The American refugees who fled north to Canada after Britain''s
defeat by the revolutionary U.S. army were determined to build a
culture separate from the U.S. By their numbers and their politics
they became effectively the founders of English Canada.
In 1784 Britain carved out the new province, New Brunswick, for
these Loyalist refugees, creating a special homeland where they
could run their own show. But, given a chance to found a new
society, the Loyalist refugees turned against each other in a
savage contest for political power. In Saint John, where 10,000
people arrived in a space of months, an elite of well-connected,
powerful men mainly from Massachusetts allied themselves with
officials appointed by Britain and sought to control the levers of
power in the colony. They were opposed by upstart political leaders
who, with the support of a majority of residents, bitterly fought
the already-entrenched minority.
The result was conflict, a war of words that soon escalated into
mob violence and criminal trials. British soldiers were called out
in defiance of normal constitutional practice to restore order.
When the critics of the governor won an election, the governor and
his coterie engineered a reversal of the result. Popular political
leaders were charged and convicted of sedition. Then the governor
and his supporters passed legislation making even written petitions
illegal. The new colony''s conservative elite used every available
device to maintain their grip on power. In the end, the governor
boasted to London that the new colony was now passive and
The hostility of colonial administrators in Canada to dissent
and political opposition and their labelling their opponents --
even Loyalists -- as disloyal rebels was long lasting. From his
extensive research in early records and his understanding of this
crucial period, David G. Bell has written a fascinating account of
early Canadian politics that challenges many conventional ideas
about the role of Loyalists and British colonial administrators in
Canada''s original political culture.