just the names of millions of former slaves, but background information that could help a generational sleuth track a family further back. Smithsonian genealogist Hollis Gentry would like to have all the names of the Freedmen indexed by the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Fall of 2016.
  • After nearly 240 years of languishing in relative obscurity, William "Billy" Flora - The Hero of the Battle of Great Bridge - is stepping into the limelight. Flora's story is told in "Liberty Fever" a film about the American Revolutionary War currently being produced by Cortina Productions of McLean for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
  • The Hierarchy of Colour in Eighteenth Century Decoration. The use of colour in the decoration of early eighteenth century interiors was much more straightforward and austere than many people believe.
  • Every lady needs a monogrammed hankie for summer days when she "glistens." Stitch your own! Photo - be sure to follow the link to look at the book. (Smithsonian Library)
  • Up close with a beautiful Georgian Dress, c.1760. It's not often we have a video devoted to a single dress – but then this is no ordinary dress. Its white silk woven with multi-colored sprigs of flowers and embellished with bright coordinated trimming, this is a spectacular example of a 1760s sack-back dress with matching petticoat, and clearly the work of a talented mantua-maker. This is Georgian high-fashion at its most stylish. (Two Nerdy History Girls)

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions and updates are as follows:

  • Keith, Daniel - from Shirley Thorne with certificate application

Please help us build the directory by contributing more information for it. Contact for instructions and guidance.

Last Post

Geoffrey Anderson Bingle, UE

A longtime member of London and Western Ontario Branch, Geoffrey passed away on May 8, 2015 at the age of 90 years. He had a illustrious career in broadcasting and performance in London area. In 1957, he shared program and music director duties at CFPL TV. In 1965 he became Production Manager.

Geoff enjoyed his United Empire Loyalist heritage and always wore his UEL uniform to special events. For several years he served as Branch Treasurer. His Loyalist Ancestor was Allan Nixon. He was also a member of Ontario Genealogical Society, London Branch.

...Carol Childs, London Branch

Margaret (Margie) Jacqueline Jeffrey, UE

Margie, a Bicentennial Branch member, died on June 30, 2015. She was delighted to receive her UEL certificate on November 19, 2005 from then Dominion President, Doug Grant UE. Margaret lived in Wallaceburg at the time and her certificate was through French Canadian Loyalist ancestor, François Drouillard. Margaret retired from St. Clair College as Chair of the Hospitality Department. One of her many passions was genealogical research and she was a member of the Ontario Genealogical Society, Michigan's Habitant Heritage Society and La Société de Genéologie Pionnière du Sud-Ouest. Margaret was a published author in a genealogical journal. Margaret was predeceased by her husband Douglas (2015) and survived by a daughter and a son, 4 grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter.

...Margie Luffman, UE, Bicentennial Branch


Response re Lundy's Lane United Church

The query sought information about Loyalists and the cemetery of the Church. My ancestors are connected to this cemetery and in its early years it was known as the Garner Cemetery. My Great Grandmother was Jennie Sophia Garner and I recently received my UE Certificate for John Garner Sr. UEL.

The City of Niagara Falls website gives a paragraph as follows:

"The original cemetery was founded by the "Red Meeting House" Methodist church in 1817. The Methodist cemetery was also known as Garner Cemetery and Green's Corner's Cemetery. The cemetery was abandoned for several years when the Methodist Church congregation moved up the Lane. The Township of Stamford took ownership of the cemetery in 1934 and enlarged the lands by several acres. There is a distinct difference between the "old" historical cemetery and what is now known as Lundy's Lane Cemetery."

One of the proofs that I used in my application came from the Ontario Historical Society: Papers and Records VOL.XXV. Jacob Garner, son of George (my 4th Great Grandfather), was one of Stamford's early school-teachers, and held various municipal offices. He was a trustee of the "Red Meeting House."

My 5th Great Grandfather was John Garner Sr. He arrived in America in 1777 with his wife Hannah Parsons Rogers. He was held as a prisoner of the rebels for upwards of 10 months during the American Revolution. He was present at Niagara and on muster of Ten Broeck's company covering the period 3 Sep 1782 to 9 Apr 1783. Listed as a settler "at the Mountain and near Fort Erie, 1785". On a list of Loyalists who drew rations at Fort Erie between Dec 1784 and Dec 1786. Settled in on Lot 1, 1st Concession, Bertie Township, Upper Canada. Land entitlement in the District of Nassau in 1792 totalled 450 acres. In July 1795 he was granted 550 acres of land. On the UE List 1797. Lieutenant in the Nassau Militia in 1792. Died around 1822 and is buried in the Garner Burying Ground (Lundy's Lane Cemetery).

...Paul Preece, UE, President, Col. John Butler (Niagara) Branch

Jeremiah Lyons

My 4x GGF Samuel Betts married a lady by the name of Jane or Jennie Lyons. She was the daughter of Jeremiah Lyons, who was a Loyalist. I found him mentioned in the Lyons Memorial (pp. 59-60). His father was Joseph Lyons, who fought on the American side (see entry). Trouble is that I cannot find any other information about Jeremiah. Nothing shows up at the PANB online at least.

4x Great Grandparents

Samuel Betts: DOB: 25 Jan 1800, at Doaktown, Northumberland, New Brunswick; DOD: 1880, at Northumberland, NB

Married on 5 Dec 1822 in Doaktown, Northumberland, NB to Jane or Jennie Lyons DOB: 1 Jan 1805 at Ludlow, Northumberland, NB; DOD: Jun 1886 at Doaktown, Northumberland, NB.

5x Great Grandparents

Jeremiah Lyons DOB: 1765 at White Plains, Westchester, New York, British America DOD: 1812 at Carrolls Crossing, Northumberland, NB. Was a Loyalist but unclear if fought in any militias. Noted in father's will as having left for New Brunswick.

Married year unknown Elizabeth unkown; DOB: 03 Sep 1787 at Oswego, New York, USA; DOD: 17 Jan 1866 at Keswick, York, NB.

6x Great Grandparents

Joseph Lyon(s) DOB: 1712 at Greenwich, Fairfield, Connecticut, British America; DOD: 23 Dec 1776 at White Plains, Westchester, New York, USA. Fought for American side in Revolution; listed in Sons of the American Revolution index. Grandson of "Thomas of Rye"; see Lyon Memorial: New York Families Descended From The Immigrant Thomas Lyon of Rye found online, especially pp. 59-60.

Married year unknown Mary Disbrow, DOB: 1715 at Greenwich, Fairfield, Connecticut, British America. DOD: 1776? t White Plains, Westchester, New York, USA

Jeremiah is really the one I'm most curious about but if anyone has information on the others that would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

...John Betts

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