New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Limits to the Royal Bounty

leave a comment »

From the blog at

Limits to the Royal Bounty

Many of the Loyalists who were evacuated to Nova Scotia were landed upon the solid rock at Saint John in the spring, summer and fall of 1783. There are some accounts of these earliest of days, but minute details are rare. There must have been very many tents, with hovels of one sort or another being thrown up here and there. Time was not wasted, however, and there was a furious building boom both at Parr Town (Saint John) and across the harbour in Carleton (West Saint John).

Most of the Loyalists did not want to be there, because they had been promised grants of land. The grants were delayed, however, and the people became dissatisfied with the management of the process.

It is not surprising that there was some disorganization, there being so many arrivals over such a short period of time. The situation was made worse than what might have been expected by the distance from the capital in Halifax, and all of this led to the creation of New Brunswick as a separate British Province in late 1784. In the meantime, the military was the only organization able to bring some organization at the local level.

The military and the government also had some quarrel with the way matters were unfolding, and one of the issues was how relief supplies were being distributed. There had been a rather easy distribution and it came about that the ‘royal bounty’ was spread more generously than the bureaucrats and officers imagined that his Majesty had intended. Therefore, in the summer of 1784, muster masters were appointed to bring the disbanded military corps and refugee companies together, and to count how many of them were deserving recipients of the bounty.

One of these muster masters was Thomas Knox who was assigned to Saint John. He submitted his report in early November, after finding that his assignment had not been as straightforward as he had hoped. A good number of the disbanded corps and refugee companies had lost patience with slow assignment of land grants and had dispersed themselves along the Saint John River as far up as Saint Anne’s (Fredericton) and beyond. They were in every sort of living arrangement. Some were in huts, while others had bought housing and cleared land for cultivation from pre-Loyalists who had sold these ‘improvements’ to land that some of them didn’t even own. This was even before the sale of such improvements was regularized by the new Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Carleton. The fact that the people were dispersed brought other difficulties. Knox couldn’t muster the regiments and companies because of their difficulty in gathering themselves together.

Thomas Knox therefore used his discretion to gather people together as best he could and to make judgements as to who should receive ration certificates. His role was quasi-judicial and reflects the military leadership that prevailed, in some matters at least, in the early days. There were no hard and fast rules for judging who was a deserving Loyalist, and Knox devised such rules on his own as he proceeded.

Knox found that some people had been supplied even though they had not fled the American territories on account of their loyalty to the king, but were just there by choice. Others were not working to establish themselves but were just living as best they could on the bounty. Other people had been granted supplies for relatives who were not present, but were expected to arrive sometime. Also, there were the ‘servants’, whom Knox decided were mostly not Loyalists, but were just associated with Loyalists. He termed them ‘nominal’.

The issue of the servants was an interesting one, since servant was a common euphemism for slave and some or many of them must have been black. I do not know what role this played in Thomas Knox’s decision making but there is nothing in what I have read in the Winslow Papers suggesting racist intentions.

Notwithstanding all of these circumstances, the people were all there, or most of them, and they were mostly at the mercy of his Majesty’s bounty. One group of these were pre-Loyalists who had sold their homes and their tilled land to Loyalists. They held the proceeds of these sales, but were otherwise destitute. Knox therefore treated them as worthy of the royal bounty.

All of this seemed fair and regular as far as the muster master was concerned. Some observers were concerned, however, that this discipline would add to the existing discontent among the refugees.

Thomas Knox’s report is not included in this blog posting, but it may be found in The Winslow Papers, 1776 to 1826, edited by W.O. Raymond in 1901. Following is another document, being a letter from Edward Winslow to Brook Watson on the same subject. It is also from the Winslow Papers. It is interesting to hear of Brook Watson again. His story is also in this blog under date of April 8, 2015, titled The Story of Brook Watson.

Watson shark

Brook Watson losing his leg in a shark attack.

A painting by John Copley, from Wikipedia.


Edward Winslow to Brook Watson

Halifax, 12th November, 1784.

Sir,—In my last by the Bonetta I enclosed a General Return of Disbanded officers & soldiers & other Loyalists who have lately become settlers in the province of Nova Scotia & New Brunswick and who are entitled to the Royal Bounty of Provisions. I now inclose a Duplicate of that Return and a number of original letters from the muster-masters of the different Districts.

Before I proceed to any particular remarks it will be necessary for me to communicate certain facts respecting the progress of this country and I am gratify’d that your obliging letter has given me a fair opportunity of endeavoring to convince you that my conduct has been regulated by principles of honour & zeal for the public service.

Among my various duties none has been productive of more perplexity to me than the establishment of a system for the proper distribution of the Royal Bounty of provisions to Loyalists, &c. Every man who arrived in this country called himself a Loyalist and presumed that he was entitled to the Rations of provisions for himself & his family, and they applied for orders without an idea that any scrutiny could possibly be made either into their circumstances or character, or supposing any conditions required on their part.

General Fox, whose decrees were dictated by justice in every instance, considered that it could not be his Majesty’s intention to extend his favors to the wealthy or to the vicious & indolent. He therefore peremptorily decided against issuing provisions to persons of those descriptions. When General Campbell succeeded to the command he pursued the same idea and instituted a Board for examining the claims of persons applying for the Royal Bounty. The order for their appointment with their Instructions is No. 1 of the inclosed papers. By the exertions of this Board many abuses were corrected and all the idle vagrants, who had been loitering about the streets of the metropolis & were daily committing irregularities, were by being precluded from the bounty of provisions forced to take possession of their lands, & on producing certificates of their being-actual settlers they were restored to the enjoyment of their rations.

No. 2 is Instructions to a second Board with some improvements on the plan. At this Board I volunteered as a member. A few days experience convinced me of the necessity of extreme caution in the discharge of this duty. I feared that a rage for reformation might lead us to harsh and unequitable decisions, and I saw that we were deceived by false & erroneous returns from the distant settlements. In this dilemma I suggested the method of parcelling out the province into districts and appointing persons of activity & judgment to muster all the men, women & children who had actually become settlers. I considered that, exclusive of the object of detecting abuses, they would make discoveries sufficiently important to Government to recompence for the small expense incurred by the appointments. That they would find out the precise number and disposition of settlers & their present situations, and as no steps were taken by the civil authority to ascertain these facts I thought it doubly incumbent on the General. The Returns of the several muster-masters are I believe as accurate as possible & altho’ the observations contained in their letters may not be very important, still they may afford some information. By these papers you will see, Sir, that I have endeavored as far as possible to make the Bounty of Government subservient to the purposes of assisting the civil magistrates—encouraging industry, and contributing to the settlement of the country. * * I communicate these details from the same principle that I have related every other transaction of importance since I had the pleasure of knowing you—simply to give you proofs that I am honestly devoted to the service of my country & have thereby some claim to its protection & favor.

The Muster-masters invariably take notice of the extraordinary delays in making the grants to the new settlers. To investigate the causes of those delays would be an invidious & unpleasant task, but the consequences are serious. Had the lands been laid out immediately on the arrival of the settlers (and this was certainly practicable) fifteen of the thirty thousand people who are now receiving rations of provisions would [The remainder of this valuable letter unfortunately is wanting; four leaves having been torn out of Winslow’s letter book at this point.]


Written by johnwood1946

December 9, 2015 at 8:40 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: