Loyalists and Layabouts

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-05-12
  • Publisher: Anchor Canada
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The loyalists who gathered at Roubalet's Tavern in New York on the night of November 16, 1782, dreamed of building a new and improved New York City on the rocky shores of Roseway Bay, Nova Scotia. The city would be cosmopolitan, but more refined, more royal, more loyal and certainly more exclusive than the one they were now preparing to leave behind forever.

Author Biography

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, and broadcaster. He is the author of one novel, Reparations, and five non-fiction books, including the bestselling Sailors, Slackers and Blind Pigs: Halifax at War.

He and his wife, Jeanie Kimber, live in Halifax.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personaep. xi
Introductionp. 1
Prologue, "An Ornament to the British Empire"p. 7
"Emanations of the Leaden George"p. 15
"Oh God, It's all Over"p. 45
"The Consequence...Time only will Reveal"p. 87
"This Cursed Republican Town Meeting Spirit"p. 115
"Great Riot Today"p. 167
"A Pitiable Passion"p. 195
"The Spite of Misfortune"p. 229
"Cannot do Worse, Massa"p. 261
Afterwordp. 293
Whatever happened top. 297
Acknowledgementsp. 303
Endnotesp. 305
Bibliographyp. 317
Indexp. 323
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


I am not now, nor ever have been an historian. By training, I’m a journalist; by inclination, a storyteller.

I knew from the beginning of this project that trying to translate the usual fragmentary, sometimes contradictory, often dubious details of the lives of ordinary people, all of them long dead, into a narrative that captured not only the reality of their lives but also the larger truth of how and why a 225-year-old city rose and fell within the historic blink of an eye–and do all of that without playing fast and loose with the known facts–was going to be challenging, and probably frustrating.

And it was.

As a journalist, I’m accustomed to writing about recent events. When I do that, I have the luxury of interviewing flesh-and-blood human beings. Later, if I can’t make sense of some sequence of events, or simply want to know more about an interesting incident that I’d missed or that they’d casually passed over the first time we talked, I simply pick up the telephone, call, and ask them.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ask the dearly departed to clarify or elaborate when you discover something in their life-on-paper that puzzles or confuses. You’re stuck with what you know and–just as importantly–what you don’t.

I still don’t know enough about the women of Shelburne, for example. When I began my research, I had hoped to discover a strong female character whose story could become part of this book. There undoubtedly were many of them in Shelburne. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the time to write about their experiences because they were too busy living them, or if they did, those diaries and letters have largely long since been lost to history.

During the course of my research, I came tantalizingly close on a couple of occasions to finding the female character I was seeking. Margaret Cowper-Fletcher-Watson-Cutt, for example, could have made a fascinating central character. She certainly lived an extraordinary life. In the mid-1770s, she and her two young children followed her soldier-husband from London across the ocean to America, where she witnessed his death in a revolutionary battle. Then both of her sons died. A few years later, she married again, to a man who’d been her late husband’s cellmate while they were prisoners of war. Margaret had two more children by him. In 1783, she and her second family became part of the historic exodus of refugees who sailed from New York to Shelburne. They’d barely begun to settle into their new lives when husband number two died, probably of a heart attack, leaving Margaret to fend for herself once again. Which she did by marrying a third time. That husband died too. Margaret, having had so little luck with husbands, eventually became an innkeeper in Shelburne. There is undoubtedly the makings of a novel in her Perils-of-Pauline life. But there aren’t enough letters, diaries, and accounts to make a full-fledged non-fiction narrative out of all those fascinating facts. I know. I tried.

Just as I did with Mary Swords, who was the mother of two young Shelburne printers. For more than a decade after the war, Mary relentlessly pressed her seemingly reasonable claims for compensation for her wartime losses, which included a husband and another son, as well as valuable property. No one listened. Despite that, she continued to be the most resolute and steadfast of Loyalists. Until she wasn’t. In 1795, she had a sudden and unexplained–and now inexplicable–change of heart and swore an oath of allegiance to the new United States of America.

Hannah Booth, the too-delicate wife of a British soldier stationed in Shelburne, also seemed at one point to be a candidate for principal-character status. But all I could find out about her came from her husband’s diaries and letters, written from his perspective. There

Excerpted from Loyalists and Layabouts: The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1783-1792 by Stephen Kimber
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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