A Student of History

October 24, 2007

Tories of the Revolution

Filed under: Early America,Wars — John Maass @ 8:53 am

At Commonplace, there’s an extensive article on Loyalists during the American Revolution, a subject near to my heart (at least regarding N.C.)  It is by Edward Larkin, at the U. of Delaware.  Here’s a snipet of the on-line article:

Not only have loyalists been generally dismissed as self-interested, cowardly, antidemocratic, elitist collaborators, their numbers have often been distorted and minimized. Determining who was a loyalist and under what conditions can be very difficult. Given the intimidation and violence to which they were subjected by crowd action, committees of safety, and patriot agitators like Paine, most loyalists carefully avoided public scrutiny. Many signed oaths of allegiance to the patriot cause when threatened with public action; some successfully maintained a pretense of neutrality; and still others kept their secret safe. This may explain why calculations of the percentage of loyalists in the colonies and early states have varied from one-fifth to one-third of the total population. The most famous estimate of the percentage of loyalists at the time of the Revolution comes from an 1815 letter John Adams wrote to James Lloyd in which he calculates that one-third of the population were “averse to the revolution.” In the same letter Adams also suggests that another third wavered in their allegiances. Even at the more conservative (probably too conservative) 20 percent figure favored by some historians, the idea that such a significant proportion of the population may have opposed the independence movement is a staggering fact—a fact that remains virtually unaccounted for in our reckoning of the Revolution. Moreover, if we add the significant numbers of blacks and Native Americans who, for various reasons, sided with the British, the percentage of loyalists swells to an even greater proportion of the population. In this discussion I have focused solely on the white settlers because they form the core of the typical narrative of the Revolution.

For some reason, Larkin states that Mary Beth Norton’s book on Loyalists in England is the “classic treatment of loyalists.”  This is simply untrue.  Her’s is a study of Tories in England and the world they made there, and has much less to do with the “Tory problem” in America.  A much better work to consult is Robert Calhoon’s book on Loyalism in the states. 

The coming of the Loyalists, 1783

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