July 30, 2013
The following is from a 2008 Loyalist Trails newsletter posted on the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada website.
Dutch Uncles — and Loyalists, by Stephen Davidson
There is an old expression about speaking to someone “like a Dutch uncle”. It meant that you were talking in a firm or severe manner. However, on a chilly Tuesday in February of 1778, two Dutch uncles who were anything but strict and hostile stood before the loyalist compensation board. Martin and John Middagh had travelled to Montreal from near Williamsburg (Ontario) to plea for their two nieces and two nephews. Henry, Charles, Rachel and Mary Bush had lost their loyalist parents during the American Revolution.
The records of the loyalist commissioners’ proceedings contain the claims that refugees of the American Revolution made to the British government for their losses sustained during the war. So much was not put down on paper during the proceedings –beyond short stories and lists– that we are left trying to imagine all that families, widows, and orphans had to endure during the War of Independence. One story of Dutch-descended loyalists from New York has managed to survive, giving us a poignant look into the past.
The four Bush children had once called Marbletown, New York their home. Like so many other towns in the Thirteen Colonies, Marbletown was deeply divided by the American Revolution. It was originally a Dutch settlement; its early Huguenot families included Middaghs, Bosches, Koks, and Van Meterens. Patriotic fervor was so strong that for a month’s time Marbletown became the rebel capital of New York. The Committee of Safety met there in October and November of 1777.
Marbletown was obviously not a good place to be a loyalist. Born in 1747, Hendrick Bosch (or Henry Bush) grew up in Marbletown where he eventually inherited a 50 acre farm from his father and became a weaver. He married Neeltjen Middagh who lived in nearby Kingston. She was the sister of John and Martin Middagh. All four of Henry and Neeltjen’s children were born before the outbreak of war; in 1776 Henry Jr. was six years old, and Mary, the youngest, was just two.
Henry Bush was remembered as one who was “from the first a steady Loyalist … who always declared in favor of the British Government”. Rebel persecution forced the Bushes to flee to the safety of the British lines along the Delaware River. There the Bushes began to clear four or five acres. However, the family’s land, horses, loom, tackling, and furniture had to be abandoned when Henry joined Brant’s Volunteers, a unit of loyalist fighters under the leadership of the Mohawk warrior, Joseph Brant.
This First Nations ally of the British was so highly regarded that men of all races were eager to join him in his fight against patriots along the frontiers of Pennsylvania and New York. Henry Bush served in several of Brant’s scouting parties and was almost killed when rebels fired on him in one engagement.
In 1779 Henry and Neeltjen Bush “came into Canada with the other loyalists who were driven from their homes”, settling in a place called “Masishe”. There Neeltjen was reunited with her brothers John and Martin Middagh. Within a year Henry Bush was dead; Neeltjen died at almost the same time. Martin Middagh did not give the cause of his sister’s death, but given the smallpox epidemic, it may be that both Bushes died of the virus that had killed so many on both sides of the revolution.
Martin Middagh opened his home to his sister’s four children, looking after them for eight years. When he appeared before the compensation board in Montreal in 1788, Henry Jr. was 18, Rachel was 17, Charles 15, and Mary 14. In the language of the times, the four were considered “all infants”.
Rachel Bush was living in the Williamsburg home of Captain Richard Duncan that February. The loyalist officer had married his second wife, Mary Wright, in Montreal in 1784, and it may be that Rachel Bush served the Duncans to help with their growing family.
If John and Martin Middagh were not successful in receiving compensation for their sister’s children, then Henry, Charles, and Mary might have to hire themselves out as Rachel did. Once again, the records of the loyalist commissioners are all too silent, and the fate of the four Bush children remains a mystery to this day. They were more fortunate than other loyalist soldier’s orphans, however, because they had two loving uncles who were willing to brave traveling through a Canadian winter to seek justice on their behalf. And who knows? Their descendants may be among us today.
Their descendants are among us. The elder Hendrick Bosch (I’ve also seen the name written as Henricus) is my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
More than a decade ago my father had done some pretty extensive work assembling the names and dates of our family tree. From his work we learned that the original family name was Van den Bosch which, over the course of a few generations, was shortened to Bosch and eventually morphed into Bush. Following the trail of birth, marriage, and death records from the time period, we learned that our ancestors moved to Canada at the time of the Revolution and it was assumed that it was because they were British Loyalists.
More recently, my oldest brother has been collecting photographs and bits of our family’s history to add faces and stories to the names and dates. I’ve enjoyed seeing old photographs of direct and distant relatives, their houses, and even their headstones. He’s even come up with some pictures of our mother as a little girl and even a high school yearbook photo of her. There have also been some fascinating bits of family history like the piece above, which pretty much confirms the British Loyalist story.
What I found particularly interesting is that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was a weaver. I’m admittedly still not much of a weaver myself, but it is something I keep working towards. But knowing that I’m a descendant of a weaver is kind of inspiring.