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Loyalists and Layabouts: The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1783-1792 [Hardcover]

Stephen Kimber
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

May 13 2008 038566172X 978-0385661720 First Edition
Marking the 225th anniversary of loyalist landings in Canada, this important and comprehensive history is essential reading on the shaping of our country.

The few hundred loyalists who gathered at Roubalet’s Tavern in New York on the night of Saturday, November 16, 1782, shared a vision of the future intended to sustain them through the nightmare of the present. Abandoned by the king to whom they had promised their loyalty, unwelcome in the land that had so recently been theirs, they had no choice but to flee. But to where? And for what?

Their dream was to build a new and improved New York City. They would do this on the rocky shores of Roseway Bay, on the south coast of Nova Scotia, beside one of the best harbours in the world. The city would be cosmopolitan, but more refined, more royal, more loyal, and certainly more exclusive than the one they were now preparing to leave behind forever. At first, it seemed as if their dream would come true. Within the decade, however, Shelburne was a wasteland of abandoned homes and shops.

What happened? Plagued by drought, fires, and poor land quality, Shelburne’s fortunes quickly fell. Vividly told through the intertwined narratives of an eclectic collection of its early settlers, Loyalists and Layabouts is the fascinating story of Shelburne’s “rapid rise and faster fall.”

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“[A] thorough gallop through the town’s history, and a lovely romp it is. . . . A tale well told.”
The Globe and Mail

“[A] remarkable story. . . . Kimber provides a vivid portrait of men and women and their struggles to make their lives over are both comic and tragic. . . . He offers a fascinating might-have-been in the history of Canada.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Prodigious research, a dash of imagination and an engaging literary style make this a delightful and satisfying read and a serious contribution to Loyalist studies.”
—James W. St.G. Walker, History Professor, University of Waterloo

"Canada is built on immigration, but immigration has rarely been easy on the immigrants. In Loyalists and Layabouts Stephen Kimber explores the immigrant dream gone spectacularly wrong: how 15,000 Americans flowed into Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in 1783 to build "the envy of the American states" — only to see their aspirations ebb away like the Nova Scotia tide."
—Christopher Moore
"What a splendid tale, full of diverse and fascinating characters. It is also an overdue reminder of the price white Loyalists paid for the choice to remain impoverished but faithful subjects of George III. Black slaves paid an even higher price, gaining freedom at the cost of justice, equality or respect. No one who reads this book can ever again be comfortable with ancestral stereotypes."
—Desmond Morton, Hiram Mills Professor of History, Emeritus, McGill University

About the Author

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, and broadcaster. He is the author of one novel, Reparations, and five non-fiction books, including the bestselling Sailors, Slackers and Blind Pigs: Halifax at War.

He and his wife, Jeanie Kimber, live in Halifax.

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The author does a great job telling the story of Shelburne using old journals from early settlers. This is not a book that gives a detailed historical account. Having said that a reader will be be able to get a glipse of the town and the feelings and attiudes of the time/settlers by the way Kimber tells the story using the settlers journals. Kimber does a good job creating a good, interesting flow using the journals, as I can only assume that the original authors of the journals were not planning to have them published in a book read by others someday.

The story starts with the would be settlers prior to the American revolution. This way the reader knows where they came from and why they left. The reader gets an idea of each persons drives, ambitions, hopes and dissapointments.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting stories but omits the main point May 15 2009
By david brown - Published on Amazon.com
Loyalists & Layabouts by Stephen Kimber concerns the exodus of British Loyalists to Shelburne, Nova Scotia following the American revolution. British Loyalists clustered in New York after the defeat. Many of them were merchants or officials who, while often American born, were no longer welcome in the new America. The British government, not really wanting to do anything except get out, had to do something and somewhat half heartedly transported many of the Loyalists to Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Consequently, for a period of time Shelburne became the fourth largest city in North America, before it collapsed into a near ghost town.

The author, Stephen Kimber, builds the book around the diaries, letters and biographies of seven or eight of the Loyalists and the British government officials who dealt with them. The stories are generally interesting an provide a cross section of experiences. The notable exception is that there are no major female characters because the author was simply unable to find sufficient surviving documentation to flesh out a character and her experiences. The characters include some blacks, promised their freedom in return for supporting the British in the revolution.

The author is an experienced journalist and the book is easy reading. The material is well organized and footnoted.

At this point I might have given the book five stars but unfortunately I feel cheated and reduced it to four stars. The reason for my discontent is that the author does not really provide any substantive analysis of why Shelburne failed and the people left. Some causes are implied from the individual stories: reuniting with families in America, blacks seeking greater freedom in the Sierra Leone (Africa) colony, etc. However no where does the author bring all of this together for a coherent analysis of why the Shelburne experience failed.

Having said that the book remains an absorbing collection of personal narratives from an point in time of great dislocation.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting read June 28 2010
By DKDJuniata - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I thorougly enjoyed this book - it was an easy read and kept me wanting to know more. It is in some respects, a little known aspect of the American Revolutionary War - what happen to the Loyalists after the war? The evacuation of Loyalists and British troops from NYC in 1783 was quite interesting. I did not rate this book 5 stars only because I would prefer to see the text footnoted to better validate the author's research.
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