views updated May 14 2018



Loyalism is a form of group identity based on the idea of fealty to the political status quo. The status quo is typically an imperial order like the Spanish or British empires or the French ancien régime. Sometimes, as in the Spanish case, the term royalist is used, while at other times counterrevolutionary may be applied. What is significant from the point of view of nationalism and ethnic studies is that in some cases entire ethnic groups may define themselves through their loyalty to a monarch. In colonial situations, numerous ethnic groups like the Ambonese in Indonesia or Karen of Burma favored retention of the colonial tie and were loyal in this way. However, these groups did not rely on loyalty to the empire as a prop of identity. In historical terms, use of the word loyalist has therefore principally focused on those British peoples who defined themselves through their loyalty to the British Empire in North America and Ireland.

In the American colonies in the mid-eighteenth century, there was no movement for independence. The settlers, 98 percent of them Protestant and 80 percent deriving from the British Isles, were content to remain in the empire. They defined themselves as English-speaking Protestants who had won a victory for Britain in the Seven Years War (17561763) against the Catholic French and their Indian allies in North America. The sphere of battle covered present-day Canada (Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia) as well as the United States (New York, Pennsylvania) in one undifferentiated whole. George Washington (17321799) played an important role on the British side.

Prior to about 1774, the identity of the American loyalists could well be described as dualistic. On the one hand, they saw themselves as Americans with a distinct geographical and cultural particularity. On the other hand, they identified with the British flag, language, and (Protestant) religion against the Spanish and French, as well as the British Empire and its mission (Colley 1992). Independence altered this calculus for roughly two-thirds of the colonists, but one-third remained loyal to the British Crown. Persecutionextending to tarring and feathering and land seizuresled most to downplay their allegiance or flee. Approximately 19,000 loyalists fled to present-day Canada, forming the United Empire Loyalists. These loyalists were the first major British Protestant settlers in Canada and largely laid down the dialect, ideology, and institutions of English-speaking Canada. In 1812 key loyalists like Sir Isaac Brock (17691812) and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brants son John Brant played a role in rebuffing the American invasion of Canada. This became part of the mythology of the United Empire Loyalists, which was celebrated a century later by British Canadians, most of whom were not descendants of the American loyalists, but of subsequent waves of American economic migrants and British immigrants (Kaufmann 1997).

At the time of Canadian confederation in 1867, roughly half the English-speaking population of Canada was of Scottish or Irish-Protestant extraction. The large-scale movement of Irish-Protestant settlers to Canada brought the other major loyalist ethnic group together with its Canadian soul mate. Protestants in Ireland were mainly the descendants of English and Scottish settlers from the early 1600s. The Anglo-Irish elite derived from a longstanding high-church Anglican population whose cultural life was centered upon Dublin. However, the bulk of the Protestant population was planted by the British Crown from Elizabethan times (post1600), mainly in the nine northern counties comprising Ulster.

Irish loyalism was initially divided because Presbyterians and other dissenting sects experienced discrimination (such as the nonrecognition of marriages) from the Anglican authorities. Fired by Whig ideas, Presbyterians were in the forefront of both the American Revolution (17751783) and the uprising of the United Irishmen in Ireland in 1798. Both movements sought independence from Britain and were inspired by liberalism rather than anti-Catholicism. However, popular conflict at the everyday level between Protestants and Catholics was a reality upon which political entrepreneurs could draw. After all, there was a history of sectarian strife and bloodshed, especially around the English Civil War in the 1640s. As the United Irishmen began to seek support from the Catholic Defender movement, with its Catholic-rights agenda, a countermovement sprang up among the Protestants. This movement coalesced into the Loyal Orange Order, formed in 1795 near Portadown in County Armagh after a series of local sectarian skirmishes. Based on the structures of freemasonry, Orangeism rapidly spread throughout Ireland, where it espoused an ideology of loyalty to Protestantism and to the Crown, which served as the political defender of Protestantism in the British Empire (Haddick-Flynn 1999).

Orangeism was soon exported to Scotland and England (by 1810) and Canada (by 1820) with returning British soldiers and through Irish-Protestant emigration. In Canada, it was so successful that it surpassed the Irish organization in numbers soon after 1900. The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of a full-blown Britannic nationalism, an expression of pride in British ethnic origins and political achievements that spanned Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australasia, and South Africa (Cole 1970). This imperial sentiment colored loyalism in Canada and Ireland. But it never displaced the metropole-settler dualism that is the hallmark of loyalist identity.

The decline of the British Empire drove home the local (or settler) side of loyalist identity for Canadians (as well as Australians, Scots, and Newfoundlanders), leading to new expressions of local nationalism in these places. In Canada, loyalism died hard, as witnessed in the 1965 debate over whether to retain the Union Jack or adopt a new maple leaf flag (Buckner 2004). In Ireland, the home rule crisis of 1884 to 1886 proved the last time that the Irish Protestants could count on Unionist support from mainland Britain. After the second home rule crisis of 1912 to 1914, Irish Protestants began to militarily organize and mentally prepare themselves to go it alone in the six Protestant-majority counties in the northeast of Ulster. The Northern Ireland Act of 1922 recognized the Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland state, restoring the British loyalty of the Ulster-Protestants. However, this loyalism was tested again in the 1960s when agitation by the 35-percent Catholic minority led the British government to press loyalists to reform their system of local government and housing, and share power with Catholics. When such reforms were not forthcoming, the British stepped in to directly rule the province, but by then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) military and terror campaign was in full swing. Twenty-five years of bombing and violence ensued, as the British army and its loyalist auxiliaries (local police and defense regiments) tried to subdue the IRA.

With the IRA ceasefires in 1995 and 1997, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, some saw a new dawn for Northern Ireland. Catholics made gains toward economic and political parity with Protestants, but power sharing, premised on the inclusion of Sinn Fein/IRA in government, proved a nonstarter for most Protestants. By 2007, decommissioning of IRA weapons remained the main obstacle to peace, but changes within loyalism were also important. Loyalists have increasingly turned inward, shifting from being loyal to rebel Unionists (Kaufmann 2007). Skeptical of Britain for selling us out, they have begun to celebrate their Scottish roots, their Ulster-Scots dialect, and their role in anti-British episodes like the American Revolution and even the United Irish uprising. Though most identify as British, this label does not connote civic attachments to the British state, but rather an ethnic attachment to the Ulster-Protestants and their six-county homeland of Ulster.

SEE ALSO American Revolution; Colonialism


Buckner, Phillip, ed. 2004. Canada and the End of Empire. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Cole, Douglas. 1970. Canadas Nationalistic Imperialists. Journal of Canadian Studies 5 (3): 4370.

Colley, Linda. 1992. Britons: Forging the Nation, 17071837. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Haddick-Flynn, Kevin. 1999. Orangeism: The Making of a Tradition. Dublin: Wolfhound.

Kaufmann, Eric. 1997. Condemned to Rootlessness: The Loyalist Origins of Canadas Identity Crisis. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 3 (1): 110135.

Kaufmann, Eric P. 2007. The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eric P. Kaufmann


views updated Jun 11 2018


The old cliché that winners write the history is applicable when discussing the domestic losers of the American Revolution, the Loyalists. Found in every colony, Loyalists were those American colonists who sided with the British throughout the entire imperial crisis, including the Revolutionary War. Too often, Loyalists are classified as those Americans who supported Britain during the Revolutionary War; actually, however, Loyalists were those who supported Britain from the Stamp Act of 1765 through the Revolution. Historians are unsure of the actual percentage of colonists who considered themselves Loyalists, but the fact that approximately eighty thousand people fled the country after the American victory in 1783 suggests that a large number of people remained loyal to the crown during the entire conflict.

location and strength of loyalists

John Adams once remarked that the American people could be broken into thirds regarding their feelings on the Revolution, with one-third in support, one-third against, and the other third neutral. An educated guess at best, historians view Adams's remarks with some skepticism. In all likelihood, but with no certainty, there were greater numbers who either opposed the Revolution or remained neutral. What is known is that the Loyalists were most numerous and politically powerful in New York and South Carolina. This concentration of Loyalists in New York is attributed to the diverse ethnicities of its inhabitants, many of whom believed that Britain and its empire offered a greater degree of liberty and religious toleration than an American republic likely would, while those in South Carolina embraced and supported the empire for the commercial success that it made possible. Loyalism also persisted in the frontier regions of the colonies, especially the frontiers of the southern colonies from Georgia to North Carolina. In part, loyalism there, as in New York, can be attributed to the ethnic and religious diversity of the frontier and the protection from a dominant Anglo-American culture they thought the empire could provide. Finally, the Iroquois nation can be labeled as Loyalist, for it too supported the British cause.

reasons for supporting britain

Loyalists could be found among all socioeconomic classes, but the best-known and most vocal opponents of the Revolution came from the elites of the respective colonies. Indeed, if the American colonies can be said to have had any form of aristocracy, it consisted primarily of persons who became Loyalists. Most of the elites owed their political position to royal appointments to office, although many of the elite Loyalists were also lawyers or merchants. For example, perhaps the most famous Loyalist, Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) of Massachusetts, was not only a wealthy merchant, but was also the crownappointed governor of his colony. Hutchinson's attorney general, Samuel Sewall, owed his position to not just his ability but also to connections within the British government. Even William Franklin (1731–1813), governor of New Jersey, owed his appointment to his famous father, Benjamin, who used his political connections to secure the post for his son. Thus, many of the Loyalists in the colonial political elite owed their social standing to the British monarchy. The many colonial leaders who received support from the British government were reluctant to address colonial grievances, which only further angered the colonists. Ironically, however, the Loyalists never formed an organized, cohesive body of opposition to the revolutionaries. One of the consequences of the Revolution was the crumbling of the Loyalists' political power, which created a power vacuum that the revolutionaries filled.

Along with the political connections that tied the Loyalists to Britain, those Loyalists outside of politics, namely merchants, remained loyal because, in their estimation, the empire provided the best protection of their livelihoods. The mercantile system of the empire, as well as the strength of the British navy, afforded merchants opportunity for wealth and protection of their wares. Even those Loyalists who were neither politicians nor merchants remained loyal to England, in part because of the protection the British army provided on the frontier. In other cases, Loyalists did not embrace the republicanism of the revolutionaries or simply wished to remain British subjects.

Support for the British came from places and people beyond the cities and the elites. In the frontier regions of the colonies, support for Britain ran high. It is important to note that frontiersmen did not necessary disagree with the arguments of the Patriots. Rather, they supported the British for two simple and self-interested reasons. First, they feared the further encroachment of settlers into the frontier regions. Only the British, they believed, would be able to halt westward expansion past the Appalachian Mountains. Second, they believed that only British troops could protect them from the various Indian tribes on the frontier.

A final reason for supporting Britain lies in ethnicity. Too often, the natural assumption of both historians and laity is that Loyalists were either English born or of English heritage. Such an assumption, however, is incorrect, as a very large number—the exact percentage is unknown—of Loyalists belonged to non-English ethnic groups. Among the more prominent groups that for the most part supported Britain in the Revolution were the Dutch, Germans, and Scots. To find precise motives for their loyalty is difficult, yet it is not unreasonable to assume that they sought British protection from what would be an Anglo-American cultural majority in an American nation. They may have also understood that minorities were more likely to be protected in a larger empire than in a smaller nation controlled by local majorities.

loyalist ideology

Along with the socioeconomic and political reasons, ideological reasons guided loyalism. Generally, and in part because they never formed an organized resistance, Loyalists did not have the same overarching ideology that guided the revolutionaries. There were, however, common threads of thought. The most common characteristic of Loyalist thought was its conservatism. Nearly all Loyalists of any consequence believed in the political status quo. Undoubtedly, this conservatism stemmed in part from a desire to preserve political power, but Loyalists also believed that any disruption of the traditional political arrangement was hazardous to the body politic. Furthermore, Loyalists tied their commitment to the status quo to their belief in aristocracy and deference. Many Loyalists believed that society could function only with an established and ruling aristocracy—not one that was necessarily hereditary or titled but elite nonetheless—with each level of society deferential to those above it.

Further evidence of Loyalists' conservative ideology was their use of history in arguments over politics, society, and human nature. Whereas many revolutionaries relied on the theories of philosophers such as David Hume (1711–1776) or John Locke (1632–1704) to justify not only rebellion but also human nature, Loyalists ignored theorists, relying instead on historical precedents or incidents to argue against revolution and to demonstrate an innately corrupt human nature. From their use of history and beliefs about human nature, the Loyalists argued that the revolutionaries were a self-seeking political faction bent on disrupting the status quo by attempting to establish a democratic or mob government based on a majoritarian tyranny.

Much like their Revolutionary counterparts, the Loyalists embraced the traditional view of liberty as being freedom from arbitrary power. Where the two camps separated was on the degree of order needed to maintain liberty. Many revolutionaries believed that order, while necessary for liberty to flourish, must be kept to a minimum; otherwise, it would result in tyranny. Loyalists, again exhibiting their conservative ideology, argued that order was the fundamental ingredient needed for liberty to thrive. Loyalists did not embrace absolutism; far from it, they insisted that political society must first acknowledge and then follow a clearly defined rule of order before liberty could exist. This belief in order explains why so many Loyalists were shocked and terrified at the numerous instances of mob action during the imperial crisis leading up to the Revolution, labeling such action as lawlessness or licentiousness. Ironically, many Loyalists believed that the colonists had genuine grievances, especially regarding the Stamp Act and other revenue-garnishing measures. Yet because Loyalists also believed in the enforcement of law and order, they risked their social and political standing by supporting the enforcement of such measures. Thomas Hutchinson is perhaps the best example of the risk many Loyalists placed themselves under. Although Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts at the time, opposed the Stamp Act, he nonetheless believed in the enforcement of the act. Although he was not a tax collector and played no enforcement role, protesters stormed his family home and then ransacked and set fire to it.

american treatment of loyalists

The destruction of Hutchinson's house is perhaps the most extreme example of what some Loyalists underwent during the imperial crisis. Yet during the Revolutionary War, many of them suffered persecution at the hands of the revolutionaries. Each state governments passed a Test Act requiring persons to take an oath forswearing allegiance to King George III. Anyone who refused the oath could face several penalties, including imprisonment, disenfranchisement, additional taxes, land confiscation, and banishment. In November 1777, the Continental Congress recommended that the states confiscate Loyalists' property. The recommendation came somewhat late, as most of the states had already confiscated large amounts of Loyalists' land. Also, by 1777 most states had passed legislation that declared loyalism a treasonous act. Pennsylvania, for example, drew up a list, known as the "black list," containing the names of 490 Loyalists who were convicted of treason for supporting the British. Although the Pennsylvanian governor pardoned a number of these Loyalists, some executions occurred. Not surprisingly, those states where Loyalists were the strongest, such as New York and South Carolina, had the most stringent anti-Loyalist legislation, as well as the heaviest level of enforcement.

The confiscation of land and other legislative measures were not the only methods by which the Patriots made the Loyalists suffer. More often than facing formal, legal punishments, Loyalists had to bear informal consequences such as becoming social outcasts in their own neighborhoods or being forced to leave their communities by extralegal committees. Other such consequences were losing servants, being denied services, or losing customers. Violent extralegal punishments included tarring and feathering, often followed by forced "rides" on a rail—a painful punishment in which the victim, always male, had a ragged and often splintered rail scooted between his legs.

Perhaps the harshest punishment many Loyalists (along with revolutionaries) underwent was the splitting of their families over the war. As in every conflict with a civil war dimension, families were sometimes torn asunder, with family members taking opposite sides. The American Revolution was no different. The most notable example is Benjamin Franklin and his son William. A fervent revolutionary, Benjamin suffered humiliation over the fact that his son, the last royal governor of New Jersey, remained a strong Loyalist. So angry was Benjamin at his son's refusal to become a revolutionary that Franklin disowned William. Despite several attempts by William after the war to reunite with his father, the two never reconciled.

Because of all their ill treatment at the hands of the Americans during the war as well as their fidelity to the crown, approximately eighty thousand Loyalists fled America. While a number of states forced the exile of some Loyalists, the overwhelming majority fled on their own accord. Some traveled to London and other parts of England in hopes of either settling down or influencing the government in its conduct of the war. Others traveled to Jamaica or elsewhere in the British Caribbean seeking a new life under British rule. A large number of Loyalists sojourned to Upper Canada, where they settled in areas such as southern Ontario. The overwhelming majority of exiled Loyalists, however, traveled to Nova Scotia, where they lived the rest of their lives in settled communities. During the 1780s, some exiled Loyalists returned to America, where they were reintegrated into society.

The Treaty of Paris of 1783 concerned itself with American treatment of Loyalists in three of its ten sections. Article 4 allowed the Loyalists' American creditors to attempt recovery of any contracted debt owed to them. Article 5, among the longest sections of the document, required the Continental Congress to recommend to the states that all confiscated land and other property of Loyalists be returned to them and that any law that targeted Loyalists be reconsidered and revised. The article also ensured the physical protection of Loyalists who returned to the country to retrieve any confiscated property. Article 6 of the treaty was the last to deal with the Loyalists. It prohibited any further confiscation of Loyalist property and called for the release of any Loyalists imprisoned because of their loyalism.

During the 1780s, a large number of Loyalists, including those who returned to their homeland as well as a smaller number who remained abroad, attempted to regain their confiscated property as provided for by the treaty. Not surprisingly, these attempts led to a great deal of litigation in the states. Much of it went on well into the nineteenth century, with the Loyalists most often meeting with some success. Perhaps the most well-known court cases concerning the recovering of property were the those of Fairfax's Devisee v. Hunter's Lessee (1812) and Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816). These related cases, decided during the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall, originated in Virginia within five years of the treaty and were decided in favor of the Loyalist, Lord Fairfax.

british treatment of the loyalists

In those areas controlled by the British army, the Loyalists obviously did not suffer the violence that beset those in Patriot-held territory. But while the British army afforded protection, the Loyalists often complained that it ignored them, either by not listening to their advice or by not trusting them enough to allow them to join the army. Although there is some indication that the British intended to organize Loyalists, such plans were never more than plans, as the British made no serious attempt to form them into a fighting force. Loyalists were also quick to criticize the inept campaigning of some British generals and the failure of the British to restore civil government in areas under their control. In sum, while the British in North America did not treat the Loyalists with violence, as the Patriot side often did, their conduct was, nevertheless, inept.

Those Loyalists who fled to London were at first welcome guests of the British government. Many of the more prominent Loyalists received audiences with high-ranking members of the British government. Thomas Hutchinson, for example, met with King George III. Soon, however, as the number of exiles increased, their novelty wore off. Many American Loyalists, even those of high standing in the colonies, were treated with disdain and were often cheated out of money and other possessions. A good number of Loyalists who fled to England were disgusted with what they believed to be the decadence and luxury of London. This shock at London's size and perceived decadence, coupled with homesickness, caused many English exiles to attempt to return to their homes in America.

See alsoRevolution as Civil War: Patriot-Loyalist Conflict .


Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Brown, Wallace. The Good Americans: The Loyalists in the American Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1969.

Calhoon, Robert M. The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760–1781. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

——, ed. The Loyalist Perception and Other Essays. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

Calhoon, Robert M., Timothy M. Barnes, and George W. Rawlyk, eds. Loyalists and Community in North America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Nelson, William H. The American Tory. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1961.

Norton, Mary Beth. The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789. London: Constable, 1974.

Potter-MacKinnon, Janice. The Liberty We Seek: Loyalist Ideology in Colonial New York and Massachusetts. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Aaron N. Coleman


views updated Jun 11 2018


An examination of loyalists of the American Revolution opens up an elusive world of changing terms and historical interpretations. Technically all American colonists were "loyal" until the Declaration of Independence in 1776 forced them to take sides publicly. But in the preceding decade, as resistance to Parliament and its policies escalated, the question facing Americans was whether their acknowledged grievances justified riots, boycotts, armed protests, and, ultimately, revolution. Those who maintained the faith that the British government would rectify colonial complaints through the legal legislative system were contemptuously dubbed "Tories" by their more aggressive "Whig" opponents—terms drawn from seventeenth-century English politics. After 1776, "Tory" and the somewhat more dignified label, "Loyalist," became synonymous.

loyalists and historians

As the "losers" in the Revolution, loyalists did not fare well in revolutionary-era histories. Although comprising half a million of British America's white population of 2.5 million, they became a topic of objective historical examination only by the mid-nineteenth century chiefly as biography (Smith 1968, p. 269). Historians of the early twentieth century tended to interpret loyalism in socioeconomic terms, and later as an intellectual phenomenon. The Vietnam War, the Bicentennial, and the Civil Rights movement, however, sparked a new interest in dissent and in issues of race, class, and gender which help to explain the appearance of a vast number of loyalist studies since the 1960s. The result has been to depict loyalism as a vertical cross section, rather than a horizontal segment, of American society, with the addition that loyalism generally predominated among recent immigrants and cultural minorities who valued royal government as protection against discrimination by local majorities.

articulate loyalists

Revolutionary governments found it as difficult as modern historians to distinguish between loyalists and Whig "patriots." High profile, outspoken loyalists, such as royal governors, imperial officials, and clergy of the Church of England who clung to their oaths to God and king and who profited from their appointments were not hard to spot and to neutralize. Equally vulnerable were provincial elites, politicians, lawyers, overseas merchants, who openly expressed their convictions that rebellion against the powerful British government could never succeed, and if by chance it did, Americans would fall victim to republican anarchy which would, in turn, open the way to a French-imposed despotism far worse than anything suffered under Great Britain. Collectively, government officials and outspoken opponents of revolution constituted the most prominent of the 80,000 to 100,000 loyalists who eventually fled from the Revolution to other parts of the empire (Brown, 192).

pragmatic loyalists

Other less articulate Americans expressed their loyalty by bearing arms in the king's cause. At one time or another during the war, an estimated 20,000 American loyalists fought for the crown as provincial regulars (Smith 1968, p. 266). In addition, wherever the British were a military presence, as in Savannah, Charleston, New York, and even the town of Castine in Maine, local loyalists flocked to the royal standard as irregular militia, turning revolution into bloody civil war. In the Carolina backcountry, around Long Island Sound, and along Maine's coast, revolution offered both sides the opportunity for pursuing long smoldering feuds and personal vengeance under the cover of political ideology.

Another group that defined their loyalism by deeds rather than words were an estimated 100,000 African slaves, one-fifth of the total black American population (Walker, 3). The process began as early as 1775 when Virginia's royal governor, Lord Dunmore, issued a call for recruits and promised freedom to slaves owned by rebels. In short order, Dunmore had three hundred former slaves enlisted in his "Ethiopian Regiment," and in the course of the war, Virginia alone lost some 30,000 slaves, though not all by flight because some were captured in raids on rebel estates (Walker, 3). Thus from the start the British were committed to emancipation, but only as a wartime expedient and with varied and contradictory results. While the war continued, many escaped slaves were pressed into the royal navy or into the British army as "auxiliaries," such as teamsters, laborers, cooks, and as officers's personal servants. Slave owning loyalists who escaped to British protection were not only allowed to retain their own slaves, but sometimes received as compensation for lost labor the slaves seized as booty of war from rebel estates.

the silent loyalists

The loyalists that Whigs feared the most were the ones they could not see. The silent subversives (Tories of the heart), whose allegiances were suspect, stayed quiet waiting for the time when the King's forces would eventually prevail. Long before the Declaration of Independence,

the Continental Congress warned the states to disarm citizens who refused to join the Association enforcing the embargo against Britain. The Declaration of Independence stimulated a torrent of anti-loyalist legislation. All thirteen states formulated test oaths administered by local committees to adult males. Often public exposure, humiliation, the threat of mob action and of social ostracism were sufficient to win converts. If not, loss of public office, bonds for good behavior, fines, prison, and even banishment with confiscation of property awaited those who refused to renounce their loyalty to the king, with severity depending on the suspect himself and local circumstances. In Massachusetts, at least, the plight of loyalist refugees worsened when the state government in 1778 passed a banishment law that not only proscribed over 300 prominent refugees by name, but threatened with death those who persisted in their efforts to return.

Penalties applied only to male family members, and so loyalists facing flight or banishment often consigned their property to wives, relatives or friends who stayed behind in the expectation that family and property could be reunited after the British won the war. In such circumstances Tory wives were suddenly yanked from domestic obscurity to manage and defend all alone the family possessions from rapacious neighbors and an unsympathetic legal system.

the loyalist refugees

American independence in 1783 posed a huge dilemma to the British government as well as to the thousands of loyalists who left their homes to seek sanctuary under British protection. As early as 1776, over a thousand civilian loyalists had joined the British troops evacuating Boston for Halifax. As far as refugees go, they were the lucky ones, for they had comparatively ready access to local sympathy, occupations, and land. But when the war ended, a veritable deluge of impoverished refugees abandoned the fortified enclaves along the American coast where they had been sheltered and flooded into nearby British possessions, completely outstripping the ability of those regions to absorb such numbers. Thirty thousand refugees landed in Nova Scotia alone, destitute of resources and of hope (Brown, 192).

Refugees with sufficient means, economic and political, might travel to England where they tried to capitalize on their connections to re-create a respectable life. Persistent applications to the British government for compensation finally led to the creation of a Court of High Commission to investigate claims against the government. Eventually the Court authorized payment of over three million pounds to more than four thousand claimants as at least token compensation for their loyalty and losses (Brown, 188). Additionally, the British government awarded pensions and offices, both political and religious, to leading loyalists as well as thousands of land grants to refugees in Canada. But all this was small satisfaction to the vast majority of loyalist refugees whose losses, though personally devastating, were insufficient to attract the Commission's attention. Regardless of their condition or location, all refugees shared a common sense of bewilderment over Britain's loss and their own lonely plight as aliens in a strange land.

None could have felt it more than the "emancipated" slaves that accompanied the civilians and troops that evacuated America. From Savannah and Charleston, several thousand black refugees ended up in Spanish-held Florida and the British West Indies. At least 3000 former slaves from New York were deposited in Birchtown, near Shelburne, on Nova Scotia's southern tip (Walker, 12). Without sufficient government aid or means of self-support, the black refugees of Nova Scotia subsisted through a form of indentured servitude and petty crime until their plight came to the attention of a group of London philanthropists. Operating through the Sierra Leone Company, the London group acquired land on the west coast of Africa. In January 1792, 2,000 black loyalists in a convoy of fifteen vessels set sail from Nova Scotia to start a new life in a new British colony, Sierra Leone, the capitol of which would be named "Freetown."

the returnees

The conclusion to the fighting convinced some loyalists to attempt a return to their homes in America. Two provisions in the peace treaty gave them some ray of hope. One stipulated that the Continental Congress would urge the states to place no obstacles in the way of loyalists returning to recover property and debts, and in the other, Congress agreed to recommend that the states cease all prosecutions and confiscations of loyalist property. In areas where fighting had been recent and intense, local authorities simply ignored Congress. In Maine, New York and Connecticut, returning loyalists were arrested, physically abused, and summarily expelled; in South Carolina, one loyalist was lynched. But elsewhere, depending on local circumstances and the returnees themselves, the response could be considerably more friendly. In commercial centers such as Boston, New York City, and Charleston, prominent Tory merchants, valued for their skills and wealth, were welcomed back and some even recovered a portion of their confiscated estates. Gradually, as the United States came to grips with a postwar depression, Americans everywhere accepted, if not welcomed, returning loyalists as a means of economic revival. As the loyalists gradually returned to respectable obscurity in the new republic they had once opposed, the term, "Tory," retained its usefulness long into the nineteenth century as a means of denouncing one's political opponents.


Bailyn, Bernard. "The Losers: Notes on the Historiography of Loyalism" (appendix). In The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Brown, Wallace. The Good Americans: The Loyalists in the American Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1969.

Calhoon, Robert M.; Barnes, Timothy M.; and Rawlyk, George A., eds. Loyalists and Community in North America. West-port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Nelson, William H. The American Tory. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961.

Smith, Paul H. Loyalists and Redcoats: A Study in British Revolutionary Policy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964.

Smith, Paul H. "The American Loyalists: Notes on Their Organization and Numerical Strength." William and Mary Quarterly, 25 no. 2 (1968): 259–277.

Walker, James W. St. G. The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870. London: Dalhousie University Press, 1976.

James S. Leamon

See also:Association Test; Galloway, Grace: Diary of a Loyalist; Mobilization: War for Independence.


views updated May 21 2018


LOYALISTS. Histories of the Loyalists fall into two groups. The first and older tradition, flourishing from the Revolution itself until the World War II, considered them to have been a force unto themselves, a phalanx of conservative colonists committed to values of order, subordination, and imperial ambition who bravely stood athwart the libertarian, egalitarian, middle-class aspirations of their Patriot antagonists. Since 1945, historians of the Loyalists have situated them within, rather than athwart, the Revolution, recognizing that with a few notable exceptions, the so-called Tories were in fact Whiggish in their understanding of the British Constitution and reluctantly unwilling to embrace actual independence under republican government when those realities descended on them sometime between 1774 and 1777.

Generations of nineteenth-century American schoolchildren were taught that if anything during the American Revolution was lower than a British regular or a Hessian it was a Tory or Loyalist. What good could possibly be said about a native-born American who sided with the British? With the publication of Claude H. Van Tyne's Loyalists in the American Revolution in 1902, a revisionist trend got under way that tended to glorify Loyalists as honorable people victimized by diabolical mobs. This tendency was epitomized in the works of Kenneth Roberts, particularly in Oliver Wiswell (1940). The truth lies somewhere in between; this article will not presume to say just where but, rather, will attempt to outline the views of historical authorities.


Here, for a starter, is the statement of Canadian historian Henry Smith Williams:

It is but truth to say the loyalists … were the makers of Canada. They were an army of leaders. The most influential judges, the most distinguished lawyers, the most capable and prominent physicians, the most highly educated clergy, the members of the council of various colonies, the crown officials, the people of culture and social distinction—these … were the loyalists. Canada owes deep gratitude to her southern kinsmen, who thus, from Maine to Georgia, picked out their choicest spirits, and sent them forth to people our northern wilds. (Steele, American Campaigns, p. 12).

Van Tyne gives an interesting breakdown of the categories of Tories before the arrival of Gage in Boston: (1) officeholders, whose income was at stake; (2) "those gregarious persons whose friends were among the official class"; (3) Anglican clergymen, many of whom had motives similar to those of the crown officials; (4) "conservative people of all classes, who glided easily in the old channels"; (5) "dynastic" Tories who believed in kings; (6) "legality" Tories who thought Parliament had a right to tax; (7) religious Tories, whose dogma was "Fear God and honor the King"; and (8) "factional" Tories whose action was determined by family friends and old political animosities. The De Lanceys in New York became Loyalists because Livingstons were Whigs. Christopher Sower in Pennsylvania embraced the opposition primarily because the Patriot leadership of his region represented the critics of his family and religious sect. The antipathy of the Otises toward British authority stemmed from a personal animosity toward Governor Bernard.

Yet the Loyalists showed a peculiar inability to organize. "It is not far wrong to say that a genuine Loyalist party did not exist in the colonies until the commercial war failed and the real war began," Van Tyne has said. (War of Independence, p. 22n). "Instead," he has written, "of taking part in the colonial politics, they withdrew, in many cases, and looked frowningly on while rebellion advanced by leaps and bounds" (Loyalists, p. 87).


Surprisingly, the greatest Loyalist strength appears to have been in the frontier regions. Colonel Rankin headed a movement in Pennsylvania and adjacent areas. The border warfare in New York and the civil war that raged in the southern theater are other examples. Organized Tory resistance was promptly squelched in Virginia when the fighting started; farther south the rebels also got the upper hand initially, but subsequent Tory uprisings were serious.

In the north, the Loyalists first acted as associated bands but then enlisted by the thousands in the British army. H. E. Egerton has written:

New York alone furnished about 15,000 to the British Army and over 8,000 Loyalist militia. All of the other colonies furnished about as many more, so that we may safely say that 50,000 soldiers, either regular or militia, were drawn into the service of Great Britain from her American sympathizers. Tories formed no inconsiderable part of Burgoyne's army. Even when they did not join, their known presence in large numbers among the inhabitants of the region prevented the Americans from leaving their homes to join the American army. The British forces were also greatly helped in the matter of supplies by the Tory inhabitants (Causes and Character, p. 178).

"New York supplied more recruits to George III than to George Washington," Crane Brinton has written. "It has been estimated that perhaps only one third of the colonists actively backed the Revolution" (p. 317). The Tories may be correct in claiming to have had more long-term troops in service than the rebels after 1778, Lynn Montross has written in Rag Tag, and Bobtail (1952). This was because the British could equip them. Although no fewer than sixty-nine Loyalist regiments were organized to the extent of seeking volunteers, at least twenty-one of these actually took the field with an average strength of several hundred men each.


The Loyalists had an interesting effect on British strategic planners, who tended to anticipate more support than existed in regions of America where they had not yet operated. When Tory support failed to materialize in New England, the British expected to find it in New York and shifted military operations there. Simultaneously, they got drawn into the Charleston expedition of Clinton in 1776. The hope of Loyalist assistance had a part in luring them into the unfortunate Bennington raid. Ferguson's defeat at Kings Mountain also stemmed from this fallacy. Another effect of the Loyalists was in restricting British strategic movement when they became burdened with Loyalists who had to be evacuated or protected. One reason why Sir William Howe went from Boston to Halifax rather than directly to New York was that he had to evacuate Tories from Boston. A reason that Howe permitted himself to get overextended in the winter of 1776 was because he had to outpost Trenton, Bordentown, Princeton, and Brunswick to protect the Tories of New Jersey. The isolated post of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, had to be garrisoned (by a northern Tory unit) for the protection of loyal inhabitants of the region. The two most brilliant American victories, Trenton and Cowpens, can be traced indirectly to the need for the British to overextend themselves to protect Loyalists.


Persecution of the Loyalists started with mob action by the Sons of Liberty and continued throughout the Revolution. Matthew Steele has stated that "while liberty-loving pamphleteers were writing about the 'rights of man,' thousands of our patriotic ancestors were subjecting innocent, but loyal, persons to every sort of indignity and torture…. There was absolutely no freedom of the press or tongue, save for those that expressed opinions against the government" (p. 12). Test laws and statutes confiscating Tory property were passed. Perhaps forty thousand Loyalists were expelled from the states. New York made $3.6 million from the sale of confiscated property, and Maryland collected over $2 million. When the British evacuated New York City in 1783, they took out seven thousand Tories, and the estimated total of those who left America during the Revolution is almost one hundred thousand. In July 1783 the British government established a commission that examined 4,118 claims before it finished in 1790, having allotted almost £3.3 million to compensate loyal Americans for their losses.

SEE ALSO Bennington Raid; Border Warfare in New York; Charleston Expedition of Clinton in 1776; Cherry Valley Massacre, New York; Cowpens, South Carolina; Howe, William; Kings Mountain, South Carolina; Otis, James; Rankin, William; Southern Theater, Military Operations in; Sower, Christopher; Test Oath; Trenton, New Jersey; Wyoming Valley Massacre, Pennsylvania.


Brinton, Crane, John B. Christopher, and Robert Lee Wolff. Modern Civilization: A History of the Last Five Centuries. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1957.

Brown, Wallace. The Good Americans: The Loyalists in the American Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1969.

Calhoon, Robert M. The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760–1781. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

Crary, Catherine S. The Price of Loyalty: Tory Writings from the Revolutionary Era. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Egerton, H. E. The Causes and Character of the American Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon, 1923.

Norton, Mary Beth. The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

Steele, Matthew Forney. American Campaigns. Washington: Combat Forces Press, 1951.

Van Tyne, Claude. The Loyalists in the American Revolution. New York, P. Smith: 1929.

―――――――. The War of Independence: American Phase, Being the Second Volume of a History of the Founding of the American Republic. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1929.

                              revised by Robert M. Calhoon


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LOYALISTS were colonials who took the British side during the American Revolution. "Tories" often is used as a synonym but refers in the eighteenth-century context to believers in an unrestrained monarchy. Most Loyalists believed in Parliament's supremacy over the Crown and the colonies alike. Revolutionaries used "the disaffected" to describe not only active opponents but also people who tried to stay out of the conflict, including religious objectors like Quakers.

Estimates of the number of Loyalists have varied widely. John Adams supposedly said that one-third of colonials favored the Revolution, one-third opposed, and one-third stayed neutral, but that no longer commands credence. The historian Robert R. Palmer demonstrated that roughly sixty thousand people emigrated rather than accept the Revolution's triumph, a larger proportion of the actual population than emigrated from revolutionary France.

But many who opposed the Revolution did not leave, and some eventually rose to prominence in the young Republic. Moreover neither the supposed Adams estimate nor Palmer's figure takes into account the numerous enslaved blacks who chose the British side to win the British guarantee of freedom. Nor do the numbers include Indians who saw Britain as their only ally against land-hungry white colonials. For their own part British officials believed the vast majority of colonials would prove loyal if only the revolutionary leadership could be overthrown.

Without a general head count all arguments about absolute numbers are moot. A better approach is to understand that once independence was declared people might experience either conversion or persecution, in either direction, but no compromise or hope that the next election would change the state of affairs existed. The Revolution was not an era of normal politics. In principle the choice of king or Congress was absolute.

In practice Loyalists' strength depended not so much on numbers as on political and military situations. As the American movement moved from resistance to Revolution, Loyalists at the top of the old political and social structure could slow it down. These included native-born royal governors, such as Benjamin Franklin's son William Franklin in New Jersey or Thomas Hutchinson in Massachusetts; royal councilors and high judges in most provinces; Anglo-American politicians, like the Mohawk baronet Sir William Johnson and his son Sir John; and some political groups, such as the De Lancey party in New York. They also included individuals who had helped begin the movement, such as the lawyer Daniel Dulany of Maryland, the lawyer William Smith Jr. of New York, and the merchant Isaac Low of New York. But during the independence crisis they all were driven from the political arena. Their patriot compeers and the nucleus of a new elite displaced them.

At the popular level few white Loyalists lived in New England or Virginia. In New York, however, Staten Islanders and Long Islanders favored the king over Congress by an overwhelming majority. People in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys divided, leading to disruption and outright civil war. Many Loyalists lived in New Jersey, and a significant number lived on Maryland's eastern shore. They resisted the Revolution, even to the point of guerrilla warfare, but they remained clandestine unless British soldiers were nearby. Until 1780 it seemed that the Lower South was secure for the Revolution. But when the British captured Charles Town, South Carolina's governor renewed his allegiance and many backcountry people rallied to the British forces. As in the Mohawk Valley, civil war ensued.

After initial efforts to convert the "disaffected," political police, such as New York's Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, hauled suspects in, paying little regard to procedure. A few Loyalists were executed. Others were imprisoned in dismal places like Connecticut's Simsbury Mines. States confiscated Loyalists' property, and Loyalists were deprived of "the protection of the laws" and exiled with the penalty of death upon return. Victorious patriots could sue them despite the requirement in the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that the persecution end. Black Loyalists feared and often suffered reenslavement until British vessels finally bore them away. Indians who had chosen and fought on the British side were treated as conquered people whose land and liberties were forfeited unless they moved to Canada.


Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Calhoon, Robert M. The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760– 1781. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

Frey, Sylvia R. Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Hodges, Graham Russell. The Black Loyalist Directory. New York: Garland, 1996.

Hoffman, Ronald, Thad W. Tate, and Peter J. Albert, eds. An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry during the American Revolution. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985.

Kelsay, Isabel Thompson. Joseph Brant, 1743–1807: Man of Two Worlds. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1984.

Norton, Mary Beth. The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.


See alsoConfiscation Acts ; Indians in the Revolution ; Revolution, American .


views updated May 11 2018

loy·al·ist / ˈloiəlist/ • n. a person who remains loyal to the established ruler or government, esp. in the face of a revolt. ∎  (Loyalist) a colonist of the American revolutionary period who supported the British cause. ∎  (Loyalist) a supporter of union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. ∎  (Loyalist) a supporter of the republic and opposer of Franco's revolt in the Spanish Civil War.DERIVATIVES: loy·al·ism / -ˌlizəm/ n.


views updated May 11 2018

Loyalist In Northern Ireland, a person who wishes the province to remain part of the United Kingdom. In contrast, a Republican is one who wishes Northern Ireland to unite with the Republic of Ireland. In US history, Loyalists were those North American colonists who refused to renounce their allegiance to the British monarchy after the Declaration of Independence (July 1776).


views updated Jun 08 2018

Loyalist a colonist of the American revolutionary period who supported the British cause.

The name Loyalist is also given in Northern Ireland to a supporter of the union with Great Britain.

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