Some Americans in Canada: The Record Book of Joseph Edwards, Niagara, Upper Canada, April 1812-January 1813

In the years after the American Revolution, an unknown number of U.S. citizens or residents moved across the generally unregulated northern border to continue their lives – perhaps to seek opportunities or cheap land – in the country we now call Canada, whose sovereign was the British monarch.

And then things changed. The U.S. declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812: the war that we know as the War of 1812, and which is sometimes called the Second War of Independence.

War forces choices, sometimes unpleasant ones.

The Upper Canada (Ontario) Provincial President’s order of November 9, 1812, directed Joseph Edwards, William Claus, and Thomas Dickson to serve as a board “for examining into the pretensions of those persons in the Niagara, London, and Western Districts, who shall report themselves to be subjects of the United States, and, as such claim exemption from military service and will thereby become liable to be sent out of the Province with passports….”

As a consequence of that order, an examination was conducted of the following 65 persons whose U.S. state of origin is indicated:

  • (1) William H. Biglow, Massachusetts [reproduced below];
  • (2) Jonas Brooks Wood, New Hampshire;
  • (3) Jared Rice Tyler, Connecticut;
  • (4) Joseph Howel, New Jersey;
  • (5) John Lawson, New York;
  • (6) Andrew Lawson, New York;
  • (7) Joseph Coleman, Pennsylvania;
  • (8) Samuel Scott, New York;
  • (9) John Height [?], Vermont;
  • (10) Elijah Judson, Connecticut;
  • (11) Arah Osborn, Vermont;
  • (12) Daniel Waters, New York;
  • (13) James Colton, Massachusetts;
  • (14) Nathaniel Wilder, Massachusetts;
  • (15) Alonso Lockwood, Vermont;
  • (16) Chauncy Colton, Massachusetts;
  • (17) Joseph Gray, Pennsylvania;
  • (18) Job Haxsey, New York;
  • (19) Albert Hill, New York;
  • (20) Calvin Houghton, New Hampshire;
  • (21) Israel Aber, New Jersey;
  • (22) Benjamin Aber, New Jersey;
  • (23) John Peters, Maryland;
  • (24) Seneca Thomas, Massachusetts;
  • (25) Dennis Spencer, New York;
  • (26) Jacob Parse, New York;
  • (27) Peter DeWitt, New York;
  • (28) Paul Drinkwater, Gloucestershire, England, to the U.S., June 1811;
  • (29) Alvin Dunbar, Massachusetts;
  • (30) John Osborn, Connecticut;
  • (31) Phineas Tinkum, Connecticut;
  • (32) Isaac Augustus Bullard, Massachusetts;
  • (33) William Bartman, Pennsylvania;
  • (34) William Pound, New Jersey;
  • (35) Ephraim M. Cummings, New Hampshire;
  • (36) Susan Doty, New Hampshire;
  • (37) William Coan, Jr., New York;
  • (38) Noah Gilbert, Massachusetts;
  • (39) Danforth Fuller, Massachusetts;
  • (40) Eli Ruggles (also known as Eli Reynolds), New York;
  • (41) Jeremiah Guest, New Jersey;
  • (42) Abraham Lazalire [Lazabre?], New Jersey;
  • (43) John Kelsy, New York;
  • (44) Jacob Hendershot, New Jersey;
  • (45) William Kelsy, New Jersey;
  • (46) Luther Willis, New Hampshire;
  • (47), Asa Coltrein, New York;
  • (48) Aron Lloyd, New Jersey;
  • (49) George Dorland, New Jersey;
  • (50) Asa Brook, New York;
  • (51) Simon Stevens, Connecticut;
  • (52) Peter Snider, Pennsylvania;
  • (53) Silas Clark, Vermont;
  • (54) John Dorman, Connecticut;
  • (55) Even Thomas, Pennsylvania;
  • (56) Elias Emmons, Connecticut;
  • (57) Samuel Washburn, New York;
  • (58) Joseph Moyer, New York;
  • (59) Jacob Hendershot, Pennsylvania;
  • (60) William Dunnan, New York;
  • (61) James Pollock, native of Ireland and naturalized U.S. citizen;
  • (62) Thomas Weeks Baker, New York;
  • (63) Josiah Linton (or Denton), New York;
  • (64) John Pittinger, New Jersey; and
  • (65) Joseph B___ [surname not indicated], Pennsylvania.

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Some of the persons listed above accepted a passport to depart, such as William H. Biglow, shown in the image above, while others who had property in Upper Canada took the oath of allegiance to the Province. Each entry may indicate the person’s occupation, place of residence, property ownership, employer, other relatives, whether he has taken the oath of allegiance, or whether he wanted to take the oath of allegiance or return to the United States.

The above records, and more, come from a single volume entitled the “Record Book of Joseph Edwards, Justice of the Peace, Niagara, Upper Canada, April 1812-January 1813 [and] Receipt Book of Major William Johnson, Inspector General’s Office Headquarters, Fort George, Upper Canada, July-September 1813” (National Archives Identifier 158587783), which has been digitized and can be accessed online in the National Archives Catalog.

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This record book is in the custody of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in United States, as part of the Post Revolutionary War Papers, 1784-1815, in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. (Whether there is a “copy” of some kind in Canada, I have no idea.)

Why can this information be found in the U.S. National Archives?

Fort George (at modern Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) was captured in May 1813 by the U.S. Army and subsequently retaken by the British Army in December 1813 after U.S. forces abandoned the British (Canadian) side of the Niagara River. Joseph Edwards, Esq., Merchant and Justice of the Peace, was one of the noncombatants ordered into custody at Niagara, Upper Canada, by U.S. Major General Henry Dearborn, June 19-21, 1813. (See Niagara (Ontario) Historical Society Publication No. 28, Family History and Reminiscences of Early Settlers.) It is likely that this record book came into the possession of the U.S. Army at that time (June 1813), and it was very soon repurposed as a receipt book by the Inspector General’s Office at Fort George.

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Thus, this volume has five parts:

(1) The first part (Joseph Edwards) consists of the inside front cover and the unnumbered front end paper, which are annotated with information dated from January to August 1813. Both pages also have “Vol. 11” written in blue crayon upon them.

(2) The second part (Joseph Edwards), pages A1 to A13, contain records of Justice of the Peace Joseph Edwards from April 27, 1812 to September 29, 1812. Some entries are of a judicial nature while others are warrants for the impressment of wagons, horses, and other supplies from civilians that were employed in efforts to strengthen Fort George. Page A13 mentions that Jacob Langs (commonly called Links) formerly of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, had resided in the province for two years and had taken the oath of allegiance “last May.”

(3) The third part (Joseph Edwards), pages 1 to 44, contains records relating to U.S. citizens in the Province of Upper Canada, including, on pages 1 to 32, the 65 persons mentioned above. Pages 33 to 44 primarily contain a record of U.S. citizens who took oaths of allegiance to the Province, U.S. citizens who were allowed to remain without taking the oath of allegiance but pledged to keep the peace and be of good behavior, and (3) aliens (U.S. citizens) who were given passports to travel to another location. These include Mahlon Willson, Willson Doan, Isaac Swayze, Joseph Smith, Jesse Turner, Samuel Moore, William Smith, James Halsey, Jacob Parce, Alvin Dunbar, William Hartman, and Peter DeWitt. There are also two records relating to itinerant ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church (pages 37-39) with their geographic areas of work in the Province of Upper Canada in January 1813: Henry Ryan, Thomas Harman, Isaac B. Smith, Andrew Prindle, John Roads, David Culp, John Reynolds, Silas Hopkins, Thomas Whitehead, Augustus Jones, Levi Lewis, John Willson, Silas Smith, James Gage, Peter Boughehala, John Smith, Philip Hous, Elias Pater, and George Lawrence.

(4) The fourth part (U.S. Army), pages 1 through 131, along with a receipt pasted on the unnumbered page opposite page 1, contain the record copy of receipts issued by Major William Johnson, Inspector General’s Office, Headquarters, Fort George, Upper Canada, July 13, 1813, to September 1813. These receipts were given for supplies or services furnished to the U.S. Army. These include the date, the service or product rendered, the amount paid, the signature of the person to whom payment was given, and signatures of witnesses to the payment if the payee was unable to sign his name. For example, at the top of page 77, “Insptr Generals office, Hedqtrs F George, Septr 9th 1813. Received of Major Johnson, Inspt Genl the Sum of Eight Dollars for one stand of Arms taken from the Enemy. Ruben Wiley [his mark], Witness Edmund Foster, 1st Lt. & Adjt 9th Regt.” (Some punctuation added; see below).

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(5) The fifth part (Joseph Edwards), pages B1 through B9, March to May 1813, were written by Justice of the Peace Joseph Edwards upside down relative to the rest of the volume, beginning on the final end paper, consist of financial notes, form language for various legal documents, and oaths of allegiance. On the inside back cover, he wrote the cost of this volume and its date of purchase, December 18, 1811.

Online access to this volume will hopefully enable researchers to discover relatives who went to Canada before June 1813, as well as provide information about others who supplied goods or services to the U.S. Army at Fort George in that narrow window of time from July to September 1813. Happy hunting!

Military Records for African-American Genealogy

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Afro-American Historical Society’s 2018 Black History Month Genealogy Conference in Laurel, Maryland. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with Alice F. Harris and Bernice Bennett, and to meet Marvin T. Jones, Erwin Polk, and others. All lecture handouts are available on the conference website. Much of my handout, Military Records for African-American Genealogy: Suggestions for Researchers, is applicable to all researchers regardless of color. I hope you’ll find it useful.

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