The United Empire Loyalists
During the American Revolution many settlers living in the 13 American colonies opposed the new republic that was being formed. The name given to this group of people was The United Empire Loyalists.
The UEL did not all have the same nationality, in fact some were from the First Nations and some were former black slaves; both would take up arms in support of Britain. Many of the earliest settlers to Niagara were Quakers, others were Mennonites. They had little in common but their opposition to the revolution taking place in the United States. Their reasons for becoming Loyalists were as varied as their backgrounds. Most felt that too much democracy resulted in mob rule and preferred the British system of governance, others were adamantly opposed to the slave trade.
The vast majority of the earliest United Empire Loyalists to land on Canadian soil were of British descent. The names of their descendants can still be found in the area. Among the earliest settlers to Niagara Falls were the Clarks, Burtches, Steadmans and Streets. In Niagara township were the Clarks, Steadmans, Merritts, Middaughs, Pickard, Van Everys, Turneys and Ball. The Ball family was originally from Germany and anglisized their name Bahl to Ball. The Cummings and Macklems settled in Chippawa while the Kerbys, Powells, Wintermoots, Maybees and Warrens settled in Fort Erie. In Grimsby some of the earliest settlers were the Nelles, Carpenters and Petites. Many other loyalist families settled in the Niagara Region. Clench, Secord, Lawrence and Whitmore were also prominent early settlers to Niagara.
It is estimated that 10 – 15% of the population of the 13 American colonies, or aprx. 250,000 people opposed the revolution. Loyalists who spoke their views were punished by having their land and property confiscated. Some were labeled as “traitors” and thrown in jail.
The signing of The Treaty of Paris in 1783 recognizing the 13 colonies as the United States of America was the final blow to the UEL. Facing further persecution if they remained in the colonies, over 50,000 made their way to British North America. Many of these exiles settled in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario.
Colonel John Butler, a powerful landowner in the Mohawk Valley of New York, organized Butler's Rangers and fought along with Native Loyalist Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant) and his militia. He eventually led his followers to the west bank of the Niagara River where he established a settlement in present day Niagara-on-the-Lake that he named Butlersbury.