Uncle Peter Miller

Peter Miller was brother to my 6th great grandfather Garrett and Jacob Miller the privateer. All fought in the Revolutionary War for the United Empire Loyalists and were awarded land. The following notes on his life were found in a book published 1929, by Tucker W. Bowman. The romance of the Palatine Millers: a tale of Palatine Irish-Americans and United Empire Loyalists, Montreal. More pieces of his story were gleaned from Vermonthistory.org Vol VI No 2 June 1938.

Peter Miller was born in Rathekeale, Ireland, to Adam and Mary Lorentz or Lawrence. Peter married in Ireland to Agnes Benner. The lay preacher, Phillip Embury, married to Aunt Margaret Switzer negotiated a perpetual lease at Camden, New York. Uncle Peter Miller, a weaver by trade, hadn’t come with the original party. He sailed from Ireland, April, 1769. It was a long voyage and one of the children was lost overboard. By 1773 he was with Embury leasing 125 acres and a further 210 acres. The terms were stated that after 5 years of development, the lease would be 7 pounds annually “in York currency”. By 1776 Peter had cleared and fenced 46 acres, built a house and out buildings. He had stock of 2 mares, 2 colts, 6 cows, yoke of oxen, a young steer, 2 calves, 6 sheep and 14 hogs.

Peter wasn’t interested in the politics of the Revolutionary War. He’d come land hungry to subdue a wilderness and he had prospered. The Methodist Colony at Camden was influenced by the Reverend John Wesley, their founder who was a militant opponent of the war. The Revolutionary Party took contorl of the government. At Camden, the colony wanted to remain neutral but were required to take an oath of allegiance, serve in the militia or be put into restraints.

Peter Miller refused as when he left Ireland he had already made oath as a British subject. A John Younglove entered a complaint, “to apprehend the said Peter Miller, dis-arm him and place him under a bond for his future good behavior.” He was levied a fine of 19 shillings and 5 pence.

During the summer of 1776, Sir Guy Carleton pushed back an American invasion into Canada. He retreated when winter came but not before Justus Sherwood with a party of 30 Irish Palatine farmers – among them the brothers, Peter and Garrett Miller, joined the British army. They both thought it would be a temporary absence. After wintering in Canada, there were 83 men under Captain Justus Sherwood; Burgoyne had equipped a British army for wilderness warfare. Two men received appointments to command the Loyalist corps, Ebenezer Jessup and John Peters. These two men were hard at work spreading propaganda and getting recruits with secret agents amongst the New York Loyalists. Peter and Garrett Miller were privates in John Peters company. Burgoyne wrote after the battle at the forts, “they had fought with spirit and hundreds of Loyalists had joined his army.”

Four weeks later when Baum was sent to seize supplies at Bennington, Peter’s Loyalsit were part of his force, being the advance. Peter’s had 260 men, on the march joined by 200 more. This was enough to make John Peter’s quota and a coveted commission. He would get paid back for his efforts.

The whole force was cut to pieces by Stark’s militia. Bennington, Vermont was a disaster for the Loyalists. Colonel Peter’s lost 1/2 of his men. Unfortunately for him the men who would have been enough for his commission were killed or prisioners before they had been properly mustered in.

Peter Miller escaped the slaughter at Bennington, joined the “Loyal Volunteers” when the army regrouped. He was in a unit from his own neighborhood. Garrett Miller, my 6th great grandfather was wounded and taken prisoner. Burgoyne’s Loyalists were numbered 680. As Burgoyne moved south the Loyalists were called Frasers “flying army” in 4 corps and scouted ahead. Burgoyne had to reluctantly retreat. He ordered a work part of corps back up the Hudson to repair roads and bridges. The Loyal Volunteers found themselves attacked and cut off from the main army. They ran from the river bank and found cover in the woods. Peter’s lost 43 of 180 men that day. They couldn’t return to the British camp and found shelter at Fort George. They learned of Burgoyne’s surrender and went to Fort Ticonderoga. The other three corps were also fortunate. The night before the surrender, they were allowed to try and escape to Canada. It was in doubt the Loyalists would be treated kindly as prisoners of war. 562 more Loyalists made it safely to Canada. Peter Miller was amongst them.

General Burgoyne critized the Loyalists help but remember he was a bitter and defeated man. Maybe he had been misinformed about their numbers from a thinly settled frontier. Burgoyne actually called them deserters – they ran away from repairing roads and never heard of afterwards. My take – the Loyalists were not trained troops, they fought every battle and if casualties count they lost plenty, risked their lives, their homes and property and the failure of the Expedition cost them dearly. They had used their own money to recruit, expecting to recover expenses of pay and allowances. Burgoyne withheld their commissions.

Following the return to Canada, Peter Miller was at Sorel, Quebec, the summer of 1779. He served on the Mohawk and the fortified post on Lake Ontario. His honorable discharge was the winter of 1781; his two stepsons served with Butler’s Rangers at Niagara.

A flag of truce for the wives was given with the stipulation to gather provisions in two weeks. Peter Miller’s wife was transported out during the fall of 1781. She was turned out of the 2 farms, which reverted to the landlords – the house and barns, horses and cattle, sheep and hogs and a growing crop all lost – but she saved the furniture!

Up the Richelieu (first called the Iroquois River) came his wife and children of this Loyalist soldier and reached Sorel, Quebec. Reunited, the couple were kept by the British government with rations, until the land could be surveyed. Peter Miller cast his lot with St. Armand on Missisquoi Bay. St. Armand was laid out as a parish in 1784 and Peter Miller was named along with 19 other first settlers in these Eastern Townships. Peter’s daughter, Mary Miller married Garrett Sixby in Montreal and is numbered in the first settlers on a farm beside her father. He built a rather large house of brick in 1784 that was still standing in 1929. Another daughter, Catherine Miller, married the son of Philip and Margaret Switzer Embury named Samuel Embury. Samuel and Catherine took a prominent part in erecting the Methodist Church at Philipsburg, Quebec in 1819. Samuel was a circuit rider on the St. Armand circuit, as a local preacher. In 1902 when the church was renovated he and his father had a window dedicated in their memory.

Peter and Family with vigor and courage started over. Peter, at age 44 and from 1784-1819 achieved success in clearing the new land, developing its resources. It wasn’t level farming land! Bluffs and hills and water ways and miles and miles of sugar bushes. Climbing ridges that gave grand views of far, maple crowned hills and glistening waters. Rock ledges with untold wealth jutted from the hillsides. About a mile from the railroad on a summit of a hill, Uncle Peter decided to remain. From his lofty serene perch he could survey all the lands. Today a house stands of stone, built by his son Charles, in 1806 is described with a wide hall, roomy parlors with fireplaces, spacious and with a wide verandah. At “Miller Homestead” was an air of hospitality. It welcomed the pioneer Methodist circuit preachers and neighbors were welcome to attend.

In a brochure “Canadian Loyalists” by Mr. J. P. Noyes, there is an interesting story about a hysterical protest with an objection to being struck off the list of beneficiaries of government provisions, Feb 7, 1785. It seems a few had pitched their tents without government permission, about Missisiquoi Bay. Peter did not sign the letter having been granted 900 acres, as a military reward and by 1820, he and son Charles had 1300 acres.

Disputes arose in 1837 over the boundary line. The treaty established the boundary line, at the 49th parallel, resulting in the loss of much Canadian territory and thus the Canadian portion of “Miller Homestead” was reduced to 200 acres.

This imaginary line created discord. Just down the road from Peter’s was a “line-house” having been built before the treaty. It was great for selling illegal liquor. When the officers of the law would appear, the occupant always had his goods on the other side of the line. Double partitions were built, false floors, trap doors and inventions for the purpose of circumventing the liquor laws of the different nations. A public highway runs in front of the house of Charles Miller, leading from Canada to the state of Vermont. One of these line-houses, the main part of the house being on the Canadian side and built up to the boundary line, while a box like addition protrudes out of the architecture into American territory. I can only imagine the fun had during prohibition.

Peter Miller and his descendants maintained their pride in U.E. Loyalists titles. In addition to his military commission, his son Charles was captain, his son-in-law Garrett Sixby, rank of colonel and his grandson Horatio was also a colonel.

Peter Miller died in 1819, long enough to witness a church erected for the worship of God according to the Methodist faith. Agnes his wife survived her husband thirteen years, being at her death one hundred and one years of age. A little cemetery is the last resting place of the pioneering Methodists at St. Armand, containing 4 generations of the Peter Miller family.

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