Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Uncovering a Blindspot

The 38th in a series about my family tree

Prompt: New to You


Time to admit to my ignorance. In recent posts I have written some about my United Empire Loyalist (UEL) ancestors, feeling proud at being a descendent of these resilient defenders of the Crown who gave everything, if not their lives, for King and country. Still, up until the prompt of this past week and my descent into a rabbit hole of old UEL history books describing the persecution, hardships, sacrifices and difficulties these stalwart people faced during the American Revolution, I’d had no idea what they’d actually endured. Being a relatively new student of North American history I hadn’t even, until yesterday, connected the dots between the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the impact this had on my Loyalist ancestors, and thousands like them.

Why the blind spot?

A lack of curiosity? Laziness? I knew my 5th great grandfather, Daniel Springer, had served in Butler’s Rangers and after the war came to Delaware in Upper Canada; that Thomas Sumner’s family abandoned all their worldly possessions and were part of a mass migration to New Brunswick in 1783 where his wife promptly died of deprivations leaving him with several children, including a baby, to raise. Eventually he made his way to Toronto where he died in 1820. I knew the Fairchilds came to Upper Canada and settled in and around Norfolk County. Beyond that I knew nothing.

Then this past week I was somehow drawn to these old texts (listed below) and so my further education began. Finally I am learning about the plight of the Loyalists as they endured unimaginable hardships prior to and during the American Revolution. The books also follow the aftermath of migration and resettlement in the British-held territories north of the 49th parallel. My head spins as I consider the travails my ancestors faced, caught among thousands of others as they endured the swell of fury directed toward them for simply holding a different political opinion. They abided by the rules of, and defended, the Crown; the opposing force demanded independence at any cost.

“In the history of the United States the exodus of the Loyalists is an event comparable only to the expulsion of the Huguenots from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Loyalists, whatever their social status (and they were not all aristocrats), represented the conservative and moderate element in the revolting states; their removal, whether by banishment or disfranchisement, meant the elimination of a very wholesome element of the body politic. To this were due in part no doubt many of the early errors of the republic in finance, diplomacy, and politics.”

Source: Tne United Empire Loyalists: A Chronicle of the Great Migration … W. Stewart Wallace (Glasgow, Brook & Company 1920)

Until now the extent of their persecution, sufferings and depredations hadn’t occurred to me. In his book, W. Stewart Wallace shares the low opinion toward the Loyalists of future U.S. president, General George Washington, i.e. that ‘he could see nothing better for them than to commit suicide.” Wallace goes on to state further:

“Even Washington seems to have approved of persecution of the Tories [Loyalists] by the mob. In 1776 General Putnam, meeting a procession of the Sons of Liberty who were parading a number of Tories on rails* up and down the streets of New York, attempted to put a stop to the barbarous proceeding. Washington, on hearing of this, administered a reprimand to Putnam, declaring ‘that to discourage such proceedings was to injure the cause of liberty in which they were engaged, and that nobody would attempt it but an enemy of his country.'”

*”Another amusement was making Tories ride the rail. This consisted in putting the ‘unhappy victims upon sharp rails with one leg on each side; each rail was carried upon the shoulders of two tall men, with a man on each side to keep the poor wretch straight and mixed in his seat.'”

Source: Tne United Empire Loyalists: A Chronicle of the Great Migration … W. Stewart Wallace (Glasgow, Brook & Company 1920)

In other words, the Loyalists were fair game.

Migration and life in a new land

Mass migration began in 1783 when, as Wallace writes, ” …news leaked out that the terms of peace weren’t likely to be favourable, and it became evident that the animus of the Whigs [Americans] showed no signs of abating…”

The United Empire Loyalists … W. Stewart Wallace

The Loyalists, approximately 30,000 men, women and children whose homes and properties had been confiscated, were forced to flee. Some went to England; others went north. Most left with only the clothes on their backs.

The environment that greeted them was untamed and hostile. There was no housing; no food; no immediate delineation of property as land grants were yet to be established. From what I’ve read so far it can safely be said that it was a veritable hell on Earth for those who were used to a more developed society.

And when I think of my ancestors I can only imagine how strong they must have been to have survived.

The Final Word

As this is all new to me my thoughts are very much chop and change at this point. I can only brush the surface of a subject of which I’ve been ignorant and which deserves much more in-depth review. In truth, I’m disappointed it has taken so long to awaken to this part of my family history. My intention going forward is to keep reading and learning to gain more understanding and perspective of the times in which my UEL ancestors lived, and the forces they were up against. The political, economic and social strife they endured for so many years tested the very fabric of their lives in every possible way. For now I feel it can safely be said they were a strong, courageous, and resilient people. I look for these qualities in myself as we traverse our own tumultuous times to a safer shore. ❦


Source: UE Loyalist Women: The Trials and Hardships of the Early Days … An Address by Mrs. Morden

Suggested reading:

While there are many texts about the Loyalists, these are what I can recommend so far. All available at

UE Loyalist Women: The Trials and hardships of the Early Days … An Address by Mrs. Morden to the Daughters of the Empire (1902)

The After-math of a Revolution … George Sterling Ryerson

The UEL: A Chronicle of the great Migration, W. Stewart Wallace


©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2022 …
Aimwell CreativeWorks

7 thoughts on “Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Uncovering a Blindspot

  1. My late spouse’s ex was descended from Palantine Germans who were settled in New York by the English prior to the American Revolution. The DeFoe (DeVoe) and Ketzback families, both families had some members who were Loyalists and some Revolutionaries. It was a surprise when I found that she was decended from Loyalists, of whom I had heard almost nothing, only that they decided to leave the revolting colonies and move to Canada. Many of the Ketzback descendants came back to America in later years and most moved to Minnesota and Vermont. I have not worked on her line for quite some time. Thank you for the book recommendations, I’m sure they will be helpful. It’s always interesting to learn what happened to those who came before us.

    1. Thank you for sharing. So few people realize how widespread and impactful this war was to so many. Later generations of my family also returned to the States to take advantage of land offerings in Michigan before heading west with the Great Northern Railroad, and then up to Canada again.

      It’s really cool that you’re open minded about doing your late spouse’s ex’s family history. Good for you! Hope the books help. 🙏😊

      1. My late spouse asked me to so their kids would have both sides of their ancestry. It proved just as fascinating as his family and the kids really have nothing else from their mother except her DNA, sadly after 5 children she had to go “find herself” and has had little interest in bothering with them. I got all the joys without having to be pregnant.

      2. What a gift of life you are giving them in a beautifully enduring way. A piece of their ancestral story that could so easily have been dismissed. Amazing! They are fortunate to have you. 💫

      3. I wish I had a photo or video of my late spouse when I handed him the report of his ancestors. He was so deeply moved by the involvement in the history of America (veterans of every war from the French and Indian war on), Mayflower passengers, the crowned heads of England and most of Europe back all the way to Charlemagne. It changed him and his perspective on his life and his legacy. The work was fun, fascinating and worth every second of my time for the reaction I got. Keep up the good work yourself.

  2. People in the US don’t really want to think about the horrible things the Revolutionaries did. My Quaker ancestors suffered for trying to remain neutral. My UEL ancestor only immigrated to America in 1774, so had no reason to be on their side. He received land in Canada from the Crown. He also receive reparations from the US government for his confiscated property. Fortunately, he was a single man during the war. Some of the Tories did do awful things as well, especially in New York State. That’s the thing about wars…

    1. You’re right, there was brutality on both sides. Cherry Valley was a notorious Butler’s Rangers battle for many reasons. Still, from what I’ve read it took a long time for the Loyalists to actually engage in the hostilities. In fact, 1768 is about when the Whigs began to agitate and it wasn’t until after the Declaration of Independence was signed that the Tories took up arms for real. A sad situation all round. I’m going to keep reading.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙏💫

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