Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Records of Old Revolutionary Soldiers and Their Widows

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The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick has within its holdings many highly interesting and valuable historical documents. Among these are records which relate to the soldiers who fought as loyalists in the American Revolution.

With the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781 and by the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the British ceded independence to the Thirteen Colonies but retained control of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland, and the Great Lakes region. Consequently, in 1783, large numbers of British soldiers (both Regular and Militia) began to move to British North America along with thousands of other subjects loyal to King George. In 1784, Nova Scotia was sub-divided and New Brunswick was established north of the Bay of Fundy. Part of the reason for establishing a new Province was the desire of the Crown to provide a self-contained administrative unit for these loyalists who would not or could not live in the new American republic. In some cases, entire Regular Army units and regiments were disbanded together and granted adjoining lands in the new Province.

By the 1830s, however, many of these soldiers and/or their widows were in what was termed at the time "distressed" conditions: they were destitute, "in penury", as Charles Dickens would say. Some (either the soldier or his widow) were affected by war wounds, some had failed in farming or business, some had debilitating health problems and, because of their age, often did not have sufficient income to support themselves. The numbers of such distressed soldiers and/or their widows were such that the situation came to the attention of the House of Assembly which, in 1839, passed an Act granting financial assistance. The legislation was entitled 'An Act for the Relief of Old Soldiers of the Revolutionary War and their Widows'. page [1], [2], [3]. The Act allowed for the distressed soldiers or their widows to apply for a pension of ten pounds per annum and outlined conditions which had to be met before the monies could be paid. The Act itself is an interesting piece of early social-responsibility legislation.

There were two major types of records resulting from this pension process: petitions and schedules of payments. The petitions contain much detail on the history and life of the old soldiers or their widows because applicants were required to relate how long they had been in New Brunswick, their economic condition, military service and, in the case of the widows, when and where they married the soldier. In some cases, the petitions for payment were submitted by family members or others who were providing care for the soldier or widow.

The second major type of document is the schedule of payments. These were compiled by officials who had to account for monies expended. There is less detail about the soldiers and widows in these schedules, but nonetheless names are listed and in many cases there is valuable information about the applicant. The schedules of payment contain evidence as to how the application and payment system worked.

Many petitions submitted by the soldiers and widows and the schedules of payments made were kept centrally by the Provincial Secretary of New Brunswick. The extant records are in the Archives' record series RS566 Provincial Secretary: Old Soldiers and Widows Pension Administration Records. This entire series of documents has been digitized for this project.

Application was made to the local officials known as the Court of General Sessions (later and commonly known as county councils) which approved them and paid the monies. The counties were then compensated by the provincial government for payments made. Therefore, there are also extant records in many of the records of the counties. Records were located (and digitized) in the following series of county records at the Archives (no records were located in the other counties):

In cases where documents were located within the county council records, the pertinent files were included in this project. Of course, the county councils administered far more than old soldier pensions; those wishing to view other county records must visit the Provincial Archives.

Other pertinent records were located within the Archives' record series called RS9 Executive Council Meeting Files. These are the records for what we commonly call the "Cabinet". That terminology came into use in the late-nineteenth century, nonetheless the Executive Council was established in 1832. Files of individual meetings begin in 1843 and the Archives has calendared these records. The types of records found in RS9 include petitions to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, audit reports on monies expended which sometime discuss individual soldiers and/or widows, lists of soldiers and widows, accounting records, and some correspondence.

Finally, other valuable documents were located in RS24 Sessional Records of the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly, which was also called the House of Assembly, received and considered petitions for assistance and reports of expenditures. The extant records can be located through the finding aids for RS24.

For this project, we have identified all records relating to the old Revolutionary Soldiers, however there are a few documents which refer to the individual simply as an "old soldier". This is ambiguous since it could mean the soldier was a veteran of the War of 1812-14. We have included these erring on the side of providing more rather than less information.

All documents concerning the old Revolutionary Soldiers were identified, scanned, and indexed for this project.

These records are very important to many types of researchers. To name a few:

  • Descendants and those related to these soldiers and women
  • Genealogists seeking information on families
  • Historians of the American Revolution and British Loyalists
  • Historians of the British military
  • Researchers interested in social conditions in the nineteenth century, especially in the conditions and care of the elderly
  • Researchers interested in the role of women in the nineteenth century
  • Researchers interested in the beginnings of state support of the needy and the rise of social programs
  • Researchers interested in the mechanics of bureaucracy in a developing democracy during this time period
  • Historians of New Brunswick and Maritime Canada
  • Educators at all levels

All names of soldiers and widows that could be found within the records described above have been included in the index to the images. The index shows the name of the soldier and/or the widow. It was deemed to be of value to provide reference to every instance the names appear because, at the very least, this proves that the individual was still living in that year. Researchers will find that an individual soldier and/or widow will have from one to twenty reference links.

The archival reference necessary to locating original documents is found within the internet path for the index.

 This digitization project was undertaken by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick with matching funds provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Council of Archives' cost-shared co-operative assistance program known as CAIN (Canadian Archival Information Network).