While Jennifer DeBruin used to enjoy burying herself in genealogy research, there was always a little something missing.
"I was doing so much of it, but I suddenly realized there just wasn't enough historical context to it," she said. "You couldn't get a sense of what the people were actually going through. There wasn't any meat on the bones."
Nearly two decades later, DeBruin, a native of Cornwall, Ontario and now a resident of Smiths Falls, has three books of historical fiction on her resume and is an expert on the American Revolution, particularly when you look at it from the British side. She is among the long list of impressive speakers who will be delivering presentations during the Fort Plain Museum's American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference next weekend at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
DeBruin is one of many Canadians coming to the conference, and like her, many of them are members of the United Empire Loyalists, a group "dedicated to enriching the lives of Canadians through knowledge of their past." Generally, members are descended from people who lived in the 13 American colonies at the time of the Revolution, remained loyal to the crown and eventually headed north to Canada.
DeBruin is one of those people whose ancestors were living in the Mohawk Valley at the outbreak of the war.
"Not all loyalists who remained loyal to the king necessarily believed in the monarchy," said DeBruin. "I think most Americans realize that, especially in the Mohawk Valley. I am descended from the German Palatines, and many of them, because they felt indebted to the British for one reason or another, just wanted to stay neutral. But as the war raged on it was impossible for them to do that, so many of them headed north."
Deciding which side to choose during the American Revolution wasn't necessarily so easy. Sir William Johnson was one of the most popular men in America and now has two state historic sites in the Mohawk Valley in his honor. Although he died in 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, had he lived, he would have most likely remained loyal to the crown according to DeBruin and most historians.
"I don't know if he had lived he would have changed the course of the war, but I suspect he would have tried diplomacy a lot harder and longer than his son, John Johnson," said DeBruin. "He was much more of a diplomat than his son.
"But it is funny how a little twist of fate can change things," added DeBruin. "I go down to the Mohawk Valley and Sir William Johnson is a revered figure, a hero of the French and Indian War. But if he had lived and taken the British side it would have totally changed his legacy. Perhaps New York wouldn't have two historic sites in his name."
Johnson's name will probably come up this weekend at FMCC when the conference hosts a panel discussion with audience participation, "Patriot or Loyalist? Which Side Would You Choose?"
"I don't know what side I would have been on," said DeBruin. "I am fascinated by the monarchy, but I don't like the monarchy, and looking at it through the lens of the 18th century, I really don't know which side I would have picked."
DeBruin's 2013 novel, "Shadows in the Tree," tells the story of a loyalist family leaving the Mohawk Valley and fleeing to Canada. Her 2015 book, "Daughter of Conflict," is set in 1704 at the time of the Deerfield Massacre.
Before DeBruin and her co-presenters get to work on June 9, the conference will be holding two free events on June 7 and 8. On June 7 at 7:30, historian Michael E. Newton will present, "Alexander Hamilton's Revolutionary War Service," and on June 8 at 7:30 author Russell Shorto will talk about "Revolution Song: America's Founding Era in Six Remarkable Lives."
The June 9 program begins at 8:30 a.m. and concludes at 4:45 p.m., while the June 10 event kicks off at 8:15 a.m. and concludes at 4:45 p.m.
'Fort Plain Museum's American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference'
WHERE: Fulton-Montgomery Community College, 2805 Route 67, Johnstown
WHEN: June 7-10
HOW MUCH: Speaker events June 7 and 8 are free; June 9 and 10 events require pre-registration
MORE INFO: www.fortplainmuseum.com