Ephraim DeForest – The Shoemaker’s Ultimate Fate
This is the story of an industrious tanner and shoemaker from Redding, Connecticut, and how he found himself on the losing end of the Revolutionary War and on a ship sailing north for the mouth of the St. John River. It will illustrate the risks of choosing sides in a conflict too early and the rewards for sticking with that conviction.
Ephraim DeForest moved to Redding sometime before 1764 where he married local girl Sarah Betts. We are very fortunate to have available a fascinating portrait of the political and social structure of Redding at the time of the American Revolution. W.E. Grumann wrote a book in 1908 titled The Revolutionary Soldiers of Redding and buried in its long rambling subtitle is the phrase “with some Account of the Loyalists of the Town and Vicinity; their Organization, their Efforts and their Sacrifices in Behalf of the Cause of their King; and their Ultimate Fate.” The town had a strong loyalist tradition but also a revolutionary fervour. Ephraim joined a group of Tories called the Redding Loyalist Association which wrote an open letter of February 23, 1775 to Rivington’s New York Gazetteer. The letter condemned the actions of the Patriot Congress and declared their allegiance to the King. The first letter was not signed but after a series of letters to the editor both condemning and supporting the resolutions contained in the first letter, a full list of signatories was published, including the name of Ephraim DeForest.
The Battle of Lexington came two months after the publication of the letter of February 23rd, and the War was on. By November 1776 Ephraim had to abandon his home which included a house, barn, tannery, shop, 2 horses, 3 cows, 36 sheep, 2 swine, and 15 acres of land, which was a fairly sizeable estate for a 34-year-old man. His land was confiscated and sold off through a series of legal actions in 1777 and 1778 in consequence of his political stance.
Ephraim twice submitted Memorials to the British authorities showing losses of £271 30s. The first one he signed on February 17, 1786 and the second on January 18, 1787.
Unfortunately, the commissioners appointed to consider such losses only approved compensation of £70.
Ephraim’s persecution in America and his service to the British between 1776 and 1783 are well articulated in his claim for losses memorials along with those of others connected with him. At one point he and Joseph Lyon hid out in the woods for 33 days and built a cave to shelter other loyalists. After leaving the Redding area Ephraim volunteered with the British forces, first as an ensign under Brigadier General Browne (Governor Montfort Browne of New Providence in the Bahamas) at Long Island in November 1776. He then stated that he acted as a guide to General William Tryon during the expedition against Danbury, Connecticut in April 1777. He served two years in Col. DeLancy’s Brigade. During this period he was arrested twice and claimed to have suffered greatly in prison. He served at Lloyd’s Neck, Long Island under Col. (later Major) Joshua Upham as a Lieutenant in the King’s American Dragoons. I have yet to find his name on a muster roll or pay list of any of these military units where he volunteered, but Major Upham was one of the witnesses to his memorial claim describing this service. There is a June 15, 1782 muster roll entry for his son Nathan, who was a private in Major Upham’s Company of the King’s American Dragoons at age 16.
While on Long Island, NY during 1782 and 1783 Ephraim and family were recommended for allowances to be paid to loyalists. He was also placed on a list of those willing to go from Lloyd’s Neck, New York to New Brunswick (then part of Nova Scotia). Ephraim and family boarded the Union transport ship which left Huntington Bay (Lloyd’s Neck) as part of the Spring Fleet on April 16, 1783. His wife and three children, two over 10 and one under 10, were listed on the ship’s list. The Union arrived at the St. John River on May 10.
Ephraim lived at Maugerville, near Fredericton, from July 15, 1783 until the following March when he moved to Kings County. In a January 27, 1786 land petition he was granted (with James Codner) Lot 2, a 200 acre portion of the 9,382 acre land grant in Common #16 located on the northwest side of Kennebecasis Bay. The next deed transfer recorded on this property was Ephraim to Samuel Keirstead in 1823. He was named in nine other New Brunswick Land Petitions between 1785 and 1791 and received several grants.
Details of his descendants and his circumstances between 1787 and 1817 are beyond the scope of this post but a large number of direct DeForest offspring made a lasting impact on New Brunswick. Ephraim moved in with Azor Hoyt on the Lower Norton shore of the Kennebecasis River on June 20, 1817 at the age of 77. He died ten years later on April 13, 1827, followed five years later by his wife Sarah (Betts) DeForest on December 27, 1832. His grandson Henry, son of Nathan, also became a shoemaker and his 2 x great grandson Henry Josiah became a well-known landscape painter.
Ephraim’s status as a Loyalist has not yet been proven via the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada but he is listed in their Directory of Loyalists. We may not yet have found a record of his volunteer service on military pay or muster lists, but he and witnesses, including Major Upham, swore to the fact that he did serve his King. He signed his name to a vow of allegiance published in a newspaper, he lost his land and holdings in Redding through judicial proceedings which declared him a traitor, he was recommended for removal to Nova Scotia by the British authorities, and he received compensation of £70 for his losses and multiple land grants in New Brunswick. I think it is fair to say that the ultimate fate of Ephraim and his family was indeed challenging, but also positive.
Notes on sources:
All of the books and periodicals listed below contain references to Ephraim DeForest as a Loyalist.
William Edgar Grumann, The Revolutionary Soldiers of Redding, Connecticut, pp 183-4 (Hartford Press: The Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company, 1908).
David Russell Jack, New Brunswick Loyalists of the War of the American Revolution in The New York Biographical and Genealogical Record, Volume XXXVI, p 28 (New York: New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1905).
Virginia H. Olson, Notes and Sources: Connecticut Loyalists Who Went to Canada in Connecticut Ancestry, vol. 17:1, pp. 18-25, Sept. 1974; vol. 17:2, pp. 51-59, Nov. 1974 (Stamford: Connecticut Ancestry Society, Inc.).
Lorenzo Sabine, Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution, Vol. II, p 505 (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1864).
W.H. Siebert, The Refugee Loyalists of Connecticut in Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Series III, Volume X, p 78 (Ottawa: The Royal Society of Canada, 1916).
Esther Clark Wright, The Loyalists of New Brunswick (Fredericton: self-published, 1955).
Most of the above tertiary sources seem to derive their information from one or more of the following primary and secondary sources which I have examined: the Memorials of Ephraim DeForest and others in connection with claims for losses in the Revolutionary War, the British Headquarters Papers, New York City 1774-1783 (Carleton Papers - available in The Loyalist Collection), Memorials of New Brunswick land grants and petitions, records of court proceedings in Redding, CT, and the James Rivington Gazetteer. Ephraim’s birth and a record of his children and ancestors are summarized in Samuel Orcutt, A History of the Old Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport (Fairfield County Historical Society, 1886). A history of the more ancient DeForest family can be found in J.W. DeForest, The DeForests of Avesnes (and of New Netherland): A Huguenot Thread in American Colonial History, 1494 to the Present Time (New Haven, CT: The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., 1900) and Emily Johnston DeForest, A Walloon Family in America (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1914). For more about Ephraim’s 2 x great grandson Henry Josiah DeForest see an article by the author in the Fall 2019 issue of the New Brunswick Genealogy Society’s Generations.
Graham Segger, FCPA, FCA is a retired chartered accountant living in Port Credit, Ontario. He enjoys researching and writing about a wide variety of history and nature subjects.
SUBJECTS: Ephraim DeForest, Hoyt, Joshua Upham, Rivington, Kings County, Kennebecasis, Lower Norton, Redding, Connecticut, New Brunswick, loyalist, shoemaker