by Mark Jodoin


The term ‘shadow soldiers’ is usually applied to the twenty-first-century dogs of war, the mercenaries of all races who supplement enlisted military troops with tactics frequently exceeding the rules of engagement. These men — for mercenaries are almost universally men — rarely appear on any formal list of combatants. Theirs is an ambiguous, shadowy presence in such places as Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The term as applied to these pages carries a much different meaning. In eighteenth-century North America, shadow soldiers were far from hidden and rarely ambiguous, were of the white and Native American and Black races and counted women among their numbers. They appeared on the muster rolls of New England militia and provincial units such as the King’s Loyal Rangers of New York. Condemned as Tories, Royalists, or as Kings Men in America, they were lauded as Loyalists in Canada and Britain. Most important, shadow soldiers of the late 1700s fed their loyalties with tenacity while their modern day namesakes would sell theirs for a bowl of soup.

The crime of shadow soldiers in the 1770s was one of judgment: they supported the losing side in the Revolutionary War. Loyalty to Britain cost them their reputations, homes and country through no fault of their own. The British replied to the resolve of the rebels with inadequate command and wanting tactics. In the centuries since their epic defeat, loyal British Americans have languished in the shadows of continental history, albeit much less so in Canada than in the United States.

North of the border, Loyalists are correctly recalled as nation builders; south of the border, they are the unremembered. Their disloyalty to the Patriot cause has left only rare signs of commemoration
and more often than not their traceability has been made deliberately demanding. From New York to New Orleans and cities along the way, statues of Loyalists are few.

One exception is Johnstown, New York, where British-American Sir William Johnson, the first man deemed worth of a baronetcy in the New World, stands boldly cast in bronze. He oversaw the Mohawks, their valley, and the winding river that bears their tribal name. An Irishman by birth, he was an accomplished New Yorker and the most highly regarded white figure in the history of northern natives. He was a builder of America in the mid-eighteenth century long before
the nation building became fashionable in America.

After his death on the eve of the Revolution, the Patriots of the province of New York desecrated his grave and forced fearful Loyalists fled north to the Canadian border. Chief among those fleeing was his son, Sir John Johnson, who soon returned as paladin to the defiant young soldiers, spies and scouts who marched alongside him. They
who fought to regain their homes and farms in the Mohawk, Champlain and Hudson Valleys but were eventually defeated, and banished from their New York homelands forever.

Some flourished in Canada as they had in America; others suffered despair and destitution, but most pined for friends and families left behind. All were proud New Yorkers before the American Revolution intervened and changed their lives forever.

Many of their families had, over several generations, helped build America’s largest colony, New York. Forced into northern exile, they contributed to three of Canada’s future provinces, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. In the case of southern Ontario, their new homes were carved out of Quebec’s western flank and offered as consideration for their military service. For noncombatants, simply being loyal was enough to acquire land in lesser amounts.

They and their descendants opened up Canada west of the Ottawa River, where the long reach of Sir William Johnson can be found to this day as it is throughout these pages. He was a seminal figure in the lives of Captain Joseph Brant and his sister, Mary, more commonly known as Molly. Johnson was a mentor to his son and successor, John, and was an inspirational figure for the game and courageous Captain John Deserontyon. Not by coincidence, three of these four are of the Mohawk people, who reluctantly traded the rivers and lakes of north and western New York for the St. Lawrence River and the north and westerly shores of Lake Ontario.

By contrast, the story of Sergeant Rice Honeywell of General George Washington’s Continental army also appears here, not for reasons of war but for those of love. Honeywell fought in several major battles of the Revolutionary War, after which his love for the daughter of a Tory spy led him north. He joined her and her family in Prescott in Canada, across the
Saint St. Lawrence from Ogdensburg, New York. Before long he was locked behind the doors of a Canadian prison on the grounds that he was an American sympathizer, an accusation that held some truth. Once released, he and his family prospered, and his son went on to become the first pioneer of Ottawa, the eventual capital of his new country.

The dualities within British army captain Joseph Brant are also told here. New York might have remained homeland to the infamous Iroquois leader from New York’s Mohawk Valley had the British won the Revolutionary War. A compelling statesman, he was an equally competent warrior but eventually had to settle his Mohawk people in Canada along the Grand River on the western tip of Lake Ontario. Ironically, he later became an advisor to President George Washington on matters relating to the Indians of the American northwest.
New York offered Mary Hoople heartbreak and hope and provided geographic bookends for her long and remarkable life. Her family was murdered and scattered in a brutal Delaware raid in 1780, and she and her younger brother were taken prisoner. Rescued years later by a British officer, she had lost her birth language, culture and knowledge of her only surviving relatives. Fate brought her to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, west of Cornwall across from Massena, New York, where she was reunited with her only surviving sibling seventy years after their abduction and separation. Having been raised a native medicine woman she received an honorarium and commendation from U.S. president James Madison for her traditional healing of an American soldier during the War of 1812.

Major Edward Jessup and his brother Ebenezer were businessmen of Duchess County, New York, whose enterprises expanded north on the Hudson River close to Glen Falls. Angry over the loss of their mills and mansions to Patriots, the siblings pressed, petitioned and persevered until successive governors of Canada, Carleton and Haldimand could no longer refuse them their commissions. Once in the soldierly fold, their family defended Canada over several generations—Edward’s son and grandson fought in the War of 1812 and Prescott’s Battle of the Windmill in 1838, respectively.

Captain Simon Fraser’s father died in a rebel prison in Albany after his capture as a British combatant. The family was obliged to head to Canada, where the younger Fraser eventually joined the North West Company, which later merged with its rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company. He became a western explorer and followed the river that now bears his name to found Canada’s first permanent settlements west of the Rockies. His overland trek to the West Coast of North America followed shortly after those of Canadian Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Americans Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke.

Captain John Deserontyon was overshadowed by Joseph and Molly Brant though the valor of this Mohawk was no less remarkable. Almost single-handedly, he saved the Queen Anne silver, the cherished icon of Christian Mohawk traditions in New York, from falling into Patriot hands. Queen Anne had gifted the silver to the ‘Four Iroquois Kings’ during their visit to England in 1710, and Deserontyon protected and recovered the silver at the risk of his life. The silver communion set is found to this day in the Mohawk chapels near the aptly named towns of Deseronto and Brantford, Ontario.

Lieutenant Henry Simmons was a farmer of Dutch extraction who lived near Hudson and fought at Saratoga. He left his ancestral home to fight in August 1777 but he war ended quickly for him and thousands like him in October at the battles of Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, together known as the Battle of Saratoga. Afterward, it took seven weeks for him to lead his twenty-eight men through rough terrain and inclement weather to reach Canada and seven long years for him to secure them lands east of Kingston, where he founded the village of Ernestown. The precise location of his gravesite remains unknown, but he is thought to rest ignobly in a backyard of one his modern-day descendants.

Colonel Joel Stone’s story resonates with the sensibilities of modern North Americans: he was a hard-driving entrepreneur for whom family relations sometimes became secondary. He fought rebels as hard as he worked his businesses and endured wounding, imprisonment and a shipwreck near his base in New York’s Long Island. Exiled, he went first to Britain and then to Canada to start his life and enterprises anew. Sadly, his wives suffered
as he banished his first back to New York, and his second was crippled by a musket ball fired by an American soldier during the War of 1812 in a raid on Gananoque, the Canadian town he founded.

Molly Brant was of aristocratic native stock from New York’s Mohawk Valley. Few native women before or since have held such influence. One of her male contemporaries by the name Daniel Klaus said, “One word from her is more taken notice…than a thousand from any white Man without Exception”, according to historian and New Yorker, James Thomas Flexner. Unfairly remembered by some as merely the consort of Sir William Johnson, she was his life partner, equal to him in all ways but corporal. Her support of the defeated British, who eventually rewarded her with a fine home and pension, led to scorn in some quarters of the Iroquois Confederacy. Like so many others of her time, the precise location of her churchyard grave in Kingston, Ontario, is unknown.

Dr. George Smyth was a physician from Fort Edward, New York, who was secretly a spymaster in the British army’s Northern Department under the code name of ‘Hudibras’. He operated literally and figuratively in a rebel hospital in Albany, despite his earlier capture and imprisonment as an enemy intelligence officer. In peacetime, his abridged name lent itself to Smith Falls, a town he was never to see, on the Rideau Canal fifty miles south of Ottawa.

Despite his birth to wealth, education and prestige, Sir John Johnson was no dilettante. He inherited his father’s baronetcy, some of largest landholdings in New York, and the responsibility for
his tenant farmers. With emboldened rebels closing in on his estate, he fled to safety in Montreal, and no sooner had he arrived, exhausted and famished, when he took up pursuit of a fleeing party of American attackers. He was commissioned as regiment leader of the King’s Loyal Rangers of New York and returned to fight in, and eventually to raze, the Mohawk Valley. Johnson saw to it that thousands of Loyalists were resettled in Canada, and upon his death, his burial crypt on Mount Johnson, now Mont Ste. Grégoire in Quebec, was deliberately situated to face his beloved New York.

Johnson’s tale and those of the ten other shadow soldiers contained in these pages are not ones of Canadian deity or American demonry as once taught in each country’s schools. Nor are they the black and white caricatures of North American history for who America was their loss or Canada their victory.

They are merely the stories of eleven young men and women who came of age in their New York homelands only to lose them in a war for the ages.