Loyalists

 

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Once the War of Independence began, the Americans tried to secure Quebec, which could be turned into a British base and a major military threat (as it had been for two centuries under the French regime). The Americans believed that the French Canadians would welcome them as liberators from British tyranny. In September 1775, the American army invaded the Province of Quebec; although Montreal was taken, the Americans were stopped at Quebec by the British garrison and finally withdrew in May 1776 when British reinforcements arrived. No attempt to invade Nova Scotia was made, because the population was known to be loyal. American privateers were encouraged to raid ships and settlements and the colonists conducted guerrilla warfare with help of Indian allies.

 

Why didn’t the French Canadians rebel? The Quebec Act had been adopted to strengthen the traditional elites in the hope that they would ensure the loyalty of the French Canadians population. But in fact the French Canadians did not actively support the British regime; the seigneurs could not raise a militia and the population of Montreal surrendered without a fight. On the other hand, in spite of American propaganda, the French Canadians did not welcome the Americans as liberators either. The French Canadians were antagonized by the Americans who lacked money and confiscated food and caused vandalism in churches due to anti-Catholic sentiment. Basically the French Canadians wanted to remain neutral and survive.

 

To read more about the American invasion of Quebec and the relations between the French, the Americans and the French Canadians, read : Laurence Cros, « L’autre participation française à la guerre d’Indépendance : la campagne du Québec, 1775-1776 et l’interaction entre Canadiens français, Américains, et Français », La France en Amérique à l’époque coloniale, Susanne Berthier-Foglar dir., Éditions de l’Université de Savoie, Grenoble, 2009, p. 93-112.

 

 

The American Revolution was also a civil war. Many Americans colonists wanted to remain British, because of loyalty, economic interest, or fear of social upheaval.  When the British withdrew, those people suffered persecutions. Some 45,000 American Loyalists chose exile to Canada: 10,000 in Quebec (where about 100,000 French Canadians lived) and 35,000 in Nova Scotia (which had a population of about 20,000). While most of them were English-speaking and from the British Isles, there was a great diversity. Many Loyalists were in fact of German, Dutch or Scandinavian origins, or belonged to linguistic (Gaelic-speaking Highlanders) and religious (Quakers) minorities. Among the Loyalists were also some 2,000 Iroquois who moved north into Canadian areas and  3,000 former slaves who arrived in Nova Scotia to form the nucleus of the African-Canadian community

 

The impact on the Canadian population was massive.

In Nova Scotia, the population almost tripled. The newcomers settled in the western area where a new colony called New Brunswick was created for them.

In Quebec too, the newcomers settled in the western part of the province, where they received freehold lands (the seigniorial system was not used). In 1791, the Constitutional Act divided Quebec into two parts: Upper Canada (Ontario) in the west and Lower Canada (Quebec) in the east. Thus the arrival of the Loyalists resulted in the emergence of the two main cultural groups and the four provinces that made up British North America.

 

Traditional historiography emphasized the loyalist legacy as a crucial element of Canadian history. Loyalists were described as Conservative, anti-revolutionary people who rejected American democracy for British loyalty and wanted to create in Canada a nation different from the US. Although more recent historiography has reexamined the Loyalist heritage and the true motivations of the people who moved to Canada after the War of Independence, it remains that this original English-Canadian group, just like their French-Canadian contemporaries, did not choose the path of the revolution. The War of Independence thus created not one, but two countries: the United States and Canada.