Monday, November 21, 2016

"The People Act with Resolution and Spirit" - Edward Jessup's Settlement of Upper Canada after the American Revolution

When the American Revolution concluded in 1783, the most pressing issue for Royal Governor Frederick Haldimand was what to do with the thousands of loyalist refugees who occupied the Quebec Province. Many were without clothing and few had received sufficient supplies. Haldimand contemplated a forced removal of the refugees to parts unknown. Instead, by July 1783 many loyalist officers, including Edward Jessup, proposed the settlement of land south-west of the Quebec Province. The suggestion was quickly adopted.

On September 5, 1783, Jessup reported that many loyalists were interested in settling tracts of land north of Ottowa, known initially as the “Second Town”. Six days later, a plan of settlement was drafted for Jessup. Not surprisingly, the plan called for settlements to be established for each company from Jessup's military unit -The Loyal Rangers. On December 11, 1783, the Loyal Rangers were disbanded and its soldiers and families were permitted to depart for the grants of lands issued to them.



Loyalist Encampment at Johnson, Ontario 1784


When the refugees left their camps, they proceeded to Sorel. Upon arrival, every loyalist was mustered and provisioned for their voyage to the new settlements on the Canadian frontier. Each man and boy over ten was issued a coat, waistcoat, breeches, hat, shirt, blanket, shoes and shoe soles, leggings, and stockings. Women and girls over ten received two yards of woolen cloth, four yards of linen, one pair of stockings, a blanket, and shoe soles, while small children qualified for one yard of woolen cloth, two yards of linen, stockings, and shoe soles. There was one blanket for every two children and five people were to share a tent and one cooking kettle. Farm tools, including grain sickles, were issued issued as well.



Surviving Grain Sickle issued to Loyalists by the British Government in 1783


From Sorel loyalists were ushered to Lachine for transportation to the west. Refugees were loaded onto batteaux specially constructed to traverse the rapids of the western St Lawrence River. The flat-bottomed bateaux ranged in size from twenty-five to forty feet long and accommodated four to five families and their belongings. Once the bateaux were loaded, they assembled in squadrons of twelve and set out, being powered variously by oars, poles, or sails. The trip was slow and trying. Rapids along the way forced the passengers and their belongings out of the batteaux, which had to be dragged and pulled with ropes through the churning waters. Winds, currents, and mosquitoes made the trip long and uncomfortable. At night the passengers had to sleep in make-shift tents or brush huts pitched by open fires used for cooking.

Life on the Canadian frontier was difficult at best. Money was scarce and markets for supplies were almost non-existent. By June 1784, Jessup reported that development of the settlement was behind schedule. However, a month later, Justus Sherwood asserted “that the people have got on their farms, are universally pleased, are emulating each other so that every lot in the front of the three townships and many of those in the back townships are improved and the country bears a very promising appearance.” By September, Jessup informed officials “the settlement is going on much better than he expected from the lateness of the season and the reduction of provisions. The allowance made by His Excellency made a great change and the people act with resolution and spirit, but it the allowance is discontinued they will be much distressed.”

By October 1784, the development of Second Town had progressed to the point Jessup reported the discovery of iron ore and proposed the construction of iron works, saw mills and corn mills. Seven months later, he reported the towns of his settlement had grown large enough to include over one thousand men, women and children.

That same year Second Town was renamed Ernestown in honor of King George’s fifth son Prince Ernest Augustus.

During the years before the War of 1812 Ernestown grew rapidly, partly because of its location at the mouth of the Bay of Quinte and partly because of its role as the supplier of foodstuffs to Kingston. Several decades later the historian William Canniff asserted that in the pre-war period Ernestown rivaled even Kingston itself, in respect to rapid increase of inhabitants, the establishment of trade, building of ships, and from the presence of gentlemen of refinement and education.

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