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The Jews of the Loyalist Diaspora

The month of May celebrates Jewish heritage in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. One often-overlooked chapter in their rich history is the role of Jews who supported the British crown during the American Revolution.

This article was a collaborative effort by three researchers and writers: Stephen Davidson UE, Stuart Manson UE, and Stephen McDonald UE.  All are members of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, and the latter two are members of the St. Lawrence Branch.

The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) was a vicious civil war pitting Rebels against Loyalists.  At the beginning of the conflict those living in the colonies were divided in sentiment. Having sided with the defeated British, approximately 60,000 Loyalists left the new United States and sought refuge within King George III’s reduced empire.  This ‘Loyalist Diaspora’ resulted in about 7,500 coming to what is now Ontario.

The Loyalist refugees fleeing the United States were a diverse group representing many ethnic, racial and religious groups including the Jewish community. Research has now shown that, like many religious and cultural groups, Jews were found in both Rebel and Loyalist camps. Often they are not identified as Jews in historical documents. Some historians have had to make educated guesses based on predominantly Jewish surnames.

Hart is a common surname among Jews of colonial America and also among those who remained loyal to the Crown during the American Revolutionary War. The Hart family of Newport, Rhode Island were Jewish Loyalists some of whose members did not survive the American Revolution. A period  map of Newport is illustrated above. When the British evacuated that city in 1779, the loyal Harts followed them to the New York City area, settling on Long Island. The Rebels later attacked this settlement. Despite a spirited defence in a makeshift fort, Isaac Hart was killed “with the greatest brutality by the rebels for his attachment to Great Britain.”

Samuel Hart was a merchant and politician who lived in Philadelphia and New York City. Hart set up shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1785, where his business initially prospered.  His biographer notes: “Not content with material success, Samuel Hart aspired to social recognition, even if that required suppression of his Jewish identity”. In March 1793, he was baptised as an Anglican. However, Hart’s mercantile business failed. The subsequent stress was too much, and in 1809 he was declared insane. He died the next year, “a pathetic figure who spent the last days of his life chained to the floor of a room in his Preston mansion.”

Abraham Florentine, a Jew of Italian origin, was a dry goods merchant before the revolution. He had establishments in New Jersey and New York City. A Loyalist, he joined the migration northward, settling in Digby, Nova Scotia. He soon left for England to seek compensation from the government. Unsuccessful, he returned to the United States of America where he appears to have been reintegrated into American society, a rarity for Loyalists who were usually unwelcome in their native colonies.

Barrak (Baruch) Hays was a Loyalist Jew who fled to Montréal from New York City in the spring of 1783 where he was reunited with his brother Andrew. Their father, Solomon Hays had emigrated from the Netherlands to the colony of New York in the 1720s. Solomon ran a mercantile business and became a prominent member of New York City’s Jewish community.

Barrak followed in his father’s footsteps, establishing a business based in both New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Andrew, a younger son, decided to take advantage of new business opportunities in Montréal. He settled there sometime after 1769 and became involved in the city’s thriving fur trade.

Colonial Jewish businessmen had a record of providing the British forces with needed provisions during the Seven Years War and did so again during the American Revolution. Some sold military provisions to the British troops and German mercenaries in Canada as early as 1775, while others did the same within the rebellious colonies following the British occupation of New York City in August of 1776.  Barrak Hays was one of those businessmen, describing himself as an “auctioneer in the city of New York”.

Hays had taken a strong Loyalist stance in the fall of 1776 when he and 500 other New Yorkers signed their names to a petition to the British for “restoring peace in His Majesty’s colonies”. Hays not only sided with the Crown, he also came to the aid of his synagogue when he learned that the British had plans to turn it into a military hospital. Hays was one of three men who “prevailed on the British not [to] do with the synagogue as they had with most of the other churches in the city. They had turned them into hospitals, riding academies, barracks and things of that kind.”

However, the synagogue did not escape vandalism. British soldiers broke into it, destroyed some of the furnishings, and damaged the Torah and other holy writings. To its credit, the British army publicly whipped the vandals who desecrated the synagogue.

In addition to his business connections with the British army, Hays was employed as an “officer of guides,” receiving five shillings a day for his services until June of 1783. Sensing the inevitable victory of the Patriots in August 1782, Hays decided to go to Montréal. He was there a year later, where he stayed for at least a decade. It seems most likely that he resumed his career as an auctioneer.

Upon his arrival in Montréal sometime after 1769, Hays’ brother Andrew had joined the local Jewish congregation, becoming one of its leading members. In 1777, Montréal’s Jews built themselves a synagogue, Shearith Israel Congregation — the first in Canada.

Montréal’s Jewish community — which now included Loyalist refugees as well as those who remained loyal throughout the revolution—was made up of businessmen, fur traders, and army personnel. It is estimated that 10% of Montréal’s merchants were Jewish. Andrew Hays’ son, Moses Judah Hays, would later become a municipal leader, serving as Montréal’s chief commissioner of police and organizing the city’s first water-works.

Details about the lives of the Loyalists, Barrak and Andrew Hays, begin to peter out after the massive refugee resettlement that followed in the wake of the American Revolution. A list of 113 members of a Masonic Lodge in Newport, Rhode Island “previous to the 24th of June, 1791” includes Barrak Hays’ name. Given that there was a large Jewish community in Rhode Island and that Hays once had a business in Newport, he may have moved there in the hope of establishing a new life in a more promising economic climate.

There are also references to the death of a Baruch Hays in the West Indies on April 13, 1845. This British colony had a fairly large community of Jewish businessmen; it would make sense for the New York Loyalist to have settled in the West Indies. Barrak Hays may have moved from New York to Montreal to Rhode Island and then to the West Indies before the conclusion of a tumultuous life.

David Franks was a merchant from Philadelphia who spent the American Revolution supplying troops — both Patriot and British — with provisions. However, he eventually gave his allegiance to the British crown.  Phila, Franks’ socialite daughter, eloped with Oliver Delancey, a prominent Loyalist who had established a three-battalion regiment operating out of New York City. Phila converted to Christianity at the time of her marriage.

During the war, David Franks migrated to Montréal, and joined its Jewish community. He contributed to the construction fund for Montréal’s first synagogue. Seeking compensation for the sizeable losses he sustained during the war, Franks left Montreal for England. There he died there within ten years of the revolution’s end, still suffering financially. A key biographer claims: “David Franks deserves to be numbered among Loyal Americans who suffered greatly during the American Revolution, and his story is an example of the tribulations that could befall a civilian Loyalist in those difficult times”.

St. Lawrence Branch Annual General Meeting (Virtual)

Normally, our first public branch meeting of the calendar year is the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Due to COVID-19, we cannot meet in-person. But fear not! In order to continue our operations, this AGM will be held virtually, using the video-conferencing website ZOOM.

The meeting will take place on Saturday, June 13 at 1:30 p.m.

Branch members will soon receive information by email on how to join this meeting.

Important agenda items include a vote on a proposed amendment to our branch bylaws, and the election of the new branch executive.

KRRNY Soldier and Family Migration Routes to Canada

For your reading pleasure – since we suspect that many have time on their hands, at present – our website now features a new historical article written by Vicki Holmes. The piece is titled “King’s Royal Regiment of New York: Soldier and Family Migration Routes to Canada” and is illustrated with some great maps.

Holmes’ article, just like her recent book Three River Valleys Called Home, is saturated with the names of specific loyalist families. We’re sure you’ll enjoy it. A link to the article can be found at the end of our Wartime & Settlement page.

A huge “thank you” to Vicki Holmes for preparing this article for us.

Loyalist Resource Centre CLOSED

Due to concerns over COVID-19 (coronavirus), our Loyalist Resource Centre is now closed until further notice.

We are still available to answer your queries, however, via email or telephone. Please consult our Loyalist Resource Centre page for more information.

We will provide further updates here on our website, and on our social media accounts.

Press Release: Member Ashley Harper Receives Prestigious Award and Scholarship

We are pleased to announce that Ashley Harper, one of our branch directors, has received a prestigious provincial award and scholarship for her work in the heritage field.

On February 20, 2020, in a ceremony in the Legislative Building at Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ashley was honoured with the “Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Heritage Award for Youth Achievement” and the “Young Heritage Leaders Scholarship.” The scholarship is valued at $3,500 and was sponsored by Canada Life.

Ashley hails from Winchester, Ontario. She has been a director of the St. Lawrence Branch – one of the youngest in the history of our organization – since 2018. She is also president of the Chesterville and District Historical Society. Ashley is a graduate of North Dundas District High School and is now studying history at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Ashley has also worked in numerous local museums such as the Carman House Museum in Iroquois, Ontario, and the Sir John Johnson Manor House in Williamstown, Ontario, both of which are strongly connected to the region’s Loyalist history. She is a descendant of Loyalists William Crowder Sr., William Crowder Jr., Abraham Hopper and Henry Froats.

The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada promotes the history of the Loyalists – the men and women who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). The St. Lawrence Branch covers the Ontario counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. Ashley’s service with our organization underscores the continued importance of Loyalist history to all generations, including those born at the turn of the 21st century.

We heartily congratulate Ashley on this significant achievement.

For more information, please contact one of the officers of the St. Lawrence Branch: President Lorraine Reoch, or Interim Vice President Stephen McDonald,

UEL Burial Site – Plaque Unveiling

UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, it is likely that this event will be postponed. We will update this post when this becomes official.

The St. Lawrence Branch of the UELAC will be unveiling its latest “United Empire Loyalist Burial Site” plaque this spring. The location is the historic  Iroquois Point Cemetery, in Iroquois, Ontario.

The unveiling will take place during the Annual Memorial Service.

Please see the invitation poster below, or click here to download a PDF version.

We hope to see you there!

Loyalist Sundial Found in Cornwall

In the summer of 1895, during excavations at the Alvin Pescod residence in Cornwall, one of the workmen uncovered what he assumed was “an ordinary stone, and was going to throw if over the fence.” He paused, however, when he noticed figures written on the object, including the year 1794!

The item was an old octagonal sundial, made of burned clay and reinforced with an iron hoop. It was missing the gnomon (the upright part that casts the shadow). Its inscription, which maintained the long tradition of Latin mottos on sundials, was still legible:

Lex Dei

Lux Dei


Jno. Pescod


The English translation is:

The Law of God

The Light of God


John Pescod

He made it.

At the time of the discovery, John Pescod Jr. was called upon for information. He related that the maker of the sundial was his father. As reported by the Cornwall Freeholder, Pescod the Younger noted that:

He remembered very well, as a boy and young man, that the dial… stood on a large flat stone in the garden, and that people used to come from far and wide to get the time. Later on clocks became more common, and the sun dial fell into disuse and was heaved over into the rubbish, where it lay until [it] turned up a few days ago.

The Freeholder also remarked that the sundial was “an interesting relic of old days, and is well worth preserving.” It is unknown whether the sundial has survived to this day, but it seems unlikely.

John Pescod (sometimes written Pescott or Prescott) was a sergeant in the first battalion of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, a loyalist regiment that settled in Cornwall and area in 1784. During the distribution of lands at that time, Pescod drew Lot 17 in the first concession of Cornwall Township, and later received a deed for that lot. He was a mason and a farmer. He was born in England, but later settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York prior to the American Revolutionary War. Alvin Pescod, mentioned above, was a subsequent owner of the land. The location is now the neighbourhood of Riverdale, near Pescod Avenue which honours the family.

Seasonal Hours – Loyalist Resource Centre

The holiday season is upon us! Please be advised that our Loyalist Resource Centre will be closed from December 14 to January 6, inclusive.

Please also note another schedule change: The centre is no longer open on Saturdays. (But remains open Monday to Friday 9:00-3:00, except during the period noted above.)

Please see our Resource Centre page for more information on our holdings and methods of access.

All of us at the St. Lawrence Branch wish you and yours a happy holiday season, and a prosperous new year!

Our Social Media Fleet

Several years ago, UELAC St. Lawrence Branch launched a Facebook page. This single vessel was our flagship sailing on the social media seas.

We’re now pleased to announce we’ve added several sister ships, thus creating a social media fleet! Come gaze upon our newly-commissioned craft:



The admiral of this fleet is our Interim Vice President Stephen McDonald. He has done stellar work with our Facebook page of late, progress proven by quantifiable increases in engagements (likes, shares and reach, for example).

Fun fact: The largest warship to sail the Great Lakes was called the HMS St. Lawrence. Coincidence? We think not! The 112-gun “first-rate” vessel commanded Lake Ontario after she was launched in 1814, during the height of War of 1812.

HMS St. Lawrence

Please note that the Contacts page on our website contains information on all ways to interact with us.