When I started working in the Genealogy section at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), I quickly realized that there was a lot to learn. To be effective at the job, you had to be a jack-of-all-trades in Canadian (and world) history. In just one afternoon, you could be called on to help researchers with wide-ranging topics like the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel, the Chinese Head Tax, Ottawa Valley logging history and New France census records.
One of the first questions I fielded at the Genealogy desk was “Were my ancestors UEL?” I recall that day like it was yesterday. A cold panic came over me. I froze and stared at the researcher like a deer in headlights. I did not recognize the acronym. Luckily, after the researcher patiently spelled it out for me, my training, education and experience kicked in, and I remembered the United Empire Loyalists (UEL) and all the material LAC has about this unique group. Fortunately, that momentary blank did not happen again, as UEL was a very popular research topic.
The term “United Empire Loyalists” refers to the American colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution (1775-1783), and may also have fought for Britain during that conflict. They fled the newly created United States and settled in what are now the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario. Archives in each of these provinces hold records relating to Loyalists, some of which are searchable online.
Loyalists became an even more popular topic after Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes was published in 2007. Hill’s remarkable novel about a Black Loyalist won many prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2008, CBC’s Canada Reads for 2009 and Radio Canada’s Combat des livres in 2013. It was also released as a TV miniseries in 2015. The novel was named after a ledger preserved at the National Archives in England, which lists the names of approximately 5,000 people, including 2,831 Black men, women and children who travelled — some as free people, and others the slaves or indentured servants of white United Empire Loyalists — in 219 ships sailing from New York between April and November 1783. This ledger is part of a large collection called the British Headquarter Papers, also known as the Carleton Papers. LAC has a microfilm copy of these records and created a database indexing this important ledger. More information about Black Loyalists, including their names, can be found in the Port Roseway Associates Muster Book of Free Blacks: Settlement of Birchtown 1784 and the Ward Chipman Muster Master’s Office (1777–1785) collections, which can be searched on Collection Search and Ancestors Search.
LAC holds a variety of sources relating to the United Empire Loyalists who settled in Canada after the American Revolution (1775–1783). For more information about Loyalist records held at LAC, visit the Loyalist section of our website.
- Flickr Album: Fort Howe
- Blog post: Canada and the German mercenaries of the American Revolution
Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.