Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Revolutionary Philadelphia's Loyalists
History is written by the victors, so the Tory Loyalists of Revolutionary Philadelphia have mostly fallen from view.

Northern Overland Escape Path of the Philadelphia Tories 1 of 1 (16)
Grievances provoking the American Revolutionary War left many Philadelphians unprovoked. Loyalists often fled to Canada, especially Kingston, Ontario. Decades later the flow of dissidents reversed, Canadian anti-royalists taking refuge south of the border.

Kingston: Birthplace of Canada

John A. Macdonald was a sweet, hard-working lawyer in Kingston, whose wife died young of tuberculosis. After she was gone, he devoted his life to achieving the modern Canadian government, which finally came about in 1867. He was the first Prime Minister, sort of the George Washington of Canada.

His home for several decades was a small farm near the center of town, because he wanted peace and quiet with his wife, raising his own vegetables, eating fruit from his own orchard. At least to the extent, Canadians go in for that sort of thing, his home has the beginnings of a national shrine for Canada, but he was said to be whimsical about the somewhat incongruous Italianate architecture which must nevertheless be admired for its comfortable design. The charming ladies of the city serve high tea in the afternoon to well-mannered visitors, in rather startling contrast to the tomb-like atmosphere which surrounds most such national shrines. They are anxious to please but respond to questions about the Tories of 1776 Philadelphia with the blankest of stares. Unless they are uncharacteristically evasive, they know absolutely nothing about any Kingston history before 1867. Their parents may well believe this is a sensitive topic best avoided in polite company, but at least the present generation appears to have been taught nothing, as a safeguard against rude encounters. Although half of the town is descended from Philadelphia Tories, they do not know what a Quaker meeting is, and do not believe Kingston has one. Touring around town, there is a short row of low brick houses which may have been built in Georgian style, but are now unoccupied, and that's about all there is left to suggest that episode. We're not Tories, but we aren't Americans, either.

{John A. MacDonald House}
John A. MacDonald House

Riding around town, a striking number of buildings are built of granite-looking (but actually limestone) blocks. There's probably a quarry nearby, but the effect is pretty somber. In the governmental center of town, building after building is built in the same heavy style of the same grey stone. In fact, the most prominent building in the center of town is the penitentiary at Riverside, looking as though it was meant to demonstrate what heavy stone blocks were really supposed to be used for. Perhaps it evokes the image of a fortress since memories of U.S. invasions in 1775, 1812, and 1838 are surely still alive somewhere. But unspoken, please don't speak of it.

The ride on the wide highway back to the International Bridge seems to take a long time because there is so little to notice. But things immediately get pepper on the other side. That seems to be the way both sides like it.

Originally published: Thursday, August 05, 2010; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 22, 2019