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Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, 2019 Archive

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“Loyalist Trails” 2019-44: November 3, 2019


Speaking Loyalist Era English

© Stephen Davidson, UE

Historic re-enactors and the writers of historical novels who want to be true to the details of Loyalist speech will find the best examples of the era's language in the letters written during the late eighteenth century. Thanks to a collection of letters that were written between 1775 and 1779 by Captain Alexander McDonald, a Loyalist officer stationed in Halifax, we have access to a treasure trove of the words and turns of phrases used by Loyalists during the American Revolution.

For example, loyal Americans never referred to the conflict that was destroying the world they knew as the War of Independence or even the American Revolution. In the compensation claims made in the 1780s, the rebellion was usually described as "the Troubles". In Alexander McDonald's letters to his family and fellow officers, he uses a variety of terms: "this unhappy disaster", "a civil war", "this wicked wanton and Unnatural Rebellion", or (choose your adjective) "this wretched/miserable/unnatural/unhappy Contest".

Instead of using the phrase "restoring law and order", McDonald spoke of "dispersing and quelling mobs, riots, and tumults". To "send a drum through the town" to "beat up for volunteers" was to have a drummer go through Halifax to recruit soldiers. To be neutral was "to stand neuter". The American Patriots were "damned Yankee rebels". The British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga was referred to as "Burgoyne's disaster".

Rather than saying that he was "worried sick", McDonald said, "we are almost dead with Anxiety and Care". The sentiment behind the song "Don't worry, be happy" was – in Loyalist lingo – "cheer up your heart and hope for better days". Rather than saying he would eat his hat if something came true, McDonald wrote, "If the Governor will raise three hundred men in three years I will give my head for a foot ball." (It would be interesting to know exactly what a 1775 football looked like.)

While we might say that we hadn't "heard a word" from a correspondent, our Loyalist officer said that he had not received "one single scrape of a pen". A healthy infant was not a "bouncing baby" or "strapping lad" – he was a "thumping boy". A spoiled brat was someone who was always "humoured" in "everything he was pleased to wish for." Instead of getting "worked up" or "hot under the collar", McDonald stopped writing one letter because he found himself "getting in a passion".

Over time, a word could change its meaning or at least the context in which it was used. The verb used in the following sentence seems better used for a day of recreation rather than a military operation: "I should be extremely happy if you had no objection, sir, to take a scamper five or six days through the woods with my men."

Some words pop out of McDonald's letters because they seem so out of character for the era. At one point, he asked for an order of black satin for a negligee and petticoat for his wife. As it turns out, the female article of clothing that is typically made of a filmy, soft fabric was a creation of the mid-18th century. Mrs. McDonald was clearly aware of all the latest fashions. Another example is the "state lottery" to which the Loyalist officer refers. He asked a friend in Britain to purchase a ticket for him in the hopes that he would win the prize of twenty thousand pounds.

A word such as "calybogus" forces one to consult a dictionary. McDonald used the term when he scolded an officer for his "cursed Carelessness & Slovenlyness about {his} own Body and {his} dress – Nothing going on but drinking Calybogus, chewing Tobacco & playing Cards in place of that decentness & Cleanliness that all Gentlemen who has the least Regard for themselves & Character." The drink in question was a mixture of rum, spruce beer and molasses – all ingredients that one could obtain in Nova Scotia. In Newfoundland, calybogus (also spelled calabogus, callabogus, calebogus, calli, callibogus, and calibogus) could also be hot beer mixed with gin. The dictionary noted it as being a "maritime beverage of eastern North America".

Other expressions pop up in McDonald's correspondence that are still quite familiar more than two centuries later. At Christmas, he wished his friends "the compliments of the season"; he later enquired if someone was "in the land of the living" and spoke of having to choose whether to "sink or swim". He complained that there was not a bit of leather to be had in Halifax "for either love or money".

A pregnant woman's cravings for exceptional food are not unique to the 21s century. McDonald wrote that his expectant wife was "going crazy for oysters, apples and cider". What is strange to the ears of anyone familiar with the long tradition of apple orchards in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley is McDonald's comment that he could not get apples or cider in the colony.

Legal language has not changed a great deal. McDonald authorized a friend to be his "power of attorney" to see to the management of property that was within Patriot territory in New York. No modern doctor would have difficulty understanding the passage where McDonald's son was inoculated. However, in this era, such a medical procedure was done to prevent the patient from contracting smallpox rather than measles or the mumps.

Describing Halifax in the opening days of the American Revolution, McDonald said it was "the happiest spot" in that part of British America, and then later as "the most peaceable corner now in America".

What did it mean to be in "a good fish country"? McDonald held the widespread belief that a diet of fish made a couple more likely to conceive children. When he reported that his wife was pregnant, he wrote that "the vast quantity of fish got in this place has a wonderful effect on old grey-haired." (McDonald, it should be noted, was in his early 50s.)

What kinds of recruits were considered "good men", worthy of joining the British forces in Halifax? McDonald described them as "stout, able young fellows, sound in their limbs and joints, and in perfect good health – not subject to fits or any other disorders."

These are just some of glimpses of the Loyalist era that can be discovered in Captain McDonald's record of correspondence. More revelations of the past will be explored. Watch for future editions of Loyalist Trails for further revelations of the past hidden in a captain's correspondence.

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

(Editor's Note: Read more of Captain Alexander McDonald's letter book here.)

JAR: A Reprieve for John Sutherland, a Poor Silly Creature

By Don N. Hagist, 29 October 2019

John Sutherland had intended only to visit his brother, and now he sat in confinement, awaiting a death sentence. It was not a likely fate for the forty-one-year-old private soldier who had always borne "a very good Character" during his eighteen years in the army, except for an occasional bout of intoxication, a common vice among British soldiers who had spent several years fighting a frustrating, inconclusive war with American colonists.

Sutherland left his trade as a tailor in 1760 at the age of twenty-two, and enlisted as a soldier in the 64th Regiment of Foot. It was a new regiment, raised in 1756 as a second battalion to an existing regiment and established as an independent regiment two years later. Service in the West Indies, particularly the 1759 taking of Guadeloupe, severely depleted its ranks. The corps returned to Great Britain in 1759 and began recruiting in Scotland. County Caithness native Sutherland joined the ranks, and spent the next eight years learning his new profession as the regiment moved around Scotland and Ireland.

By 1768 the 64th Regiment was once again fully fit for foreign service after a decade of recruiting and training. They sailed to North America, not to quell a crisis, but on a normal rotation of regiments from domestic to overseas service. They spent the next several years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the fortified barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. As tensions grew in the colonies, a larger and larger army gathered around the 64th and a few other regiments already in America. The regiment served throughout the siege and evacuation of Boston, the campaigns in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, and finally encamped near Bedford, Long Island, in the autumn of 1778, preparing for their tenth straight winter in the American colonies.

Read more.

JAR: Courts-Martial of the Corps of Light Infantry, 1779

By Michael J. F. Sheehan, 28 October 2019

Orderly books are great sources of information for military historians. Their contents are a treasure, and include everything from general and regimental orders, returns, lists, troops movements, guard postings, and the day to day activities of the men themselves. They also include the results of courts- martial, giving insight into what a particular soldier did (or in some cases did not do) that irritated officers or violated the agreed upon Articles of War. The verdict of the courts, composed of officers, is followed by the announcement of the punishment and either the approval or remittence thereof by the commanding officer.

In June 1779, Gen. George Washington issued orders for the formation of a Corps of Light Infantry, ultimately composed of four regiments, to be commanded by Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne. This temporary conglomerate unit existed for six and a half months, into January 1780. Just like the parent regiments from which the various companies were drawn, the temporary Light Infantry regiments utilized orderly books. Two of those books are known to survive. One, in private hands, is the book of Capt. Seth Phelps of the 3rd Light Infantry Regiment, a unit composed entirely of Connecticut companies (Phelps was from the 4th Connecticut Regiment) and commanded by Col. Return Jonathan Meigs. The other, published and available online, is from Capt. Robert. Gamble's company (drawn from the 7th and 8th Virginia Regiments) of the 1st Light Infantry Regiment commanded by Col. Christian Febiger. Both books offer an excellent view of life in the Corps of Light Infantry in the time after the Corps' famous July 16, 1779 attack on the British fortifications at Stony Point. Included among their many details are a number of court martials. Despite the high praise the Corps of Light Infantry received in the wake of Stony Point, and the high standards of their commander General Wayne, the men of the Corps could be less then exemplary at times. Soldiers, in any age, endure high stress, the rigors of combat, exposure to disease and climate fluctuations, personal rivalries, hope for advancement and honor, and many more such stressors. They were human and bound to have their temporary failings or misunderstandings – understandable in such an environment. A court-martial did not automatically indicate a bad or poor soldier. Nonetheless, the following survey of courts-martial that took place in the 1779 Corps of Light Infantry offers a different look into the lives and struggles of the "light bobs." The courts-martial are presented by theme, rather than chronologically. A number of themes regarding infractions were found. They related to Stony Point, officer disputes, theft, alcohol, desertion, abuse of officers by enlisted men, and finally, miscellaneous.

Read more.

A Garden Ghost And Revolutionary Loyalist Among Those That Haunt Newtown Homes

By Alissa Silber, 29 Oct 2016

"A lot of the old houses in the area have a ghost," said Town Historian Dan Cruson. Having been established in 1705, Newtown has had more than 300 years to gather spooky tales of hauntings.

Despite calling himself a skeptic, Mr Cruson shared some of the most popular ghost stories he has heard of just in time for Halloween.


The house at 74 Main Street is called "the blue house" by many people. Others, who are more familiar with its history, call it "Hillbrow" or "Head O' Main Street," but to Richard Mulligan it has been called home for the last 42 years.

Beyond those years though, lies the origin of one of Newtown's most notorious ghosts.

The house was built in 1715 by Ebenezer Blackman and remained in the Blackman family for several generations before being sold out of the family.

During the American Revolutionary War, a Tory (better known as a Loyalist) resident lived there. There were many Tories in Newtown, because of its strong Anglican faith.

Mr Cruson explained, "The minister John Beach was a very charismatic personality. When he came back to found the Episcopal Church here in the early part of the 18th Century, he attracted members away from the Congregation Church. As a result, during the American Revolution he remained loyal and many of his followers did as well."

Supposedly, two of those followers included a husband and wife who lived at Hillbrow.

The story began when French troops, led by Count de Rochambeau during the Revolutionary War, came to Newtown. They had traveled by foot from Providence, R.I., and were marching through on their way to New York to meet with General George Washington.

Read more.

“Lapping a spot of dry blood on his sleeve”

By J. L. Bell, 16 February 2016

Before leaving the diary of the mysterious Capt. Smythe, I must highlight a passage that Frank Moore quoted from that document in 1860.

Smythe was a British army officer stationed around New York. In his entry for 8 Nov 1778, he wrote:

This afternoon a party of our horse brought in two rebel privates from Powles Hook. One of them is very intelligent and communicative; but the other is the most whimsical tony I ever have seen. Wherever he goes, he carries with him a large gray cat, which he says came into the rebel camp on the night after the battle at Freehold Meeting-House [better known as Monmouth], and which he first discovered lapping a spot of dry blood on his sleeve, as he lay on his arms expecting another dash at the British. His affection for the cat is as wonderful as hers is for him, for they are inseparable. He says if we don't allow him extra rations for his cat, he shall be obliged to allow them out of his own.

A New Complete English Dictionary from 1760 defines "jack-pudding" as "a tony; a merry andrew" – all types of fools.

Read more.

The Junto: A (Pedagogically, Geographically, Historiographically) Vast Native History Course

By Jessica Taylor and Edward Polanco, 1 Nov 2019

Working through the first course proposal at a tenure-track job is intimidating, and more so when the topic is as enormous and fraught as "Native History." To develop this course with care, we sought input and advice on and off campus as the process unfolded. These thoughts originated in a meeting between Virginia Tech's Native students' group, Native@VT, the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center on campus, and the Department of History. We wanted to share some of our ideas and strategies as we continue to develop our Native History class and advocate for a more visible Native presence on campus. This has put our Department's and University's commitment to diversity into action.

Read more.

Ben Franklin's World: Interpreting the Fourth Amendment

Sarah Seo, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, Fourth Amendment expert, and the author of Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom, joins us to investigate how and why the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourth Amendment has changed over time and how that change has impacted the way the Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizures.

Listen to the podcast.

New UELAC Hat and Pullover Sweat now Available

Presented to the Board of Directors at their recent Fall meeting, Trish Groom is pleased to announce a new hat and a new Pullover Sweat.

See a photo: Brian McConnell UE, a member of the board, is launching a new career as a fashion model.

Hats are $30.

Pullover Sweats are $40.00 available in both men's and ladies sizes (very "true to size").

Deadline for Christmas ordering would be Friday, November 22nd.

Contact me at for more details.

...Trish Groom, UE

UELAC: Board of Directors

The Directors & Officers of United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada recently met for a two-day Board meeting in Toronto. This year there are several new members. (Photos courtesy of Brian McConnell, UE.)

Who are the people on the Board? Check the list (I leave it to you to match the names to those in the photos).

They meet in person three times each year, once at the annual conference in early summer, and once in Spring and fall. Modern communications technologies help them make many decisions between meetings too.

Where in the World?

Where is Jack Twells of Calgary Branch?

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 your submission to the editor at

Region and Branch Bits

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

Toronto Branch: "This Canada Business" (Nov. 13)

Toronto Branch: “This Canada Business”: How John Graves Simcoe became the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada

Wednesday, November 13, 8:00 - 9:00 pm; at 40 Scollard Street, Suite 300, in Toronto.

Focus on Simcoe as an English administrator of a new British colony. This story includes a look at how Simcoe campaigned for a government job in Upper Canada, how the British Parliament made the decision to divide Quebec into Lower and Upper Canada, how 18th century patronage worked, some incidences of government bungling, and some early evidence of Simcoe's eccentricity, which would characterize his entire three-year administration.

More details.

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • This Week in History
    • 31 October 1765 New York merchants sign a non-importation agreement, agreeing not to import goods from Great Britain to protest the Stamp Act, which placed a small tax on all paper goods, like contracts, licenses, newspapers, almanacs, etc.
    • 1 Nov 1765 Stamp Act takes effect, intended to pay for defense of Colonies.
    • 24 Oct 1769, a Boston crowd tried to make a British army officer obey a summons for stealing firewood, and the result was escalating violence that could easily have turned fatal. The next confrontation started on the night of 23 October, when a housewright and Whig activist named Robert Pierpont (also spelled "Peirpoint") went to the British army guardhouse on Boston Neck. Pierpont owned land nearby, and he had already complained about soldiers stealing his firewood. Read more...
    • 26 Oct 1774 First Continental Congress adjourns in Philadelphia.
    • 31 Oct 1775 Washington tried to encourage re-enlistment in the Army by reserving new supplies for any who commit to another year of service and promising each man time to visit his family during the winter.
    • 27 Oct 1776 Royal Navy forcibly impresses 1,000 sailors from boats on the Thames for service against America.
    • 28 Oct 1776 Battle of White Plains ends in Washington retreating to New-Jersey.
    • 30 Oct 1776 Congress approves sharing prize money with Continental Navy sailors who help capture enemy ships.
    • 31 Oct 1776 George III addresses Parliament, celebrating victory at Long Island, warning of more fighting to come.
    • 2 Nov 1776 American officer deserts to Lord Hugh Percy, delivers plans for Ft. Washington on Manhattan.
    • 29 Oct 1777 John Hancock resigns as President of the Continental Congress.
  • Townsends:
  • Clothing and Related:
  • Miscellaneous:
    • Happy Halloween Mudlarks! I got the shock of my life when I saw this glass eye a while back, like Old Father Thames himself staring back at me from the mud. Read more about the history of glass eyes
    • This cloth heart pierced with pins was found in a C17th witch bottle under the threshold of the Plough Inn, King's Lynn. Witch bottles were commonly buried to ward off evil spells in the late 16th & 17th centuries.
    • Dutch ancestors? a relationship with Amsterdam? Watch the growth of Amsterdam through the 17th century
    • As shown by Sarah Livingston Jay's receipt, fashion trends in 1790s New York included hamster-lined cloaks

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

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

  • Collier, Sgt. Peter - by volunteer Jo Ann Tuskin
  • Sutherland, Walter - by volunteer Jo Ann Tuskin

Please help us build the directory by contributing information. Contact for guidance.


What was a Great Coat?

One of the readers of Loyalist Trails wonders what a "great coat" was. Such a garment was one of just two personal items mentioned in an ancestor's compensation claim. Would a great coat in the revolutionary era have looked like the coat in this picture? Can anyone describe and/or offer as picture? Just reply to me and I will post responses next week.