Sunday, September 6, 2009

United Empire Loyalist

Most of us know that the United States celebrates its Independence Day on July 4th each year, recognizing July 4th, 1776 as the day on which the original thirteen American colonies declared independence from Britain. The War of Independence however extended for years until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. While there are many popular tales of heroism from that time, there also exist the histories of those colonists who remained loyal to Britain, known as the United Empire Loyalists.

The Loyalists were from a wide variety of occupations and trades, and likely had an equally various number of reasons for remaining loyal. Some felt that their future was simply more secure being tied to the British Empire. One Loyalist, the Rev. Matthew Byles wrote, "Which is better - to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?" In any regard, those who remained loyal were dispossessed of their lands and belongings (and in some cases publicly tarred and feathered) as punishment and exiled,primarily to British North America, now Canada. Some settled in Nova Scotia and some in Quebec (in the Canada Act of 1791, Quebec was split into Upper and Lower Canada).

On November 9, 1879, the Governor of Quebec, Lord Dorchester declared "that it was his wish to put the mark of honour upon the families who had adhered to the unity of the empire." Subsequently the militia rolls noted, "Those Loyalists who have adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their Children and their Descendants by either sex, are to be distinguished by the following Capitals, affixed to their names: U.E. Alluding to their great principle The Unity of the Empire."

Through this royal declaration, successive generations of Canadians have been permitted to bear the initials U.E. behind their surname (sometimes this is seen albeit incorrectly as U.E.L.). My wife, Ellen is of direct Loyalist descent as her 4th great grandfather, Andrew Kimmerly was a loyalist who re-settled in the Bay of Quinte colony following the War of Independence. We have set out collecting the genealogical 'poofs' that document that relationship and ties her to a time that changed the course of Canadian history.

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