Loyalists

From the first shots fired in Lexington Green in 1775 all the way to the signing of a peace treaty in 1783, the American Revolutionary War was a long, hard-fought conflict. Around 2.6 million people lived in the Thirteen Colonies during the Revolutionary War. Of these, approximately 40% of the population actively fought against Britain to establish the United States of America. These people called themselves American Patriots. Around 20-30% of the population remained loyal to the British crown, calling themselves the Loyalists. Many others attempted to stay neutral.  

Get started Sign up for free
Loyalists Loyalists

Create learning materials about Loyalists with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    Loyalists Definition

    In some respects, the Revolutionary War was a civil war in which American Patriots fought against British Loyalists. Loyalists were also called Royalists or Tories, as the Tories were the majority party in Parliament at the time. Close to 60,000 American Loyalists fought alongside British soldiers, supplied them with weaponry and food, and participated in raids that devastated Patriot lands. Georgia, New York, and New Jersey were loyalist strongholds.

    Loyalists Loyalist Empire Flag StudySmarterFig. 1 Flag of the Empire Loyalists

    As the British faced a larger war, they consolidated their troops in New York. From 1780 onwards, the British army concentrated its military efforts in Georgia and the Carolinas, where Loyalists were particularly active and numerous. However, throughout the war, the number of volunteers for the Loyalists was lower than Britain had expected.

    It is important to remember that "American" in the 18th century was first and foremost a geographical and cultural term. As Americans fought for independence, they also forged a new, unified national identity. While it is easy to assume that loyalists primarily came from the elite of American society (white males with strong connections to Britain, the Anglican church, and tradition), this would not be the whole picture. Yes, many loyalists were wealthy and conservative. Most of the Anglican clergy and governing officials maintained their allegiance to King George III and Britain.

    However, loyalism cut across the racial, religious, ethnic, geographical and social spectrums of the American colonies. Loyalists included Mayflower descendants and recent immigrants from across Britain and her empire. They could be royal officials as well as carpenters, tailors or bakers. They were Anglican, as well as Quaker and Methodist. They were cosmopolitan New Yorkers and countryside farmers in Georgia.

    Loyalist Diversity

    Not all loyalists were white: for the estimated 500,000 enslaved Black people throughout the Thirteen Colonies, the revolution presented an opportunity. British generals promised enslaved men their freedom if they fought for the Crown. Consequently, 20,000 slaves took up arms with the loyalists, making the War of Independence the most significant freeing of enslaved people in the United States until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

    For the Native Americans, the war presented itself as an interesting opportunity. Their territory had been increasingly encroached on by generations of colonists, and the British had promised to limit their expansion of colonial settlements in the American West. Therefore, several prominent Native American nations, such as the Mohawks, Cherokees, and Creeks fought alongside the British as well.

    Dunmore's Proclamation and the Phillipsburg Proclamation

    In 1775, the Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation known as Dunmore's Proclamation, declaring martial law in Virginia and freedom for any and all enslaved men who joined the Crown forces against the American revolutionaries. It's estimated that between 800 and 2000 slaves escaped from their owners to enlist with Dunmore's regiment, but overall, it didn't have the great effect that Dunmore was hoping for. There was uproar amongst both Patriot and Loyalist slaveholders, and in 1776, Dunmore was forced from Virginia.

    Loyalists Lord Dunmore StudySmarterFig. 2 Portrait of Lord Dunmore

    In 1779, British Army General Clinton issued a similar proclamation, known as the Phillipsburg Proclamation, which applied to all the colonies, and offered enslaved men freedom if they joined the Loyalist armies. It also prohibited anyone from claiming ownership over, or buying or selling, any slaves who joined the British forces. The Proclamation read:

    Whereas the enemy have adopted a practice of enrolling [ENSLAVED PEOPLE] among their Troops, I do hereby give notice That all [ENSLAVED PEOPLE] taken in arms, or upon any military Duty, shall be purchased for the public service at a stated Price; the money to be paid to the Captors.

    But I do most strictly forbid any Person to sell or claim Right over any [ENSLAVED PERSON], the property of a Rebel, who may take Refuge with any part of this Army: And I do promise to every [ENSLAVED PERSON] who shall desert the Rebel Standard, full security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which he shall think proper.

    Given under my Hand, at Head Quarters, PHILIPSBURGH the 30th day of June, 1779.

    H CLINTON2

    We've used the word "enslaved person" here to avoid the specific language used in General Clinton's Proclamation, which would be considered extremely offensive today

    What were the Loyalists' motivations?

    Loyalists' motivations were fairly varied. Some prominent Loyalists were even critical of the Crown and Britain's treatment of the colonies but still did not agree with independence. One example was William Allen, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, who wanted colonists to work inside the legalities of the British Constitution and find a compromise with Parliament. Loyalists like Allen prioritised stability, the reliable benefits of the British Empire which had allowed them wealth or political power, and constitutional restraint.

    Others felt that a rebellion against Britain, which was the legitimate government, was immoral. They often viewed themselves as British and were not inclined to betray their home country. Many still had family and significant business links with Britain. Additionally, some made the argument that Independence would financially cripple America and that maintaining ties with the empire would be crucial to commerce. They warned against the chaos, corruption and that would come about after the revolution.

    Consider the myriad of complicated motivations for joining the Loyalists when evaluating the deterioration of Anglo-colonial relationships leading up to the revolutionary period.

    Loyalists during the War

    At the outset of the war, Loyalists had a few promising results - in some areas they were recruiting more members to the cause than the Patriots, and they concentrated their military power in areas where they had the most support, capturing New York City and Long Island in 1776 and 1777. They were also moderately successful for a time in the southern colonies. However, beyond this, all they really achieved was to frustrate the Patriots, and it was soon clear that the Patriots were on their way to victory; the only question was how long the Loyalists could stave it off.

    By July 4, 1776, the Patriots had captured almost all the territory of the Thirteen Colonies and expelled anyone who had a connection to the Crown: Royal officials, military leaders and captured soldiers. Anyone suspected of being a Loyalist was closely watched and followed, and any hint of open support for the Crown was punished with expulsion from the territories. Many ordinary citizens who were fled, mainly to British America - modern-day Canada. However, most did stay and were allowed to become citizens of the new United States of America.

    Famous Loyalists

    The Revolutionary War was divisive, and sometimes members of the same family joined opposite sides. For example, Benjamin Franklin was a distinguished patriot, but his only son, William Franklin, joined the Tories and served as the Royal Governor of New Jersey.

    The history of the American Revolution, from the perspective of the Loyalists, was spelt out in various texts by famous loyalists: Thomas Hutchinson's The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, Peter Oliver's Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion and Thomas Jones' History of New York During the Revolutionary War.

    Consider the quote from Thomas Jones below, giving one reason for the loss of Great Britain during the revolutionary war:

    “The war in fact was not levied at rebellion, but at the treasury of Great Britain; at his Majesty’s loyal subjects within the lines; indiscriminately against all persons wherever the army moved; against erudition, religion, and literature in general.

    Had half the pains been taken to suppress the American rebellion, as there was to drain the British Treasury of its cash, any one year of the war would have demolished rebellion, and Great Britain been at this day still in full possession of 13 opulent Colonies, of which she has been dismembered by the misconduct and inattention of one General, by the stupidity of another, and by an infamous Ministry who patched up an ignominious peace, to the dishonour of the nation, the discredit of their sovereign, and to the ridicule of all Europe.”2

    With your understanding of the historical context and with reference to the source, practice evaluating how values and limitations of this source in understanding why the British lost the Revolutionary War.

    Loyalists after the Revolutionary War

    The departure of British troops and the victory of the American Patriots were worrying, and not joyous for the Loyalists. Over the course of the war, tens of thousands of Loyalists moved into British strongholds across America, but the end of the war raised urgent questions about their future. In the face of doubts about their potential futures in the new United States of America, 60,000 loyalists left the new country and fled to other places in the British Empire. Many travelled to Canada or embarked for Britain, but many still would travel further to Africa and India.

    The Departure of Black Loyalists

    Around 4000 Black Loyalists who had gained their freedom by supporting the British emigrated to modern-day Canada, where they had been promised land to start their lives again in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They founded communities across these provinces, many of which still exist today, but did still face trouble from white inhabitants who harassed and intimidated the communities.

    The British had a company called the Sierra Leone Company, which it established to manage its colony in West Africa. The Sierra Leone Company offered to transport fearful and dissatisfied Black Loyalists to the British colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. Around 1200 left for the African colonies, where they named the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, and went on to become the ruling class in the colonies.

    Loyalists in Canada: United Empire Loyalists

    Loyalists loom large in Canadian history, where they were lauded by 19th-century conservatives as the 'founding fathers' of a dignified, imperial Anglo-Canadian tradition. The imperial government at the time honoured the refugees as "United Empire Loyalists". It is estimated that half of the loyalists who left America headed to Canada, settling in Nova Scotia or becoming the pioneering settlers of New Brunswick.

    Loyalists Cox's Warehouse StudySmarterFig. 3 Cox's Warehouse in Shelburne, Nova Scotia where many Black Loyalists initially settled

    It's interesting to note that many former Loyalists and their descendents would go on to defend their new home in Canada from the Americans during the War of 1812. The Americans assumed that they would be greeted as liberators when invading Canada, and that they would easily gather a critical mass of support. However, this proved to be a disastrous assumption, and the Canadians joined the militia in their droves to protect themselves against invasion forces. Of ten attempts by the Americans to invade Upper Canada during the war, almost all of them were total failures, ending in major losses of men and resources for the Americans.

    Loyalists - Key takeaways

    • Those who fought for American independence were called the American Patriots. Those who were still loyal to the British called themselves the Loyalists or 'The King's Men'.
    • Close to 60,000 American Loyalists fought alongside British soldiers, supplied them with weaponry and food, and participated in raids that devastated Patriot lands. They had particular strongholds in New York, New Jersey and the Carolinas.
    • As well as wealthy, elite colonists, enslaved Black Americans and Native American tribes pledged their allegiance to Britain.
    • After the British loss in the Revolutionary War, 60,000 loyalists left the new country and fled to other places in the British Empire.

    References

    1. Thomas Jones, 'History of New York During the Revolutionary War', 1789
    2. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume 6, 1883, p. 219
    Frequently Asked Questions about Loyalists

    Who were the Loyalists?

    The Loyalists were the fighters on the side of the British during the American Revolution. They were also sometime's called Tories, King's Men or Royalists.

    Why did some Loyalists go to Canada?

    They fled to avoid persecution by the Patriots who had won the Independence War. Furthermore, many Black Loyalists went to Canada as they had been freed for helping the British, and had been promised land there.

    What happened to the British Loyalists after the Revolutionary War?

    The leaders and prominent members of the Loyalists had been expelled from the country by the Patriots, although many ordinary citizens who had sided with the Crown decided to stay and were given full citizenship of the new United States.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What was not a  motivation for joining the Loyalists?

    How many Loyalists fought alongside the British Army?

    True or False: Loyalists were completely uncritical of the British 

    Next

    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team History Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner