David Dinsmore, Ulster-Scots Loyalist in South Carolina and Nova Scotia Exile: Every Life Worth a Novel (7)

Hants Co 1787 Crown Land warrant 14 Dec Bk4 pp326-7
Hants Co., Nova Scotia, Crown Land warrant 597, 14 Dec. 1787, Bk. 4, p. 326.
Hants Co 1787 Crown Land warrant 14 Dec Bk4 pp326-7 (2)
Hants Co., Nova Scotia, Crown Land warrant 597, 14 Dec. 1787, Bk. 4, p. 327.

And now an “aftermath” posting about the story of David Dinsmore. As the following account indicates (I’ve previously posted it elsewhere online), in May-June 2016, I took a trip to Nova Scotia to see if I could find any trace of what became of David Dinsmore after he sold his Nova Scotia land in January 1787. On that trip, I scoured all the documents I could locate that might conceivably have information about David at the Nova Scotia Archives, the provincial land office, and the Crown Lands Office. I located the tract of land David was granted as a Loyalist in the brushy hills of Rawdon township and drove to look at it, I scoured the tombstones in the Old Burying Ground in Halifax and corresponded with the archivist overseeing that historic site. I attended a meet-and-greet event of the Nova Scotia Genealogical Society and talked to the very informed folks who came to that event, including a descendant of the Densmore family from whom David bought land in August 1786. I found no trace at all of David after he sold his Nova Scotia land in 1787. Here’s my account of that search from my previous posting about it, slightly edited for republication here:

I’ve wanted for a number of years to go to Nova Scotia and see if I could turn up any trace of what became of my Loyalist ancestor David Dinsmore after he was exiled to Nova Scotia when many of South Carolina’s Loyalists were evacuated from Charleston in 1782, then got a Loyalist land grant, bought 300 acres in 1786 from a Densmore family that surely were related to him, sold his grant in January 1787, and at this point vanished from all records. Because David left his wife Margaret and their five children behind in South Carolina and never seems to have returned to them after his exile in Nova Scotia, I’ve long wanted to put the pieces of this puzzle together — in part, I suppose, to put the family itself back together in some way retrospectively.

I knew even as I planned this trip that in all likelihood I would not find the missing pieces to this puzzle, since good historians who have specialized in the history of the South Carolina Loyalists in Nova Scotia have combed the evidence before me and concluded that the sale of David’s land grant in January 1787 is the last record of him to be found in Nova Scotia. Carol Troxler, who did her doctoral dissertation (University of North Carolina) on the South Carolina Loyalists who settled at Rawdon, Nova Scotia, and has written extensively on this topic, thinks that the January 1787 deed is the last trace David left in Nova Scotia, and that he likely returned to his wife and children (I myself don’t think he did so). South Carolina historian Bobby Gilmer Moss reaches the same conclusion in his book on the Loyalist involvement in the siege of Ninety Six.

As Robert Stansbury Lambert notes in his book on the South Carolina Loyalists, by 1791, more than half of the South Carolina Loyalists who had settled at Rawdon had gone back to South Carolina. Lambert also notes that a majority of the South Carolina Tories were welcomed back with open arms (the revolutionary period in South Carolina was akin to a civil war, with about a considerable proportion of the settlers in the upcountry, where David Dinsmore and his family lived, taking the British side). He points to the case of Patrick Cunningham, deputy surveyor of the province of South Carolina, who reclaimed his lands in Laurens County and was elected to the South Carolina House — though he was a cousin of the notorious Tory general “Bloody Bill” Cunningham.

(I know Lambert is correct in what he reports about Patrick Cunningham, because some of my own ancestors in the Graves and Simms lines of my family lived next to him in Laurens County and had very cordial relationships with him, though they had served in the Revolution in Virginia before moving down to South Carolina. When a war divides neighbor from neighbor and brother and sister from brother and sister — when there’s not the clear “right” and “wrong” side we see so easily in retrospect — sensible people work to rebuild their disrupted socieities when war has ended, not to keep alive the ugly, roiling divisions of the war period.)

A few details to provide more background about why I have earnestly searched for information about the final years of the life of my ancestor David Dinsmore: he and his wife Margaret (whose surname I don’t know) arrived from Northern Ireland in Charleston on 10 December 1767 aboard The Earl of Donegal, having left Belfast on 7 October. He and the other passengers aboard The Earl then reported their names and ages to the South Carolina Provincial Council on 22 December and received land grants under the 1761 bounty act, the so-called “Poor Protestants Act” that was designed to attract Ulster Scots, Swiss, and Germans to the yet-sparsely-settled upcountry, where, the lowcountry settlers hoped, they’d form a buffer between their plantations and the restless native peoples to the west of the upcountry, who were smartly resenting the encroachment of European settlers on their lands.

David was 17 years old when he came to South Carolina, his wife Margaret, 20 — a newly married young couple, it appears. They were granted 150 acres on Jamey’s Creek, the waters of the Tyger River, in Ninety Six District, later Spartanburg County. At some point not very long after he and Margaret settled on this land, David sold it to John Langston (or to someone else who sold it to Langston). The deed is not recorded, but its original ownership by David is mentioned in a 1789 deed Langston made.

In December 1774, David bought 250 acres on Jamey’s Creek from John and Hannah Kissler. His application for a Loyalist land grant in Nova Scotia states that he had paid the Kisslers ₤100 and a slave woman (“a negro wench,” it states, and I repeat the phrase to provide accurate historical context, though it now has inescapably and understandably problematic racial overtones) for this land and that it was very fertile.

By 1775 when he took arms for the British, he had cleared 47 acres and had a house and barn on the land (either purchased along with the land or built by his own labor), along with 12 horses, 12 head of cattle, 28 head of hogs, and 7 sheep. He was producing 200 bushels of corn with each crop. The fact that he had purchased a slave soon after his arrival in America and had the resources to pay for the larger tract of fertile land suggests that the term “poor Protestants” was something of a fiction in the case of some of these European immigrants claiming land under the 1761 bounty act.

Then the war arrived, and, along with many other newly arrived Ulstermen (and Germans and Swiss) in the Carolina backcountry, David took the British side. Historians wonder if these new immigrants made this decision because they feared losing the land the Crown had just given them by taking up arms against that same Crown. In the case of the German immigrants, the fact that the British monarchy had Hanoverian roots may also have played a role.

When Ninety Six fell in 1781, David was captured and thrown into prison for five months. At Ninety Six, he’d have been doing battle with other of my ancestors, including, I suspect, the father and son William and Dennis Lindsey, the latter the father of Mark Lindsey, who was to marry David’s daughter Mary Jane about 1793. He definitely would have been warring against another ancestor of mine, Samuel Kerr, who was a Ranger captain mortally wounded in battle at Ninety Six. Samuel, too, was an Ulsterman, but, in contrast to David Dinsmore, his family had been in the colonies two generations before him, and along with others of Ulster descent in his part of South Carolina to whom he was connected by blood and marriage — the Calhouns and Pickens — who had also been in the colonies since the early part of the 1700s, he took the American side. (Captain Samuel Kerr, whose mother was Margaret Pickens, was, in fact, a first cousin of General Andrew Pickens, who led the American troops at Ninety Six, and was married to Mary Calhoun, whose sister Rebecca married Andrew Pickens.)

All this by way of prelude to the exile to Nova Scotia: as the American forces closed in and things became desperate for Loyalists in South Carolina, by mid-August 1782, 4,200 Loyalists had registered to leave the colony, of whom 2,500 were women and children. In addition, these Loyalists took with them from the colony 7,200 enslaved people of African descent. Some went to East Florida (temporarily), some to the British colonies in the Caribbean, some back to the British Isles.

The majority went to Nova Scotia, and a sizable contingent of these, especially those from Ninety Six, were settled in Hants County at a hilly interior place called Rawdon after Colonel Francis Rawdon, who had assisted the South Carolina Tories in their evacuation from the colony. Though David petitioned for 250 acres to match the amount he had left behind in South Carolina, it pleased the Crown to grant him 100 acres in an area of east Rawdon called Brushy Hill.

On our trip last week, we located the 100 acres by matching contemporary maps to maps of the tracts granted to the Rawdon settlers and drove to it. It is clearly not arable land. It’s not only steep but very rocky. It manages, like much of the interior of central Nova Scotia, to be boggy and rocky at the same time, so that when one steps out of the car and onto the land, one’s feet sink into moss underneath which water lies. I imagine David setting foot on this land and then tromping right to a t-shirt store and asking to have a t-shirt made up with the inscription, I spent five months in prison and got exiled to Nova Scotia for loyalty to the Crown and this lousy land is all I get?!

David Dinsmore Loyalist Land, Brushy Hill, Rawdon
A glimpse of David Dinsmore’s Loyalist land grant in Rawdown township, Hants Co., Nova Scotia, in June 2016.

I can’t imagine what David could have been expected to produce on such land, and I can well understand his decision to turn around and sell it soon after he obtained it to Thomas Parker, the son of a Quaker immigrant from Yorkshire who had settled at Rawdon some years before. I can also understand his decision to purchase 300 acres of what I’m told would have been very good land north of this area at what’s now called Densmore’s Mill near Noel Shore.

Whether David then moved to that part of Nova Scotia and lived among this other Densmore family who had come from Ulster to Nova Scotia about 1760, I don’t know, because there are no records of him after he bought this land and then sold his land grant in 1787, as I’ve noted. Prior to our trip, I had made contact through the Nova Scotia Genealogical Society with a descendant of this family, who offered to meet me, and turned out to be an extraordinary person.

Her mother, who was a Densmore, had saved a cache of family papers dating back to 1764, when the immigrant ancestor James Densmore received a grant of 1,500 acres near Noel, out of which David bought 300 acres from James’s son William in 1786. Among the papers the family has kept is the original land grant, on vellum. It has split in half and is a bit tattered, but there it is to be seen — and this lovely person we met at the genealogical meet-and-greet in Nova Scotia brought it for me to see and touch.

She confirmed for me that the Densmores have no record of what became of David Dinsmore, though, like various historical researchers, they had often wondered who he was and why he crops up briefly in records of their family in Nova Scotia. As I’ve noted, some good historians propose that, like many other South Carolina Loyalists exiled to Nova Scotia, David returned to his wife and children after having sold his land grant. (Have I mentioned that part of the puzzle here is that his purchase of 300 acres from William Densmore the preceding year is recorded in the Hants County deed books with no follow-up deeds showing what became of this land — whether he resold it, or he died and it was bequeathed to someone else, etc.?)

I don’t think David did rejoin his wife and children. I also doubt an apocryphal story some folks have shopped around online, that he had committed atrocities as a Tory, came back to South Carolina, and was hanged. I doubt this because there are absolutely no records — at least none that I have ever seen — stating this, and when I’ve asked those spreading this tale for the documentation they have to substantiate it, they can only tell me with a vague wave of their online fingers that they’ve been told this by an historian who says it’s “somewhere in Revolutionary pension records.”

I contacted said historian, who told me he “thought” he had heard that this happened to David, and he “thought” that it was mentioned in a Revolutionary pension application. But he cannot locate said application.

I’ve searched those records exhaustively. I can’t find any record in them ever even naming David Dinsmore. Nor do I think his having been hanged for war crimes — a public act that would have generated public records — could possibly have gone unnoticed by any contemporary chronicler or by historians. I think this is the sort of legend people craft when they think that it was as clear to people in the past as it is to some of us today that we and our people were on the “right” side and those others, who had malicious streaks and were prone to violence, took the “wrong” side.

My reason for doubting that David returned home is, quite simply, that his wife Margaret is listed as head of their household on the 1790 census in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, and when she and her children decided in 1800 to move to Kentucky, she and son John sold the family’s land as if the deed belonged to them. In fact, I find a deed in Spartanburg County in 1799 referring to the land as “Margaret Dunmore’s” land. (It does continue to be referred to in some Spartanburg County land transactions into the second decade of the 19th century — long after all Dinsmores had left the area — as David’s land, but it’s clear to me this is an historical designation, noting who first owned it, and not an indicator that he was still seated on this land.)

So take your pick: 1) David settled comfortably at Densmore’s Mill and lived among his relatives in Nova Scotia to the end of his days, though none of the descendants of these relatives remember any such thing happening and there’s no tombstone or burial record. 2) David remarried and had another family in Nova Scotia (something Loyalists who went to Canada did sometimes do: I have a copy of a will of one of them connected by marriage to one of my families, bequeathing to his wife and children in both Ontario and North Carolina); but there are, curiously, no records in Nova Scotia of him with that new family. 3) David assumed a new identity, and we won’t easily find him for this reason — he did a Samson/Sally Blair and was last heard from aboard a ship back to Ulster wearing a dress and calling himself Davidella. 4) David started out for South Carolina to rejoin his family and died en route (or was killed en route). 5) David returned to his family in Ulster as himself and not Davidella (the Belfast Newsletter shows the firm that brought the Earl of Donegal settlers over in 1767, Greg and Cunningham, recruiting those settlers in Ballymoney and Ballymena in County Antrim), and lived among them as David Dinsmore, sans wife Margaret and their five children.

If his application for a Loyalist land grant is to be believed, there was not much to return home to other than his family, since it states that his house and the improvements he had made to his farm had all been destroyed and that his wife and children were being taken care of by Rebels. If I were a betting man, I’d bet a large amount of money on the probability that they were taken in by a neighboring Woodruff family, since of the four of his five children I can definitely identify, three married Woodruffs, and I’ve long been convinced — though I cannot prove this — that my own ancestor Mark Lindsey, who married David and Margaret’s daughter Mary Jane, was the son of a Woodruff woman who married Mark’s father Dennis.

Nor do those children in any way appear to have been ashamed of their father or to have had animosity towards him, since three of the four of his children I have positively identified named sons David. My ancestors Mark and Mary Jane Dinsmore Lindsey named a son David Dinsmore Lindsey, in fact. He was called Dinsmore.

This is how we spent our summer vacation, dear friends, traipsing between the Nova Scotia Archives, the provincial land office, the Crown Lands Office, the brushy hills of Rawdon township, a meet-and-greet event of the Nova Scotia Genealogical Society, the Old Burying Ground, where I have been fascinated by a tombstone of a young David Dunsmuir, photos of which I could see online and which I photographed in the flesh last week. We found a death notice for him in the 15 October 1819 Weekly Chronicle [Halifax] when we were working in the archives on this trip. Was there any connection between this David Dinsmuir, who was born in 1791 and died in Halifax at the age of 28, and the Loyalist David Dinsmore who appears in Nova Scotia records into 1789?

David Dunsmuir Tombstone, Old Burying Ground, Halifax
David Dunsmuir Tombstone, Old Burying Ground, Halifax, Nova Scotia

This was our summer vacation, then — all of this, and walking along the harborfront, up Citadel Hill, to the wonderful bookstore on Spring Garden Road, to any and every decent fish-and-chips and lobster-roll purveyor we could find (and some of those were very good). And listening to the enchanting, totally unexpected bagpipe performance that materialized in the street beneath our hotel room on Saturday evening as a lone kilted piper walked along Grafton Street piping while a band of people followed him clapping and dancing.

Well, all this, and we also got great photocopies of all the papers in the file at the Crown Grants office that document the land grants to the South Carolina Loyalists at Rawdon, documents I haven’t seen anywhere else, and which the extraordinarily kind person working there told me about and offered to copy for me (almost without exception, everyone we met in Nova Scotia was extraordinarily kind and hospitable). All in all, a richly rewarding and enjoyable trip that made me feel more deeply connected to this ancestor of mine whose family was tragically sundered by war, and who disappeared mysteriously after he was sent into exile far from his wife and children . . . .

This is the final posting in a seven-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and that posting send with a link pointing you back to the previous posting in the series, if you’re interested in following this series back to the beginning.

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