Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Loyalist (American Revolution)
- This article concerns Loyalists in the American Revolution. For other uses of the word "loyalist", see the disambiguation page.
Loyalists (often capitalized L) were British North American colonists who remained loyal subjects of the British crown during the American Revolutionary War. They were also called Tories or "King's Men". Those Loyalists settling in what would become Canada are often called United Empire Loyalists. Their colonial opponents, who supported the Revolution, were called Patriots, Whigs, or just Americans. From the American perspective, the Loyalists were traitors who turned against their fellow colonists and collaborated with an oppressive British government; from the Canadian and British perspective, the Loyalists were the honorable ones who stood by the king, while the American rebels were the traitors.
Loyalists were loosely associated with Anglicanism in the same way that Patriots were associated with Presbyterianism. They also enjoyed the reputation of being relatively wealthier and better-educated than their Patriot opponents; but there were also many Loyalists of humble means, particularly in New York's Mohawk Valley and on the frontiers of Georgia and South Carolina.
Historians estimate that about 15-20% of the adult white male population of the thirteen colonies were Loyalists. An often cited statement by John Adams, in which he seemed to suggest that about one-third of the people were Loyalists, was taken out of context and did not refer to the sentiments of the colonists.
The greater number of the Loyalists were to be found in the present state of New York, where the capital was in possession of the British from September, 1776, until the evacuation in 1783. They were also the majority in Pennsylvania and the southern colonies of South Carolina and Georgia. In all the other states they represented a large minority of the elites of their respective communities.
During the war, about 50 military units were made up of Loyalists, many of whom had their lands or property seized. It is estimated that there were actually from 30–35,000, at one time or other, enrolled in regularly organised corps, without including the bodies which waged guerilla warfare in South Carolina and elsewhere. A large number of Loyalist families took refuge in New York City and Long Island. Other Loyalists reestablished a pro-British colonial government in Georgia.
Loyalists began leaving early in the war when transport was available. An estimated 70,000 Loyalists left the thirteen colonies, about 3% of the total population. In areas under Patriot control, they were subject to confiscation of property and even tar and feathering or worse. They could be arrested for being loyal to the British, some were even blackmailed, whipped, abused, threatened, and attacked by mobs of Revolutionaries.
Following the end of the American Revolutionary War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Loyalist soldiers and civilians were evacuated from New York and resettled in other colonies of the British Empire, most notably in the future Canada: the two colonies of Nova Scotia (including modern-day New Brunswick, receiving in total some 25,000 Loyalist refugees) and Canada (including the Eastern Townships and modern-day Ontario, receiving altogether some 10,000 refugees). This group of people are most often referred to as United Empire Loyalists. In effect, the new British North American provinces of Upper Canada (the forerunner of Ontario) and New Brunswick were founded as places of refuge for the United Empire Loyalists. For a consideration of Loyalists' role in the formation of English Canadian identity, see Canadian identity.
Many Native Americans also left the 13 colonies for Canada. The descendents of one such group of Iroquois, led by Joseph Brant Thayendenegea, settled at Six Nations of the Grand River, the largest First Nations Reserve in Canada. A group of Black Loyalists left Nova Scotia and settled in Sierra Leone.
Many of the Loyalists were forced to abandon substantial amounts of property, and restoration of or compensation for this lost property was a major issue during the negotiation of the Jay Treaty in 1795. More than two centuries later, some of the descendants of Loyalists still assert claim to their ancestors' property in the United States.
- "Who were the Loyalists" by Ann Mackenzie (5-page, in pdf format)
- "Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People"
- "Remembering Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia"
- Calhoon, Robert M. "Loyalism and neutrality" in Jack P. Greene and J.R. Pole, eds., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991.
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