As pointed out in recent posts, I’ve been working on a group of new work that I am calling Icons, images that put people that I have come to know through doing some genealogical work. They are not intended to be accurate depictions of these ancestors. In each case, I have just found something compelling that sticks with me. Such is the case with the painting above, a 10″ by 20″ canvas that I call Icon: William England.
I grew up knowing almost nothing about my ancestry. In fact, I thought that a generation or two back, somebody had inadvertently tipped over a big rock and we had spurted out before they could put the rock back in place. Not a lot of esteem at that point. So it was a thrill as each new layer of our family history was uncovered. I was pleased to see how many ancestors served in all of the wars of our country going back hundreds of years. Many had fought in the American Revolution.
It turns out, on both sides of the conflict.
I can’t remember the source but I read once that during the revolution the American public was divided pretty evenly into three parts: a third that desperately wanted our independence from Britain, a third that wanted to remain part of the British Empire and a third that really didn’t care either way so long as they could live their lives as they had up to that point. The first group, of course, were the Patriots that we have come to believe was everyone living in America at that point and the second were the Loyalists who identified themselves as British living in the America colony.
One of my ancestors was a man named William England who fell into the Loyalist group. Born in Staffordshire, England, he came to America as a teen and settled in the Saratoga Springs area of New York after serving in the British 60th Regiment during the French and Indian War. He purchased a farmstead in Kingsbury, NY and was settled in when the Revolution broke out.Faced with the choice of breaking from his homeland or remaining loyal, he chose to protect what he felt was his British homeland.
Serving as a Sargeant with McAlpin’s Rangers, he fought in a number of battles including Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. British troops and families were driven north into Canada, settling in the Three-Rivers area of Quebec. It was there that he, along with many other Loyalists, settled and raised his family in the years after the war, most of his children integrating through marriage into the early families of French Canada.
Many worked their way back into America in the late 1800’s, including his grand-daughter Mary England who died in St. Regis Falls, NY in 1896. She was my 3rd great grandmother who was married to Jean-Baptiste Therrien. Many of their children’s names were anglicized from Therrien to Farmer when they moved into NY. I came across a photo of her when she was quite old and you can see the hardness of rural Canadian life written in her face.
This painting shows the conflict ( or at least the conflict I perceive) that took place in William England when the war broke out. He had to make a hard decision, one that cost him his farm and all of his possessions, in order to stay loyal to his homeland. He had to break the bond ( shown here in the form of the broken tree limb) with the America that emerged and face a new life in a territory he did not know.
We all have interesting twists in our family trees, some that take us in directions we would never imagine. While I am proud of my ancestors who fought for the American cause, I am equally pleased with the loyalty and devotion shown by William England.