Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia

The settling of the Loyalists in Nova Scotia helped to preserve Great Britain’s remaining North American colonies and played a pivotal part in the establishment of Canada as a separate nation.

Summary of Event

In the United States, historical accounts of the American Revolution American Revolution (1775-1783);Loyalists
Loyalists;American Revolution often slight a significant aspect of the struggle for independence: the story of the Loyalists, who remained faithful to the British crown and continued to support a united empire. The Loyalists questioned the effectiveness of a democratic government, feared the collapse of social order, and believed that a continued affiliation with Great Britain would provide safety, prosperity, and continuity. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people—approximately 10 percent of the population in the Thirteen Thirteen Colonies Colonies—resisted the revolution. Many remained silent to protect their property and to ensure their livelihoods. Others voiced their objections and received harsh treatment from the Patriots, Patriots;American Revolution including public ridicule through tarring and feathering. The Patriots also seized the Loyalists’ property, removed them from positions of authority, and threatened their livelihood. [kw]Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia (1783)
[kw]Nova Scotia, Loyalists Migrate to (1783)
[kw]Migrate to Nova Scotia, Loyalists (1783)
Loyalists;migration to Canada
[g]Canada;1783: Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia[2490]
[g]England;1783: Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia[2490]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1783: Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia[2490]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;1783: Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia[2490]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;1783: Loyalists Migrate to Nova Scotia[2490]
Carleton, Sir Guy
Parr, John
Blucke, Stephen

As well as spying and providing aid to the British troops, the Loyalists formed about fifty regiments to fight against their fellow colonists. In addition, approximately thirty thousand African slaves escaped behind British lines, where they served as soldiers, laborers, cooks, and musicians. Because the British were greatly outnumbered, their generals promised the slaves freedom if they would help swell the dwindling ranks of the imperial army.

The conflict between the Patriots and the Loyalists started in the mid-1760’s, when the British government levied heavy taxes on its North American colonies and attempted to tighten control over its farflung subjects—acts that served as a prelude to the Revolutionary War. Breaking out in 1775, the war continued until the defeat of a British regiment at Yorktown forced the government into peace negotiations with its rebellious colonists. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris Paris, Treaty of (1783) recognized the United States as an independent nation.

Shortly after the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the first band of Loyalists migrated to the maritime province of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia The major migration occurred following the treaty in 1783, however, when approximately fourteen thousand British sympathizers were evacuated to Nova Scotia. Considered enemies of the state, the Loyalists were unwelcome in the newly independent nation, as the popular rhyme declared “That Tories, with their brats and wives,/ Should fly to save their wretched lives.” It is estimated that more than fifty thousand Loyalists moved to the remaining British North American colonies, with a large number settling in Quebec. While others returned to England or moved to other parts of the British Empire, many remained in the new nation and adjusted to life under a democratic government.

The British representative in Quebec, Sir Guy Carleton, who had received the title Lord Dorchester for his loyalty to the Crown, faced countless problems settling the influx of Loyalists fleeing to Lower Canada. While accommodating many of the new arrivals in Quebec, Carleton looked toward Nova Scotia as an alternate place for settlement. Nova Scotia, along with Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and smaller islands, formed the Maritime Provinces. Maritime Provinces An inhospitable landscape with brutal winters and short summers, Nova Scotia had first been colonized in the early seventeenth century by the French, who called the land Acadia. Acadia After the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), British, Scots, Irish, and other European immigrants came to the port city of Halifax. In 1783, the city’s population nearly doubled when shiploads of Loyalists arrived. The influx placed immense strains on Nova Scotia’s basic administrative structure, on the supply of provisions, and on the availability of housing. Expecting a hero’s welcome, the destitute newcomers were disgruntled to be treated as refugees. Many did not survive the first winter as a result of lack of food and makeshift housing in tents, warehouses, and sheds.

Appointed governor of Nova Scotia in 1782, John Parr was inundated with problems. The longtime residents of Halifax resented the fractious Loyalists, who demanded improved living conditions and land grants. To resolve these mounting difficulties, Parr encouraged the newcomers to take up land in uninhabited parts of the province. Under his sometimes inefficient supervision, communities sprang up along Nova Scotia’s rocky coast and on its barren terrain. In 1784, the appeals of settlers on the St. John River led to the division of Nova Scotia and the establishment of New Brunswick. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia Within a few years, the settlements outside Halifax lost population as discontented Loyalists moved to more amenable places in the British Empire. For example, the township of Shelburne boasted eight thousand residents in 1784, but the number gradually dwindled to a few hundred with the departure of those who found Nova Scotia undesirable.

Around three thousand former slaves Slaves;Nova Scotia who had been enticed to join the British forces also made their way to Nova Scotia. Expecting equality and freedom, they were disillusioned to find themselves in conditions that differed little from slavery. Many settled in the segregated community of Birchtown, which was headed by an intriguing figure named Stephen Blucke, a well-educated mulatto from Barbados and a man with a mysterious past. He would act as a liaison between the black and white communities, help obtain land grants, and set up a school to educate the town’s children. Yet he was something of an opportunist. In 1791, when the Sierra Leone Company offered Birchtown residents the chance to move to Africa, Blucke headed an unsuccessful effort to boycott the operation. Over half of the population departed, thus diminishing Blucke’s influence. Accused of stealing funds, he disappeared without a trace in 1796.

According to tradition, all Loyalists were upper-class, educated, and English. Although some did fit this category, the migration comprised people from every social, economic, and national background, including Irish, Scots, Welsh, and Germans.


Had it not been for the Loyalists’ presence and influence, the remaining North American colonies most likely would have been the target of the American Republic’s expansionist ambitions, and Canada as a separate nation would not exist. The Loyalists’ opposition to republicanism helped to assure that Canada preserved its ties with Great Britain and eventually emerged as an independent nation.

In spite of the hardships and setbacks, many of the Loyalists remained in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec, out of which the province of Ontario was formed in 1891. Although initially considered intruders, the original settlers and their descendants carved out a venerable place in Canadian history. In 1789, Carleton announced that he wanted “to put the mark of Honour upon the Families who had adhered to the Unity of the Empire.” An order was issued permitting those who “joined the Royal Standard” in 1783, their children, and their descendants of either sex “to be distinguished by the following Capitals, affixed to their names: U.E. Alluding to their great principle, The Unity of the Empire.” Today, the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada and the Black Loyalist Society preserve, promote, and celebrate the Loyalists and their role in Canadian history.

Further Reading

  • Brown, Craig, ed. The Illustrated History of Canada. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2003. Sweeping account of the Canadian experience from early times to the present. Provides material on the Loyalists. Excellent illustrations.
  • Bruce, Harry. The Illustrated History of Nova Scotia. Halifax, N.S.: 1997. Records the founding of Nova Scotia, the role of the Loyalists, and the province’s subsequent history.
  • Chidsey, Donald Barr. The Loyalists: The Story of Those Americans Who Fought Against Independence. New York: Crown, 1974. Tracks the activities of Loyalist leaders in the colonies before and during the Revolutionary War.
  • Fillmore, Cathleen. The Life of a Loyalist: A Tale of Survival in Old Nova Scotia. Canmore, Alta.: Altitude, 2004. Reveals the difficulties Christiana Margaret Davis and her family faced on their trek from upstate New York to Nova Scotia. Sheds light on the plight of the Loyalists.
  • MacKinnon, Neil. This Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalist Experience in Nova Scotia, 1783-1791. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989. Traces the arrival of the Loyalists in 1783 and the opposition they faced from the existing community, the neglect they experienced from the British government, and their eventual settlement.
  • Treanor, Nick, ed. Canada. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Comprehensive history of Canada, which includes discussion of the Loyalists and their influence.
  • Walker, James W. The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1993. Documents the black loyalists’ harsh experience in Canada and follows them to Sierra Leone after their disillusionment with life in Nova Scotia.
  • Winks, Robin W. The Blacks in Canada: A History. 2d ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. Provides a detailed and lively account of the former slaves who became Loyalists in order to gain freedom, only to find a new form of bondage in Canada.

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Acadians Are Expelled from Canada

Seven Years’ War

American Revolutionary War

Second Continental Congress

Declaration of Independence

Treaty of Paris

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