- “He Hath Ceased to Be a Citizen”Stephen Burroughs, Late Loyalists, Lower Canada
In 1799, one year after publishing the first volume of his Memoirs, Stephen Burroughs left New England and relocated to the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada. Living in a series of rural communities just north of the Vermont border, Burroughs maintained a farm, oversaw a local mill, and actively counterfeited the paper money of US banks prior to the War of 1812. Like the British province of Upper Canada, the Eastern Townships were a prime destination for Yankee emigrants resettling in the decades following the American Revolution.1 Scholars including Alan Taylor and John I. Little have argued that these “late Loyalists” abandoned the early Republic in response to offers of Canadian land made after 1791 by the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe. The term late Loyalist describes thousands of emigrants who rejected life in the new United States in favor of cheap land, low taxes, and little oversight in the way of state authority. And as Stephen Mihm has demonstrated, those same lax arrangements proved to be attractive to criminals and counterfeiters. Although the largely French-speaking region of Lower Canada’s St. Lawrence Valley attracted fewer emigrants than the Anglophone communities of Upper Canada, Burroughs and others who relocated north of the Vermont border would have been attracted by the region’s geographic and cultural isolation, the scarcity of local justices of the peace, and its distance from the Court of the King’s Bench, located in Montreal (47).
Literary scholars working in the post-Revolutionary era have yet to recognize that Burroughs belonged to a generation of Americans who rejected US citizenship and sought to reinvent themselves as British subjects in a borderlands region.2 I argue in this essay that Burroughs and his contemporaries in Lower Canada form a neglected chapter in the afterlife of Loyalism, carrying forward the narrative of Loyalist opposition to the [End Page 591] War of Independence by revealing how successive waves of migrants—the late Loyalists—came into conflict over who owned Lower Canada’s settlements. As we will see, struggles over land between previously settled Loyalists and these later emigrants became the central topic of several early nineteenth-century Canadian publications that identify local spaces as the site of imperial injustice in post-Revolutionary British North America. Putting Burroughs into this British-Canadian context—one of resettlement, ambiguous loyalties, and ruined fortunes—offers a foothold into the region’s controversies while also revealing a web of economic, legal, and political entanglements that bring Lower Canada into the purview of early American literary studies and ongoing historiographical work on the loyalist diaspora. Although an utter failure by virtue of having lost his contest with the law, Burroughs winds up documenting an insider’s perspective on the late Loyalist predicament. In keeping with historiography that argues that “localism, not nationalism” defined culture and society in the Eastern Townships, Burroughs becomes an unlikely but illuminating advocate of the late Loyalists in the localizing, imperializing, and borderlands spaces of post-Revolutionary British North America (Little, Loyalties 10). The breakdown of local authority in Lower Canada described by Burroughs necessitated that the late Loyalists appealed to, and identified with, an imperial rule of law that local elites had supplanted through a system of personal and political privileges. By narrating what happens after he left the United States, Burroughs’s Canadian writings offer a literary recollection of a category of alien subjects who were caught within a local system of rule that deemed them unwelcome. Consequently, some of the late Loyalists described themselves as inassimilable to both British-Canadian forms of law and the political and economic structures of the United States that Burroughs and others like him rejected.
Twists of fortune define the life of Stephen Burroughs, and so it should come as no surprise that a rebellious criminal would eventually come to identify with the rule of law as symbolized by the British Constitution. Born in 1766 to a Connecticut minister’s family, Burroughs acquired notoriety for a series of youthful exploits that led to a full-blown life of crime. Expelled from Dartmouth...