Winslow Papers

An Introduction to the Trails

On 19 April 1775, near the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, the "shot heard round the world" was fired, touching off the American Revolution. Over the course of the conflict between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, loyalties were divided and friendships shattered. A large number of people, estimated at between 20 and 30 per cent of the colonial population, chose to remain loyal to the British Crown, believing that the best prospects for their future prosperity rested on close ties to the mother country. They called themselves "Loyalists" but, to the American patriots, they were the hated "Tories" or "Royalists." With the British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, it was apparent that the Loyalists had picked the losing side. The victorious Americans were slow to forgive and, as a result, the Loyalists often faced intense hardship and even exile. Edward Winslow Junior and his family were among the Loyalists who left the United States of America to start a new life in what was left of British North America.

Born to a prominent Plymouth, Massachusetts, family in 1745, Edward Winslow had experienced the finest that pre-Revolutionary colonial life could offer. He was educated at Harvard University and expected to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers, who had been high-ranking members of the Massachusetts elite, but the American Revolution changed everything. Present at Lexington for the opening volley of the war, Winslow was forced to flee Massachusetts in 1775 and was soon based in New York where he served as muster master general of the "provincial" forces. When the war ended, he no longer had access to the positions of privilege that he had long taken for granted. Like at least 75,000 others who had supported the British Crown, Edward Winslow chose to leave the United States. In 1782 he was in the vanguard of the over 30,000 Loyalists who travelled to the rocky peninsula north-east of New England called Nova Scotia.

Edward Winslow is of particular interest to historians because he was an eye-witness to many of the major events associated with the American Revolution, the Loyalist migration, and the founding of New Brunswick in 1784. A prolific and gifted letter-writer, he had the foresight to save much of his correspondence and other documents associated with various administrative positions that he held until his death in 1815 at the age of 70. Indeed, the Winslow Family Papers, housed in the University of New Brunswick Archives, are arguably the most extensive collection of Loyalist papers in the world. Although Winslow's station and upbringing were such that he was certainly not representative of the average Loyalist, his papers offer detailed insights into the hardships that they faced and the dreams that they had for the new colony of New Brunswick.

To sample the richness of the collection, readers can follow several thematic "trails" that focus on some of the major events in Edward Winslow's life.

Corey Slumkoski
University of New Brunswick

Next - The American Revolution