By Valerie Casbourn
On June 18, 1784, British authorities ordered that the colony of Nova Scotia be divided in two. As the American Revolution ended in 1783, some 30,000 Loyalists (American colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown) travelled north to flee persecution in the United States. Almost half of these Loyalists settled in the region west and north of the Bay of Fundy. This dramatic influx of settlers prompted the British to create the new colony of New Brunswick.Changing population: The arrival of the Loyalists
New Brunswick is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), the Mi’kmaq and the Passamaquoddy First Nations. Prior to the Loyalists’ arrival, the region had about 5,000 inhabitants. This included First Nations, Acadians, and small numbers of settlers from the American colonies and from Great Britain.
In 1783–1784, after the end of the American Revolution, about 14,000 Loyalist refugees arrived in this region. The Loyalists included Americans of British or other ancestry, Black Loyalists and people who remained enslaved (sometimes identified as “servants” in colonial records). Some were civilians, while others had fought for the British during the war, either in various Loyalist regiments (often known as Provincials) or as members of the regular British military forces.
British authorities promised the Loyalists and British military veterans land grants. As such, the British surveyed the land for settlement and some Loyalist associations travelled ahead to scout the land. When the Loyalists arrived, they began to claim land and establish farms and settlements, particularly at Saint John and along the Saint John River Valley.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a variety of records related to the Loyalists’ arrival. You can search for the names of individual Loyalists in LAC’s four Loyalist databases. The Ward Chipman (senior and junior) fonds (MG23-D1) is especially relevant to the story of New Brunswick. Many records from the Ward Chipman fonds are available on the Héritage Canadiana website as digitized microfilm reels.
The new province of New Brunswick
Influential groups of Loyalists who settled in the Saint John River Valley did not wish to be governed from faraway Halifax and asked for the colony of Nova Scotia to be divided. This demand for a separate province began even before some Loyalists left the United States and it continued to grow. Loyalists found support for their campaign in London, England, and New Brunswick was created on June 18, 1784.
LAC holds copies of the British Colonial Office’s correspondence about Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Loyalists’ arrival. Of particular importance are the 1783–1784 records in the series “CO 217. Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, Original Correspondence” (MG11-CO217NovaScotiaA). The correspondence is described in the Report on Canadian Archives, 1894, and the Héritage Canadiana website has transcribed copies on digitized microfilm reels.
As large numbers of Loyalists settled on lands in New Brunswick, they encroached on the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), the Mi’kmaq and the Passamaquoddy. The First Nations lost the use of much of their territory, which was essential to their traditional way of life, as they were displaced by rapidly expanding colonial settlement.
Try using LAC’s Collection Search to explore other documents, maps and images related to New Brunswick. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick holds many resources, including records of land grants in the province.
The Loyalists’ arrival in 1783 had a deep and lasting effect on the land and peoples of the Maritimes, and triggered the creation of the province of New Brunswick the following year. As time passed, the people of New Brunswick built up settlements, farms and fishing, timber and shipbuilding industries in the province.
- Loyalists (resources at LAC)
- Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
- Wabanaki Collection
- University of New Brunswick: The Loyalist Collection
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Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.