Early Impressions of Loyalist SD&G

Following the Loyalists’ settlement in SD&G in 1784, numerous observers commented on the development of their communities. Below we reproduce the writings of a selection of these observers, which include settlers, travelers, and government officials.

“They had to work hard, and suffer many privations…” Thomas Gummersall Anderson (circa 1784-)

Thomas Gummersall Anderson was the son of Captain Samuel Anderson, who commanded a company in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York. He and his family settled in the “East Front” of Cornwall following the American Revolutionary War. Thomas was but a boy in 1784, yet he retained vivid recollections of those early years.

My father and his children, with the men of his company, got their allotment of lands in Cornwall, Canada West, where they all settled in the wilderness. The nearest settlement, of any extent, was Montreal, distant 68 miles, and from Kingston 105 miles.

The Loyalists, having sacrificed their property to their politics, were, generally speaking, poor. They had to work hard, and suffer many privations before they could raise crops to support their family. I well remember when ‘sup-on’ and milk was our morning and evening repast. This sup-on is made of Indian corn, ground, and boiled for several hours, then eaten with milk, butter, sugar, etc., to suit the taste. It is very wholesome, nourishing and cheap food.

Among other things, Anderson describes his family’s residence as it was in October 1785, during a total eclipse of the sun that became known forever after as Dark Sunday:

I also recollect that on the Dark Sunday our house was only just shingled, but was not yet provided with partitions, doors and windows, but it kept off the severity of the rain, which began to fall with the return of light, the total darkness having continued about two hours.

There was no means of education in the upper province in those days, and hence it is that the young people, however much their parents might regret it, could not be educated. Thus, we may say, that the first generation born in Upper Canada was without book learning, but they laboured like slaves to render their children more fortunate…

Anderson’s use of the term “laboured like slaves” is particularly insensitive, especially considering his father was a slave owner.

I remained with my father, doing little good for myself or anyone else, until 1795, when I attained my 16th year. My amusement was hunting squirrels, fishing, or trapping pigeons…

In those days the only mode of conveyance from Montreal to Kingston was by batteau, and the way of conveying dispatches, newspapers and private letters during the winter season was on the back of a Canadian, who travelled on snowshoes. The name of the man I mean, I think, was Morriseaux, whose food for his journey to Montreal, 68 miles, through the wilderness, was sea biscuit and raw pork fat, which he would, sitting down on a bank of snow, eat with a first-rate appetite, and afterwards puff away all care, with clouds of curling smoke from his very portable clay pipe, the stem of which was just long enough to keep the burning punk with which he lit it about two inches from his nose. From Lachine to Cornwall he was obliged to sleep out of doors three nights, as the settlers were then so thinly scattered. He could not at all times reach a house, and the only bed he had on those occasions was green boughs under him and a single blanket to cover him…

The batteau at this season of the year [autumn] were generally manned by five hands, but during the summer months four were considered sufficient, as they were sent off from Lachine in brigades of from three and upwards to help each other in towing the strong rapids of the St. Lawrence.

Thomas Gummersall Anderson

“The situation here is delightful.” Robert Mathews (May 1787)

Before Robert Matthews ventured up the St. Lawrence in the spring of 1787, on his way to Detroit, he was already well-acquainted with the Loyalists: He had been the military secretary to Governor Frederick Haldimand during the American Revolutionary War, and during the period of resettlement. After Haldimand was replaced by Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester) in 1786, Mathews became the latter’s aide-de-camp.

…Got to Pointe au Beaudet at 6 o’clock, where one McGee, formerly in Sir John Johnson’s Corps has a settlement, on which he has made very rapid progress. Halted about 15 minutes, and proceeded to Point Tonoriere; arrived there at half after 8 o’clock, and on my way passed Lieutenant Sutherland’s Settlement, situated in a deep bay. We were not near enough to form any judgment of the land, but he seemed to have cleared a good deal. Halted for a few minutes, and was just pushing off for Sir John Johnson’s Point when a violent gust came on, which determined me to put up for the night in an uninhabited house.

Set off at 4 o’clock, the wind still high and contrary, weather disagreeably cold. Passed Mr. Faulkner’s settlement [present-day South Lancaster] at a distance, and landed at a small house within two miles of Captain Alexander Macdonell’s. Walked to his house [Glengarry House] and breakfasted. The situation here is delightful and the soil very fine. He has cleared a great deal of land, and bids fair for having a fine farm in a short time. We proceeded on foot to Mr. Wilkinson’s. He is situated close to the river, by a fine creek, where he is erecting a potash [manufactory] and means to build a mill.

The ruins of Glengarry House in 1906 (Old Boys’ Reunion). The ruins are still standing to this day.

There are two inconsiderable settlements above [upstream from] this, and then an interval of four miles belonging to St. Regis Indians [the Indian Lands between Charlottenburgh and Cornwall townships], the points of which and situation of very favourble for settlement, and from the wood growing the soil must be very rich. The first settlement from this interval is strikingly beautiful, being situated upon an easy, regular slope, facing the south, and defended from the raking east and west winds. A fine island, richly clothed with wood, and some meadow ground before it. I believe it is the property of Major [James] Gray. Got on this evening to the lot of one Nave of Sir John Johnson’s Corps [possibly Mille Roches]. He is married to a very young woman, and has a man who was taken prisoner at Quebec in 1775 to assist him on his farm. He is married to a Canadian woman, and these two couples live together in the same house, consisting of a single room, but the neatest and most cleanly I ever saw. Here we lay.

Proceeded at 4 o’clock this morning. Still unfortunate in our wind. Passed the Long Sault about 2 o’clock, and got to Captain Duncan’s about six in the evening. Drank tea here with Captain J. Munro and Lieutenant McMartin. Walked from thence about two miles to Thompson’s, who was in Sir John Johnson’s Corps. A sensible man, seemingly very industrious, having all materials ready to enlarge his house and much cleared ground. He is married to an old Dutch woman. It rained hard the whole day.

“They are a happy, flourishing people.” Colonel Dundas (October 1787)

Colonel Thomas Dundas was a commissioner who took the statements and affidavits of Loyalists, relating to the financial losses they sustained during the war. His comments are broad, applying to the Loyalist settlements in general.

…we came to Canada in the month of May and have been employed all this summer in examining the claims of persons resident in this extensive country. They are very numerous – I think from 1,100 to 1,200 – but are in amount very small, being mostly farmers from the back part of New York Province. These people have been settled since the peace in the upper part of Canada, beginning 50 miles above Montreal, and extending to Niagara. They find the soil excellent and the climate good. They are mostly thriving in so much that already they have been able to supply the king’s posts with bread.

Canada, my lord, has surprised me very much, as I figured to myself that it resembled Nova Scotia; but it is, particularly near this place [Montreal] equal in extent of rich country to any part of America. The winter is long, but still the summers are sufficient to ripen any grain. The [French] Canadians are in number about 120,000; the Loyalists are about 6,000, and they are a happy, flourishing people.

“This is reckoned a very fine settlement.” Patrick Campbell (November 1791)

Patrick Campbell was a traveler hailing from Fort William in Scotland. He toured North America in 1791 and 1792. He published an account of his travels, at the urging of his friends, soon after his return to Scotland. In November 1791, he ascended the St. Lawrence River and passed through our area.

From Lieutenant Fraser’s [at Coteau du Lac], I proceeded to the foot of the River Raisin, where an Italian Count, on his return from Lake Superior, was encamped. He had three tents, some baggage, provisions and a crew of ten or twelve Canadians in one birch canoe, the largest I ever saw of the kind. This small river is closely settled for the space of twenty miles, mostly by Highlanders; and in many parts seven concessions deeps, as they are called here, seven farms deep, the one behind the other. This is reckoned a very fine settlement; the soil extremely rich, and the average of the produce in grain twenty fold. I put up that the house of a Mr. McDonald formerly from Ardnabee in Glengarry.

…Set out from the Raisin about two hours before daylight; breakfasted at the Reverend Mr. Beaton’s [Bethune’s], also a Scotchman, and from thence went to the house of a Captain John Macdonell [Glengarry House] who was then finishing a new house said to have cost him £300 Sterling. Here I fell in with Captain Archibald Macdonell of the Long Sault. Captain John Macdonell pressed me much to stay that night, but as the boats were likely to get ahead of me I could not. Captain Archibald Macdonell being upon his way home, he and I travelled in company. We put up that night in the house of Lieutenant Miles McDonald, at a place formerly called New Johnston, but now Cornwallis [Cornwall]. Here the stance of a town is lined out, and the place is very centrical for that purpose, being nearly midway between Kingston and Montreal, situated on a broad level point of land, where the river takes a sweep and forms a bend or an obtuse angle; the country is closely inhabited, and the farms to the eighth or ninth concessions back; the soil is deep, fertile, and not difficult to clear. Mr. Miles McDonald was from home at a new farm he was clearing, and Mrs. McDonald, when I informed her who I was, recollected to have seen me in the house of Captain McDonald of Morar, her father, with whom and family I had the honour to be on the most friendly footing. This lady received me with every mark of politeness and attention… Mr. Beaty, who was then but lately married to a sister-in-law of hers, entertained Captain McDonald and me with much hospitality with Port and Madeira wines, and kept is up very late or rather early. I have hitherto seen no punch drank in this country.

An illustration, depicting a newly-settled farm in North America, which appeared in Campbell’s published version of his adventures.

Next morning we bade adieu to the family and proceeded on our journey. Called at several houses on the way; the owner of one of which, Captain McDonald said would clear that fall £200 of this farm, mostly in wheat. This part of the country is improving very fast, and will soon be in a very flourishing state.

Here Campbell mixes up the chronology of his tale. Above, he describes Cornwall, yet below he describes James Gray’s residence, which is located in the opposite direction of his travels upriver. He likely confused the order of his notes when preparing his manuscript.

Dined at Colonel Gray’s a Scotchman, who had served in his younger days in the Dutch service, himself a hoary headed little man, and his wife a large fat Dutch American lady. Stopped and drank tea at Captain McDonald’s, who pressed me to stay the night, but having yet some hours of daylight I could not think of waiting…

When you come to that part of the river called the Long Sault, opposite to Captain Archibald Macdonell’s, the attention of the traveler must be particularly arrested by the immense body of water, and the awful rapidity of its current, which some people think is nearly as novel and striking as the Great Falls of Niagara. In the middle is a long island, whose stately forests intercept the sight in many parts of the opposite shore. On each side of this island the branches of the river are about a half mile broad, and that which is now in view tumbles down with a tremendous fury, that makes the surge rise somewhat like the sea in a gale of wind…

… I set out by daylight, and called at a common farmer’s house to get breakfast. They happened to be a German family who scarce understood a word of English, and were lately from the States. Here the little German I could speak was of use to me, and sufficed to procure me bread from one house and milk in another. The scarcity of bread is owing to the water being so low that the mills could not grind the quantity required in the neighbourhood. Some miles further on, I was informed that a Lieutenant Martin McMartin with whom I was formerly acquainted lived in that neighbourhood. I sent an express for him. He was good enough to come and conduct me to the house of Captain John Munro who resided some miles further on. We met Captain Munro at a new grist and saw mill he was finishing on a point of land that projects a little into the river, the water of which supplies the mill by a cut in that point, and one wheel sets two saws and the grist mill-stone a-going at once. These two mills were contrived and finished by a common German architect who was never bred to it or to any mechanic trade whatever…

…Captain Munro conducted me to his house, and entertained me with a great deal of politeness, attention, and hospitality. We sat up pretty late; and his son-in-law Mr. Allan Patterson , also a Scotchman, entertained us with many interesting stories and anecdotes of a variety of Indian nations he had traded with for several years…

“A very fine sight.” Elizabeth Simcoe (June 1792)

Elizabeth Simcoe was the wife of John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. She kept a diary on her travels in the colony. Upon her arrival, she and her family moved upstream from Montreal in the early summer of 1792. In late June, the party arrived at Riviere Beaudette, which marked the start of the Loyalist settlements:

We arrived here about sunset, and at a small inn on the point found the principal inhabitants of the Township of Glengarry (Highlanders in their national dress). They came to meet the governor, who landed to speak with them. They proceeded us in their boat, a piper with them, towards Glengarry House, Mr. [John] Macdonell’s, where the gentlemen went, but the wooden awning of our boat being blown off by a violent and sudden squall arising, we were glad to make towards the shore as fast as possible at Pointe Mouillé on Lake St. Francis, west of Pointe au Beaudette… We met with a miserable, wretched, dirty room at a Highlander’s, the only house within some miles.

The next day, while at Glengarry House, Mrs. Simcoe had a better experience:

We breakfasted with Mr. Macdonell, four leagues from Pointe Mouillé; his new house (Glengarry) he has not finished, and resides in that which he first erected on his ground. A Catholic priest, his cousin, was there, who has lived five years among the Iroquois Indians at St. Regis (near Cornwall). They have a church, and he performs divine service in Iroquois, of which he is a perfect master, and he says their attention to the church service is very great, and the women sing psalms remarkably well. After breakfast we proceeded a league to Colonel [James] Gray’s, from whence the governor went to St. Regis, to visit the Indians at their village, where they received him with dancing in a fierce style, as if they wished to inspire the spectators with terror and respect for their ferocious appearance. We slept at Colonel Gray’s at Gray’s Creek, four miles below Cornwall.

Water transportation being tricky from this point onward, due to the Long Sault and other rapids, Simcoe continued part of her journey on a borrowed horse.

We set off about 10 o’clock. On our way we passed through Cornwall, a settlement four miles from Colonel Gray’s. There are about fifteen houses and some neat gardens in them; and rode eleven miles to Mr. [Archibald] Macdonell’s at the Long Sault, his farm being very near that grand rapid, which rapid continues a mile; the whole river foaming like white breakers, and the banks covered with thick woods, is a very fine sight.

Simcoe’s watercolour, on birchbark, which depicts the Long Sault Rapids (Ontario Archives).

Mrs. Macdonell sang Erse song very pleasingly, and her children and servants speak no language but Erse, the language of the descendants of the Gaels or Celts in the Highlands of Scotland… I wished they had not thought it necessary to dine very late. There are wolves and bears in this part of the country. They sometimes carry off sheep, calves or pigs, but do not attach men.

Mr. [Richard] Duncan’s horse carried me very well. It is certainly necessary to have a horse of the country to pass the bridges we everywhere met with, whether across the creeks (very small rivers) or swamps. The bridges are composed of trunks of trees unhewn, of unequal sizes, and laid loosely across pieces of timber placed lengthways. Rotten trees sometimes give way and a horse’s leg slips through, and is in danger of being broken. The horse I am now riding had once a fall through an old bridge. He now goes very carefully…

We had black bass for dinner. Great numbers are caught near the rapids. They are extremely good, nearly as large as carp, as firm as a dory and of very good taste, but we dined too late to be pleasant. I suppose it was meant for respect.

We rode ten miles to a tolerable inn, where a dinner was prepared, but we were engaged to dine and sleep at Capt. John Munro’s who had served in the Revolutionary War, twelve miles beyond this place. The first eight we went in the boat, and the remaining four we rode.

An Irish Captain gave us a basket of wild strawberries, which were as large and as well flavoured as the best scarlet strawberries in gardens in England. We passed Capt. Duncan’s house a mile before we came to the Rapid Plat, close to which is Capt. Munro’s. His wife is a Dutch woman, and the house was excessively neat and clean, and one of his daughters very handsome. We went to see Mr. Munro’s sawmill, where a tree was cut into 16 planks an inch thick in an hour.

Elizabeth Simcoe (Ontario Archives).

“The inhabitants of this country are very hospitable.” Unknown observer, 1792-1793.

While the early Loyalist suffered many hardships, some observers noted that the availability of luxuries, such as alcoholic beverages, was not uncommon.

The inhabitants of this country are very hospitable. Soon after the entrance of a visitor, spirituous liquors and Madeira are almost always introduced… among a people, where the cold is extreme a considerable part of the year, where covered carriages are unknown, and the roads indifferent, with few houses of accommodation, it may be presumed that such refreshments are not unacceptable.

Indeed, if there is occasion to employ any of the lower ranks, there is small progress to be made, without the aid of liquors. Pay what you will to them for any small service performed, the compact is never acknowledged as a just one, unless there is an appeal to the rum bottle.

The information on this page was researched and compiled by Stuart Manson.