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Loyalists and Loyalism in the American Revolution

Loyalists, those colonists that affirmed Britain’s authority over the colonies, were described at the time as "persons inimical to the liberties of America." In the republican ideology of the new nation, tories were vilified as offenders against the public good who acted out of ignorance, cupidity, or moral obtuseness. But if the political complexion between 1775 and 1783 is accurately described as equally divided among patriots, loyalists, and those diffident or disaffected, understanding loyalism is essential to unlocking the puzzle of revolutionary America. Between 60,000 and 80,000 Americans chose to go into exile after 1783. Among these were many of the ablest and wealthiest men in colonial life, but the group also included ordinary men and women, as well as a thousand black loyalists who eventually settled in Sierra Leone. In a tri-racial society, Native Americans were also forced to choose sides. Indeed, loyalists were not an identifiable segment of the wartime population. Outside the British-controlled garrison towns, loyalism was often fluid, especially in the backcountry. Where the patriot army was weak, citizens could afford to be loyalist or neutral, but changes in military power also made loyalism precarious. Anglicans were more likely to be loyalists, but pietist sects such as the Mennonites, Dunkers, and Brethren also faced difficult political and religious dilemmas, as did the Quakers. As recent arrivals in America, John Wesley’s Methodists were more likely to hold loyalist sympathies. These factors made the war at times partisan, civil, or revolutionary in character. More than simply the losers in the war, loyalists were the obverse of the new nation’s ideology without which the Revolution is incompletely understood.

A sample DBQ document set on loyalism may be found on historyteacher.net.

Objectives

1. To understand how ideologies were constructed before and during the Revolutionary War. How and why were some "reluctant revolutionaries" turned into whig patriots willing to fight against the British empire, while others asserted a loyalist allegiance to Britain?

2. To explore the experience of African-American slaves and free blacks as loyalists.

3. To understand some of the patterns of participation during the war. Who fought on the patriot side? Who remained loyal to Great Britain? Who was resignedly, or defiantly, neutral? After the war, who was reintegrated? Who chose exile?

Activities

A web-based game, "Loyalty or Liberty," allows students to explore the conflicting motivations that pitted neighbor against neighbor, coast against backcrountry, and sometimes father against son.

Comparing Arguments

Loyalist counter-arguments to separation are a useful means of tracing the construction of whig ideology before and during the Revolution Ask students to read the text of the Articles of Association, 1774 and analyze the reasons that its provisions were problematic for some colonists. For which groups did the Association prove most troublesome? Ask students to account for the ties that bound the different loyalist groups to Great Britain—from government officials to merchants to residents of the backcountry. Ask the students to explain why the Continental Congress repudiated Joseph Galloway’s 1774 "Plan of a Proposed Union." Ask them to explain why the proposal failed to pass by a single vote, yet was later expunged from the official records of the Continental Congress. "A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies," 1775, by Rev. Samuel Seabury, the "Westchester Farmer," should be examined alongside Alexander Hamilton’s responses ("A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress from the Calumnies of their Enemies," 1774, and "A Farmer Refuted," 1775) to Seabury’s attempt to reconcile local self-government with Parliamentary authority. Students might be asked to compare and contrast James Chalmers’s Plain Truth with Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. They might also analyze the writings of "Candidus"-probably James Chalmers-which appeared in a 1779 edition of The New York Gazette: what is the source of each Whig charge that Candidus refutes in this piece? Chalmers’s mature reflections on Paine and the war may be found in his Strictures on a Pamphlet Written by Thomas Paine, 1796. Excerpts from the series of letters exchanged by Daniel Leonard ("Massachusettensis") and John Adams ("Novanglus") over the constitutionality of Whig attacks on Parliament’s authority might also be contrasted.

Comparing Accounts

Contemporary accounts of events also provide insight into the conflicts between whigs and loyalists. Three differing accounts of the Battle of Lexington and Concord-by Ann Hulton, General Gage, and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress-might be used to evaluate the points of view of the British army, loyalist sympathizers, and whigs.

Capt. Thomas Preston’s account of the Boston Massacre can be compared with an anonymous account of the same. Students might also be asked to explain the attitudes represented in Paul Revere’s engraving of Henry Pelham’s broadside image of the Massacre.

Comparing Cultures

A collection of loyalist and whig songs and ballads can be used to show how conflicting ideologies manifested themselves in popular culture. Rosalie Murphy Baum has constructed classroom issues and strategies that deal with ballads and songs. Furthermore, the works of poet Rev. Jonathan Odell may profitably be compared with those of whig poet Philip Freneau; ask students to look at the audience addressed by each and the political imagery presented. A website by David S. Shields discusses classroom issues and strategies for studying Freneau. Another site provides a brief biographical treatment of Odell, "the Tory satirist."

Race, Religion, and Partisanship

A website devoted to Black Loyalists presents an overview of the group and contains a variety of primary sources about this group. Several personal accounts and a collection of letters relating to the lives of black loyalists are available; these were written by both whites and blacks. David George’s autobiography, for example, might be contrasted with later slave narratives in which the North was the guarantor of freedom. The site also contains a range of official documents, including proclamations, treaties, muster lists, the Black Loyalist Directory, bills, survey records, and land records.

In short writing assignments, students might be asked to compare and contrast the text of Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation with Virginia’s response. Ask students to contrast the history of Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment with the Black Pioneers, which comprised African-American slaves attached to the British army, as discussed in the On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. The regiment’s formation orders and the oath taken upon enlisting are included. This site also contains petitions, memorials, and other documents that allow the students to follow the various ways in which the British army utilized and rewarded slaves. Land sales, muster lists, wills, indentures, and petitions are also available. Students might also be asked to analyze the data about occupation and colonial origins from the Black Loyalist Directory. All the surnames in the Black Loyalist Directory are indexed. These documents also tie into later lessons on Anglo-American colonization and anti-slavery: among them is a 1791 advertisement for the Sierra Leone Company, and documents like Boston King’s memoirs allow the student to follow black loyalists who eventually relocated in Sierra Leone. Finally, the student might be asked to contrast the petitions and other records that document the experience of black loyalists with the denied petition of Jehu Grant for a pension based on his service to the Continental Army.

An image of "The Scalping Party" allows the students to explore the role of Native Americans in the backcountry. Whig attitudes toward the tribes of the frontier are addressed in a letter from Gen. Washington directing Gen. Sullivan to destroy the fields and crops of Iroquois allied with the British. Sullivan’s expedition is graphically described in the chapter seven of Mary Jemison’s captivity narrative; if the students have read Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, they might explore the ways that the trope of cultivation and improvement versus savagery flip-flopped over time.

A website devoted to an exhibition at the Library of Congress on "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic" contains many images that are useful to explore the religious aspects of loyalism. For example, ask the students to explain the allegorical treatment of the whig as Absalom, rebelling against and suffering from the arbitrary rule of his father King David (George III), who is shown playing his harp, oblivious to the anguish of his children in the American colonies. The figure executing Absalom is dressed as a British red coat. A study of the role of ministers in the Revolution is also fruitful. Anglican minister Charles Inglis proposed a way to reconcile British and local interests in "The True Interest of American Impartially Stated," 1776. The whiggish political cartoon, "An Attempt to Land a Bishop in America," can be examined. A political-religious argument can be examined also in one of the 1770 "Dougliad" essays. The pro-British cartoon, "The Yankie Doodles Intrenchment Near Boston 1776," similarly portrays "Cromwellian" antecedents.

Conduct and Aftermath

Assign students the provisions for restitution of confiscated property in article five of the Treaty of Paris. Postwar loyalist claims and memorials have been organized by colony. Ask students to use these memorials to interpret the limits on volitional allegiance to the new nation and the wartime experience that prevented easy reintegration. Students might be asked to analyze the occupations and colonial origins of loyalists who relocated in New Brunswick. The chasm separating loyalist from whig might also be explored using contemporary images. Images. Other images students might discuss include one of tarring and feathering or Benjamin Franklin’s "Join or Die" image. . James Rivington’s Aug. 25, 1774 New York Gazetteer published a poem that commented on Franklin’s image:

Ye sons of Sedition, how comes it to pass

That America’s ty’d by a Snake—in the grass?

Don’t you think ‘tis a scandalous, saucy reflection,

That merits the soundest, severest correction?

New-England’s the Head, too;--New-England’s abus’d;

For the Head of the Serpent we know should be bruis’d!

Ask students to explain why the image evoked such different images from loyalists and patriots.

Students are likely to be familiar with the savagery and brutality of the campaigns in the backcountry through The Patriot. While the film might be used as a springboard (in conjunction with the documents on the Black Loyalists and Advanced Loyalist websites) for discussion of what motivated slaves to ally themselves with the British, it also dramatizes the conflicting pressures on whites. Ask the students to consider the impact of the practices of the film’s Col. William Tavington, who was based on Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton; the differences between the fictional Tavington and the real Tarleton were considerable, not least in Tarleton’s surviving the war. The "Hudibrastic Epistle to Colonel Tarleton" glorifies Tarleton’s tactics. Tarleton himself justified his much-criticized actions in his A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America; his self-approval comes through in an excerpt from the Virginia campaign. Ask your students to speculate on the military and ideological consequences of Indian and British army brutalities in the backcountry.