Whew, what a month. As mentioned in my last post, I usually read several books in the summer. With the busy schedule of summer school, household tasks to prepare for our next child and keeping up with a two-year-old, I have not had much time in June to read. I did finally finish Liberty's Exiles, a thorough account of the other side of the American Revolution - the Loyalists. What I enjoyed most about this text was that Maya Jasanoff analyzed the overall history of loyalists and examined the personal stories of a handful of historical characters.
Here's what I learned from this impressive work:
1. Telling the story of American Loyalists is not as simple as mentioning that there was a substantial section of the American population that chose to remain loyal to King George III and that many of these people left after the war. In fact, once these loyalists left America, defining them by shear "loyalty" to the King became difficult to define, especially as some struggled with the local governments they encountered in their new homes, or for blacks who failed to receive the fulfillment of the true freedom they were promised (either in Africa, Nova Scotia or in other places) or for the Indians who lost their British allies and protection in the early 1800s and permanently after the War of 1812. Despite the disappointments, the British government did make great efforts to care for those who remained loyal during the war. Some of these efforts produced great results, some failed.
2. Often history textbooks (including one I have used for class) represent loyalists as mostly rich, well-educated and Anglican. While plenty do fit this stereotype, the term "loyalist" transcends every demographic barrier in the Thirteen Colonies.
3. The American Revolution was truly "our" first civil war - pitting neighbors against each other and exposing factions within American society. Just as declaring independence from Britain was no easy decision for the patriots, as many of them still considered themselves British in the early years of Revolution, deciding to stay loyal and uphold that loyalty in the face of violence was even more challenging and for many, devastating.
4. The major groups of "loyalists" include:
- White, British subjects (including the stereotype: well-educated, Anglican, or slaveholders, etc and those not included by the stereotype: merchants and small farmers)
- Free blacks and former slaves offered emancipation for serving in the British Army. For former slaves, their evacuation from America represents the largest mass emancipation of slaves until the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865.
- Indians who allied with the British in order to protect their lands
6. Evacuation from America was a complicated process, especially in dealing with "runaway slaves," and on a personal level, it was traumatic for those who had lost everything and faced further separation from family and friends.
7. Those who left or those who stayed must be viewed with a global and diverse perspective. Some were able to restore loses, gain compensation and rebuild some sort of livelihood. Some lost everything: property, families or their very lives. Some joined the military, some gained fame and some sunk into obscurity. The major recipients of the "Loyalist diaspora" include:
- Great Britain - some returned to their mother land or settled in the mother land for the first time. The work of the Loyalist Claims Commission was not only a noble attempt to compensate those who remained attached to the crown, but for historians today, it provides a wealth of documentary evidence for understand the scale of migration.
- Nova Scotia (and later New Brunswick) - many chose to remain in British North America and make these maritime provinces profitable. Free blacks and former slaves who settled here did not always find the harmony they were promised while Mohawk Indians who remained loyal to Britain worked to carve their own autonomy and maintain protection.
- Africa - The first "back to Africa" movement was sponsored by the British on the banks of the Sierra Leone River. The first settlement was an immediate failure, while the second had some promise but eventually failed as well. Ironically, this settlement hailed by abolitionists as a seed of freedom (even by its name, Free Town) was just down river from the largest slaving station in the British Empire.
- India and Australia - Some loyalists, many through military service, moved to the far reaches of the empire. In fact, India replaced the original Thirteen Colonies as the economic engine of British imperialism.
- Native Americans and hopes for an independent state - Some loyalists, including John Cruden, Joseph Brant and William Augustus Bowles, hoped to carve out territory in North America. These hopes were lost to a rapidly expanding United States, especially for Brant and Bowles who hoped for protective territory for Mohawks and Creeks, respectively. The link between British (or loyalist) ambitions and Indian resistance to the westward settlement of Americans was one of the causes of the War of 1812, a conflict that ended the great hopes of Indian confederacies in the trans-Mississippi and Ohio Valley regions.
- East Florida (St. Augustine) - A few thousand loyalists, including some former slaves, evacuated out of British-occupied Charles Town (now Charleston) and Savannah for St. Augustine. The governor, Patrick Tonyn, hoped to grow the East Florida colony and worked on plans for land grants around the St. Johns River (local history!). The Treaty of Paris that formally ended the American War for Independence ceded Florida back to Spain, completely stunning the loyalists who were already in St. Augustine trying to reestablish their lives and create a sense of livelihood.
- Bahamas, Jamaica and the Caribbean - Other loyalists, especially after St. Augustine and East Florida was returned to Spain, settled in the British West Indies. In Barbados and Jamaica, former plantation owners hoped to tap into the lucrative sugar business. In several cases, struggles between the British government in these colonies and the existing inhabitants with the refugees became evident.
9. Not all loyalists were perfect British subjects. In fact, while in conflict with local governments over land disputes and representation in government or other issues, some loyalists seemed more like the American patriots that they had opposed in the war years. The dynamics of this relationship will be tested even more during the French Revolution and the very long conflict between the British and the French in the 1790s and early 1800s.
10. Loyalists do not have the same "loss complex" as other "losers" of wars. As Jasanoff points out, after the War of 1812 (which marks the end of this era) most loyalists had absorbed into the British empire. There is no "lost cause" movement as is seen with those in the American South after the U.S. Civil War.
Here's a link to the book on Amazon, should you feel compelled to read more.
My next target: In honor of the 150th commemoration of the Civil War, I am now reading John Keegan's military history of the war. Military history is not always my favorite, but I am hoping to expand my horizons.