Loyalist Articles

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by Paul J. Bunnell, FACG,UE

The following stories are from various records and accounts about brave loyalists from Digby, Nova Scotia. This article is intended to enlighten the interested historian about the American loyalists who sacrificed everything to support something they truly believed in..... Freedom, and a better life.

Though losers in this great battle.... They became winners in time.... By building the foundation that helped create the Canadian nation that many of us respect and love today.

Some Well Respected Loyalists, From Digby

As in many areas of loyalist Canada, Digby, Nova Scotia presented some great men from the people who supported Great Britain during the American Revolution. John Edison was one of these settlers of Digby who carved out a new life from the loses of his old life back in the thirteen colonies. If he had only known that his struggle and hardship brought forth a descendant who the world would all know so well...... The inventor, Thomas Alva Edison.

Isaac Bonnell, possible son to Nathaniel Bonnell of Elizabethtown, New Jersey was born around that place between 1736 and 1738. He married Grace Fox on 3 Dec. 1763 at Perth Amboy, Middlesex Co., New Jersey. Grace was the daughter of Thomas Fox and he gave her a house and other property in Perth Amboy. Life in the colony was very good for the Bonnell's because Isaac met the right people. Being an intimate friend and correspondent of Governor William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin helped push his career into an appointment as Barrackmaster of the entire province of New Jersey. By June of 1775 he was then appointed Sheriff of Middlesex County by Franklin. But this period of the good life was short lived (Bio. Sketches of Loyalists of Am. Rev., by Sabine, 1864, published by Little, Brown & Co.)

Having three children, the Bonnell's decided to name their only son William Franklin Bonnell after their good friend, Gov. William Franklin; in fact they appointed Franklin as the boys god-father. Then the Revolutionary War broke out and Gov. Franklin was imprisoned for being a loyalist. In 1776 Isaac was removed from office and by July was apprehended by order of Washington and directed by the Provincial Congress to remain at Trenton on parole after jailed for being a loyalist. During his parole he reside at Cranbury for a while and told not to leave. Gov. Franklin was released and fled to New York City, which was the British stronghold throughout the war.

Like many other colonists, Isaac did a flip-flop and took the oath not to bear allegiance to King George III which won his release. He quickly signed up in the American militia, but in that same year (1776), he joined the British army and by 1777 was a commissioned Lieutenant in the Prince of Wales American Regiment. Being a part owner in the 25 ton sloop "Lively" with Abraham Veal, Cortlandt Skinner requested its use in the army at Staten Island to carry fuel, but was later captured and lost.

Grace Bonnell suddenly died on 30 Nov. 1780 at Perth Amboy, and was buried at the Trinity Churchyard. The love, wealth and prestige was now gone from Isaac's life. The estate at Perth Amboy was spared confiscation and given to the three children, but other properties were taken and sold off by the Patriots (A.O.13:17). A house and two lots were put up for sale on 6 April 1780 in Middlesex County, New Jersey (NJ newspaper extracts 1780, p.303). Now stationed in and around New York City the Bonnell family lived as loyalist refugee's as Isaac fought many battles for his King and Great Britain. William Franklin, the last provincial governor of New Jersey was now the voice of the loyalists in NYC. By 1783 that voice changed to silence as the war ended and Franklin retreated to England and the loyalists departed New York in the biggest fleet ever to exodus the North American continent. The disputed numbers of 30,000 to 100,000 loyalists and their families headed to Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Bahamas, England, Sierra Leone, Bermuda and other remote areas of the globe. Many snuck back into the United States because living conditions were so poor or the need for family contact.

In a new book written in 1985 by Willard Randall. "Benjamin Franklin & His Son, published by Little, Brown states that "William designed the special kite and actually flew it in a dangerous storm while Ben took shelter in a hut nearby" and "was virtually the co-discoverer, with his father of electricity" (L.A. Life, Daily News - 7 April 1985).

Fleet after fleet landed in Nova Scotia throughout 1783. At first Isaac bought a small log hut with windows of greased paper and a lot of land for fifty guineas. By 1786, Isaac and his son were living in Digby, Nova Scotia already appointed Justice of the Peace and the Judge of the Common Pleas. Isaac was also a merchant and was a highly respected man and gave much to the poor and a devoted Christian. He received a small pension of 15 pounds a year until 1805. He was granted 210 pounds of his claim of just over 635 pounds; and given 30 pounds per year during the war for his loss of income as Barrackmaster (A.O.12:15, A.O. 12:63, A.O. 12:74, A.O. 12:109). His memorials of 10 Feb. 1784 and 28 May 1789 were presented in London by attorney William Taylor. His claims of loss were, 3 lots in Perth Amboy and houses, his sloop, loss of office as Sheriff and Barrackmaster and debts owed by Alexander Watson who died in British lines.

Isaac received the following land grants in and around Digby (Loyalists & Land Settlement in Nova Scotia, by Gilroy, 1937, published by NS Archives).

1784...... Digby............................ Town lot.
1796...... Digby............................ Water lot.
1800...... Digby............................ Water lot.
1801...... Digby Township............ 801 acres

On the night of the 7th. instant, Isaac Bonnell, Esq. at age 70 died at Digby, Nova Scotia having an unblemished reputation (Saint John newspaper, 10 Nov. 1806). He was buried 11 Nov. 1806 at Digby. The Executors to his estate was his son, William F. Bonnell and son-in-law Elisha Budd.

One of his daughters married Mr. Elisha Budd and the other daughter married Feb. 1793 to William C. Tonge, Esq., she having already died by 1806 leaving one child. William Franklin Bonnell had a son who bore the same name as he and in 1861 became the first Postmaster of Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada.





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