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Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada


A LARGE proportion of the people who settled on the frontier of Canada during the earlier days of settlement were United Empire Loyalists, those who came from the neighboring States of the American Union at the close of the Revolutionary War of 1776.

The first settlement of any note was that made at Adolphustown, on the Bay of Quinte, in June, 1784. After that date, settlements grew up on the St. Lawrence Niagara and Detroit Rivers, and at Long Point, on Lake Erie. The impression is general that there were but a few squatters previous to that time. Provincial Government affairs, however, being at that period in an unorganized condition, such records as are at hand have only the reliability of tradition. A number of the first settlers were persons who had naturally sought refuge in the vicinity of Fort Niagara and other border forts, then in the possession of England, from the relentless persecution that was waged against British sympathizers intending to return home when peace was concluded, as they fully expected it would be, in favor of Britain; but, finding the result to be contrary to their expectations, they crossed the border and took up land on the Canadian side. Colonel Butler and his Rangers were granted a large tract of land in the vicinity of what is now the town of Niagara.

The first settlers were a mixed stock of English, Irish, Scotch and German, many of whose ancestors had settled in the United States, then British territory, a century or more previous, some of them probably coming to America on the Mayflower, in 1620. This class of settlers, who came mostly from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, brought with them the customs, habits and style of living of their American forefathers. Being of a Conservative type, they preferred a monarchical to a republican form of government. After these settlers came a large number of Yankees, attracted by the fertile lands of Canada; and, although they were not British in sentiment, many of them afterwards became loyal subjects of the country, and fought for Britain in the War of 1312. There were whole settlements of "Pennsylvania Dutch" (properly called German), adherents of the Mennonite and Tunker faiths, whose descendants to this day make up a large part of the population of Welland, Lincoln, Waterloo and York Counties. There were also large settlements of Quakers, particularly in the vicinity of Font Hill, near St. Catharines, and along the Bay of Quinte, who, like the Mennonites, left the States, fearing the Government might insist on their bearing arms. The feeling against British sympathizers being so strong, there was some talk of compelling all, irrespective of their religious belief, to take part in military affairs. Many of the Mennonites and Quakers, having been granted the religious freedom they desired under British rule, were not in sympathy with the Revolutionary party. This brought down the wrath of the new Government upon them, and, although they threatened to enact measures that would curtail the freedom of these sects, they never carried their threats into execution. There were also a few settlers from the British Isles and from Germany, but the larger number of this class came later on. Many of the British soldiers who had taken part in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, having been given free grants of land by the Government, after receiving their discharge, settled in the country.

The United Empire Loyalists.

Fort Niagra

If honor is a mark of nobility, then the old United Empire Loyalists can truly be classed among the first aristocracy of Canada, for a more honorable class of people never settled in the Province. Steadfast in character, true to their principles, loyal to their king, they chose to leave their homes and property in the United States and come and hew out new homes for themselves in the Canadian backwoods rather than remain under a government so antagonistic and bitter towards the Mother Country they loved. Many of them had considerable property, but they preferred to sacrifice it all rather than become citizens of a hostile government. To be sure the British Government gave them grants of land, and furnished many things necessary for begin- fling life in a new country so far away from the older settled parts; still it did not begin to repay them for the hardships and privations they endured in the early days of their settlement. Many of them sundered family ties that they might remain true to their convictions and allegiance. As an instance, the writer has in mind one family where the mother remained in Pennsylvania with several of her children, while the father came to Canada with the remaining two, and although the mother followed the waggon conveying her husband and children away, weeping, and trying to prevail on them to remain, it was of no avail. Possibly he had good reasons for leaving the country; for the Whigs had burned his house, and all there was in it, because he sympathized with the Royalist party.

A sequel to the above took place several summers ago, when a party of the descendants of the Pennsylvania branch of the family visited their Canadian cousins, exchanging fraternal greetings, renewing acquaintance, and endeavoring to perpetuate the love and friendship existing between the two branches of the family which, though differing in nationality, are yet one in blood.

Mr. Kirby, in his "Annals of Niagara," says that "every one of the U. E. Loyalists had a military bearing, an air of dignity, and a kindly spirit of comradeship, derived from dangers and hardships which they had shared together." The wealth and aristocracy of the Colonies, as a rule, were arrayed on the side of the Royalist party, while many of the rebels were persons having no great interest at stake. The defeat of their party meant no great loss to them, while on the other side it meant the loss of all, especially if they had been active partisans, or were not willing to swear allegiance to the new government. Can we wonder at the staunch conservative principles of their children and grandchildren who were our parents? To this adherence to the principles of monarchical government, as an American author has said, "was due the sterling character and dignity of these people." They believed in a principle and they fought for it. The old U. E. Loyalists never got over their bitterness towards the United States. This antagonism was inherited by their descendants for several generations. It was more of a national than an individual hatred, however. The women were equally as patriotic and loyal as the men, and you could not offend one of them more than by saying anything against their country. It is told of one of the women in the early days that she would not eat at the same table with a Yankee. Her reason for being so bitter was that her husband had been shot in cold blood by the rebels during the Revolutionary War. Many of these women displayed their patriotism and loyalty during the war of 1812 by looking after the crops while their husbands were away fighting for their country.

The firmness and dignity of the old U. E. Loyalists and their descendants were due to a great extent, no doubt, to their military training, for in the fore part of the nineteenth century all men between a certain age were enrolled in the militia.

Butler's Rangers.

Many of the United Empire Loyalists were military men who had taken part in the Revolutionary War. A large number of those who settled in the vicinity of Niagara and in other parts of the Niagara Peninsula had formerly belonged to Butler's Rangers, a regiment of cavalry who carried on a guerilla warfare against the revolutionary party of the United States, their operations being confined principally to the eastern parts of the States of New York and Pennsylvania. They were accused of laying waste the country, destroying property, and burning buildings. Many atrocities were laid to their charge, however, which were quite unsupported by the facts, and where offences were committed the actual facts were greatly exaggerated. It is true that war at any time is cruel and relentless, and many things are done that at another period would be considered barbarous. Most of the Indian tribes of New York State sided with Great Britain and made frequent raids on the American settlements. It is possible that the onus of their evil work may have been placed upon Butler's Rangers. In their raids the Rangers were associated with Indian allies. It is quite probable that many of the atrocities attributed to the Rangers were perpetrated by the Indians connected with them, and whose well-known ferocity when on the war-path the Rangers themselves were unable to restrain.

The Indians, it is true, may have been assisted by some few cruel white men, fiends in human form, who unfortunately got a footing amongst Butler's Rangers; but the general opinion has been long since arrived at that most of these stories were gotten up by the Americans in order to excite the American people to revenge. General Sullivan, who was sent by the United States Government to make raids on the Loyalist settlements of New York State, is reported to have been guilty of just as much cruelty as the Rangers were ever charged with. A Ranger descendant told the writer that his father always said the stories of the cruelty of Butler's Rangers were at first manufactured and afterwards adopted as American history yet we well know that in American history there has been a great deal of falsification of the actual facts when relating to anything pertaining to Canada, and They even now admit some of the mistakes themselves. When war is being waged there is a great tendency to exaggerate and falsify, anyway. Take, for instance, the reports sent out by the Beers during the late Boer-British War in South Africa. It is not denied that some of those who had belonged to Butler's Rangers were a rough class—there are always such who follow the fortunes of war—and were known to boast of the cruelties they had committed; but how do we know that they were always telling the truth? They may have told these stories to excite the awe and terror of the children of the people among whom they lived. We all know the proneness of such characters to exaggeration. The poet Campbell has given a pathetic description of the descent of the Rangers into the Valley of Wyoming, in his poem entitled "Gertrude of Wyoming." It was proved to him afterwards, however, that the facts upon which he based his poem were quite baseless and without foundation. Just how much truth there was in the stories of the alleged cruelties of these Rangers may never be fully known; but the fact remains, and can be fully vouched for by some of the old people still living, that horrid stories concerning them, such as the killing of innocent women and children, the burning of their homes, dangling infant children on their bayonets over the fire, and other equally revolting fireside anecdotes of admitted doubtful veracity, were common talk among the old settlers, both Loyalist and otherwise, in every section of the country, and talked and told over and over again, just for talk's sake.

Butler's Camp

The common saying that none of the Rangers were known to die a natural death was but one amongst the many other exaggerations as we know from ocular proof to the contrary. As has just been said, it is admitted that some of the Rangers were of a low type of men. But one black sheep or two should not be accepted as true representatives of a hardy, courageous and enterprising. type of guerilla soldiers. Here is an instance that will explain our meaning: One of the old Rangers, who lived alone on the Niagara, was the dread of the women and children in the neighborhood on account of the frightful stories he told. When he died, it is said, the coffin would not stay in the ground, but one end kept coming to the surface. The superstitious people in the neighborhood attributed this fact to his wickedness, whereas the real cause was quicksand! Some few of the Loyalists, on account of the hardship and ill-treatment they were subjected to by the rebel party, were filled with the spirit of resentment. And who can scarcely wonder at this? It was the result of despair.

In one instance, known to the writer, the American soldiers came to the house, and demanded the young men of the family; when told they were away they shot the old father of the family, without any provocation, on his own threshold. And other cases of this kind, equally barbarous and unjustifiable, might be given. One thing must ever remain to the credit of the Rangers —their adherence to principle.

"Their loyalty was still the same
Whether they lost or won the game."

When talking over facts of history that occurred during war time a century and a quarter ago, we must remember that military discipline and martial law were very severe then, much more so than at the present day. At that time, even during peace, persons were hung for forgery and sheep stealing. Alen had no heart or "bowels of compassion"; victory must he gained at all hazards, and no matter at what sacrifice. It is said that the military men who settled at Niagara were of a stern character, and had no conscience when it came to carrying out military discipline and stratagem.. This was the class of men Col. Murray took with him for the attack on Fort Niagara, on the night of December 19th, 1813. The orders were that not a soul should live between the landing-place and the fort. This was to prevent anyone from notifying the garrison of the fort of the approach of the enemy. The attack on Fort Niagara was said to have been in retaliation for the burning of Niagara by the Americans. The inhabitants were only given half an hour's notice by the American general, and that on a bitter told December day. It can safely be said of the descendants of most of these old soldiers of the Revolution, however, that they have proved an honorable and honest class of men in every relation of life.

The Mennonites and Tunkers.

The Mennonites were among the earliest settlers in Upper Canada. Many of them settled in Welland and Lincoln counties previous to 1800, and in that year their settlement in Waterloo County began, Waterloo Township being bought by a company of these people. Markham, Vaughan, and Whitchurch townships, in York County, were settled largely by members of this sect. Through marriage and social intercourse with English-speaking people their language and peculiar customs are fast disappearing, and it looks as if in the course of a very few years there would be nothing left but their family name and their religion, which some of them still adhere to, to distinguish them from other people.

The early Mennonite settlers must not be classed, however, with the Russian Mennonites who settled in Manitoba more than a quarter of a century ago, although originally of the same stock. Although being like the Quakers, a non-fighting class of people, we think the early settlers of this class might properly be called United Empire Loyalists. Their sympathies in the Revolutionary War were certainly with Great Britain, although, in consonance with their religious belief, they refused to bear arms for either party. They were honest, God-fearing, industrious people, many of whom left Pennsylvania and came to Canada for the reason that the British Government granted them exemption from military service, and allowed them to make an affirmation instead of taking an oath or making an affidavit in the courts, which privilege they were not sure of being able to retain under the government of the United States.

Their religion was opposed to war and going to law. In this respect they resembled the Quakers. Their ancestors emigrated from Switzerland and the Palatinate along the Rhine early in the eighteenth century, and settled in the commonwealths of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Many of their descendants are to be found yet in those states, some of them still retaining the language, religion, style of dress, habits and customs of their German ancestors, although for the last fifty years there has been a gradual breaking away from the primitive customs which their forefathers brought with them from the fatherland and maintained so well for more than a hundred years.

It is no longer considered wrong for their children to marry English-speaking people of other faiths. At one time if one of the family married outside of their own people they were sure to incur the anger and estrangement of their parents. It was no uncommon thing to find young people who had never entered any church but that of their own denomination. Although not by any means an ignorant class of people, they were a simple-minded folk; all the education that was considered necessary among them being a good understanding of the three Rs: "Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic." Many of them were great readers; their reading, however, being confined to books of a religious character. Although not deeply versed in learning, they were and are a thinking class of people. As is quite apparent from the thrifty manner in which they conduct their business, which was and is chiefly in the agricultural line.

The Tunkers (or Brethren) belonged to the same race of people and spoke the same language as the Mennonites, most of them in the early days being converts from the faith of the latter. Their customs and habits of living were similar. Their style of dress, however, was somewhat different. In religion they differed chiefly in the form of worship and tenets of their faith.

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Military Relics


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