The American colonists resented taxation that the British had charged upon its citizens in order to pay for their war effort against the French and the Native Americans. The British began taxing imported cargo being shipped into ports.
In 1774, the famous Boston Tea Party took place. Several men dressed as Native Americans, dumped a load of tea into the Boston Harbor to protest a tax that the British had levied against imported tea.
At the beginning of the revolution, the colonists were divided into three groups. They were:
- British loyalists
The revolution supporters joined Continental armies and/or militias. Loyalists joined the British army. Those uncommitted were forced to choose sides.
The Loyalists, known as the United Empire of Loyalists, which supported the British during the American Revolution, are those that settled in Niagara.
Although many Loyalists were British, many supporters were Europeans and Americans, those who were born in colony.
One such loyalist was John Butler. Butler and his family were residents of the Mohawk Valley in New York before they were forced to flee to the Niagara frontier in 1777. John Butler would form a group of men which went on to fight the Revolutionary forces on behalf of the British. This group of soldiers became known as “Butler’s Rangers”.
One of the original settlers in the Niagara area was Mr. Phillip Bender and his family. Bender immigrated to the East Coast from Germany in 1750. In 1776, the Bender family fled to the Niagara frontier for refuge. In 1778, Bender joined the Rangers. In 1777, James Secord and Peter Secord joined Butler’s Rangers and were among the first settlers in Queenston.
The American Revolution and divided loyalties tore apart the Iroquois Nation. Many Iroquois tribes pledged support to the British, while the Tuscarora Native Americans and the Oneida Native Americans supported the Americans.
In 1778, the British and their supporters were forced to retreat westward to the Niagara area by the Americans, along with French aid. Here settlements grew along the East side of the Niagara River.
Fort Niagara became the hub of all British and Loyalist activities. Increasing numbers of new settlers to the frontier was creating a dangerous drain on supplies and food stuffs. Crowding became problematic.
The British were reluctant to settle along the West side of the Niagara River because of a 1763 treaty, giving those lands to the Native Americans.
In 1781, Colonel John Butler purchased a parcel of land along the West bank of the Niagara River from the Mississauga Native Americans. Butler allowed the Secord brothers to settle here along with several other families including the Dolson family, the Shower family and the Lute family. With an abundance manual labour, these families prospered. The settlers had established homesteads on a 100 acre tract of land in the area of Queenston. Butler had also established his regimental headquarters here as well. During the next year, another eleven families joined those that had come to live in the Niagara. Most of the family patriarchs were current or former members of Butler’s Rangers.
On April 26th 1783, the signing of the Paris Treaty ended the American Revolutionary War, where the Americans won. The British and their loyalists were expelled from American territory. They would risk severe penalty or death if they tried to return to their previous homes.
Most of the United Empire Loyalists settled in Niagara along the west bank of the Niagara River.
On July 1st 1783, the King of England signed a proclamation to provide land grants on the remaining British territories to the Loyalists that had supported the British. Butler was instructed to purchase all the lands between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario for settlement by the Loyalists.
The new land acquisition was secured from the Mississauga Native Americans in 1784. Six hundred and twenty-nine persons settled along the West bank.
On June 24th 1784, Butler’s Rangers were disbanded.
John Graves Simcoe had commanded the British Queens Rangers during the American Revolution. At the end of this conflict, Graves returned to England.
In 1791, the British established Fort Chippawa at the mouth of the Chippawa River (Welland River) and the Niagara River. This fort which consisted of a small block house surrounded by twelve foot high cedar posts was used as a stockade and supply depot.
In June of 1794, American Envoy John Jay drafted a treaty between the Americans and the British entitled “the Jay’s Treaty”. This treaty negotiated the peaceful withdrawal of British forces from Great Lakes Posts on American soil. It also established national boundary provisions between the Americans and the British that had to be complied with by June 1st 1796.
The British had occupied Fort Niagara since taking it from the French in 1759. The British did not withdraw from Fort Niagara until 1796. From this withdrawal, the British now required fortification along the west bank of the Niagara River.
On July 26th 1792, Navy Hall in Newark became the residence of Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe and his wife.
Newark (Niagara on the Lake) had become the first capital of Upper Canada. The first sitting of the Legislature took place on September 17th, 1792.
Lieutenant Governor Simcoe was convinced that war with the Americans was inevitable and that Newark would be in harms way, so he changed the capital city of Upper Canada from Newark to York (Toronto) which he founded in 1793.
In 1802, the construction of Fort George was completed.
Upper Canada was divided into four districts: Lunenburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg and Nassau. Niagara was part of the Nassau district.