The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

Recently I’ve been looking into some Loyalist records from early Canada. Thanks to government-funded digitisation programmes such as Héritage and the work of Library and Archives Canada, many sets of records once only available in the British Library or on 1960s-era microfilm at select national libraries are now online and free to access.

The digitised, handwritten documents found in such collections as the Upper Canada Land Petitions and the Haldimand Papers (two sets I’ve used quite a bit) also serve as excellent reminders that just because a source has been put up online does not mean that it will be easy to search through, read, or use. Even databases with an integrated online search application can give difficult or incomplete results due to many different factors. First, searches are often limited to name and location: content or subject is left out. This is promising for family history and genealogy research, but what if I want to know about early settlers to a specific region or find examples of cultural interactions between different groups? I’d have to go through page by page. The search engine (and, in some ways, the presentation of the collection) has therefore been aimed at genealogists rather than historians.


Excerpt from the Petition of Jacob Anguish to Lieut. Col. Peyster of Niagara, dated 4 August 1784. The Haldimand Papers, H-1448, 399 (pp. 419-21), Images 335-7.

The search results may also be affected by the quality of penmanship and the skill of the archivist. Unlike many contemporary online databases of digitised, type-written documents, these records can not be searched automatically for a certain word using a browser’s find function. Any search results have to have been inputted by someone and this leaves room for errors and omissions (not that computerised searches are infallible!). Documents may have been misread or key elements, such as names, may be simply illegible.

Finally, these collections have been digitised as complete microfilm reels, not volumes, meaning that it is the format and limitations of film and the archival practices of the 1960s that is being reproduced online. As a result, search results include information meant for archivists and not the general user, online researcher, or family historian. In fact, the search applications and their results page are regularly not linked to the digitised copy of the source, or even to the online database as a whole.

For example, you can search the Land Petitions for Upper Canada by first and last name and/or place here at Library and Archives Canada, but the actual digitised documents are in LAC’s archived pages here. This can lead to hours of hunting online for the right database and then the page of the right volume that matches the specific details listed in what was originally a simple search. There are also cases in which only some of the records revealed in the online search have been digitised. You may still need to venture to a national library or the British Library to see the contents of the document. This can be very frustrating.

However, the hunt can be well worth it. A while back I was looking into some of the Loyalists in my own family history and starting to dig through the Haldimand Papers. Unlike the Land Petitions for Upper Canada 1763-1865 and the Land Boards of Upper Canada 1765-1804, the Haldimand Papers do not have an online search page for names or places mentioned within the text. I had thankfully come across the details of record for one of my ancestors in the published work of another researcher. It still took me almost an hour to track down the correct pages in the records, but it was great to finally find Jacob Anguish, my 6x great-grandfather, in the Haldimand Papers.

There is so much potential in these documents that has been left hidden by the partial or total absence of digitised finding aids, the decision to present them as microfilm reels rather than as the original volumes of records, the lack of additional metadata, and the focus on creating finding tools for family historians who are familiar with the archives in question and not researchers with broader interests (as evidenced by the prominent genealogy banner on Héritage’s homepage and the inclusion of ‘Genealogy and Family History‘ as the very first link on Library and Archive Canada’s homepage‘s list of Popular Topics).

I think that these databases are wonderful resources for family history researchers and historians alike; their organisation and search functions could go a long way towards making the digitised documents and collections more accessible and useful for everyone.

Postcard from Glenfinnan


Glenfinnan Viaduct – photo credit: L. Flewelling

This is such a lovely valley, with the enormous viaduct stretching its length.  The viaduct was completed in 1898.  It was made especially famous in the Harry Potter movies, of course, but it also featured a film that played a major role in shaping my love of otters and suspicion of people named Angus: Ring of Bright Water. (“I thought it was just an otter!”  Talk about scarring for a small child.)


Glenfinnan Viaduct – Photo Credit: L. Flewelling

Glenfinnan was also the site of the Jacobite Rising’s beginnings in 1745, and the valley features a picturesque monument to the ’45, built in 1815.  The Glenfinnan Monument is a property of the National Trust for Scotland.


’45 Monument – Photo Credit: L. Flewelling

“Unspeakable Things Unspoken” at Nottingham Contemporary

On Wednesday, 12 October 2016, a number of slavery historians, early career researchers, postgraduate and college students, artists, educators, and members of the public gathered at Nottingham Contemporary to witness and engage in a series of ‘Dialogues’ that were tied together by the theme, ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken’ Transatlantic Slavery – A Public Conversation. The day was hosted by the Centre for Research in Race and Rights at the University of Nottingham. I was able to attend the first day, learned some new things, and was given the opportunity to view a topic that I know quite well from some new perspectives. I’m so glad that I went.

What struck me most was the way in which the day and the physical space had both been structured to create opportunities for discussion on a wide range of topics related to historic slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Attendees were grouped in tables with approx. 8-10 seats, college students from Hackney had been invited and were mixed in with great success with some of the biggest historians of British slavery and abolition working in Britain right now. We watched panels of 2 to 3 presenters and a chair discuss their work and answer questions for 20 to 40 minutes before being actively encouraged as audience members to continue the dialogue at our tables, leading to some great discussions that were enhanced by multiple perspectives on the themes of the day.

The day was well organised, well thought out, and well implemented. Congratulations are definitely owed to Dr Katie Donington and her colleagues for the massive amount of work they must have put into organising such a large event. If you’re interested in finding out more, there will be several more related workshops happening London, Liverpool, and Hull over the next six months with a focus on slavery and art, public history, and education, so keep an eye out!

Slavery and the Arts, Pt. 2

Last week, inspired by a talk I was asked to put together for Black History Month, I wrote an introduction to looking at the history of depictions of slavery in British artwork and across a range of artistic genres. You can (re)visit my introductory post here. This week, I’d like to look at just a few examples of slavery in the arts to demonstrate some of the information that we can gather from artistic works.

I should note that my postgraduate research centred on identifying proslavery arguments, works, individuals and societies, and their efforts to combat popular abolitionism in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, up to the mid-1830s. As such, much of my work on the history of slavery in art was focussed on pro-slavery works, and the items I’ve selected here reflect this experience.

It’s important to remember that just because a piece of artwork, literature, music, or propaganda seems to state or promote one side of the slavery debates, this does not necessarily mean that the author or publisher held those beliefs. It could have been that he or she (although probably ‘he’ at this point in time) was aware of the market and what the public wanted, in order to maximise their chances of sales. In other cases the author or publisher clearly states that they are trying to contribute to the slavery debates. Finally, in some cases the author is an anti-slavery or West Indian society or representative, and so  the connection and motivation behind the work doesn’t need to be inferred.

Political Prints and Caricatures: ‘The Blind Enthusiast’, published by William Holland


The Blind Enthusiast, pub. William Holland (1792)

The Blind Enthusiast is a very interesting piece. It is a political print, a format that was gaining popularity amongst the politically-aware and active elites in London during this period. Politicians and wealthier Londoners could collect prints: many more could view them in shop windows in London. To be a good print, the characters and scene needed to be recognisable. Wilberforce stands blindfolded in the centre of the scene, therefore his image must have been recognisable by members of the British public by the early 1790s.

The print is making a commonly-advanced anti-abolitionist argument: that the work, information, and propaganda being produced by abolitionists (here embodied by Wilberforce) is actually setting the colonies alight. The islands are labelled, just to make sure that the viewer sees that it is Britain’s West Indian colonies that are being enflamed.

At this time and across the following three decades, abolitionists would be charged again and again that by regularly challenging colonial slavery in Parliament (Wilberforce brought in bills to abolish the slave trade annually), sending missionaries to the colonies to inform and convert slaves, and spreading conflicting ‘incendiary’ information about British abolition through colonial newspapers, they were damaging master-slave relations and threatening the ‘peace’ in the islands.

Environmental Theatre: Using blackface to gain attention and support

‘The delusions practised, too, in order to work upon the people, and excite their sympathy, were of a ridiculous nature; and when his noble friend (the Lord Chancellor) stood for Yorkshire, there were persons led about in chains, with blackened faces, in order to rouse the feelings of the people.’

Alexander Baring, House of Commons, 15 April 1831

On 15 April 1831, MP Thomas Fowell Buxton brought in a motion for the abolition of slavery. The motion is introduced with a lengthy speech, typical of motions for abolition and emancipation at the time, that discusses the history of British slavery in the West Indies, what is believed to be the current state of slavery there, and the pressing demand for abolition. In the discussion that follows his motion receives substantial support and also some strong opposition. In the end, the debate is adjourned until after the forthcoming Reform debates.

I’d like to take minute here to look at one element of a sceptical MP’s argument. MP Alexander Baring presents a lengthy speech in defence of the colonies that points out holes and errors in the beliefs that underpin the stated arguments for abolition. In his speech, he intentionally downplays the importance of the ‘5,600 petitions’ by suggesting that, while they may indeed contain tens of thousands of signatures, they were all created by the same society. He then goes on to say the abolitionists have been going to towns and creating spectacles through blackface and and chains to bring awareness of colonial slavery to the wider British public.

I think such activities could be interpreted as early environmental theatre. Environmental theatre aims to remove the distinction between the audience/observer and the actors/show by typically removing the need for a stage and instead performing on the streets, in public forums and venues, with or without notice. The action takes place within the audience, and the audience may or may not know that they are viewing a planned or somewhat scripted performance. It can be used to draw attention to causes, which Baring believes to have been the intention here, and the nature of this type of theatre encourages the public to get involved, take a role, learn more, and be motivated to then do something. In Baring’s opinion, spectacles such as these may have unfairly affected both voting and the signing of petitions.

Wedgwood’s ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’ blue jasperware


Many of us are familiar with the phrase, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’, and the associated image of a kneeling enslaved man of African descent in chains. Josiah Wedgwood, a prominent abolitionist and the founder of the Wedgewood pottery business, worked with The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade to place the iconic image on the famous medallions.  The resulting image was a massive seller in the 1790s and into the 1800s across a range of formats. Therefore, this was a commercially-successful image.

Wedgwood’s medallions in particular became a popular fashion accessory for women, but the image was also used on Wedgwood’s famous blue jasperware. Through the Society’s efforts and those of Wedgwood and his descendants (he died in 1795), they made this image and the plea for help with the abolitionist cause recognisable across Britain. At the same time, they also made a lot of money for their business and their cause.

This is a very specific image, however, that is being promoted and shared here for the purposes of spreading information and selling goods. It is the image of a man who is begging for help. He is unable to help himself yet he wants help, he is physically restrained by chains, and he is almost naked and therefore even more vulnerable. The Society is sharing a safe, reassuring, commercially-viable image with the British public, one that insists that enslaved Africans need help and that they are not a threat. The man in the picture is child-like, docile even, in need of paternal care. There is no sense of African agency or strength here. It was a success and has left a lasting impression.

You’ll find my list of suggested readings in the first of these two posts on slavery and the arts. If you’d like more information and many more examples of proslavery arts and culture in Britain in the 1700s and 1800s, why not check out Chapter 3 of Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition.

Colorado Orange Lodges: A Preliminary Survey

I’ve been particularly interested in the Loyal Orange Institution of the United States of America and its development as compared to that of the Orange Order in other countries.  The first Orange Lodges in America were established in the 1820s and the United States Orange Institution gained National Grand Lodge status in 1870.  The Orange Order was strongest in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York, but were as far-flung as Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Idaho, and even one lodge in Cordova, Alaska.

In my home state of Colorado, there were 17 lodges listed in the Orange Ledger, which I’ve mapped out below:


Map source: L. Flewelling

Denver had four lodges, with the earliest founded in 1893.  How long Orange presence lasted is unclear, but I had a look at a 1945 city directory a few weeks ago and there was an Orange lodge plus a ladies’ auxiliary listed.  (As a side note, the fact that “secret societies” get their own section in old city directories is one of the small joys of life.)

The bulk of the lodges were in mining towns, such as Leadville, Cripple Creek, Aspen, and Ward.  One thing I found particularly interesting when I was examining Leadville’s Irish population a few weeks ago was that the Leadville Orange Lodge was founded right around the same time as the town’s big miners’ strike in 1896.  Did the Scotch-Irish of Leadville want to separate themselves from the Irish Americans who led the strike?  The creation of a new lodge in Leadville at this time is especially odd to me as the population of Leadville had gone drastically down since the 1893 silver crash.  Most miners were moving on, either to Denver or to other mines in the west.

Cripple Creek’s Orange lodge was also founded soon after its strike (the only one in Colorado where the state came down on the side of the miners) in 1894.  This strike was also heavily associated with Irish American leadership.

When their Orange lodges were in existence, Boulder and Colorado Springs would have transitioned from mining towns to prominent cities in Colorado.  Pueblo was an industrial town with steel as its focus.  Fort Morgan was a rural, agriculture-based community.  Montrose and Florence were both regional railroad hubs.

It seems that there is no real pattern to which towns Orange lodges would emerge in, as there was no single economic sector which dominated.  The lodges were strongest around the turn of the century, but then quickly faded everywhere in the state except for Denver.  The State Orange Lodge of Colorado appears to have only met between 1897 and 1901.  After that point the lodges would have been unaffiliated with a state lodge structure.

I’m looking forward to continuing to pursue more details about the Orange Lodges in Colorado and throughout the United States, especially how the lodges remained connected to Ireland and interacted with Irish Americans in their local communities.

An Introduction to Slavery and the Arts, Pt. 1

Over the summer I was asked to take part in Glasgow’s Black History Month programme of events and started putting together a talk on ‘Slavery in the Arts in the Era of [British] Abolition’. I had previously looked at the importance of artwork, literature, and drama to the anti-abolitionists in establishing and demonstrating the existence of a culture of proslavery for both my PhD thesis and my book, Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). I also wanted to share some of my thoughts here on some of the uses of artistic depictions of slavery during abolition.


William Holland (publisher), ‘The Blind Enthusiast’, 1792  — Image credit: The British Museum

Works of art are vital sources of information. In theory, many types of artistic works could be seen, heard, and understood by a wider range of individuals than written works such as a periodical, newspaper, or pamphlet. They contain visual details that might not otherwise of have been captured by an author’s printed words. Information about Africans and people of African descent in the colonies was shared with a wide swath of the British public and British politicians by Britain’s anti-slavery societies and their opposition. Many of these artistic works could certainly have been created with the intention of swaying public opinion, but their form, being pieces of art, meant that they could also be passed off as a simply pieces of art.

There seems to have been four central uses of artwork, drama, song, literature, etc.  that depict images of the enslaved in Britain in the later 18th and early 19th centuries:

  • Art as a Leisure Pursuit
  • Art as Information
  • Art as Propaganda
  • Art as a Commercial Endeavour

The divisions between the categories can be quite blurred, as you’ll see, depending on the author’s intention, the date of creation/publication, and the display or distribution of the item.

‘Reading’, analysing, and understanding artistic sources requires a range of techniques that are drawn from the fields of history, drama, art history, and language studies. Items need to be studied within a wider context:

  • Where and when was it created?
  • Who was the creator/artist/author?
  • Who might have seen the work?
  • Why might it have been made?
  • How does the piece compare to other similar contemporary works?
  • Are there any contemporary records that mention it? If so, where are the records from and what do they say about it?

Art is also an interpretation of its subject, so any analysis of a piece of artwork would be an interpretation of an interpretation.

This was a period of growth in the middling classes. People were encouraged to go out, visit newly opened galleries, expanded theatres, and circulating libraries in cities across Britain, share ideas in cafes with likeminded, politically-aware individuals, and develop ‘taste’ and an appreciation for the arts. The upper middling and upper classes also had the money and time to support the arts, read widely and build up a small home library, attend the theatre, collect some favourite political prints or caricatures, and have portraits painted to display within their homes.

People bought or borrowed books and tended to read aloud, allowing for others to share in the experience. Women will still discouraged from attending the theatre (due to the threat of being ‘corrupted’ by the experience); this demonstrates a heightened awareness of the theatre as political and influential, as well as the true mix of crowds in the stalls. Literacy rates were growing among men and women. Novels, known more in the 18th century as histories, romances, etc., became more popular and more common as literacy rates grew.

Portraiture was the most popular genre of art in 18th century Britain. Political prints, however, were a key part of making a politician or other individual recognisable to the wider public. Meanwhile, hundred of poems about slavery and the colonies were also published. Most of these were anti-slavery in nature, but a few supported the institution of slavery or the colonies in general.

A few key things have shaped how slavery would be depicted in the arts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. First, by defining or classifying Africans and people of African descent as ‘black’ and Britons/Europeans as ‘white’, this automatically places the two in direct opposition with one another. This opposition can be magnified through an artist’s paint choice or pen strokes. In a pen and ink political print, for example, a ‘white’ subject might not have any colour or shading added to their skin, whereas a ‘black’ might be completely coloured in.

Second, as the century went on, we see that for the first time African or black subjects are being depicted as ‘familiar’ rather than ‘foreign’ subjects in some forms of art. This suggests a growing awareness or even a sense of familiarity of slavery or the role of Africans in the British colonies and in Britain. Abolitionists were striving to make the plight of African slaves on slave ships and in the colonies a familiar subject to the British public. They wanted to convince Britons that they could and should help induce Parliament to make a change and vote for abolition. Perhaps this shift in the role of blacks in British art is a sign of their efforts and denoted their later success.

I hope this has served as an informative, interesting introduction to art in the era of British abolition. Next week I’ll look at some specific pieces to show how art (and slaves) were used across the genres of artwork, song, literature, and drama.

Suggested Reading:

Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700-1840 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal, eds., Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Jan Marsh, ed., Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900 (Aldershot: Manchester Art Galleries, 2006).

Marcia Pointon, Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993).

Hazel Waters, Racism on the Victorian Stage: Representations of Slavery and the Black Character (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Karina Williamson, ed., Contrary Voices: Representations of West Indian Slavery, 1657-1834  (Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2008).

Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representation of Slavery in England and America 1780-1865 (New York: Routledge, 2000).

Gibraltar and Brexit

When I switched on the tv to watch the returns for the EU referendum on the evening of 23 June, the first voting area to report its result was Gibraltar.  The numbers were read off: 19,322 votes for Remain, 823 votes for Leave, with a turnout of 83.5%.

With 95.9% of the vote, Gibraltar was the top area of support for Remain.

United Kingdom EU referendum 2016 area results.svg

Map Credit: wikimedia commons

While the end result of the overall vote certainly captured my attention that day and subsequently, my interest was still piqued for what the Brexit result would mean for Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is one of fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories, under British control since the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.  Early on, it was conquered successively by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Visigoths, who each valued its strategic location on the Mediterranean Sea.  Islamic forces conquered Gibraltar as part of the conquest of Iberia, in 711; Spain retook control in 1462.

During the War of Spanish Succession, Gibraltar was captured from the Spanish and ceded to the British, who faced down subsequent sieges by Spain and consolidated their control by 1784.

Spain has continually disputed the status of Gibraltar as a British territory, making this the crucial element of how Brexit will impact the territory.

Even before the referendum, José Manuel García-Margallo (Spain’s acting Foreign Minister) remarked that it was “perfectly possible” for Spain to close the border with Gibraltar if the UK left the European Union, although he also stated that this was not something the Spanish government had specifically considered.  The border with Spain had previously been closed between 1969 and 1985, only fully reopening when Spain joined the European Community.  García-Margallo also told Spanish National Radio that if Britain were to leave the EU, “we would be talking about Gibraltar the very next day.”

In 2002, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal to share sovereignty with Spain.  Now, many in Gibraltar see the EU as a force that aids in keeping a positive relationship with the Spanish.  With Spain in control of its only land border, freedom of movement could be at stake, as about 10,000 people cross the border with Spain for work each day.  And the question of sovereignty also will continue to surface.  After the Brexit vote, García-Margallo stated, “The Spanish flag on the Rock is much closer than before.”

Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, dismissed the idea of a change in sovereignty but has pursued a separate deal to keep Gibraltar in the EU.

What will it mean for this part of Britain on the European mainland to no longer be part of the European Union?  How open will the border with Spain remain when it is no longer an EU border?  And how will this impact the lives and identity of the people of Gibraltar in the long run?

H800 Technology-Enhanced Learning: Reflections

I recently finished an online postgraduate course on technology-enhanced learning that forms part of the Open University‘s Online and Distance Education postgraduate programme. This module introduced students to the key texts, terms, and debates when it comes to technology-enhanced learning from both the practitioners’ and students’ perspectives. One of its greatest strengths was that built into the class were opportunities to seek out new technologies and apply what we were learning and finding to our own unique circumstances.

The Open University’s H800 students were from all over the world and in a wide range of professions, including teachers and educators from all levels as well as tech professionals in higher education and the private sector. It was a great mix and we’ve all learned a lot from one another as well as from the course materials. One of the things that surprised me most was the strong sense of community that developed outside of the module’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the online course area provided by the Open University.

While we were provided with online forums and the ability to video chat with fellow students within the VLE, more than two dozen of us migrated many of our conversations and discussions to a private Facebook page. I also connected with fellow students via Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts on my computer and mobile phone. I think this reflects several of the goals of the module: 1) Introduce us to a range of technologies; 2) Apply these to our own work; 3) Take ownership of our learning; and 4) Create a supportive community of practice.

Not only have I begun to use new technologies to meet a range of needs for my informal and formal learning and work as a practitioner, but I now have connections to individuals with a range of expertise that I could draw upon in the future. For example, I’ve already spoken with a few about developing the Moodle (VLE) for Slavery in the Americas that’s starting soon. I also think that as some of my posts over the past few months have demonstrated, I’ve begun to look differently at some of the technologies that I was already using in new ways, such as for informal learning, teaching potential, supporting communication, online community building, etc.

H800, Technology-enhanced learning, was as much about teaching and learning theory and debates as it was about the technology. This has been very helpful. I’ve been introduced to the language, the techniques, and the research that underpins much of the teaching and innovations that are taking place in universities across the western world. Its been eye-opening. For example, I’m excited about the possibilities of making the ‘flipped classroom’ (where instructors film their lectures to be provided to students online ahead of class so that class time can be devoted to interactive activities such as problem solving, group work, and support) a common site on university campuses.

I’m now understanding why universities and their libraries are refurbishing to provide social spaces within their buildings and providing better Wi-Fi capacity. Both the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, for example, have revamped their main libraries to encourage and facilitate technology-enhanced group work and discussion. I’m also intrigued by the controversy over whether the ‘Google generation’/ millennials are really all that different from other ‘generations’. Do they learn differently and require different teaching strategies from their instructors than previous students? Or is it all hype? Seeing as by some definitions I am a millennial, it’s an interesting thought!

I took on H800 for general professional development and to strengthen my online course creation skills. I’m coming away with a strong understanding of current teaching and learning theory and practices, awareness of the possibilities of new and existing technologies for teaching and learning, and some great connections and good friends. It’s been a good, intense 32 weeks!


Postcard from Drumburgh


Hadrian’s Wall, Drumburgh – Photo credit: Paula Dumas

These photos are from just outside the town of Drumburgh, along the most western section of Hadrian’s Wall. In the medieval period, Drumburgh was a prime location for the English to look out for regular waves of Scottish raiders thanks to its flat, marshy lands, fortified farmhouse, and views of the Scottish borders.


Sheep near Drumburgh — Photo credit: Paula Dumas


Hadrian’s Wall, Drumburgh — Photo credit: Paula Dumas