Canadian Refugees

March 7th, 2013

In April, 1798, United States Congress passed “An Act for the relief of the refugees from the British Provinces of Canada and Nova Scotia.” Under the Act, the Secretary of War was required to advertise its terms and review all claims submitted. Who were these refugees? Why was their welfare the responsibility of the Secretary of War?

Just as there were some people in the colonies who remained loyal to the British Crown, there were people in Canada and Nova Scotia who supported the Continental Congress’ claim of independence. These people aided the Continental Army in Canada by providing food or shelter or by enlisting. Many of them then had to leave their homes when the British retook the area during the war, and those who made it to the United States often stayed until the end of the war and beyond. They lost their homes, their property, and sometimes their businesses. These were the refugees of the Act, and it was the intention of Congress to compensate them for their losses with grants of land.

Claims had to be supported by statements sworn before a judge or justice of the peace. While all that seems to have been required was a statement by the claimant, many also included supporting statements from family, friends, and former or present neighbors. For example, John McGown supported his claim with statements from a fellow soldier as well as justices of the peace from his former home in Amherst County, Nova Scotia. McGown himself submitted a supporting statement for the claim of Lewis Frederick Delesdernier, who was seeking compensation for himself, his parents, and his deceased brother.

By early May, 1800, the Secretary of War had received 73 claims, of which only 18 were disallowed. The smallest awards were 100 acre per person; Martha Walker, widow, and Edgar and Seth Harding received the largest awards at 2,240 acres each. Both John McGown and Frederick Delesdernier were granted 960 acres.