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Stewart, Walter.

Toronto, Collins, c1985. 275pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-00-217468-5. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Cornelia Fuykschot

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

Walter Stewart, who has made himself a name both as journalist and as author, has produced yet another book (his tenth) that deserves to become a bestseller, even though the topic, the Loyalists, has been written all but to death. This history teacher, who has studied many historians on the subject of the Loyalists, has seen the issues more clearly, and perceived more connections previously unsuspected after reading True Blue, than she ever did before.

The book opens with the scene in the Thirteen colonies, and elucidates the views of the people in the street, the rulers, and the politicians in London. Stewart is of the show and tell school. He rarely makes a statement that is not borne out by one or more illustrating examples. One gets the feel of the place and the time. We can see how England's mercantile policy irked the merchants on the eastern seaboard, and how her taxation attempts aroused the ire of nearly every colonist. Perhaps these laws were not so much unfair, as unwise, but in the years following the conquest of Quebec, the fear of the French was gone and the willingness to pay for an army had gone along with it. And whoever felt that compliance with the government was cheaper, wiser, better in any way than refusal, had better keep very quiet. Emotions were rising rapidly, and mob rule, in the absence of the strong arm of the law, was quick to show its naked cruelty, from tarring and feathering to live burial.

The outbreak of the civil war in 1775 set citizen against citizen, and Stewart describes with unflinching fairness the harsh treatments meted out by whatever side had the upper hand. Such troops as were in evidence, patriot or British, did not help matters, because of their lack of discipline. The bitterness on both sides grew with each act of violence.

And so the great migration began, the exodus of the Loyalists to other parts of the British Empire, to the West Indies, to Africa, back to England, to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and overland to Canada. Stewart describes in detail how the arrival of the Loyalists amounted to a changing of the guard in Nova Scoita, where the newcomers far outnumbered the original settlers, and how their attitude towards blacks, slave or free, had not been improved by their own recent calamities.

In Quebec, Governor Haldimand saw to it that things were done in an orderly fashion. He reserved the Eastern Townships, rich farmland near the American border with Quebec, for the French, fearing also that in case of war with the new United States the Loyalist might feel that blood was thicker than water, and support the invader. They would not, as the war of 1812 was to prove.

Stewart describes how the settled loyalists in the various parts of what we now call Canada arranged themselves, how privilege and graft were tolerated, how self-government was achieved, but for a long time no responsible government, which ultimately led to the 1837 rebellions.

Stewart ends the book with a more detailed description of Loyalist life in its earliest stages, and with a discussion of their efforts to claim restitution from the king they had so unswervingly upheld. The position of the Mohawks and of their leader Joseph Brantis elucidated. Finally, he gives an assessment of the Loyalist contribution to the formation of Canada as we know it today. Did they bring democracy to their new land? No. Did they put their mark on it? Yes.

It is a pleasure to read this book, as it meets every question head on, never minces words, can see both sides of every coin, and lavishes the mercy of humour over the darkest deeds, thus enabling us to accept even them, because as human beings we must acknowledge that "there but for the grace of God go I." This book is so well written that a teenager can understand it, and an adult can not put it down. A must for every library, no matter how well stocked it may be on the subject.

Cornelia Fuykschot, Gananoque, Ont.
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