The Loyalist Diary of Mary MacDonald

cover of With Nothing But Our Courage by Karleen Bradford
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A Teacher’s Guide for
the first four books of
the Dear Canada series,
is available from
Scholastic Canada

Summary ~ Reviews ~ Excerpt ~ Teachers’ Guide

  • Canadian Children’s Book Centre Our Choice, 2003

  • One of the Best Books of 2002, Resource Links Magazine


Mary’s family are Loyalists, loyal to England during the American Revolution. Mary’s brother, Angus, has even fought with the British army. When the war ends with victory for the new United States of America, the MacDonalds are forced to flee to Canada, leaving almost all they own behind them. This is the story of their flight north and the incredible difficulties and hardships they face settling in the deep, uncleared Canadian forest.

Scholastic Canada Ltd., Dear Canada Series, 2002

Published in French as
Une vie à refaire;
Mary MacDonald, fille de Loyaliste.

Éditions Scholastic


Alex Chabun, a young reader

“Well, I read With Nothing But Courage which is GREAT. My mom was yelling ‘Go to bed!’ but I couldn’t stop reading.”

Today’s Parent, May 2002
Five star review

“Scholastic has assembled some of Canada’s most talented writers to pen an outstanding historical fiction series called “Dear Canada.” Through careful research, gifted storytelling, credible and likable characters, the current four books in this series bring the past to life through the stories of ordinary young people who lived through the extraordinary early days of our country.

“In Karleen Bradford’s With Nothing But Our Courage, 12-year-old Mary MacDonald’s family are branded traitors by the patriots during the American War of Independence when they choose to remain loyal to the British. Publicly humiliated and threatened by their neighbours, they are forced to leave their home near Albany, New York, in the fall of 1783. They travel north to Canada to start a new life. Mary’s diary entries recount the treacherous journey, the cruel weather, emotional hardships, sacrifices and physical struggles. Girls will identify with Mary’s uncertainties and growing sense of self, her fears and her friendships. And because she’s such a real and compelling character, the history becomes not a lesson, but a fascinating backdrop for her tale.”

Review by Stephanie Simpson McLellan

Books in Canada, May 2002

“In With Nothing But Our Courage, Mary MacDonald feels ‘like a feather bed that’s been shaken out, turned upside down and jumped on’ when former Patriot friends in Albany, New York, publicly ridicule her father and violently force her family out of town. With only a few belongings, Mary leaves her home to travel with her family through hostile Patriot lands. She knows she is headed to a faraway place called Québec where families loyal to the king have been assured land. But Mary worries for her family’s safety, her distraught mother, her brother Angus who is off fighting the Patriots, and baby Margaret who is not taking the journey well. The journey is difficult, yet Mary discovers true friendship with a girl her age named Hannah and in the community of escaped Loyalist families.

“This book is an appealing combination of Mary’s story and more practical insights into how Mary lived, through, for example, recipes and herbal remedies...In Mary, Bradford has created a practical, capable character who takes us into the experiences of the fleeing Loyalists and their efforts to build a new home out of the wilderness.”

Review by Karen Krossing

CM Magazine, Volume VIII Number 21, June 21, 2002

“I sometimes wonder why Canadian history lessons are so fixated on the explorers and the fur trade. Champlain, Cartier, Cabot, LaSalle, MacKenzie, all turned up year after year when I was at school, and the one time we touched on the American Revolution, it was entirely from the viewpoint of the noble Rebels fighting those nasty overbearing Brits. There was no mention of the United Empire Loyalists as they are now called, those people living in the Thirteen Colonies who did not want to break with Britain and who were, as a result, run out of town and forced to head north into the wilderness that was Canada.

“With Nothing But Our Courage, the diary of the 12-year-old daughter of one of these Loyalists, tells the story of the family’s expulsion from its home in Albany where Mary’s father taught school and farmed, their trek northwards first with horse and wagon, then by boat up Lake Champlain, and finally on foot to Sorel in Quebec. The twentieth century does not have a monopoly on refugees! These people, who arrived with practically nothing (Granny’s slip of a lilac bush hardly counts), were given tents, blankets and food to see them through the winter. Was this Canada, or perhaps Afghanistan! The British had the advantage of having vast tracts of land which they ‘owned’ and could, therefore, give away, and so their ‘refugee’ problems were quickly shuffled off upstream. The Loyalists were not abandoned, however, but were supported with supplies and tools for several years until they could reasonably be assumed to be self-supporting. On the whole, things seem to have been managed remarkably well, though the settlers would frequently have been in great difficulties had the local Indians not been so helpful. It is a pity that they were repaid so unkindly.

“Karleen Bradford has written much historical fiction, and she goes to great pains to ‘get it right.’ This story feels right. The attitudes and emotions ring true: the ailing baby dies, children make friends and find pets. And history is made. It’s interesting both as a story and as history and certainly gives a lot of background information on which further facts of the period can be hung. It is a very successful addition to the ‘Dear Canada’ series.”

Highly Recommended.

Review by Mary Thomas

(Mary Thomas works in two elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB, and rejoices that so many teachers, and now students, are coming in looking for books by Canadian authors. This one sat on the shelf for about 10 minutes!)

Resource Links, Volume 7, Number 5, June 2002

“This excellent novel portrays life for families loyal to the King of England in the days of the American rebellion against the British...

“Karleen Bradford portrays this time in history very well. The detail used to describe the setting is outstanding and is seamlessly interwoven into the story. Mary’s journal entries are emotional, and her passion for her family is evident throughout. The journal style of this novel is part of what makes it successful. We get to know the characters through a likeable, positive young girl. As well, Bradford keeps the pace of the novel steady. The realistic challenges faced by this family uprooted by war would be easily transferable to many facing the same strife today. The novel moves from despair, to hope, to survival and success. The novel explores what it is like to have a comfortable life suddenly changed and to have to start over with nothing but courage and determination-an excellent historical fiction novel.”

Reviewed by John Dryden

The Loyalist Diary of Mary MacDonald

October 6th, 1783, Albany County, Royal Province of New York

They burned the schoolhouse down! A group of Patriots came just as Father was making ready for the new school year.

“Traitor!” they called him. “Cowardly Tory!” All because he would not sign their Oath of Allegiance to the New United States of America.

They seized Father and dragged him out of the school. In front of his very eyes they tossed torches in through the door and the windows. In seconds all was ablaze, Father said. They didn’t even allow him to salvage any of his books! What were they thinking? This was their schoolhouse as well as ours. This war has turned everyone insane. Lizzie Crane turned her back on me this morning and would not even give me the time of day. I couldn’t believe it. My own best friend. I’ve been friends with her since we were born!

I cannot bear looking at Father. He is the kindest, gentlest man in the world. He always had a smile on his face and a laugh in his heart. Now he sits at the kitchen table and stares out the window. He will not even talk. Mother is distraught and that makes baby Margaret fussy. Grannie bustles around with her mouth set in that grim line I know so well. I’m not the cause of it now, though, and at least that’s a mercy. When Grannie gets mad at you, you’d better skedaddle out of there.

Jamie’s the only one who’s acting normal. I suppose at five years old none of this means anything to him. He only misses Angus and keeps asking after him. When I told him Angus was off to fight with the British army he thought that a great lark and went about for days with a stick over his shoulder, pretending to be a soldier.

I don’t know what to do. There is no one to talk to. No one to tell me what is going to happen. In desperation I’ve picked up my old journal. Father gave it to me for my twelfth birthday and I’ve not written in it yet. Nothing to say, I thought, except news of the war, and I didn’t want to even think about that. But I have to now, don’t I?

And I’m so frightened! The whole world has gone mad!