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A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Loyalist History

A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Loyalist History

The Coming of the Loyalists by Henry Sandham (1925). Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Welcome back to yet another resource guide! This time, in collaboration with the Atlantic Loyalist Connections blog, our latest resource guide focuses on the history of the Loyalists, broadly defined as those individuals who chose to leave the US for various reasons following the American Revolution.

Once again, I have stuck to sources that are produced by institutions, museums, archives, and historical societies. This is again to ensure that the sources presented are authentic and their provenance clear. In order to keep this guide to a manageable size, I have excluded websites that are narrative-based,  rather than providing primary sources and/or learning tools. However, unlike previous guides, the nature of this area of study is such that my sources as transnational in nature, and come from Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. Also in the interest of keeping this guide manageable, I have focused most of my sources on the experiences of Loyalists after they left the United States. That said, I have included some materials that relate explicitly to the experiences of Loyalists (rather than  American colonists in general) during the American Revolution.

There are a couple of issues I would like to address before diving into the guide itself. First, a note on terminology:

The easiest way to think of the term “Loyalist” is to compare it to how we use the term “Kleenex” today. For instance, all Kleenexes are facial tissues, but not all facial tissues are Kleenexes. Further, we often call facial tissues “Kleenxes” as if it were a generic term rather than a brand name. What do I mean by this?

First of all, the term “Loyalist” is a bit of a misnomer. Many of these people would have referred to themselves as Tories or Royalists, especially since the term “Loyalist” only dates to 1775.

Second, the people whom we now refer to as “Loyalists” were a collection of groups of individuals with very different backgrounds, political leanings, and motivations to leave the (newly-formed) United States. Some of these people have been given names, like the Black Loyalists* (Africans and African-Americans who fled behind British lines in exchange for the promise of freedom and land), the United Empire Loyalists” (a sort of honorific that was granted after-the-fact in 1789 by then governor-general of British North America, Lord Dorchester), and the Late Loyalists (Americans who chose to come to Canada after the War of 1812, most often in search of free land and to escape the political climate and racial discrimination of the early Republic). However, when most people say the word “Loyalist” they are referring to the United Empire Loyalists. In my analogy from above, Kleenex is the United Empire Loyalists, while facial tissues are Loyalists – all United Empire Loyalists are Loyalists, but not all Loyalists are United Empire Loyalists.

Third, there were many other groups of people that are included in the category of “Loyalists” that do not fit so easily. First of all, there are the thousands of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and other Indigenous peoples who were expelled from New York after the American Revolution, and were resettled by the British in Canada. Most famous of these are the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), under the leadership of Thayendenagea (Joseph Brant). Similarly, there roughly 2,000 enslaved Africans and African-Americans who were brought to Canada by their Loyalist owners. Both groups did not really have much of a choice about moving to Canada, nor were they “loyal” to the British Crown.

The second issue I would like to draw your attention to are some of the limits of this resource guide. First of all, many of us commonly assume that the Loyalists all came to Canada. While the majority did, they were free to go anywhere in the British Empire. Many chose to resettle in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and (in the case of name Black Loyalists after they got fed-up with the Canadians) Sierra Leone. However, far less is known about these individuals, simply because their small number has meant that they attracted far less attention. Consequently, I could not find any primary sources relating to their experiences that met the criteria for inclusion in this guide. I hope that in the future, this oversight will be corrected.

Of course, then there is the matter of historical representation and privilege. As I discussed in my previous guide on Black History in Canada, history is always political, and certain aspects will always be highlighted over others. This is particularly the case when it comes to the histories that do and do not reflect how we as a country like to see ourselves. These principles apply equally to Loyalist history. You will notice below that nearly all of the sources relate to two specific topics: the United Empire Loyalists and the Black Loyalists. This is largely due to the influence of the many historical societies and organizations dedicated to preserving their history. In the case of the former, “Loyalist” ancestry is often a marker of status, while the latter reinforces the idea of a progressive Canada. As a result, other “Loyalist” histories are almost entirely invisible.

As I’ve said before, it is important that we remember the experiences of all of the people who are included under the umbrella of “Loyalist,” even when these experiences make us uncomfortable. We need to recognize that part of the reason why some white Loyalists came to Canada was because they were permitted to bring their slaves with them, thereby perpetuating the institution of slavery. We also need to recognize that Indigenous peoples played a hugely significant role on both sides of the American Revolution, as allies to both the Patriots and the British (though many communities tried to remain neutral, they were often forced to take a side). Further, during the treaty negotiations after the end of the war, the British broke their promise to their Haudenosaunee allies by giving away the bulk of their lands to the Americans. As a result, those who allied themselves to the British were forcibly expelled from their homelands and driven into exile. While leaders like Thayendenagea negotiated with the British for land grants, what they received was often far less than they were promised, and their contributions and losses still remain largely unrecognized. As I mentioned in my previous guide, we must continue to reflect on our behaviour and fight against racism and colonialism in its varied forms, including the marginalization of Indigenous peoples and people of colour in the field of history, by ensuring that our history is truly representative of the diverse nature of our past.

As always, this guide is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all of the online sources of information on Loyalist history. Instead, it contains links to primary source collections and databases, online exhibits, media, and other resources that will be most helpful to educators, particularly at the university and college levels. All of these documents come from verified sources and/or official archives and institutions. If there is something you think should be added to this list, please let me know in the comments below.

* Please see Barry Cahill, “The Black Loyalist Myth in Atlantic Canada,” Acadiensis XXIX, no. 1 (Autumn 1999): 76-87 and James G. St. G. Walker, “Myth, History and Revisionism: The Black Loyalists Revisited,” Acadiensis XXIX, no. 1 (Autumn 1999): 88-105 for a fascinating debate on this subject. Thanks to Melissa N. Shaw for this suggestion!

 

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A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning about Black History in Canada

Black History in Canada

Africville Church (est. 1849) – rebuilt as part of the Africville Apology. Photo  by Hantsheroes. Wikimedia Commons. CC By 3.0

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all of those who helped me assemble this guide, including, but not limited to, Georgia Sitara, Elizabeth Vibert, Sarah Van Vugt, Melissa N. Shaw, Catherine Ulmer, Merle Massie, Kesia Kvill, Nancy Janovicek, Kevin Brushett, James Opp, Joanna L. Pearce, Clare Dale, Tina Loo, Elliot Worsfold, Steve Marti, and the Nova Scotia Archives. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful online community of Canadian historians.

 

We’re back with another guide to online sources for teaching and learning Canadian history! This guide focuses specifically on Black History in Canada.* While I am obviously writing this blog post now since it is Black History Month, it’s important that we recognize that Black history in Canada is not a subject that should only be discussed once a year; instead, is an integral part of Canadian history as a whole. After all, Black history is Canadian history. My hope is that you will use this guide not only during February, but also to inform your teaching year round. Historians have a obligation to ensure that the history that we teach is truly representative of the experiences of all Canadians.

Before I begin, I would like to make two quick notes. The first is in regards to my selection process. As in my previous guide, I have stuck to sources that are produced by institutions, museums, archives, and historical societies. This is again to ensure that the sources presented are authentic and their provenance clear. In order to keep this guide to a manageable size, I have excluded websites that are narrative-based, meaning they focus on telling the history of Black Canadians rather than providing primary sources and/or learning tools. At the same time, I have tried to keep to mostly Canadian sources. But it is important to recognize that many Black Canadians can trace their origins back to Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. As a result, you will notice that I have included some transnational sources, particularly with respect to the subject of slavery.

Second, it is important that we take a moment to note the kinds of history that are represented here. History is always political, and certain aspects of history are often highlighted at the expense of others. That is why you will notice that many of the links below deal principally with two topics: the Underground Railroad and the Black Loyalists. The preponderance of these sources is directly related to the popularity of their subjects. Much of this is because Canada and Canadians like to think of themselves as a safe haven, especially when compared to the United States. While many African-Americans were able to escape slavery by fleeing to Canada, that didn’t mean that everything was sunshine and rainbows. The reality was far different. Slavery was an integral part of Canadian society, and while it was officially abolished in 1833, stipulations in the Act to Abolish Slavery were such that only a small percentage of slaves in Canada were actually able to secure their freedom. Furthermore, Black Canadians were, and continue to be, subject to racial discrimination, both personally and institutionally.

While it is important that we remember the Underground Railroad and the Black Loyalists, it is equally important that we remember all of the Black men and women who worked as porters or domestics, those who fought for the right to enlist in WW1, those who sought better job opportunities by migrating southward, the highly educated women who immigrated to Canada as part of the “domestic scheme,” and the growing community of Somali-Canadians. We must continue to reflect on our behaviour and fight against racism in its varied forms, and recognize and dismantle the ways in which Black Canadians continue to be marginalized in Canadian society. I hope that this blog post can be a small part of this work.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that this guide would never have been possible without the tireless work of Afua Cooper, Natasha Henry, and Charmaine Nelson. Many of these collections and lesson plans were either created by or in collaboration with these three incredible women. I am merely standing on the shoulders of giants.

As was the case in my previous guide, each link will be listed by title, then institution. I have included a short description of each link, and which sections will be of particular interest or use to educators, particularly those at the university or college-level. This blog post is not intended to be comprehensive, but to instead offer the best resources available.

Since this blog post is a bit of a monster, you can simply click on each one of those headings below to navigate to a specific section of this page. Each section is organized roughly in chronological order, with ones that cover multiple time periods at the bottom. To return to the top of the page, click on the link that says “Back to the Top,” located at the bottom of each section. Here’s how the blog post is arranged:

*I use the term Black Canadians here rather than African-Canadian or African-American in recognition of the diverse nature of the Black community in Canada today. My terminology is inspired by Melissa Shaw’s detailed discussion of the subject in the first footnote to her article, Melissa N. Shaw, “‘Most Anxious to Serve their King and Country:’ Black Canadians’ Fight to Enlist in WW1 and Emerging Race Consciousness in Ontario, 1914-1919,” Histoire Sociale 49 no. 199 (November 2016): 542-580.

 

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