For those of us who love a good story, especially one of which we loyalists are a part, join me in reliving Part III 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 Three
Reprinted with the permission of author and copyright holder Stephen Davidson UE
At 46 years of age, Margaret Jefferson Hutchinson was a widow and a refugee. Her husband and three of their sons had died during the course of the American Revolution. Nine years after emigrating from Yorkshire, England to New Jersey, Margaret and her three surviving children were among the thousands of loyalists who fled the United States to seek sanctuary in Nova Scotia.
After arriving in Annapolis Royal in October of 1783, the four Hutchinsons made their home in nearby Cornwallis. It was here that the family began to attend St. John Anglican Church and it was here that Margaret met the newly arrived pastor, the Rev. John Wiswell.
Born in Boston, Wiswell had been sent to Cornwallis to succeed the Rev. Jacob Bailey, the Church of England missionary who became the clergyman for the Anglicans of Annapolis Royal. The 52 year-old Wiswell had only been in Cornwallis since August of 1783, arriving just two months ahead of Margaret and her children.
Accepting the position in Cornwallis would prove to be a turning point in the life of John Wiswell. The Anglican minister, a father of two sons, had been a widower for the past eight years. A man who had known better times and circumstances, Wiswell was now all alone in a refugee settlement in the wilds of Nova Scotia.
No one thought to record what drew Margaret Hutchinson and John Wiswell to one another. Was it the common experience of losing a spouse? Suffering as a loyalist refugee? Or was it the very practical need to provide a stable home for children traumatized by war? Whatever their reasons, Margaret and John were married less than five months after their first meeting. The Rev. Jacob Bailey, the man who had preceded Wiswell in serving the Anglicans of Cornwallis, married the couple on Monday, February 23rd.
It is Bailey who described Margaret as “very clever” and “sensible and . . . prudent in the management of family affairs…” — a woman with “the gleanings of a very ample estate“. The new Mrs. Wiswell brought a “dowry” to her marriage. She had the monies from the sale of a house in New York and the promised inheritance of her late husband’s personal estate.
In July of 1786, Margaret sought compensation for John Hutchinson’s wartime losses when the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists (RCLSAL) convened in Halifax. In addition to the personal testimony of Thomas Millidge, New Jersey’s former surveyor general, Margaret had “certificates” verifying her late husband’s loyalty from Brook Watson the former British commissary general in New York City, General Courtlandt Skinner of the New Jersey Volunteers, Chief Justice William Smith of New York and David Ogden, a loyalist judge of New Jersey’s supreme court.
Francis Hutchinson, now a young man of twenty-two, also testified on his mother’s behalf. What is puzzling about both the testimonies of Margaret and Francis is that they each only referred to the death of two Hutchinson brothers where other documents speak of the wartime deaths of three brothers: William, Major and Ralph. Why would Margaret and Francis fail to mention all three?
The RCLSAL commissioner did not immediately make a decision on Margaret’s appeal as he needed to see John Hutchinson’s will. Over a year later, when the compensation board met in Montreal, the RCLSAL finally obtained the loyalist’s will from his New York City lawyer and made its decision to compensate the loyalist widow.
With the completion of the last bit of unfinished business from the American Revolution, Margaret Wiswell could now focus on her new role as the wife of an Anglican minister and watch her children as they became contributing members of Nova Scotia society.
On December 9, 1789, Margaret attended the wedding of her only surviving son, Francis, and Bathsheba Ruggles. Like the groom, the bride was also the child of a loyalist– and the granddaughter of General Timothy Ruggles, one of Massachusetts’ most noteworthy loyalists. Over the next ten years the young Hutchinson couple would have six children. Bathsheba died in February of 1800. A year later Francis married a widow named Fanny Lowden Nixon. In 1815, Francis died in a drowning accident — the same cause of death as his father John and brother Major more than 35 years earlier.
Margaret Hutchinson, just 19 years old when her family sailed for Nova Scotia, married James Allison on November 8, 1792. The couple would have eight children over the next 19 years.
Ann Hutchinson, Margaret’s youngest daughter, married Henry Burbidge in February of 1798 when she was 26. It is not known if this couple had children. Ann died sometime before 1831.
What is amazing to consider is that despite the difficult times she had endured as the wife of a loyalist, Margaret Hutchinson Wiswell lived to see all of her grandchildren. Sadly, she also attended the funerals of all of her children as well as her second husband, John Wiswell. The “very clever” loyalist wife took her last breath on Friday, August 6, 1830 in the refugee settlement that had been her home for the last forty-seven years. Margaret Jefferson Hutchinson Wiswell died at the age of 93.
But this is just half of a loyalist love story. Learn more about the Rev. John Wiswell, Margaret Hutchinson’s second husband, in next week’s Loyalist Trails.
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Tags: Canadian history