For those of us who love a good story, especially one of which we loyalists are a part, join me in reliving Part II of this story first printed in the Loyalist Trails magazine that lands in my InBox every Sunday. Thanks, Loyalist Trails and UELAC!
The “Very Clever” Loyalist Wife: Part Two
reprinted with the permission of author and copyright holder Stephen Davidson UE
The loss of her son William and the family’s New Jersey estate in the summer of 1780 must have been overwhelming for Margaret Hutchinson who only four years earlier had arrived in the New World filled with dreams of prosperity and happiness. Tragedy struck again when her son Ralph “died within British lines”. The story passed down through the family is that he was thrown from his horse while serving with the New Jersey Volunteers. At some point in the war, the Hutchinson’s third son —Major — drowned while with the same loyalist regiment.
Having lost three sons, Margaret and her husband John made arrangements for Francis, their seventeen year-old boy, to board with a farmer in Pennsylvania as they waited for the expected victory of the king’s army. The family acquired a farm four and a half miles north of New York City on the road to Kingsbridge (now in the northwest Bronx).
Mourning the death three sons and the separation from a fourth, Margaret then had to come to terms with the unwanted but necessary absence of her husband John in the fall of 1781. Historical records do not say whether his motivation was to seek out compensation for his wartime losses or to make arrangements for his family’s return to England, but Hutchinson had been making careful preparations for a transatlantic journey.
On November 15th, John drew up a will, seeing to it that his extensive property in New Jersey would be divided among his remaining family members: Margaret, Francis, his daughter Margaret, and Ann. As his wife Margaret would also receive all of his personal estate. Major Thomas Millidge, a fellow New Jersey loyalist, was one of the executors listed in Hutchinson’s will. Having settled his family and his affairs as best he could, John Hutchinson then boarded a ship for England. It would be the last time he would see his family and his newly adopted country.
At some point in 1782, Margaret Hutchinson learned the devastating news that she had become a widow. Word reached New York that during its passage to England, John Hutchinson’s ship had filled with water and sunk. John had drowned in the shipwreck.
As she waited for the defeat of the patriot forces, Margaret arranged to have Francis, her remaining son, leave Pennsylvania and join her in New York. And then came the stunning news of the defeat of the General Cornwallis’ army at the Battle of Yorktown. For all intents and purposes, the war that had taken Margaret’s three sons and husband was over. Returning to Hanover Township was an impossibility for the loyalist family. But where would Margaret and her three children go?
By August of 1783, the forty-six year old widow made her decision. With the help of Samuel Brownejohn, a New York City loyalist, she sold the farm on the Kingsbridge Road and prepared to join the thousands of loyalist refugees who sought sanctuary in what remained of British North America. Having the proceeds of the sale of her house as her only financial resources, Margaret left the United States of America on a ship bound for Annapolis Royal on Nova Scotia’s western shore. Twenty year-old Francis, 19 year-old Margaret, and 11 year–old Ann sailed with their mother.
Major Thomas Millidge, a family friend and an executor of John Hutchinson’s will, sailed on the brig Nancy, and so it is very likely that Margaret and her children were also passengers on this vessel. Among the other ships in the fall evacuation fleet were the Michael, the Robert and Elizabeth, the Betsey, the Lehigh, the Cato, the Skuldham, and the Hope. The voyage could not have been an easy one. Three ships in the fleet, the Joseph, the William and the Henry made it as far as the Bay of Fundy where they encountered hurricane winds that drove them south to Bermuda. The three sailing ships did not arrive in Nova Scotia until May 1784.
The Rev. Jacob Bailey, an Anglican minister and fellow refugee who would come to befriend Margaret Hutchinson, was a witness to the 2,500 loyalists who flooded into Annapolis Royal in 1783. He commented on the desperate housing shortages that saw the local church, courthouse and stores crowded with refugees. Bailey noted, “Hundreds of people of education and refinement have no shelter whatever”.
Margaret and her three children eventually settled in Cornwallis, a community 13 km outside of Annapolis Royal. And now what would this “very clever” loyalist widow do?
The establishment of St. John Anglican Church in the refugee settlement would signal the beginning of the next chapter in Margaret’s life. Her new congregation had called upon a minister that many of them had known when they lived in Falmouth, Massachusetts (modern Portland, Maine).
The story of Margaret Hutchinson and the Rev. John Wiswell, a loyalist widower from Massachusetts, will be told in next week’s Loyalist Trails.
To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Stephen for allowing me to reprint part II of his excellent story. We had a great flurry of emails back and forth when I contacted him. Seems we have a lot in common!
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