Introducing Loyalist Migrations

Tim Compeau

Loyalist Migrations is a collaboration between Huron University College’s Community History Centre, the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada (UELAC), and Liz Sutherland at the Map and Data Centre at Western University. This will be a multi-year project that draws upon archival sources and family histories to visualize the movement of thousands of migrants, exiles, and refugees, from all walks of life, who were displaced by the American Revolution. By plotting these individual journeys using ArcGIS, we hope to demonstrate the scope and diversity of the migrations for public audiences and, in the years to come, provide new research and analysis based on this collection of data.[1]

Thanks to generous funding from the UELAC, undergraduate students at Huron have begun exploring the journeys found in the Loyalist Directory, a resource of over 9000 entries describing families and individuals who resettled in Canada. The family stories contained in these entries would have remained scattered in land registries, church records, and family bibles had they not been gathered and shared by UELAC members. The Loyalist Directory is a testament to the abilities of family historians and loyalist descendants to preserve their history. We encourage genealogists, historians, and researchers to contribute to the project by submitting a loyalist, refugee, or migrant using this online form.

Each line on the map represents an individual or a family, and a mouse click will reveal a small snippet of lives turned upside-down by the conflict. Take for example the entry for Philip George Bender and his family. Born in Germany in 1743, Bender emigrated to the Thirteen Colonies before the Revolution. He fled his Philadelphia home in 1776 and joined Butler’s Rangers, a loyalist unit fighting on the frontier. He later resettled in the Niagara region of Upper Canada with his wife, Mary, and at least three children.[2] The single line on the map represents the movement of a whole family of five and it demonstrates both the potential and the limitations of the map.

We are conscious that the entries may replicate the patriarchal thinking and practices of the period. The official documents used to trace the loyalist journeys often focus on the male householder and his services to the Crown. We do not know Mary’s family name nor her place of birth, and there is nothing to indicate what she may have thought about the Revolution or her husband’s allegiance. As Kacy Tillman writes, a variety of perspectives and motivations “were scripted as loyalism, often against the so-called loyalist’s will.”[3] While this map includes loyalist soldiers and their families, it will also plot the movement of enslaved and free African Americans, Indigenous people, and many others who had their own reasons for leaving the United States.

Thanks to the research of family historians, we also have entries like Elizabeth Cline. Cline, a German migrant, arrived in America with her husband in 1765 and settled in what is today German Flatts, New York. Her husband was killed during the Revolution and she fled to British protection on Carleton Island on the St. Lawrence River. There she married a Hessian soldier and settled near Kingston, Ontario where she lived until her husband died in 1796. She did all of this with seven daughters in tow, the youngest born in 1781.[4] While details for entries like this are tantalizingly brief, they provide examples of the real human stories of the American Revolution.

The loyalist refugees and migrants who fled the Revolution represent a shared North American and Atlantic history. The conflict, followed by two centuries of collective forgetting and mythmaking, buried thousands of local and family connections between Canada, the United States, and the wider Atlantic World. We may never be able to plot every journey, but through cooperation and collaboration, we hope to build a detailed picture of the migrations and help reconnect the threads of our shared history.

Loyalist Migrations is in its very early stages, and we encourage anyone with questions, comments, or ideas to reach out to the team.

Tim Compeau is an assistant professor of history at Huron University College in London, Ontario. He is the co-editor of Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History (University of Michigan Press, 2019). You can find him on Twitter at @TimCompeau. Student researchers are Tom Lang (2019) and Jacob Vanderhoeven (2020). Liz Sutherland, GIS specialist at Western Libraries’ Map and Data Centre designed the website and guides the team in their work with the ArcGIS platform. Loyalist Migrations could not exist without the generous support and assistance of the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada.


[1] For an overview of historical GIS see Ian N. Gregory and Alistair Geddes, Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2014).  Our project was inspired and influenced by many spatial history projects such as Stanford University’s Spatial History Project and the Tennessee State Archives Patriot Paths.

[2] Philip George Bender’s entry in the Loyalist Directory provides specific details and sources: http://www.uelac.org/Loyalist-Info/detail.php?letter=b&line=233,

[3] Kacy Tillman, Stripped and Script: Loyalist Women Writers of the American Revolution (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), x.

[4] Elizabeth Cline’s entry in the Loyalist Directory was contributed by Don Brearley and Christopher Plante. http://www.uelac.org/Loyalist-Info/detail.php?letter=c&line=477

Latest Comments

  1. nalmat59 says:

    This looks like an interesting study. My 5th great grandfather is listed on UELAC as a proven loyalist. His name was James Burdick. He had been with the Revolutionary Army in American but deserted, eventually being caught and jailed for being a loyalist sympathizer. In 1790 he was in Vermont and petitioned the Canadian government from their for a land grant which he eventually received.

  2. Judith Letchworth says:

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered Aaron Burnham from Maine was an actual Loyalist. I think because he was making a lot of money selling lumber to the British troops in Boston, Massachusetts.

  3. Ralph Turner says:

    Jacob Russell (wife is Mary Elizabeth Marce) didn’t seem to come up as a loyalist: My notes on him: Freeholder in Newburgh, Ulster Co., NY in 1767 and assessed 15 shillings. In 1776 he was living in New Marlborough, Ulster Couny, NY and recruiting for the English during the American Revolution. (Newburgh and New Marlborough may be the same places).

    The eviction of the previous New York owner by Connecticut authorities may have precipitated his family’s move to the Hudson valley at around this time. Of course another factor in the move may have been the rather public shaming endured by his mother who made a public confession of adultery on June 14, 1761 at the Huntington church.

    n 1776 Jacob was living in New Marlborough, Ulster County, NY and recruiting for the English side during the American Revolution when he became a victim of one of the very first undercover operations mounted by the Committee to Detect and Defeat Conspiracies Against the State of New York. The Committee was chaired by John Jay. George Washington would one day choose him to be the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. But in 1776 he was a refugee from New York, chased out of the city by General Howe and his troops. He was settled at Fishkill NY, not far from the encampment of the Northern Continental Army. (Also not far from the Russell’s Ulster County farm.) He was in charge of finding those actively opposing the American effort and stopping them by imprisonment, exile or posting of peace bonds. In many cases, men were discharged after swearing an oath of allegiance. The committee met at Connor’s Tavern in Fishkill from 1776 to 1778. The following passage can be found under the proceedings of 08 Nov 1776: “Whereas this committee are clearly convinced that Jacob Russell, Daniel McGuinard (McGuire) and Israel Tuttle, of Ulster County, have been traitorously concerned in inlisting men for the service of the enemy, and that Patrick McDonald, of Orange County, has harboured the said persons, knowing them to be traitors to this state: Resolved, that they be forthwith removed to Exeter, in the State of New Hampshire, and there to remain in jail until further orders from this committee, or the Legislature of the State.”
    It turns out that Jacob was the victim of a “sting” operation conducted by America’s first secret agent — Enoch Crosby. Crosby’s true life story formed the basis of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1821 novel, “The Spy”. He was paid by John Jay and his committee to infiltrate Loyalist groups and report their movements. When a group was ready to move south to New York, the Americans would be tipped off to their route and arrest them all. He apparently pulled this off three times before he was retired. In a deposition that he made as an elderly man in 1832 Crosby describes getting himself hired on at the farm of John Russell in New Marlborough, about ten miles from the river. “This was a neighborhood of Loyalists…and a company was there raising for the British army. remained about ten days in Russell’s employment & during that time ascertained that a company was then forming.” He describes meeting a Capt. Robinson who was raising the company while sleeping in a nearby cave. He spent a week living in the cave with the British officer and the night before they were ready to move out, he persuaded the others that they should all separate and find their own sleeping accommodations “for if they should be discovered that night together, all would be taken, which would be avoided if they were separated.” He used the opportunity to alert the Americans to their route. He didn’t have time to go to Fishkill himself, so he approached a stranger by the name of Purdy. The Tories called him “a wicked rebel and that he ought to die,” so Crosby thought him a good choice to send a message with. The deposition continues: “The following evening the company assembled consisting of about thirty men & started from Russell’s house which was in the Town of Marlborough & the County of Ulster for New York and in the course of the night arrived at Bush Carricks and went into the barn to lodge after taking refreshments Before morning the barn was surrounded by American troops & the whole company including Capt. Robinson were made prisoner…The prisoners were marched to Fishkill & confined in the stone church in which there was near two hundred prisoners.” At this point in the text there is a footnote: “The minutes of the Committee for December 15, 1776 read, in part, as follows: Capt. Silas Purdy brought in Humphry Merritt, Elisha Purdy and Lodowick Miller, three Tories from the Precinct of New Marlborough (Ulster County) who had been privy to a treasonable Conspiracy form’d by James Robinson, Jacob Russell and others against the Liberties of the United States.” This Capt. Purdy is likely the same “wicked rebel” as above.
    Crosby reports working at the farm of John Russell, not Jacob. Some 56 years after the fact it is possible that he did not remember Jacob’s given name. Or it could have been the farm of Jacob’s father or brother. Little is known about either, but both were named John.
    It appears that Jacob did not remain in custody for long, because by the following June 12, it was reported that counterfeit money (Sixty three Bills of thirty Dollars Each. Twenty Bills of two Pounds Lawfull Each Conniticut money Counterfit) had been seized from Jonathan Wood. Wood reported that the counterfeit money had been given to him “by Jacob Russel Living near the paulce in ulster county who agreed with Jonathan Wood to by a farm,” the transaction having taken place on June 2, 1777.Passing counterfeit money was part of a British strategy to undermine the American economy, so Jacob had undoubtedly received these counterfeit bills from his British contacts, with instructions to put them in circulation.
    Jacob seems to have avoided capture for his counterfeiting exploits and slipped behind the British lines where he received a commission with Lt.Col. Isaac Allen’s New Jersey Volunteers, where he finished the war as a Lieutenant.
    Jacob and his family were part of the first Loyalist fleet that sailed from New York, arriving at Parrtown (the future St. John, NB) on May 18, 1783. His land in New Marlborough, Ulster County was confiscated and sold at auction by the State of New York on July 14, 1783.

    Jacob and his family were part of the first Loyalist fleet that sailed from New York, arriving at Parrtown (the future St. John, NB) on May 18, 1783.

    Jacob’s wife Elizabeth was about six months pregnant with Pheobe when they arrived in Canada, and the family would have spent the first winter at the mouth of the St. John River, along with the rest of his battalion. They would have travelled with the bulk of the Loyalist fleet when it moved upriver the following spring. Although Jacob’s battalion all received land grants in Kingsclear, he did not immediately settle his family there, but instead in Sheffield-Maugerville in Sunbury County. This made sense as a destination, as Maugerville was the only location up the St. John River that was already established, having been settled in the 1760’s by a number of families from New England. In March 1789, all of his children, from twenty-three year old John to Elizabeth (Betsey), who was not yet two, were baptized at the Maugerville Anglican Church. Two years later, their youngest daughter Hannah, born in the summer of 1789, was baptized with two of Jacob’s grandchildren.
    After several years Jacob bought land in Kingsclear just west of Col. Isaac Allen. Col. Allen had been a lawyer in Trenton NJ before the war and was his commanding officer in the New Jersey Volunteers. Allen was a member of the governor’s council in New Brunswick as well as a sitting judge. Allen’s sons and Jacob and his sons were involved in a number of land transactions together.

    Freeholder, New Marlborough, Ulster Co., NY, 1767 assessed 15 shillings. A Jacobus Russell living near the Pawls, Ulster Co., NY 2 Jun 1777 gave 600-800 sterling counterfeit money to Jonathan Wood to buy a farm for him. A loyalist. Lieutenant in the New Jersey Volunteers. Land confiscated in New Marlborough, Ulster Co., NY. Settled first Sheffield, Sunbury Co., NB, then Kingsclear, York Co. Petitioned for a lot in Bilisle Bay, NB on 7 Nov 1785, abandoned by Benjamin Walker. On the 19th of Nov, this was granted on the condition that Walker had actually left.. Bought a lot in Kingsclear west of Col. Isaac Allen. Received lot 20 as a grant. Granted lot 17 (180 acres) next to his son Jacob ,Jr. who had Lot #18 (also 180 acres) on 13 Jan 1787 from King George III. On 10 Jan 1789 he, with Israel Perley, Jabez Newers, Samuel Newes and Samual Peabody petitioned the governor to not grant the land on which their sawmill and grist mill lay, in Maugerville and Sheffield, Sunbury Co. NB, to any new people as it would jeopardize their mills and livelihood there. And this was agreed to by the government.

    He administered along with William Russell, the estate of one Samuel Russell, of Kingsclear in, 1817, probably his son, who died at age 35 in 1816..

    Largely through the influence of the Loyalists, in 1784, the Province of New Brunswick was set off from Nova Scotia, and the Missiquash River made the boundary between the two Provinces.

    From “The New Loyalist Index” by Paul J. Bunnell: Jacob RUSSELL
    Yeoman. Judgment: July 14, 1783. From New Marlborough, Ulster Co., New York. Settled Canada.

    “By 1776 he was living in New Marlborough, Ulster County, NY and recruiting for the English side during the American Revolution. He was the victim of one of the very first undercover operations mounted by Enoch Crosby, America’s first spy, operating under the direction of John Jay’s Committee to Detect and Defeat Conspiracies Against the State of New York. Jacob was brought before the Committee (meeting at Connor’s Tavern in Fishkill, NY) on Nov. 8, 1776 and sentenced to prison in Exeter, NH. What happened to Jacob for the rest of the war is currently unknown (although there is mention of him as an officer in the New Jersey Volunteers which I have not been able to confirm), but he and his family were part of the first Loyalist fleet that sailed from New York, arriving at Parrtown (the future St. John, NB) on May 18, 1783. His land in Ulster was confiscated and sold at auction by the State of New York in July 1783. The family originally settled in Sheffield, Sunbury County, but after several years Jacob bought land in Kingsclear just west of Col. Isaac Allen. Col. Allen had been a lawyer in Trenton NJ before the war and was a commanding officer in the New Jersey Volunteers. Allen was a member of the governor’s council in New Brunswick as well as a sitting judge.” from ttp://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Russell-4209

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