Right now I’m working on a historical fiction based on a true story—the remarkable true story of Ann MacLean. But I wouldn’t have even heard of Ann if it weren’t for another Loyalist who lived at the refugee camp at Machiche with her—my five times great grandfather Josiah Cass.
As the founder of a prolific family in Canada, Josiah’s life is pretty well documented for his time. At the time of his birth in 1738, his family had already been in New England for nearly a century. He was the youngest of 10 children, fatherless from the tender age of 4, but still he made a name for himself in the colony of Connecticut. By the time he was 22 he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Yale College, practiced law in Hartford, owned 340 acres of land, and married Mercy Pomeroy, with whom he eventually had 6 children.
He was well on his way to a comfortable life, but in 1776 everything changed.
War broke out in the colonies. Josiah left his young family and joined The Queen’s Loyal Rangers. After a devastating loss in Bennington, Vermont, Josiah received permission to escape with his family to Canada.
By all accounts the journey overland was gruelling and dangerous. Patriots often set ambushes and winter quickly approached. Josiah and his family spent the winter at a frontier post, probably Cataraqui (modern-day Kingston) as this was where his sixth child, Daniel, was born in January of 1778.
In September they arrived in Machiche with a number of other Loyalists, where Josiah became a school teacher for the refugee children. He was probably one of few men educated enough to do so. Although he was promised a salary, he barely received it. Rations were short, and disease was rampant in the camp.
Shortly after, Josiah’s eldest three sons, Josiah Jr., Joseph Pomeroy, and Elihu—aged 17, 14, and 12 at the time of their arrival at Machiche—enlisted with Sir John Johnston’s Royal Regiment as drummer boys, where they served until the end of the war in 1783.
Tragedy struck while the boys were gone. Mercy Cass succumbed to illness and died in 1781, leaving Josiah with two dependent daughters and a three-year-old son.
But despite the hardship and loss in the refugee camp at Machiche, there was hope as well. It was there that Josiah crossed paths with a young lieutenant’s widow named Ann McIntyre.
Josiah went on to found two large farms, become a justice of the peace in Upper Canada, and have a town named for him: Cassburn, Ontario.
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6 thoughts on “Josiah Cass, Loyalist”
Hi: Put me down for a copy of any book on the American loyalists in Canada….. We share a distant grandfather Josiah Cass (1738-1804). I’ve been collecting information on him, his oldest son Elihu Cass, and their court appointed guardian Col. John Peters. It appears that Josiah, his sons Elihu, and Joseph Cass served in Peter’s Corps of Loyalists though I have found no record of them. I have extensive notes of what the Colonel did during the revolution but he never mentions the Cass boys. Family memories claim they were captured at Saratoga and eventually repatriated to L’Original, ON where they are buried. I wonder if you have heard of he Cass brothers and any connection with the Loyalist regiments? I’m a non-fiction writer: See Annie’s War 1914-1918
My best, Phil Giffin – Baggs, WY
How nice to hear from you! I certainly will put you down for one when it’s finished. I’ve had to take a break while I research some more. Josiah’s eldest son was also named Josiah, then Joseph Pomeroy, then Elihu. Josiah Sr. originally served in a Loyalist regiment and was captured at Saratoga, then fled with his family to Canada, where they stayed in a refugee camp for several years. Josiah was the schoolmaster for the camp. All three of his elder sons served in the British army, I believe. They were recruited from the refugee camp at Machiche and served as drummers, because they were sixteen and younger. Josiah Sr.’s wife Mercy died in the camp and he remarried there, and then settled first at Gaspe (where Josiah Jr. stayed) then at Hawkesbury (near L’Orignal). Last year I was able to locate his land grant there (now on the site of Voyageur Provincial Park). The house is gone and the graves lost, unfortunately. But Joseph Pomeroy and his descendants are buried in the cemetery at Cassburn, Ontario. J.P. was my 4x great grandfather.
Thanks. I recently found an interesting story about the horrendous camp conditions at Machiche, See: Cain, Alexander. “The loyalist refugee experience in Canada.” Taken from the “Journal of the American Revolution” 01/26/2015 (its online). No wonder Mercy Pomeroy Cass died there May 1781. I am wondering where you got the information about Josiah being captured at Saratoga and escaping to Canada? Josiah’s 3 boys served with Sir John Johnson’s Royal Regiment who fought on the Mohawk River (Fort Stanwix and Oriskany). They apparently survived to the end of the war and were then returned to Canada. Good luck with your novel. I’ll be interested to see how you do it as I am a non-fiction writer. My best, Phil Giffin – Baggs, WY
Thanks Phil. I got the information about Josiah’s capture from a website but I’ve set aside my research for the time being and don’t know offhand which one. And yes, the three boys definitely survived. J.P. was my ancestor 🙂 If you’re interested in how I write history as fiction, my previous book Across the Deep is available.