08 December 2011

Loyalists: Eligibility - Taken for Granted?

This is the fourth in an occasional series about United Empire Loyalists.

So I don’t lose sight of what I’m doing, a DISCLAIMER: I am an independent genealogist and family historian; my opinions or practice may not always coincide or agree with those of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC)—their Genealogists’ Handbook, or the Branch Genealogists, or the Dominion Genealogist. While I’ve studied documents and stories of the Loyalist period for many years, I greatly respect those who are more knowledgeable than I. Do we all sometimes find ourselves in comfortable ruts searching for evidence of Loyalist ancestors? Yes.  

In posting here, and in my book, I am primarily reaching to the newly-curious about their Loyalist heritage. But also to those descendants who were fortunate enough to find solid ancestral evidence without too much time and trouble. Maybe I can prompt a deeper attitude to historical (and research) understanding. Too often I see the focus only on a target ancestor—tunnel vision leading to the desirable certificate—ignoring the potential for a richer family history. Stepping back from a tree to view the forest is needed for fresh perspectives.
    Genealogists both within and without the society who assist applicants and/or offer services to the public are behoved to understand the contemporary circumstances AND the society’s requirements for (full) membership.
... a statement I made in my first post about Loyalists.
There are two not-always coinciding elements here, and both involve eligibility, i.e. qualifications.
One: Contemporary circumstances: Who “qualified” as a Loyalist?
Two: Society requirements: Who qualifies as a full member of UELAC?

Part One again concerns the area that became Upper Canada; there, the administration notably applied Lord Dorchester’s privilege of recognizing Loyalists. His original resolution was straightforward. Those who deserved “distinguished benefits and privileges” had:
● “adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and
● joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783.”

A perspicacious reader will likely ask what does adhere to the Unity of the Empire mean? The phrase has had its debatable moments, but for now we will say it meant at the time—the 1780s—someone who left the rebel colonies to be within the British King’s domain. Joining the Royal Standard, i.e. “signing up” for military service, further delineated the qualification.

How was privilege administered? In practical terms, it meant the Loyalist’s land grant was free of all fees when title was transferred from the Crown. But that was the final step in a developing system of regulations. Initially, land allocation gave only temporary “custody” of a piece of land to a nominee—a specific location on a ticket or certificate. Concomitant obligations included the standard clearing, cultivating, and building.

The first district land boards1789-1794 were established to ease the work of the overloaded Executive Council. Board members handled petitions and assignments of land; in most cases, local Loyalists would be personally known to them. By 1796 Loyalists were required to confirm their allegiance on district rolls, turning in their former tickets or certificates for the official crown patent (title deed). Some did not live long enough; others neglected to complete the process for various reasons (both situations caused complications in confirming Loyalist status/eligibility among officialdom and for later researchers).

It is well worth noting that Loyalists knew who they were although it’s unlikely they ever pinned that label on themselves. So many of their neighbours and kinsmen shared the same upheaval of starting life again in new territory that it was taken for granted “everyone knew” their background—their migration, their losses, their loyalty. They had land to work; a piece of paper signified their right to occupy it; “everyone knew” it was theirs. Who had time for a trip to the district town and more government paperwork when subsistence was their daily concern? For subsequent generations, in the absence of overt documentation about the target ancestor, trickle-down family memory played an insistent role.

The land-granting system and Loyalist privilege/eligibility are inseparable. I’ve not even mentioned the confusion that arose in resolving how much acreage to grant, the problems sometimes caused by the status of military claimants, or discrepancies in the lists that were underway in different offices. For sure, it’s eighteenth-century immersion for dedicated family historians. To be continued? More space and energy are needed to address Number Two!

It should be clear thus far in my rambling that the well-known petitions for land grants, as genealogical sources, are not necessarily available for each individual Loyalist. True, petitions and other documents exist after the fact when titles and claims had to be sorted out. But ultimately, the most benign effect of privilege was the 200-acre grants to the sons and daughters. In fact, it is their records—petitions—that speak most often to the Loyalist status of their fathers.

© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2011  

No comments: