By Helen Tieder
Although originally from Connecticut, Sarah Frost and her husband William moved to Long Island, New York when it became clear that their hometown was unwelcoming to supporters of Britain, also known as Loyalists. At the end of the American Revolution, a number of Loyalists left the United States for a variety of reasons including violence and the belief that the U.S. could not protect them in the way that they wanted. In the end, roughly half of the Loyalists who left the United States went north to the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
In 1783, at the end of the American revolutionary war, Frost, along with her husband and son, left New York on a ship destined for Nova Scotia. During the voyage, Frost kept a diary of what happened each day, beginning on May 25, 1783. Unfortunately, the original diary is missing so it is impossible to know how the versions of the diary available today compare to the version written by Frost.
This document is important because it provides a perspective of someone who did not support the actions of the colonists during the Revolution. Frost’s diary is significant in that it is a firsthand account of a group of Loyalists fleeing the United States. The following excerpt highlights entries from Sarah Frost’s diary that show the voyage from New York to Nova Scotia. Because Frost’s diary ends on June 29, 1783, little is known about her life in Nova Scotia. However, historians now know that Frost was pregnant during the voyage and gave birth soon after arriving in Canada.
May 25, 1783.— I left Lloyd’s Neck [a village on Long Island, New York] with my family and went on board the Two Sisters, commanded by Capt. Brown, for a voyage to Nova Scotia with the rest of the Loyalist sufferers. This evening the captain drank tea with us. He appears to be a very clever gentleman. We expect to sail as soon as the wind shall favor. We have very fair accommodation in the cabin, although it contains six families, besides our own. There are two hundred and fifty passengers on board.
Wednesday, June 4. — I staid on board all day. It being the King’s birthday there was such a firing of cannons and noise amongst the ships it was enough to astound anyone. At night they fired sky-rockets.
Wednesday, June 25. — Still foggy; the wind is fair, but we are obliged to lie to for the rest of the fleet. The commodore [a senior naval rank; refers to an officer who commands more than one ship at the same time] fires once an hour. The frigate [a type of warship] is near us, and judging by the bells, we are not far from some of the other ships, but we can’t see ten rods for the fog. We have measles very bad on board our ship.
Thursday, June 26. — This morning the sun appears very pleasant. The fog is gone to our great satisfaction. Ten of our ships are in sight. We are now nigh the banks of Cape Sable [an island off the coast of Nova Scotia]. At nine o’clock we begin to see land, at which we all rejoice. We have been nine days out of sight of land. At half after six we have twelve ships in sight. Our captain told me just now we should be in the Bay of Fundy [a bay located between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia] before morning. He says it is about one day’s sail after we get into the bay to Saint John’s River [a river that runs through Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick before emptying into the Bay of Fundy]. Oh, how I long to see that place, though a strange land. I am tired of being on board ship, though we have as kind a captain as ever need to live.
Saturday, June 28. — Got up in the morning and found ourselves nigh to land on each side. It was up the river St. John’s. At half after nine our captain fired a gun for a pilot; an hour later a pilot came on board, and at a quarter after one our ship anchored off against Fort Howe [a British fort in New Brunswick] in St. John’s River. Our people went on shore and brought on board spruce and gooseberries, and grass and pea vines with the blossoms on them, all of which grow wild here. They say this is to be our city. Our land is five and twenty miles up the river. We are to have here only a building place of forty feet in the front and a hundred feet back. Mr. Frost has now gone on shore in his whale boat to see how the place looks, and he says he will soon come back and take me on shore. I long to set my feet once more on land. He soon came on board again and brought a fine salmon.
Sunday, June 29. — This morning it looks very pleasant on the shore. I am just going ashore with my children to see how I like it. Later — It is now afternoon and I have been ashore. It is, I think, the roughest land I ever saw. It beats Short Rocks, indeed, I think, that is nothing in comparison; but this is to be the city, they say! We are to settle here, but are to have our land sixty miles farther up the river. We are all ordered to land to-morrow, and not a shelter to go under.
- Although not mentioned in her diary, historians know that Sarah Frost was pregnant during the voyage from New York to Nova Scotia. Does this influence your understanding of her diary entries? Why or why not?
- Sarah Frost describes the arrival of the ship in Nova Scotia and her first impressions of her new home. What do you think of Frost’s description of Nova Scotia? What difficulties might the Loyalists have faced when arriving in an unsettled area?
Bates, Walter. Kingston and the Loyalists of the “Spring Fleet.” Barnes, 1889. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015001611113.
Davies, Gwendolyn. “The Diary of Sarah Frost, 1783: The Sounds and Silences of a Woman’s Exile.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 42, no. 2 (July 2004): 57–69.
“What Happened To British Loyalists After The Revolutionary War?” NPR, July 3, 2015, https://www.npr.org/2015/07/03/419824333/what-happened-to-british-loyalists-after-the-revolutionary-war.