Winslow Papers

The Mind in Exile: Loyalty in the Winslow Papers

It is a great honour to be this year's Milham Lecturer. I have long and treasured associations with both the History Department here and the two campus Libraries - the old Bonar Law Bennett and the current Harriet Irving. More important for this occasion I have known Mary Ella Milham since I first came here in 1962. I was a mere graduate student and she was an established Professor and scholar, but she was very friendly and so we hit it off. As I recall Mary Ella was considered by the male administrators to be "a strong minded woman" - a phrase fraught with hidden meanings in those days. The fact is that Mary Ella's deep involvement with UNB occurred because she cared intensely about this campus and did not hesitate to argue passionately for programs of high quality.

I have many memories of Mary Ella, but the one I recall most vividly is when she told me she spent her summers visiting her mother on the family farm in Wisconsin and working as a checkout clerk in the local grocery store. I was staggered. I simply couldn't imagine a classicist (that most esoteric breed of scholars) bagging groceries for some measly wage. I don't know if Mary Ella did it for the money (faculty were pitifully paid in those days) or for the contact with people. Yet in retrospect I do feel that Mary Ella's celebrated ability to reach out to all kinds of people, with simplicity and warmth, had a lot to do with that Wisconsin grocery store.

I am also aware that this lecture could have been dedicated to many subjects - given the range of Mary Ella's interests: medieval cookery, for example, or interior decoration. Instead she has chosen 'Collection in the Book Arts' to define this series. Now we all know what books are; this Library has over a million bound volumes. My New Age children tell me that a book is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electronic circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use, even a child can operate it.

Well, that's clear, but what is a manuscript? My children were far less helpful here. So I turned to my high school Latin: "hand written." That really didn't seem to capture what Mary Ella had in mind, so I thought I would offer a definition based on my own experience with manuscripts. I have spent most of my scholarly life reading manuscripts. For me cracking open a new collection is full of suspense. I go to the Archives holding the papers I want. I fill out the indispensable forms. Then I wait impatiently for the box of documents to arrive. Opening the file folder, I see the first prized sheet of parchment. It is yellowish in colour or off-white. And it is thick, a concentrated mass of paper, which holds the ink firmly, forever.

Manuscripts of course can include many types of records. Speeches, laws, merchants' accounts, sermons, and poetry are common manuscript items. But for me the heart of any collection is the personal writing - the letters, diaries, and journals that give some insight into the thoughts and feelings of the writer. In going through a collection, my first concern is the writing. Is it clear? Did the writer use a sharp nib and dip it regularly in the well? Did he or she let the ink run dry? The most burning question for 18th and 19th century manuscripts is whether the writing is crossed; that is, written sideways across the page, and then turned 90 degrees and written up and down the page. This was done to save postage in days when the person receiving the letter paid the very high postal rate. But the practice is extremely hard to decipher.

Once the physical state of the documents is established, I begin to read. Always in chronological order (for I am a historian) and I soon become immersed in a new world. Notable events, strongly held opinions, high hopes, desperate fears, political maneuovers, declarations of love, family secrets - all come alive before my greedy eyes. If it is a substantial collection, I often end up knowing more about these remote writers than I do about my colleagues, my neighbours, and even some of my own family.

That is the fascination. And I am sure this is what Mary Ella Milham had in mind. Manuscripts offer the possibility of reconstructing a life. Of restoring a person, or a family, or a community to conscious memory - after centuries of silence.

For those who wish to reconstruct a life, the Winslow Papers offer superb material. Not because they are so voluminous, although that does help. Nor because the Loyalists were important in both American and Canadian history, significant as that is. No, the Winslow papers are superb because they tell such a great story. It is a story of almost mythical proportions. The young hero is born into the Paradise of Colonial Boston, blessed with talent, energy and a loving wife. Suddenly he is plunged into a terrible war, forced to move himself and his family up and down the Atlantic Coast and try to soothe the fears of the soldiers under his command. But fate is cruel - military defeat is followed by an even greater cataclysm - banishment from the land his ancestors founded in 1620. He retreats along with 30,000 other loyalists to the "howling wilderness" of Nova Scotia. Redemption comes slowly, with great effort, but the hero dies full of honours from the community he has helped establish and full of satisfaction at seeing his American enemies beaten in the war of 1812.

Letter by letter, event by event, this story unfolds. It is a passionate story, filled with conflicting emotions: bewilderment, rage, devotion, suspicion, humour, loyalty, bitterness, courage. The Winslow Papers are a cauldron of passion, expressing the intensity felt by Winslow and his comrades as they were tossed, helplessly, from the summit of American society to the pit of banishment and obscurity.

Looked at in broader perspective, the fundamental topic of the Winslow Papers is the experience of exile, or becoming a refugee. Exile is a familiar occurrence throughout history. The diaspora of the Jewish people, after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, would leave them to wander homeless for 2000 years. The banishment of the poet Ovid from Rome, to stop his mischief making, in fact produced one of the most mischievous books of all time, The Metamorphoses. Similar political forces expelled the Italian poet Dante from Florence, inspiring him to write his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, and to put all his enemies in the lowest circle of hell, where they remain to this day. Our century features not only solitary exiles, but thousands, perhaps millions of people uprooted, outcast, homeless. "Displaced persons", "boat people", political or religious "unreliables" - these are a few of the euphemisms used to disguise the inhumanity of exile. Canada has been exceptional in helping refugees and giving many a new home with real opportunity. The impact of exile in our own day makes it especially important to realize that the Loyalists were refugees - in fact the first mass refugee movement in modern history. This peculiar circumstance means that we have a vested interest in understanding how the shock of exile affected not only their everyday lives, but their minds.

By which I mean that exile was not simply a physical experience, a forcible expulsion. People who are exiled are cleaved, cut off, from their homeland, their roots, and their fondest associations. Their nerve ends are left dangling, and they must race about frantically to find nourishment and new soil. Such a fundamental, and deeply personal, violation will permanently affect their attitudes and values, their ability to trust others, and their level of anxiety. Although they go about the work of survival and regeneration assiduously, they will never forget the experience of expulsion, nor will they forgive their enemies. Naturally many of their thoughts are bitter and self-pitying. At the same time, ironically, their memories of their homeland, the days of their youth and the beauty of the landscape, become more glorious over time. The result, as the great Palestinian writer Edward Said has written, is that exiles live in two worlds simultaneously, the practical home of their present, and the nostalgically remembered world of their past. This can create a permanent sense of dissatisfaction, and many of the Loyalists were prone to this. Jonathan Sewell, for example, turned sour and confined himself to a strict diet of madeira during his final days in West Saint John. Yet the experience of exile, the dilemma of belonging to two countries, can also create a sense of detachment that is contemplative, spiritual. Men like Johnathan Bliss and Jonathan Odell accepted their fate, and devoted their energies to reconnecting themselves with the satisfactions of the earth and human companionship. They held themselves aloof from public controversies and concentrated on writing poetry and enjoying their families. Notably, they will pass this detachment on to their children, with highly creative results.

It is entirely possible that the Loyalist ordinary soldiers and refugees accepted the topsy- turvey twists in their lives with equal wisdom; unfortunately the absence of documents prevents us from inquiring deeply into their attitudes.

The most positive aspect of exile is the group solidarity it fosters. Refugees are notoriously difficult, stubborn people, but they are intensely loyal to one another. To be sure, there is a great deal of jealously and spitefulness within their ranks, as one would expect of a homeless people, but they are rock solid against outside groups or strangers. This firm sense of collective identity is vital to their recuperation. Indeed I would say that the Loyalists were tied to each other, much more than to New Brunswick or Great Britain. They achieved power by working together, and they clung to it tenaciously. This will create problems for other inhabitants - the Planters or the Irish, for example - but the Loyalists conviction of their right to rule bordered on fanaticism.

I will focus the rest of my paper on the example of Edward Winslow. He was an attractive young man who seemed to have the world on a string as he began life in the 1760s. His Pilgrim ancestry, Harvard education, love of dance and song and wine - all were perfectly suited to Tory Boston. Chief Justice Peter Oliver was his neighbour, Governor Thomas Hutchinson an acquaintance, and Mary Symonds, a local woman of respectable family, his wife. Yet there was a shadow on the family crest which would haunt Winslow for the rest of his life. In the boom of the Seven Years' War, his father decided to commemorate his ancestors by building a grand house opposite the great rock at Plymouth. (It still stands as Headquarters of the Colonial Dames of America). By the time the house was finished, the war was over, and Boston was in a deep depression. Edward Winslow, Sr., simply couldn't pay the £1500 still owing on the house, and this debt became his son's ongoing burden. It is significant that Edward Jr. never seems to have mentioned this debt publicly, although it plagued him like an albatross. In fact his overt personal behaviour suggests financial largesse - a prodigal host, full of high humour, and a generous friend. There are, for example, several instances of Winslow's picking up the tab for parties on his visits to the troops to take the muster rolls, and when he became an aide to General Henry Fox, Winslow felt so honoured by the appointment, it seemed churlish to ask about the salary. There is an element of exaggerated pride here, of forced optimism, which will deepen as his fortunes become more desperate.

Winslow's first response to the Revolutionary war was one of enthusiasm. He had nothing but contempt for the rebellious "mob" as he called them - "notoriously malicious and fractious." He raced to the Battle of Lexington to defend the British cause, skillfully placing himself right beside the commander, Lord Percy. And when the British army evacuated Boston, he went with them to Halifax and then on to New York. This definitely made a good impression. Winslow was commissioned Muster Master General of the American provincial regiments. Told that no set uniform was prescribed for his office, Winslow ordered himself a striking, almost flamboyant uniform with "a blue coat, scarlet cape, and a scarlet lining, with plain white buttons."

Winslow was sure the British would make short work of the Americans, and he was astutely positioning himself for preferment after the war. His optimism, however, was undermined by news from home. He learned that his aged father, still in Massachusetts, had "been call'd upon to turn out as a common soldier, or go to goal." It was an act of pure spite, but Winslow had to pay the fine to release his father and bring both his parents and his two spinster sisters to New York to live with himself, his wife and three 3 young children. The process of dislocation was beginning although Winslow tried to suppress any gloomy thoughts. James Putnam who was the last appointed Attorney-General of Massachusetts under the British Crown was more open in declaring his dismay:

What shall I say? What shall I tell you? That the troops have left Boston--That Genl Howe & the Army are at Halifax. That I and my family are here also. Wonderful news! but not more strange than true .... I shall remain on the Continent as long as I can live here, or entertain any prospect of subduing the rebels. After that, I must run away, if I can. But then there must be a d___d poor chance for it. It can't come to this! for they must, they shall be beat. They shall submit, & own they have abused the mildest government, and most gracious Sovern that ever existed.

After the battle of Yorktown the defeated British soldiers marched out of their fortifications, whistling an old folk melody, "The World Turned Upside Down." For the loyalists the world began turning upside down much earlier. Even Winslow was upset by the lack of solid British victories. His work as Muster Master General required him to draw up a muster roll for each provincial regiment and monitor it regularly. This work made Winslow familiar with Loyalists from virtually every colony, and he became a sensitive barometer of opinion among the soldiers. By 1778, he was openly disgusted with the direction of the war: "there has been such a damnable series of treating, retreating, pidling, Conciliating & commissioneering that fighting (which is the only remedy for the American disorder) has been totally suspended."

Winslow and some of his colleagues struggled valiantly to keep their hopes up, while others lost faith. Joshua Upham noted that even if the British won, he had accumulated so many debts during the war, he could never hope to repay them or to educate his children. "I stand on the point of despair," he wrote Winslow. "How are we to extricate ourselves, in what season or what period?"

Humbling as their material prospects were, it was the loss of control, the loss of access to decision-makers that frustrated the Loyalists most. These men were not used to being tossed about, or ignored, or marginalized. Massachusetts may have been a small colony, but it was theirs. Their friends ran it, and they fully expected to succeed them in power. That promise was gone now - vanished. Massachusetts was forbidden to them, their property seized, their persons proscribed, and their future wholly uncertain. Jonathan Sewell, the great patriarch of these Loyalists officers, wrote sympathetically to Ward Chipman: "You enter upon the Stage of life when the Scene is tragical ..." Sewell seemed to be warning his young protégés of the tide in human affairs. True, their class had ruled Massachusetts for one hundred years or more, but tides run out as well as in, and the Loyalists should prepare themselves for the shallows and miseries that might ensue. Few could be as stoical as Sewell. When Sally Winslow, Edward's maiden sister, heard they were to leave New York for Nova Scotia, her cup of bitterness ran over. "Our fate now seems decreed," she wrote Benjamin Marston, "and we left to mourn out our days in wretchedness -- know [sic] other recourse for millions, but to submit to the tyranny of exulting enemies--or settle a new country ... . Was there ever an instance, my dear cousin, can history produce one, where such a number of the best of human beings were deserted by the Government they have sacrificed their all for ...?"

The Loyalists, whether officer, soldier or refugee, all came out of the war obsessed with re-establishing a measure of security in their personal lives and some control over public affairs. They took different paths to accomplish this. The grand leaders, the Hutchinsons and Olivers, could stay in England, supported by generous British pensions. They formed little circles in the provincial cities of Bristol and Bath, and entertained each other with eating apples known as pippins and other delicacies from New England, generously spiced with stories of anarchy in America. Their life is remarkably similar to the lives of the white Russians sketched by Vladimir Nabokov in his novel The Gift, suggesting that the greatest pleasure for an exile was to recreate the past in a form that disparaged their usurpers.

Many of the junior officers like Chipman and Putnam went to London temporarily in hopes of getting a good post in one of the remaining colonies. Winslow was urged to do the same, but he could not go further into debt and, more important to him I think, he could not forsake the family of dependents relying on him. And so, like the common soldiers and refugees and the Black Loyalists, he headed for Nova Scotia in hopes of finding opportunity. It was not necessarily a wise choice, for Winslow had powerful friends in London, but the depths of his commitment to his family suggests a quality in the man that is truly admirable.

He bought a farm in Granville, Nova Scotia. "We are monstrous poor," he wrote Chipman in one of his rare moments of complaint. "I have not a spade, hoe, axe, or any article of any kind ... A wagon would be of immense consequence ... Blankets are so dear that I can't think of purchasing and we are badly off." Yet he did have 3 slaves, and once the farm was organized he went off to Halifax to meet Governor Parr and the "Council of Republicans" (as he saw them) who ruled Nova Scotia. While there, Chipman informed him that he was to be Secretary to General Henry Fox, the British commander in the Maritimes and younger brother to the powerful political leader, Charles James Fox. Chipman accompanied this exciting news with a stern warning to Winslow: "his interest will and should be the first in the nation. If you undertake it, convince him that you are everything he wants or wishes. Humour the rage of public economy, be a man of business, indulge your convivial penchant with caution."

This appointment lifted Winslow out of the depths, and he began to dream again. His first action was to write a long, silly letter to his wife, knowing how lonely she must feel on the Granville farm. "What do I care," he told her "whether it's the fashion for men to write long letters to their wives or not .... I cannot enjoy a pleasure equal to writing to you and that's sufficient for writing." He then proceeded to described the prostitutes of Halifax bemoaning, with mock pity,

... the immensity of False-tops, False Curls , monstrous Caps, Grease, Filth of various kinds, Jewels, painted paper and trinkets [which] hide and deform heads of hair that in their natural state are really beautiful. Rouge & other dirt cover cheeks and faces ... while the unfortunate neck and breasts remain open to the inclemency of the weather & the view of the world.

Winslow closes this extraordinary description by noting that "... regardless of Fashion you have only endeavoured by uniform cleanliness to make yourself desirable in my eyes." He declares his continuing love and assures her he still hopes they will once more enter the world of fashion and elegance.

Winslow's second extravagance occurred with the death of his father. He was deeply grieved by the sadness of his father's final years, and in an effort to reassert the family dignity, Winslow staged "the most elegant funeral Halifax had ever seen, with Winslow, the family and the servants dressed in deep mourning, leading the crowd of mourners." This was an act of love, of course, but it also showed Winslow's pride, his defiance of those who would call his family mere nobodies.

Winslow's third remarkable act, with the encouragement of General Fox, was to propose that the province of Nova Scotia be partitioned, and the region north of the Bay of Fundy created a separate province to accommodate the Loyalist troops and refugees. His Loyalist friends in England and Nova Scotia seized on the idea. A separate province would put them back in political control of their lives, and create all sorts of lucrative offices to ensure their comfort. But Winslow staunchly insisted that his major concern was for the ordinary soldiers:

The chagrin of the Officers as not to me so truly affecting as the poignant distress of the men -- those Respectable Sergeants ... addressing me in Language that almost murdered me as I heard it -- Sir we have served all the War -- We were promised Land -- We expected that you had obtained it for us -- We like the country only let us have a spot of our own ... think you Chip -- that it coud. be possible for me to retreat from a scene like this. It had a contrary effect. It stimulated me to propose ... a Separate Government as the only possible way of effectively relieving them ...

The result of course was the creation in 1784, after a massive political campaign, of the province of New Brunswick.

Winslow was elated He told his bachelor friend Ward Chipman not to believe the reports of bitter weather. "It is a young climate," he said teasingly, "which has all the marks of virginity about it. It breaks wind furiously - spits a little - but we continue to manage it." And he took great joy in giving Chipman a list of all the supplies the new governor would need to fit out his new headquarters.

When he comes he must bring out materials for building - such as locks, hinges, &c, &c - furniture. He shall have an elegant house - a Church a State house - an Assembly room - & a playhouse if he pleases. He' ll probably come out in a frigate .... He knows how important it is to have pleasant commanding officers - therefore he'll endeavor to point out such as will please him.

Winslow's most famous prediction regarding the future of New Brunswick is today engraved in bronze on the front wall of the Centennial Building. It is both a vow and a prophecy:

Yes - by God! we will be the envy of the American states .... When the people of the neighboring states shall observe our operations. When they see in us the enjoyment of a regular system of government - protected by the mother country - not sad'led with enormous taxes and compare their state with ours, Will they not envy us? Surely they will. Many of their most respectable inhabitants will join us immediately.

This passage is so familiar, it is easy to miss its full meaning. Winslow is not simply boasting; he is declaring that New Brunswick will be a superior society for very specific reasons: its orderly government; the Crown's protection; a well managed economy; all virtues that would appeal to "respectable" people. This again is a refugee response - that New Brunswick will be a better society because its people and institutions are better. It is symptomatic also that America is the only point of reference. No other British colonies are mentioned. This is a striking example of how the Loyalists lived in two worlds simultaneously - their refugee homes and their other, remembered homes. Winslow in fact was one of the more successful in identifying with his new home and supporting the institutions which would create a sense of community. But like his fellow exiles he could not help looking over his shoulder to see what his nemesis was up to.

Sadly, poor Winslow was not favoured with a high paying job despite all his contributions to New Brunswick. His friend, General Henry Fox decided against becoming governor, and the actual Governor, Thomas Carleton, chose Jonathan Odell to be his Provincial Secretary which was the job Winslow lusted after. He did get lots of honours - Member of the Council, at no pay; Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, in a province where crime and law suits were a rarity; Surrogate General, in a young country where nobody died. His deputy, William Hubbard, tried to console him by noting "you have too much goodness of heart to wish the least evil to mankind even tho' you might receive the greatest advantage from it."

Despite his poverty, his large family, and his lack of political power, Winslow persisted in his dream. In 1785 he signed the petition requesting a college for the province. When the Crown failed to provide an endowment, an Academy was started in Fredericton as the first step towards higher education. It offered courses in Greek, Latin, astronomy, mathematics, geography, and poetry. Jonathan Odell taught the entire curriculum, and some still regard it as the Golden Age of education in New Brunswick. Winslow also joined the New England Company, an Anglican effort to educate the native peoples, and he maintained cordial relations with the Acadians. Inevitably he joined the militia and became Muster Master when two fencible regiments were established in the 1790's after rumours of a French invasion. In the winters he and his wife Polly or "Pop," as she was sometime referred to, would sleigh down the St. John River from Kingsclear to Saint John to attend amateur theatre or the elaborate balls and fireworks so popular in the City. It is a measure of his remarkable resilience that he informed Sir John Wentworth in 1786 that "... allmighty God permitted a rebellion in America to punish its inhabitants for their supineness in not discovering a country the best calculated of any in the continent to assure health, & produce the comforts of life."

He did visit Massachusetts once in 1797 as part of the Boundary Commission. The warmth of his reception clearly moved him but Winslow remained on his guard. In the manuscript letter to Joseph Chew he wrote "they certainly came forward in a spirit of liberality" but then crossed out the next phrase "that excited my gratitude" and substituted the cooler words "that did them credit." He went on to pronounce that he was not impressed by "the luxurious trumpery that surrounds 'em - I saw nothing to excite envy ... Their government is a compound of tyranny and licentiousness which produces the shadow of wealth without the substance."

America remained Winslow's bête noir until the end. In 1802, he wrote an angry set of newspaper articles under the name of "Tammany" which criticized Loyalists who were leaving New Brunswick to return to the United States. Winslow appealed to their loyalty, urging them not to return to a place where they would "live in obscurity ... [only] allowed to go into company with elderly ladies, at their evening parties ... and compelled to consider the most meritorious actions of their lives as the most atrocious offences which they ever committed."

As one reads over these more formal pieces, the imagination and force of Winslow's literary style are striking. What a shame it is that war and poverty limited his public writings so severely. He was certainly equal, I think, to Thomas Chandler Haliburton in both imagination and earthiness, and he would have offered an inspiring example for young New Brunswickers.

While that proved impossible, Winslow's story does at least have a happy ending. In 1806 he was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court, not because of his service to the province, but due to his friendship during the Revolutionary war with Lord Percy, by then Duke of Northumberland. At last he could begin paying off his debts and buy a second-hand carriage, as he said, "for my gout." Two years later another fluke made Winslow, as senior member of the Council, the President of the province, in the absence of the British military commander. It was an ominous moment. The militia had been called up because of a rumoured American invasion. But it was planting season, and the troops were restless to go back home to put in their crops. A mutiny seemed possible if the troops were kept on duty, and a severe British censure seemed certain if they were let go. It was Winslow's call, and after real misgivings, he sent the troops home, proving I think that he had transcended the condition of exile or refugee. New Brunswick was home now; its interest came first.

He spent his final years observing the War of 1812 and watching "Mama" as he called Great Britain, give the Americans "the chastisement which they so richly deserve." He died in Fredericton 13 May 1815, aged 70, predicting "I shall go up to heaven & shake hands with Lazarus, for damned if there is any man on earth poor enough to keep me company." He was given an elaborate funeral in Fredericton, but I think the most meaningful tribute to this aristocratic man came from the House of Assembly. Although a notoriously populist body, it voted £100 apiece to Winslow's two unmarried daughters, in recognition of his "numerous services" to the province. Ultimately, he was a man of two countries but one creed. In the face of defeat, exile, and poverty, he offers to all who will study him an outstanding example of loyalty, zest for life, and deep-seated humanity. New Brunswick could not have a better founder.