Loyalists and Layabouts
The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1783-1792
By Stephen Kimber
(Anchor Canada, Paperback, 9780385661737, 352pp.)
Publication Date: May 12, 2009
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Marking the 225th anniversary of loyalist landings in Canada, this important and comprehensive history is essential reading on the shaping of our country.
The few hundred loyalists who gathered at Roubalet’s Tavern in New York on the night of Saturday, November 16, 1782, shared a vision of the future intended to sustain them through the nightmare of the present. Abandoned by the king to whom they had promised their loyalty, unwelcome in the land that had so recently been theirs, they had no choice but to flee. But to where? And for what?
Their dream was to build a new and improved New York City. They would do this on the rocky shores of Roseway Bay, on the south coast of Nova Scotia, beside one of the best harbours in the world. The city would be cosmopolitan, but more refined, more royal, more loyal, and certainly more exclusive than the one they were now preparing to leave behind forever. At first, it seemed as if their dream would come true. Within the decade, however, Shelburne was a wasteland of abandoned homes and shops.
What happened? Plagued by drought, fires, and poor land quality, Shelburne’s fortunes quickly fell. Vividly told through the intertwined narratives of an eclectic collection of its early settlers, Loyalists and Layabouts is the fascinating story of Shelburne’s “rapid rise and faster fall.”
Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, and broadcaster. He is the author of one novel, Reparations, and five non-fiction books, including the bestselling Sailors, Slackers and Blind Pigs: Halifax at War.
He and his wife, Jeanie Kimber, live in Halifax.
“[A] thorough gallop through the town’s history, and a lovely romp it is. . . . A tale well told.”
—The Globe and Mail
“[A] remarkable story. . . . Kimber provides a vivid portrait of men and women and their struggles to make their lives over are both comic and tragic. . . . He offers a fascinating might-have-been in the history of Canada.”
—The Gazette (Montreal)
“Prodigious research, a dash of imagination and an engaging literary style make this a delightful and satisfying read and a serious contribution to Loyalist studies.”
—James W. St.G. Walker, History Professor, University of Waterloo
"Canada is built on immigration, but immigration has rarely been easy on the immigrants. In Loyalists and Layabouts Stephen Kimber explores the immigrant dream gone spectacularly wrong: how 15,000 Americans flowed into Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in 1783 to build "the envy of the American states" — only to see their aspirations ebb away like the Nova Scotia tide."
"What a splendid tale, full of diverse and fascinating characters. It is also an overdue reminder of the price white Loyalists paid for the choice to remain impoverished but faithful subjects of George III. Black slaves paid an even higher price, gaining freedom at the cost of justice, equality or respect. No one who reads this book can ever again be comfortable with ancestral stereotypes."
—Desmond Morton, Hiram Mills Professor of History, Emeritus, McGill University