File:Reception of the American Loyalists.jpg

Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain (and the British monarchy) during and after the American Revolutionary War. They were often referred to as Tories, Royalists, or King's Men by the Patriots, those that supported the American cause. When their cause was defeated, about 20% of the Loyalists left the U.S. to resettle in other parts of the British Empire, in Britain or elsewhere in British North America (especially New Brunswick), where they were called United Empire Loyalists; some went to the British West Indies, especially the Bahamas). Black Loyalists made up some of the Loyalist community.

Historians have estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of the white population were Loyalists.[1] Historian Robert Middlekauff estimates that about 500,000 colonists, or 19 percent of the white population, remained loyal to Britain.[2]

Loyalists in wartime Edit

By July 4, 1776 the American Revolutionaries had gained control of virtually all territory in the 13 States by violently suppressing the Loyalists, demanding that they all give up their loyalty to the King. Those who refused to do so ran the risk of being tarred and feathered as a deterrent to others. Those that were still determined to remain loyal contributed to the war by giving aid and volunteering to fight with the British army.[3]

The British had been forced out of Boston between March 4 and March 17, 1776; but they returned to New York in August to convincingly defeat the Continental army at Long Island and in doing so, captured New York City and its vicinity, where they remained until 1783. From time to time they also seized control of other cities such as Philadelphia (1777), Savannah (1778–83) and Charleston (1780–82), together with various slices of countryside. However, 90% of the colonial population lived outside the cities. The result was that the Congress controlled 80–90% of the population at all times. The British pulled out their governors from where the Patriots were in control. But Loyalist civilian government was re-established in coastal Georgia[4] 1779–82, although the Americans still controlled some of the upstate. Elsewhere, the British were only able to maintain power where they had sufficient army or navy presence.


In Canada, American agents were active, especially John Brown, agent of the Boston Committee of Correspondence,[5] along with Canadian-American merchant Thomas Walker and others, during the winter of 1774–5. They won over some inhabitants to sympathize with Congress. However others — probably the large majority — remained neutral, also not joining the militia which the British had called out to protect against the American invasion in late 1775. Although only a minority openly expressed loyalty to King George: about 1500 militia fought for the King in defence of Montreal. In the region south of Montreal occupied by the Americans, some inhabitants supported the Americans and raised two regiments to join them.[6] In Nova Scotia, the large American settlement there tried to win more support and were said to have been tar and feathering Loyalists, but with the powerful British naval base there, this was quickly stamped out.

Loyalists in the Thirteen ColoniesEdit

Historian Robert Calhoun wrote concerning the number of loyalists and patriots:

Historians' best estimates put the proportion of adult white male loyalists somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Approximately half the colonists of European ancestry tried to avoid involvement in the struggle — some of them deliberate pacifists, others recent emigrants, and many more simple apolitical folk. The patriots received active support from perhaps 40 to 45 percent of the white populace, and at most no more than a bare majority.[7]

Earlier estimates were somewhat higher, reaching one-third of the population, but are no longer accepted by most scholars.[8] Adams did indeed estimate in another letter, that same year, that in the American Revolution, the Patriots had to struggle against approximately one-third of the population, while they themselves constituted about two-thirds of it. He made no mention of neutrals[9] In the late 1960s Paul H. Smith arrived at the lower figure of 19.8% by statistical calculations based on the strength of the loyalist regiments fighting for the British.[10]

Historian Robert Middlekauff summarizes scholarly research on who was a Loyalist as follows:

The largest number of loyalist were found in the middle colonies: many tenant farmers of New York supported the king, for example, as did many of the Dutch in the colony and in New Jersey. The Germans in Pennsylvania tried to stay out of the Revolution, just as many Quakers did, and when that failed, clung to the familiar connection rather than embrace the new. Highland Scots in the Carolinas, a fair number of Anglican clergy and their parishioners in Connecticut and New York, a few Presbyterians in the southern colonies, and a large number of the Iroquois Indians stayed loyal to the king.[11]

File:Johnson Hall, Johnstown, NY.jpg

New York City and Long Island (the British military and political base of operations in North America from 1776 to 1783) had a very large concentration of Loyalists, many of whom were refugees from other states.[12]

Calhoun (1973) shows that Loyalists tended to be older, more likely merchants and wealthier, but there were also many Loyalists of humble means. Many active Church of England members became Loyalists. Some recent arrivals from Britain, especially Scots, had a high Loyalist proportion. Loyalists in the South, however, were suppressed by the local Revolutionaries who controlled local and state government. Many people — such as some of the ex-Regulators in North Carolina — refused to join the Revolutionaries as they had earlier protested against corruption by the local authorities who later became Revolutionary leaders. Such pre-Revolutionary War oppression by the local Whigs contributed to the reason that much of backcountry North Carolina tended to be loyalist.[12]

In Revolutionary controlled areas — that is most of the country — Loyalists were subject to confiscation of property. Outspoken supporters of the king were threatened with public humiliation (such as tarring and feathering) or physical attack. It is not known how many Loyalist civilians were harassed by the Patriots, but the treatment was a warning to other Loyalists not to take up arms against the United States. In Philadelphia two locals were executed for actively aiding the British Army when it occupied the city. In September 1775 William Drayton and Loyalist leader Colonel Thomas Fletchall signed a treaty of neutrality in the interior community of Ninety Six, South Carolina.[13]

Black Loyalists and slaveryEdit

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As a result of the looming crisis in 1775 the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore issued a proclamation that promised freedom to servants and slaves who were able to bear arms and join his Loyalist Ethiopian regiment. About 800 did so and were able to convincingly rout the Virginia militia at Kemp's Landing. They then fought the Battle of Great Bridge on the Elizabeth River, wearing the motto "Liberty to Slaves," but this time they were defeated. The remains of their regiment were then involved in the evacuation of Norfolk, after which they served in the Chesapeake area. Unfortunately the camp that they had set up there suffered an outbreak of smallpox and other diseases. This took a heavy toll, putting many of them out of action for some time. The survivors joined other British units and continued to serve throughout the war. Blacks were often the first to come forward to volunteer and a total of 12,000 Blacks served with the British from 1775 to 1783. This factor had the effect of forcing the Revolutionaries to also offer freedom for those who served in the Continental army, but after the war, most actually remained as slaves.[14][15]

As the war ended and more Loyalists left the country, an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 Blacks decided to go with them, not all that wanted to go were able to do so, as they were being captured by Patriot owners.[16] A large number of them arrived in the Bahamas and re-created cotton plantations, although these eventually failed, they have, as with other former British Islands in the area, inherited virtually the whole country. About 400 to 1000 free Blacks went to London and joined the community of about 10,000 free blacks there. About 3500 to 4000 went to the British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where the British provided them with land. Over 1,500 settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, instantly making it the largest free Black community in North America. However, mainly because they were willing to work for less money than their white counterparts, some old prejudices crept back in. Britain, still wishing to stand by their commitment, offered to transport those that were dissatisfied elsewhere, so about 1,500 left Nova Scotia for the British colony of Sierra Leone in Africa where they named the capital, Freetown. After 1787 they became the country's ruling elite and because of this, the Krio, having African American ancestry, initially used dollars-and-cents as their units of currency..

Canada Edit

French Canadians had been appeased by the British government's Quebec Act of 1774, which offered religious and linguistic toleration, and were less receptive to the Declaration of Independence. While some Canadians took up arms for the republicans, the majority remained loyal to the King.

Because the British had only captured Quebec in 1759, most of the English-speaking settlers there were newly arrived and many were British-born - a group which was generally less likely to support separation from Britain. The older British colonies such as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland also remained loyal to the crown, and contributed military forces.

In 1775 the American Patriots sent a force to invade Canada, hoping to add it as a fourteenth colony to the United Colonies. They were defeated by a combination of difficult terrain, the British military and Canadian indifference.

1,500 Canadians also took part in a British expedition that eventually led to the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777.

After the entry of France into the war in 1778, many Canadians feared that an effort would be made by the French to reclaim their old Canadian lands, which contributed further to Anglo-Canadian support for the British crown.

During peace negotiations in Paris, negotiators from the United States made repeated attempts to acquire Canadian territory, but were unsuccessful in the final settlement, with the exception of what is now Michigan. Although the British posts at Detroit and Mackinac (administered as part of Canada) had never been challenged during the war, all of the territory "south of the lakes" was nevertheless included in the settlement. Michigan would not come under American control until 1796.

Military service Edit

The Loyalists rarely attempted any political organization. They were often passive unless regular British army units were in the area. The British, however, assumed a highly activist Loyalist community was ready to mobilize and planned much of their strategy around raising Loyalist regiments. The British provincial line, consisting of Americans enlisted on a regular army status, enrolled 19,000 American loyalists (50 units and 312 companies). Another 10,000 served in loyalist militia or "associations." The maximum strength of the Loyalist provincial line was 9,700 in December 1780.[17][18] In all about 50,000 at one time or another were soldiers or militia in British forces, including 15,000 from the main Loyalist stronghold of New York.[19] The majority of Loyalists fought in the southern colonies and were not from the north.[citation needed] In addition a large number of Americans served in the regular British army and in the Royal Navy.

Emigration Edit


The vast majority of the white Loyalists (450-500,000) remained in America during and after the war. Starting in the mid-1780s a small percentage of those who had left returned to the United States.

During and following the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Loyalists (especially soldiers and former officials) could choose evacuation. Loyalists whose roots were not yet deeply embedded in the New World were more likely to leave; older men who had familial bonds and had acquired friends, property, and a degree of social respectability were more likely to remain in America.[20]

About 10-15 percent of the Loyalists left, an estimated white 62,000 Loyalists, or about 2 percent of the total American population of 3 million in 1783. The figure of 100,000 Loyalists is often given for the number who actually went into exile, but this is more of guesstimate that could be regarded as somewhat accurate if Indian and Black Loyalists and emigrants to Canada from the USA from 1783-1800 are included. Many of these latter emigrants were motivated by the desire to take advantage of the British government's offer of free land, but many also were disillusioned by the continuing hostility to Tories and eventually decided to leave the new Republic.

About 46,000 went to British North America (present-day Canada). Of these 34,000 went to Nova Scotia, 2,000 to P.E.I. and 10,000 to Ontario. 7,000 went to Great Britain and 9,000 to the Bahamas and British colonies in the Caribbean.[21] The 34,000 went to Nova Scotia, where they were not well received by the Nova Scotians who were mostly descendants of New Englanders settled there before the Revolution, so the colony of New Brunswick, until 1784 part of Nova Scotia, was created for the 14,000 who had settled in those parts. Of the 46,000 who went to Canada, 10,000 went to Canada proper, especially the Eastern Townships of Quebec and modern-day Ontario. The Haldimand Collection is the main source for historians in the study of American Loyalists settlement in Canada.

Realizing the importance of some type of consideration, on November 9 1789, Lord Dorchester, the governor of Quebec, declared that it was his wish to "put the mark of Honour upon the Families who had adhered to the Unity of the Empire." As a result of Dorchester's statement, the printed militia rolls carried the notation:

Those Loyalists who have adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their Children and their Descendants by either sex, are to be distinguished by the following Capitals, affixed to their names: U.E. Alluding to their great principle The Unity of the Empire.

The postnominals "U.E." are rarely seen today, but the influence of the Loyalists on the evolution of Canada remains. Their ties to Britain and their antipathy to the United States provided the strength needed to keep Canada independent and distinct in North America. The Loyalists' basic distrust of republicanism and "mob rule" influenced Canada's gradual path to independence. 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.

The wealthiest and most prominent Loyalist exiles went to Great Britain to rebuild their careers; many received pensions. Many Southern Loyalists, taking along their slaves, went to the West Indies and the Bahamas, particularly to the Abaco Islands.

Many Loyalists brought their slaves with them to Canada (mostly to areas that later became Ontario and New Brunswick)where slavery was legal. An imperial law in 1790 assured prospective immigrants to Canada that their slaves would remain their property. However some black Loyalists were free and they arrived too.[22]

Thousands of Iroquois and other Native Americans were expelled from New York and other states and resettled in Canada. The descendants 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 settled in Nova Scotia but emigrated again for Sierra Leone after facing discrimination there.

Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) was a loyalist who fled to London when the War began. He became a scientist noted for pioneering thermodynamics and for his research on artillery ordnance. He expressed a desire to return to the United States in 1799 and was eagerly sought by the Americans (who needed help in fighting the Quasi-War with France). Rumford eventually decided to stay in London because he was engrossed with establishing the Royal Institution in England.[23]

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.

Return of some exiles Edit

The great majority of Loyalists never left the United States, staying on, although not recognized as citizens of the new country. A few who had disowned their past allegiance became nationally prominent leaders, including Samuel Seabury and Tench Coxe. Alexander Hamilton enlisted the help of the Tories in New York in 1782-85 to forge an alliance with moderate Whigs to wrest the state from the power of the radicals. Several thousand of those who had left for Florida returned to Georgia. There was a small, but significant trickle of returnees who found life in Nova Scotia too difficult. Some Massachusetts Tories settled in the Maine District. Nevertheless the vast majority never returned.

Of those who left Massachusetts, virtually none of them expressed a desire to return to what was their native home, as the wave of anti-Toryism persisted well after the peace treaty of 1783. All the laws passed against Loyalists were rescinded by 1790. Subsequently, the matter of loyalty to Britain became more and more a taboo subject and the myth arose that all but a small percentage of the population had been been 'Patriots, although for a long time some stalwarts expressed their true feelings. Apparently some people in Boston, for example, went into mourning on July 4 and closed the curtains of their homes.

Those Loyalists who were emotionally attached to the area and had stayed, were subjected to fines, land confiscation, no rightsTemplate:Clarify me and triple taxation. Any making their way back to Massachusetts between 1784 and 1789 found their reception was as hostile as ever. They found that in Massachusetts in particular, they not only encountered extreme anti-Toryism, but society was so chaotic[citation needed] they could not re-integrate themselves back into society, unable to reclaim property, work in their profession, collect debts or join the political culture of the state. An exception was Captain Benjamin Hallowell, who, as Mandamus Councilor in Massachusetts, served as the direct representative of the Crown. In that role, he was considered by the insurgents as one of the most hated men in the Colony but as a token of compensation when he returned from England in 1796, his son was allowed to regain the family house.[1]

Prominent Loyalists Edit

See alsoEdit


  1. Calhoon, "Loyalism and neutrality" p. 235
  2. Middlekauff (2005) pp. 563-564
  3. Middlekauff (2005)
  4. Georgia Encyclopædia.
  5. Aptheker, Herbert (1960). The American Revolution, 1763-1783. International Publishers Co. pp. 169. ISBN 0717800059. 
  6. Mason Wade, The French Canadians (1955) 1:67–9.
  7. Robert M. Calhoon, in 'A companion to the American Revolution', (2000); p 235.
  8. John Adams has sometimes been cited as having claimed, in a 1813 letter, that one-third of the American people supported the revolution and one-third were against. However, the passage in question actually refers to the French Revolution of 1789. see [ Only 1/3rd of Americans Supported the American Revolution? By William Marina. 6-28-2004. Retrieved on July 14 2008.
  9. See The American Revolution and the Minority Myth. January 1, 1975. By William Marina. Retrieved on July 14 2008; "The Works of John Adams", Volume X, p. 63: To Thomas McKean, August 1813.
  10. Lucas, Jeffery P. 2007 Cooling by Degrees: Reintegration of Loyalists in North Carolina, 1776-1790. M.A., NCSU. pp.3-4
  11. Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 (1985), p 550.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Calhoun 1973
  13. See [ online]
  14. A History of Africans in the Thirteen Colonies - P. Jones & J. Kaluweyo
  15. American Revolution - African Americans In The Revolutionary Period
  16. A History of Africans in the Thirteen Colonies - P. Jones & J. Kaluweyo
  17. Smith 264–7.
  18. Calhoon 502.
  19. Van Tyne, pp. 182–3.
  20. Lohrenz (1998)
  21. Canada, A People's History Volume 1
  22. Patrick Bode, "Upper Canada, 1793: Simcoe and the Slaves." Beaver 1993 73(3): 17-19
  23. Bradley 1974
  24. Hankinson Online: An Online Resource for Hankinson Genealogy
  25. Historical Biographies, Nova Scotia, 1800-1867


  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Contagion of Liberty. In The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, enlarged edition, 230-319. (1992).
  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson: Loyalism and the Destruction of the First British Empire (1974), full scale biography of the most prominent Loyalist
  • Bradley, James E. "The Reprieve of a Loyalist: Count Rumford's Invitation Home." New England Quarterly 1974 47(3): 368-385. ISSN 0028-4866 in Jstor
  • Brown, Wallace. The King's Friends: The Composition and Motives of the American Loyalist Claimants (1966).
  • Calhoon, Robert M. "Loyalism and neutrality" in Jack P. Greene and J.R. Pole, eds., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (1991)
  • Calhoon, Robert M. The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1766-1781 (1973), the most detailed study
  • Robert M. Calhoon, Timothy M. Barnes and George A. Rawlyk, eds. Loyalists and Community in North America (1994).
  • Jensen, Merrill; The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789 1950; detailed discussion of return of Loyalists, popular anger at their return; repeal of wartime laws against them
  • Kermes, Stephanie. "'I Wish for Nothing More Ardent upon Earth, than to See My Friends and Country Again': The Return of Massachusetts Loyalists." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2002 30(1): 30-49. ISSN 0276-8313
  • Kerber, Linda. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1997)
  • Knowles, Norman. Inventing the Loyalists: The Ontario Loyalist Tradition and the Creation of Usable Pasts (1997) explores the identities and loyalties of those who moved to Canada.
  • Lohrenz, Otto; "The Advantage of Rank and Status: Thomas Price, a Loyalist Parson of Revolutionary Virginia." The Historian. 60#3 (1998) pp 561+. online
  • Middlekauff, Robert. "The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789." (2005 edition)
  • Moore, Christopher. The Loyalist: Revolution Exile Settlement. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, (1994).
  • Mason, Keith. “The American Loyalist Diaspora and the Reconfiguration of the British Atlantic World.” In Empire and Nation: The American Revolution and the Atlantic World, ed. Eliga H. Gould and Peter S. Onuf (2005).
  • Nelson, William H. The American Tory (1961)
  • Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (1996)
  • Peck, Epaphroditus; The Loyalists of Connecticut Yale University Press, (1934) online
  • Potter, Janice. The Liberty We Seek: Loyalist Ideology in Colonial New York and Massachusetts (1983).
  • Quarles, Benjamin; Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography University of Massachusetts Press. (1988)
  • Smith, Paul H. "The American Loyalists: Notes on Their Organization and Numerical Strength," William and Mary Quarterly 25 (1968): 259-77. in JSTOR
  • Van Tyne, Claude Halstead. The Loyalists in the American Revolution (1902) online
  • Mason Wade, The French Canadians: 1760-1945 (1955) 2 vol.

External links Edit

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