David Dinsmore, Ulster-Scots Loyalist in South Carolina and Nova Scotia Exile: Every Life Worth a Novel (5)

1787 D. Densmore et al. 100 acres Nova Scotia
1787 Plat of Loyalist Land Grants, Rawdon, Hants Co., Nova Scotia, from Nova Scotia Land Registry Office

1787 D. Densmore et al. 100 acres Nova Scotia

4. Exile to Nova Scotia

David Dinsmore’s 1786 Loyalist land claim in Nova Scotia states, “At the Evacuation of C. Town he came to this Province, and is now settled in Rawdon.”[1]  After the fort at Ninety Six fell and the South Carolina Loyalists retreated first to Orangeburg and then eventually to Charleston in the latter part of 1781, they began making arrangements to leave the colony.  According to Lambert, by mid-August 1782, 4,200 Loyalists had registered to leave South Carolina, including nearly 2,500 women and children with 7,200 enslaved Africans and African-Americans.[2]  Prior to their departure, on 18 April, Zachariah Gibbs and other South Carolina Loyalists prepared a petition to the Crown indicating that a large number of Tories—perhaps as many as 300, they claimed—had been murdered by the Whigs in the colony, with the majority of these in Ninety Six District.

Ships began leaving Charleston for East Florida in September and October, and a fleet set sail for Nova Scotia in late October heading for Halifax with 500 Loyalists, among whom were included 50 slaves, under Col. Samuel Campbell of North Carolina.  On 21 November the ships Free Briton and the John and Bella arrived in Halifax carrying many of the South Carolina refugees.  According to Lambert, more than 20 of the families and as many single men, all from South Carolina, then settled at the community of Rawdon about 60 miles north of Halifax.  Rawdon was called after the Col. Francis Rawdon who had assisted the South Carolina Tories in retreating to Charleston.[3]

More Loyalists from both North and South Carolina followed into the winter months, according to historian Neil MacKinnon, who notes that 500 refugees arrived in Halifax from South Carolina during the winter of 1782, a particularly cold winter for which many of these new settlers were ill-prepared as they arrived from a much warmer climate and without many of their possessions.[4]  MacKinnon notes that the majority of these were “true Loyalists,” supporters of a losing cause who had to give up their homes because of their commitment to the cause.  The numbers coming from South Carolina were augmented by North Carolinians who had fought at Moore’s Creek Bridge early in the war, and had then been imprisoned or forced to go into hiding, and/or had their property confiscated.[5]  In all, the proportion of Southern Loyalist settlers was particularly high in Nova Scotia, MacKinnon thinks, with South Carolina disproportionately represented.[6]

The research of Carol Troxler indicates that at least 15% of Nova Scotia Loyalists were from the South, and, if those arriving as slaves of African descent are counted in, the total is even higher.[7]  Troxler also notes that of the Carolina-Georgia Loyalists whose origins she has been able to trace, 72% had come to the colonies from Scotland, Germany, and Ireland.[8]

Regarding the Rawdon community, in particular, Troxler notes that by 1788, 74 Southern backcountry men and their widows had obtained land grants at Rawdon, constituting almost the entirety of the settlement.[9]  The large majority of these were from Ninety Six District in South Carolina, and of Scotch-Irish origins.[10]  Also settling at Rawdon initially was Dinsmore’s previous commander, Zachariah Gibbs, who first went to East Florida and then Jamaica after Charleston was evacuated, but finally settled (briefly) at Rawdon.[11]  In the spring of 1786, Gibbs filed a Loyalist claim in England for his Nova Scotia land.[12]

David Dinsmore was indubitably among those South Carolina Loyalists who sailed from Charleston to Halifax in the fall and winter of 1782, and at some point after his arrival, it’s clear he settled at Rawdon, since when he filed his Loyalist land claim in 1786, he noted Rawdon as his residence.  Rawdon historian John Victor Duncanson thinks, though, that Dinsmore may not have come to Rawdon with its first settlers in 1784, but only after having filed his Loyalist claim.[13]  Duncanson also supposes that David Dinsmore married a daughter of Hezekiah Cogswell of Cornwallis after his arrival in Nova Scotia.[14]  However, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton, the authority Duncanson cites for this supposition, states only that Martha, a daughter of Hezekiah Cogswell, married a Densmore and does not state his given name, and various sources identify Martha’s husband as a Samuel Densmore.

David Dinsmore filed his Loyalist land claim at Halifax initially on 19 April 1786 and then again on 19 July.[15]  Both claims provide essentially the same information about his Loyalist service during the American Revolution.  Though he asked for £600 pounds 10 shillings to reimburse him for the 250 acres of land and personal property he had lost in South Carolina, he was granted £90 for the land and £30 for his personal property.[16]

Dinsmore, David, 1786 Nova Scotia Loyalist Claim p.175
David Dunsmore, Loyalist Claim, Audit Office American Series 12.49, p. 175.

Peter Wilson Coldham, whose book American Migrations 1765-1799 has a brief biographical entry for David “Dunsmore,” explains the process by which American Loyalist refugees in Canada applied for land and reimbursements.  He notes that the Loyalist claims office was set up in London, and this did not help Loyalists in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick who could not afford to travel to England to file a claim.  The act providing relief to American Loyalist refugees was not even published in Québec until October 1783 after the last ship had departed from Canada to England for the winter, though the act stipulated that all reimbursement claims were to be filed by March 1784.[17]

In 1785 the act was renewed and claimants in Nova Scotia were permitted to submit claims in Nova Scotia itself up to 1 May 1786.  Commissioners Thomas Dundas and Jeremy Pemberton were sent to hear evidence in Halifax, Shelburne, St. John, Québec City, and Montréal.

This process created a wide range of records that have been arranged in two principal series designated as Audit Office 12 and Audit Office 13 at the British Public Records Office. Series I (AO 12) includes the minute books and reports of the commissioners, various tables and lists of claims, claimants, and decisions, as well as certain types of “evidence” received in support of claims and administrative records. Series II (AO 13) contains the memorials of claimants together with supporting documentation that includes affidavits and depositions, originals, transcripts, and certified copies of legal documents such as property deeds and wills, correspondence, and a variety of notes compiled during the hearings or on receipt of the claims.

Coldham’s summary of David Dinsmore’s claim notes that, though he had settled at Rawdon after his evacuation from Charleston in 1782, he reported in April 1786 that he had only recently heard of the act to compensate Loyalists.  He claimed 250 acres of land to reimburse him for his loss in South Carolina.[18]  Alexander Fraser transcribes the claim as follows:

He (David Dunsmore) is a native of Ireland & went to America in 1765 [sic], and in 1775 was settled in 96 district, S. Carolina.  He took arms under Gen. Cunningham in 1775, & joined Col. Campbell in Georgia. Says he never served with the Rebels, but was obliged to take an Oath to them. He has been with the British Army ever since, excepting 5 months he was a prisoner.  At the Evacuation of C. Town he came to this Province, and is now settled in Rawdon.

250 acres of land on James Creek.  He bought it from John Meighler about three years before the War.  He gave a negro wench & 100 pounds S. Car. Cury for it.  After he bought it he made considerable improvments on it.

He had 47 acres cleared, and a House and Barn.  He thinks the land & improvts. was worth 300 pounds sterling.

Says he was offered 2 Negroes for it soon after the purchase.  He cannot say in whose Possession it is, but his 5 children are in S. Carolina taken care of by Rebels, & believes they are not in Possession.

Stock, 12 horses at 15 pounds 180.0.0; 12 head of Cattle at 30 sh. 18.0.0; 28 head hogs 14.0.0; 7 sheep 8.10.0; furniture & tools 30.0.0.; 200 bushels Corn, growing 15.0.0; 260 pounds 10.0.

Witness Robt. Alexander, Sworn:

“Says Claimt. went into the Country & has always remained with the settlers at Rawdon.  He was ever a good Loyal subject & never joined the Americans.  He knows his farm on James Creek.  Believes he had 250 acres.  It was remarkable good land.  He had a considerable stock on it. His children are in the Country but the House was destroied and all the improvemts. to prevent his enjoying it.  He thinks it is all lost to him.”[19]

Despite his request for 250 acres, the Crown granted Dinsmore only 100 acres.  According to Duncanson, the land was in the southeast section of Rawdon township in Brushy Hills.[20]  The Robert Alexander who witnessed Dinsmore’s Loyalist claim was a neighbor in South Carolina.  Duncanson indicates that Alexander was born in Northern Ireland about 1757, the son of a John Alexander, and came to America in 1773 with his parents, settling in Ninety Six.[21]

Nova Scotia Crown Register Land Grants vol. 19, 13
Nova Scotia Crown Register Land Grants vol. 19, 13.

What became of David Dinsmore after he obtained his land grant of 100 acres in Rawdon is somewhat unclear.  On 24 Aug. 1786, he bought from a William Densmore who appears to have been his kinsman 300 additional acres in Hants County, the county in which Rawdon is situated.  The land was out of a tract of 1500 acres granted to James Densmore (Hants DB 4, pp. 535-6).  The deed indicates that Wm. Densmore was of Newport, Nova Scotia, and had a wife Elizabeth.

According to Duncanson, James Densmore was a native of Co. Londonderry, Ireland, who came to Nova Scotia with his family before November 1768, settling at Newport.[22]  In 1780, James Densmore received a grant for 1,500 acres at Noel Shore on the Cobequid Bay.  Duncanson states that the James Densmore family has a tradition of descent from the John Dinsmore of Scotland who moved to Ireland and settled at Ballywattick, Co. Antrim in 1667.  William Densmore with wife Elizabeth was a son of James and his wife Letitia Moore, and was of the same generation as David, according to Duncanson.

Several months after he bought 300 acres from William Densmore, David Dinsmore sold his 100-acre Loyalist land grant at Rawdon on 9 Jan. 1787 to one Thomas Parker with Zachariah Gibbs and Richard Fenton witnessing the transaction (Hants DB 4, pp. 526-7).  The deed leaves David’s place of residence blank (“of the Province of —“).  Zachariah Gibbs proved the deed on 3 June 1788, and it was recorded on the same day.  On the same day, a deed of Willam Densmore to Samuel and James Densmore (his brothers) was registered, and appears beside the deed of David Dinsmore in the Hants County deed books (DB 4, pp. 527-9).

Hants Co., Nova Scotia DB 4, p. 526
Hants Co., Nova Scotia DB 4, p. 526.
Hants Co., Nova Scotia DB 4, p. 527
Hants Co., Nova Scotia DB 4, p. 527.

It’s interesting to note that the January 1787 deed by David Densmore has him signing by mark, while he had signed his Loyalist affidavit the previous year with a firm and clearly legible signature, setting the land claim process into motion (see the signature at this previous installment in the current series about David’s life). Since he could clearly sign his name — and firmly so — in 1786, what’s his signing by mark in 1787 about, as he sold his Nova Scotia land, one wonders?

The January 1787 deed is the last certain record I find of David Dinsmore.  I find no record to show what became of his 300 acres from William Densmore after David purchased that land.  Carol Troxler thinks that after he sold his Loyalist grant in January 1787, Dinsmore returned to South Carolina.  She notes that the 1787 deed is the last reference to be found for him in Nova Scotia.[23]  As she notes, his Loyalist land claim specifies that his wife and five children and unnamed “rebels” were in possession of his 250 acres in South Carolina, so his land had not been confiscated—and Troxler believes he returned to Margaret and the children after he sold his 100-acre grant in 1778.[24]  Bobby Gilmer Moss agrees.[25]  David is definitely not on the 1791 or 1795 tax assessment at Rawdon or anywhere else in Nova Scotia, and this would seem to corroborate the deduction that he left Nova Scotia after 1787—and perhaps returned to his family in South Carolina.

A number of historians note that many of the Carolinians who were exiled to Nova Scotia eventually returned to the Carolinas, and had, in fact, begun to drift away by 1784.[26]  As Lambert notes, the 1785 Provost Marshall’s report states that by that year, many Carolina loyalists had abandoned their land in Nova Scotia.[27]  According to Lambert, the 1791 tax assessment in Rawdon indicates that fewer than half of the families who had come from Charleston were still there.  In 1791, Zachariah Gibbs gave notice that his two farms at Rawdon were for sale, and he planned to leave in the spring.

Lambert indicates that many Loyalists of Ninety Six District, in particular, came back to South Carolina after some years in exile.  He cites the case of Patrick Cunningham, who reclaimed his lands in Laurens Co., South Carolina, after having gone to Nova Scotia, and in 1790, was elected to the South Carolina House.[28]

This is the fifth posting in a seven-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and the next posting in the series is here. That posting will end with a link taking you to the next in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.

[1] Alexander Fraser, Second Report of the Bureau of Archives (Toronto, 1904), pp. 171-2.

[2] Robert Stansbury Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1987), p. 254.

[3] Ibid., pp. 255, 271, citing Great Britain, Hist. MS Commission, Report on American Manuscripts in the Royal (London, 1904-9), III, p. 179; and Marion Gilroy, Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova (Halifax, 1937), pp., 43-54, 60-1.

[4] Neil MacKinnon, This Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalist Experience in Nova 1783-1791 (Kingston/Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 1986), p. 16.

[5] Ibid., p. 57.

[6] Ibid., pp. 59-60.

[7] Carol W. Troxler, “The Migration of Carolina and GA Loyalists to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of North Carolina, 1974), p. 1.

[8] Ibid.  See also Troxler, “Origins of the Rawdon Loyalist Settlement,” Nova Scotia Historical Review 8,1 (1988), pp. 63-76; and “Community and Cohesion in the Rawdon Loyalist Settlement,” Nova Scotia Historical Review 12,1 (1992), pp. 41-66.

[9] “Origins of the Rawdon Loyalist Settlement,” p. 64.

[10] Ibid., p. 65.

[11] Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, p. 272.

[12] Ibid., p. 273.

[13] John Victor Duncanson, Rawdon and Douglas: Two Loyalist Townships in Nova Scotia (Belleville, Ontario: Mika, 1989), p. 177.

[14] Ibid., citing Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton, The History of Kings County (Salem, MA: Salem Press Co., 1910), p. 610.

[15] See Fraser, Second Report, pp. 171-2; Audit Office, Am. Loyalist Claims, Am. Series 12/49/87-90 and Audit Office, Am. Loyalist Claims, Am. Series 12/68/33; and British National Archives, Z.5.134N, V49, 175; V68, 53; V109, 130/1162.

[16] Audit Office, Am. Loyalist Claims, Am. Series 12/49/87-90; Audit Office, Am. Loyalist Claims, Am. Series 12/68/33.

[17] Peter Wilson Coldham, American Migrations 1765-1799: The Lives, Times, and Families of Colonial Americans Who Remained Loyal to the British Crown Before, During and After the Revolutionary War, as Related in Their Own Words and Through Their Correspondence (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000), p. 679.

[18] Ibid., citing AO 12/49/175, 68/33, 109/130; AO 13/138/542-544.

[19] Fraser, Second Report, pp. 171-2.  For further information on David Dinsmore’s Loyalist claim, see Leonard H. Smith, Jr., and Norma H. Smith, Nova Scotia Immigrants to 1867 (Baltimore: Geneal. Publ. Co., 1992), p. 336.

[20] Duncanson, Rawson and Douglas, p. 177.

[21] Ibid., pp. 165-172.

[22] Ibid., James, a native of Londonderry, who came to Nova Scotia with his family bef. Nov. 1768, settling at Newport.  In 1780, James received a grant for 1500 acres at Noel Shore on the Cobequid Bay.

[23] Troxler, “Community and Cohesion,” p. 57.

[24] Ibid., p. 64.

[25] Bobby Gilmer Moss, The Loyalists in the Siege of Fort Ninety Six (Blacksburg, SC: Scotia-Hibernia, 1999), p. 41.

[26] See, e.g., MacKinnon, This Unfriendly Soil, p. 62.

[27] Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists, pp. 274-5.

[28] Ibid., pp. 300-302.

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