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Compensation and Honor

Throughout the war the British government had constantly granted relief and compensation to Loyalists who had fled to England. In the autumn of 1782 the treasury was paying out to them, on account of losses or services, an annual amount of 40,280 pounds over and above occasional payments of a particular or extraordinary nature amounting to 17,000 pounds or 18,000 pounds annually. When peace had been concluded, and it became clear that the Americans had no intention of making restitution to the Loyalists, the British government determined to put the payments for their compensation on a more satisfactory basis.

For this purpose the Coalition Government of Fox and North appointed in July 1783 a royal commission 'to inquire into the losses and services of all such persons who have suffered in their rights, properties, and professions during the late unhappy dissensions in America, in consequence of their loyalty to His Majesty and attachment to the British Government.' A full account of the proceedings of the commission is to be found in the Historical View of the Commission for Inquiry into the Losses, Services, and Claims of the American Loyalists, published in London in 1815 by one of the commissioners, John Eardley Wilmot. The commission was originally appointed to sit for only two years; but the task which confronted it was so great that it was found necessary several times to renew the act under which it was appointed; and not until 1790 was the long inquiry brought to an end. It was intended at first that the claims of the men in the Loyalist regiments should be sent in through their officers; and Sir John Johnson, for instance, was asked to transmit the claims of the Loyalists settled in Canada. But it was found that this method did not provide sufficient guarantee against fraudulent and exorbitant claims; and eventually members of the commission were compelled to go in person to New York, Nova Scotia, and Canada.

The delay in concluding the work of the commission caused great indignation. A tract which appeared in London in 1788 entitled The Claim of the American Loyalists Reviewed and Maintained upon Incontrovertible Principles of Law and Justice drew a black picture of the results of the delay:

It is well known that this delay of justice has produced the most melancholy and shocking events. A number of sufferers have been driven into insanity and become their own destroyers, leaving behind them their helpless widows and orphans to subsist upon the cold charity of strangers. Others have been sent to cultivate the wilderness for their subsistence, without having the means, and compelled through want to throw themselves on the mercy of the American States, and the charity of former friends, to support the life which might have been made comfortable by the money long since due by the British Government; and many others with their families are barely subsisting upon a temporary allowance from Government, a mere pittance when compared with the sum due them.

Complaints were also made about the methods of the inquiry. The claimant was taken into a room alone with the commissioners, was asked to submit a written and sworn statement as to his losses and services, and was then cross-examined both with regard to his own losses and those of his fellow claimants. This cross-questioning was freely denounced as an 'inquisition.'

Grave inconvenience was doubtless caused in many cases by the delay of the commissioners in making their awards. But on the other hand it should be remembered that the commissioners had before them a portentous task. They had to examine between four thousand and five thousand claims. In most of these the amount of detail to be gone through was considerable, and the danger of fraud was great. There was the difficulty also of determining just what losses should be compensated. The rule which was followed was that claims should be allowed only for losses of property through loyalty, for loss of offices held before the war, and for loss of actual professional income. No account was taken of lands bought or improved during the war, of uncultivated lands, of property mortgaged to its full value or with defective titles, of damage done by British troops, or of forage taken by them. Losses due to the fall in the value of the provincial paper money were thrown out, as were also expenses incurred while in prison or while living in New York city. Even losses in trade and labor were discarded. It will be seen that to apply these rules to thousands of detailed claims, all of which had to be verified, was not the work of a few days, or even months.

It must be remembered, too, that during the years from 1783 to 1790 the British government was doing a great deal for the Loyalists in other ways. Many of the better class received offices under the crown. Sir John Johnson was appointed superintendent of the Loyalists in Canada, and then superintendent of Indian Affairs; Colonel Edmund Fanning was made lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia; Ward Chipman became solicitor-general of New Brunswick. The officers of the Loyalist regiments were put on half-pay; and there is evidence that many were allowed thus to rank as half-pay officers who had no real claim to the title. 'Many,' said the Rev. William Smart of Brockville, 'were placed on the list of officers, not because they had seen service, but as the most certain way of compensating them for losses sustained in the Rebellion'; and Haldimand himself complained that 'there is no end to it if every man that comes in is to be considered and paid as an officer.' Then every Loyalist who wished to do so received a grant of land. The rule was that each field officer should receive 5,000 acres, each captain 3,000, each subaltern 2,000, and each non-commissioned officer and private 200 acres. This rule was not uniformly observed, and there was great irregularity in the size of the grants. Major Van Alstine, for instance, received only 1,200 acres. But in what was afterwards Upper Canada, 3,200,000 acres were granted out to Loyalists before 1787. And in addition to all this, the British government clothed and fed and housed the Loyalists until they were able to provide for themselves. There were those in Nova Scotia who were receiving rations as late as 1792. What all this must have cost the government during the years following 1783 it is difficult to compute. Including the cost of surveys, official salaries, the building of saw-mills and grist-mills, and such things, the figures must have run up to several millions of pounds.

When it is remembered that all this had been already done, it will be admitted to be a proof of the generosity of the British government that the total of the claims allowed by the royal commission amounted to 3,112,455 pounds.

The grants varied in size from 10 pounds, the compensation paid to a common soldier, to 44,500 pounds, the amount paid to Sir John Johnson. The total outlay on the part of Great Britain, both during and after the war, on account of the Loyalists, must have amounted to not less than 6,000,000 pounds, exclusive of the value of the lands assigned.

With the object possibly of assuaging the grievances of which the Loyalists complained in connection with the proceedings of the royal commission, Lord Dorchester (as Sir Guy Carleton was by that time styled) proposed in 1789 'to put a Marke of Honor upon the families who had adhered to the unity of the empire, and joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783.' It was therefore resolved that all Loyalists of that description were 'to be distinguished by the letters U. E. affixed to their names, alluding to their great principle, the unity of the empire.' The land boards were ordered to preserve a registry of all such persons, 'to the end that their posterity may be discriminated from future settlers,' and that their sons and daughters, on coming of age, might receive grants of two hundred acre lots. Unfortunately, the land boards carried out these instructions in a very half-hearted manner, and when Colonel John Graves Simcoe became lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, he found the regulation a dead letter. He therefore revived it in a proclamation issued at York (now Toronto), on April 6, 1796, which directed the magistrates to ascertain under oath and to register the names of all those who by reason of their loyalty to the Empire were entitled to special distinction and grants of land. A list was compiled from the land board registers, from the provision lists and muster lists, and from the registrations made upon oath, which was known as the 'Old U. E. List'; and it is a fact often forgotten that no one, the names of some of whose ancestors are not inscribed in that list, has the right to describe himself as a United Empire Loyalist.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The United Empire Loyalists, A Chronicle of the Great Migration, 1915


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