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The Role of the Dutch in the Iroquois Wars
by Peter Lowensteyn

Early History

It is not clear when the first Dutch settlers arrived in Quebec. It might have been Jan Smit, the son of a Dutch father and a native mother who, after many adventures as a chief of his tribe, eventually settled in Caughnawaga probably sometime during the 1680's, as one of the "praying" (i.e. converted to Christianity) Indians. Jan Smit, otherwise known as Canaqueese, is unlikely to have displayed any Dutch characteristics, although he may have spoken the language since he was often in contact with the Dutch of Albany1

Ethnic Origin

Some of the United Empire Loyalists, who came to Canada during the last decades of the eighteenth century, can lay a somewhat stronger claim to a Dutch heritage. It will be argued that there was a Dutch ethnic component among the Loyalists who entered Quebec. For this particular group, even more so than for later Dutch immigrants who arrived for the most part directly from their country of origin, it is important to define what is meant by an ethnic population. A bewildering array of definitions exists, rooted in either, or both, objective and subjective schools of thought. In analysing some thirty of them, Isajiw ultimately embraced the following definition:

"An involuntary group of people who share the same culture or the descendants of such people who identify themselves and/or are identified by others as belonging to the same involuntary group" (1979:6:25). This definition is useful for the Dutch group since it has the advantage that it can be applied to future generations who may no longer share the same culture (language, customs), but who still take pride in their heritage.

To study ethnicity one needs objective criteria. Anderson and Frideres consolidated the many identification traits, the sum of which identifies an ethnic group in an objective manner, and came up with the following four factors:

(1) ethnic origin, according to Canadian census specifications largely determined by the patrilinear predecessor's mother tongue or ethnic group membership upon immigration to North America;

(2) mother tongue, i.e. language traditionally spoken by members of a particular ethnic group;

(3) ethnic-oriented religion, i.e. participation or membership in a religious affiliation recognised as the traditional religion of a particular ethnic group;

(4) folkways, i.e. the practice of certain customs unique to the group (1981:37).

Not all these factors have to be present for ethnic identification to exist, as mentioned earlier. For example, the mother tongue or the ethnic religion may be lost, while individuals still strongly identify with their ethnic group. On the other hand, "outsiders" who take on ethnic folkways or join an ethnic religion, do not belong to the ethnic group. Its involuntary nature as expressed by ethnic origin is a barrier to this. A difficult issue arises in the case of intermarriage, a frequent occurrence among the Dutch. Self identification, for example, does not al ways follow the patrilinear descent line. True to the chosen definition, the position taken in this paper is that anyone who considers him or herself to involuntarily belong to a group with any or all of the Dutch characteristics as listed under (1) to (4), is of Dutch ethnicity.

Loyalist Settlement Patterns

Two major groups of Loyalists came to Canada. In 1773 about 30,000 of them, mainly made up of members of the professional and merchant class, came by ship from the lower Hudson Valley to the Maritimes. Soon after , a group of about 6000, mainly owners of backwood farms involved in the war, came from the upper Hudson and Mohawk Valley region, either over land or by way of Lake Champlain to what is now Quebec and Ontario (Moir, 1978).

While the British government was prepared to settle these people and reward them for their loyalty, it was not considered a good idea to have them too close to the Americans. The argument by Governor Haldimand, that a culturally, linguistically, and religiously different French population would form a more effective barrier to the incursions of settler's from the U.S., was accepted in London (Ashton, 1974:24). Thus, those who landed at Missisquoi Bay were ordered to depart to Upper Canada, on pain of being struck off the provision list. About a thousand of them stubbornly refused to move and they and their descendants were the ones who began opening up the Eastern Townships around Missisquoi Bay (Noyes, 1907).

The push factor at work south of the border was of a political nature, and the refugees were all drawn to Canada for the same reasons. Within Canada, the pull of Quebec was considered weaker than the pull of what is now Ontario. Not everyone agrees on what caused this discrepancy.

Although Haldimand's orders seem by themselves a forceful enough deterrent against staying in or heading for Quebec, Moir (1978) thinks the Loyalists had other reasons for going elsewhere. Quebec had a different language and religion. Furthermore, Republicans and Loyalists had fought for three essential rights: representative institutions, English common law, and freehold land tenure. None of these rights existed in Quebec. The result was alienation and settlement in Upper Canada. Ashton (1974), however, claims that "The absence of self -government, jury trial, habeas corpus, and other basic rights of Englishmen did not bother Loyalists. Their legal and constitutional concerns concentrated exclusively on land and the mechanisms for its distribution and exploitation" (p. 23). Considering the practical rather than philosophical bent of farmers anywhere, as well as the hardships endured during the trek to Canada, one would be inclined to believe that the potential settlers said the English, German, or Dutch equivalent of "J'y suis, j'y reste". Nevertheless, there was a large emigration from the Mohawk Valley and vicinity to the Niagara frontier and to other parts of Ontario, including Essex, Kent, and Lamb counties. The government gave the settlers land grants and promised provisions and tools. Unfortunately, these promises were not always kept, and a number of settlers moved elsewhere (Magee, 1983:25). As far as can be determined, they did not move to Quebec.

Many of those Loyalists who settled in what is now Quebec and Ontario hailed from northern New York State, particularly the Albany region. Albany was originally a Dutch settlement (Fort Oranje) which, although under control of the British since 1664, maintained its Dutch characteristics until well into the second half of the eighteenth century. In fact, O'Dwyer states that a proposed retrogressive constitutional amendment establishing a literacy test as a qualification for voting was defeated at the Constitutional Convention of 1846 on the objection of Dutch-descended citizens who were still using Dutch idiom and would be disenfranchised if the amendment became effective (O'Dwyer, 1975).

There is, admittedly, a great deal of confusion about the ethnic background of so-called Dutch Loyalists. This is in the first place brought on by the English word "Dutch" meaning "from the Netherlands" but which sounds almost like the German word "Deutsch" meaning "from Germany", a situation likely to have confused a census taker or anyone not familiar with such fine distinctions.

Also, there were many Palatines (Germans) among the Loyalists. They spoke a low German which is quite close to Dutch and they may or may not have spent some time in the Netherlands before coming to this continent in search of religious freedom. No doubt, many sailed for the New World from a Dutch port and/or on a Dutch ship. To make matters worse, many Germans were members of the Dutch Reformed Church of America.

In spite of these difficulties, Penney and Willenken (1977) conclude that up until 1759 at least eighty percent of all recorded baptisms, marriages and burials in the Albany area were Dutch. The proportion of Dutch in the population declined steadily after 1759 with the influx of German Palatines and others.


Table I
Population of Albany County, 1639-1790














 72,000 (first Federal census)

(Source: Penney & Willenken, 1977)

Even then, with their customary large families, the Dutch could still be expected to have accounted for at least half the Albany area population during the time of the Loyalists' trek north. That does not mean that they were equally well represented among the Loyalists, of course.

So, while one can assume on the basis of the above, that there were a good number of Dutch descended persons among the United Empire Loyalists, short of tracing the place of birth of each Loyalist's overseas ancestor one cannot determine the exact proportion. Fortunately, this task has been undertaken by Ruth for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, at least for a representative sample. He arrived at a proportion of 10% Dutch among all anglophone Loyalists who settled in Canada. (Ruch, 1982) But we have no way of knowing whether Quebec falls into this pattern as well.

Dutch Characteristics of Loyalists

However, even where the origin can be undisputedly determined to be Dutch, for the purposes of this study the important question is: "From a social and cultural perspective, were there any Dutch characteristics present upon arrival in Canada, and which, if any, were subsequently maintained?"

These characteristics could include language, religion, folkways (lifestyle, material culture, names), and in-group marriage.

Alice Kenney, an Albany historian who spent the last two decades researching the Dutch of upper New York State, found that at about the time of the American Revolution, the Dutch Reformed Church in America was breaking away from government from the Netherlands, finally adopting the English language for worship (Kenney, 1977/78). But women in particular continued to speak Dutch in their homes and at church until after the American Revolution (Kenney, 1980). This is corroborated by the examination of an old family bible2 in the possession on of one Quebec based Loyalist descendent, which shows entries made up to 1775 written in perfect Dutch.

As far as religion is concerned, there is mention of a settled minister (Rev. Broeffle or Proeffle) sent out by the Classis of Albany of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1795. However, the War of 1812 made it necessary for churches with American connections to choose sides and most Loyalists sided again with Britain and ties with the Church in America were cut. A "Presbyter of the Canadas" was formed in 1818 which the Dutch Reformed Mission in Upper Canada (Moir, 1978).

Lifestyle and material culture of the Mohawk and Hudson Valley area Dutch had been highly influenced by the orthodox Calvinist religion they espoused, As was the case in the Netherlands, men and women learned to read, write, and keep accounts, but this knowledge was used mostly for practical purposes: they read the scriptures, and handled their business affairs. "To participate intelligently in the services of the church was the chief inducement for parents to send their children to school" is how Alexander C. Flick, an eminent historian put it (cited in Curran, 1975). The population spent its time on the fur trade, crafts or household duties and this kept them from writing diaries, letters or books. For artistic enjoyment they turned to pictures of relatives and of scenes from the bible (Kenney, 1980). There were also two principal families of silversmiths in eightteenth century Albany, the Ten Eycks and the Lansinqs who, between them produced many fine artifacts for use by the white population as well as for the Indian trade. According to Kenney, this material culture remained the same even at the time of the American Revolution when the church showed signs of anglicization (Kenney, 1977-1978).

But in Quebec at this time, remnants of material culture are practically non-existent, although a thorough search might, of course, turn up items. At this point it is limited to unverified reports of Dutch style barns belonging, or having belonged, to the Cuyler family, and a few household items of Dutch origin, a pewter platter, a powder horn, and the like (Mrs. M. Ellis, personal communication, 1983).

Small numbers and lack of institutions no doubt hastened the assimilation process. Noyes (1907) claims that the Dutch (or German) language had disappeared "in a generation or so" which is perhaps even too mild an assessment if one considers how ethnically mixed the population was. John Ruiter's property (land on which the village of Philipsburg, named after his son Philip, now stands), for example, was surrounded by those of Harmonas Best, Alexander Taylor, John Hawver, Christjohn Wehr, and Lodwick Streit (Thomas, 1866: 16-17). Except for Taylor, these names are most likely German. In Dunham Township, the first township to be erected in Lower Canada, of the 35 grantees, seven appear to be Dutch: two Ruiters, three Reicherts (or Rykerd), and two Ten Eycks (Thomas, 1866: 110). Among other 18th century and early 19th century land grants in the area one finds other apparently Dutch names, such as Albrecht, Cuyler, Dyke, De Haren, Schouten, Van Antwerpen, and Van Vorst (P.A.C., Records of Land Grants, Eastern Townships, Vol.167-438). These again form a small proportion of the total number of settlers, insufficient to sustain the mother tongue.

The genealogy of the Dutch-descended Ten Eyck family shows the sort of development we might expect to have taken place in such families as well: Dutch Christian names until shortly after the turn of the century, but only in case of in-group marriage. Where the spouse was English, the children would be given English Christian names. While this already quite frequently happened in the 18th century, it became practically the rule thereafter. Inscriptions and epitaphs on all but the very earliest gravestones (which are missing at the Ten Eyck family cemetery) are also all in English (Mrs. M. Ellis, personal communication, 1983).

Significance of "Dutch" Loyalists to Quebec

So the "Dutch" Loyalists formed a minority who probably arrived with a certain amount of ethnic cultural baggage, but soon lost it and were totally assimilated in a short time, leaving hardly a trace of their heritage. Of what possible significance could this be for Quebec's past, present and future?

The census of 1880-1881, taken about a century after the first Loyalists arrived here, shows that in Quebec, 776 persons considered themselves of Dutch "nationality", which, one may presume, was confused with "origin", since none of these listed the Netherlands as their place of birth. They formed a negligible proportion of the population of this province, but were concentrated in certain areas especially in St. Georges de Clarenceville (Missisquoi) where 10% of the population polled declared themselves Dutch (See Table II).

Although some may have been recent arrivals from the U.S.A., it is clear that one deals here with a largely indigenous population, most of whom are the descendants of Loyalists.

In a rural environment and with pioneering days a fairly recent memory, it is perhaps not so remarkable that so many would still be clear about their ethnic origin, despite extensive intermarriage. To this day, however, there are those who remember and who take a particular interest in their heritage. The Dutch hold no monopoly on this, of course, but those who do manifest an interest in proven or presumed Dutch origin, take great pride in it (Ashton, 1974; Mrs. M. Ellis, personal communication, June 27, 1983).


Table II
Nationality and Birthplace of Population of
St. Georges de Clarenceville (Missisquoi Co.), 1880-1




British Isles




 Nova Scotia












 United States




 Not given






 Not given








Source: Dominion Bureau of Statistics - 1880-1883, Census

In Ashton's (1974) story of Lt. Col. Henry Ruiter, "toughness, endurance, (and) ambition for personal financial independence" is a recurring theme (p.8). Canada is portrayed as a land of opportunity: "... free or cheap land, financial aid, political preferment, a new country without an established elite as in the United States, attractive to those with formerly modest holdings" (1974:231.

This is similar to the thread that runs through the post- World War II Dutch immigration history, or indeed of that of other north-European groups.

More such research would be useful. It is often undertaken or financed by those who have strong ethnic feelings and the fact that to this day there are Loyalists' descendants who are interested in their Dutch origins leaves the potential for such work wide open. Other Quebec families of Dutch origin are mainly concerned with genealogical research but pride in their ancestry drives to mark old graves and maintain the many family cemeteries that dot the Eastern Townships. They attempt to save historical items and collect them in local musea. An excellend example of the significance that such ethnic feelings can have for the study of history is the Holland Society of New York whose members are Americans in every respect and display no obvious Dutch characteristics, whatever these may be. Yet, the mere fact that one can lay claim to having descended from some of the earliest settlers on this continent lends status, motivating strong support for research on the history of New Netherland, especially translations of primary documentary sources. On a smaller scale, similar efforts could certainly be undertaken in Quebec as well.

1. For a more detailed account of Canaqueese's life, see P. Lowensteyn, 1983:9

2 . Statenbijbel  with entries by Peter Dumont, in hands of Mrs. M. Ellis of Dunham, Quebec.