J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

“Liberty or Loyalty?” in Quincy, 17 Aug

Today Adams National Historical Park hosts an event called “Liberty or Loyalty?” focusing on American colonists who supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War. The Boston Globe reported:
While widely depicted as enemy collaborators, Loyalists were often ordinary Americans who suffered for their beliefs, losing their homes, livelihood, and even family, according to historians who want to set the record straight.

Tom Tringale, a member of McAlpin’s Corps of Loyal American Volunteers, a Revolutionary War reenactment group on the British side that will camp out at the park, goes even further.

“I want to get people to give the Loyalists a hug,” said Tringale, 28, a Quincy resident who been a historical reenactor from childhood. “Americans are in denial about the Loyalists.”

From the point of view of the status quo, the pro-British Tories were “loyal” to their government while the patriots were treasonous “rebels,” he noted.

“So we were the good guys,” Tringale said. “What we are going to do is talk about how the Loyalists were forced from their homes in Boston.” Loyalists formed military units such as McAlpin’s Corps, who served as guides to British General John Burgoyne in Canada and upstate New York.

“The public is honestly in denial,” Tringale said. “They see the Loyalists as traitors. . . . These people were not like Thomas Hutchinson,” the colony’s wealthy governor in the early 1770s, he said. “These were simple farmers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, who thought it was safer to be with the king. Our intention is to get the Loyalists a fair shake in American history.”
The mansion at the center of the Adams park, where the second and sixth Presidents lived during the last half of their lives, was originally home to part of the Vassall family. (Another member of that family built the Cambridge house that became Washington’s headquarters, now also a National Park Service site.)

Also at the event are Quincy resident Norma Jane Langford, who wrote a booklet on “The Tory Trail” of other Loyalist sites in greater Boston, and Nancy Rubin Stuart, author of Defiant Brides, about two young women from Loyalist families—Lucy Flucker and Peggy Shippen—who married American generals and ended up on different sides of the war and different sides of the ocean.

I’m not convinced there’s still as much denial or hostility toward Loyalists as the Globe article suggests. So much time has passed, and the issues of the Revolutionary War have receded so far, that the American public is far more willing to consider the Loyalist point of view than the losing side of more recent wars.

7 comments:

Mark said...

A large number of Loyalists went to Nova Scotia. Many Americans might be surprised to hear that the persecution Loyalists received in the 13 states was just the beginning. When they landed in NS they were treated harshly there too, because the NS population was largely made up of republican minded new Englanders who had just resettled there. The Loyalists were horrified.

J. L. Bell said...

Which Loyalists and which New Englanders are you referring to? Because there were a couple of waves into Nova Scotia. First those who sailed with the British military in 1776, most of them from New England, and then parties from New York and Charleston in 1783.

I doubt either group consisted of “republican-minded New Englanders” since Halifax was basically a garrison town before the war, heavily dependent on the British military, and both waves of Loyalists were seeking to remain within the monarchy. But certainly those Nova Scotians who moved from New England would have had experience with local self-government through towns, and I’m sure there was some tension between them and the more top-down government that the Crown set up for early Canada.

Mark said...

The overwhelming majority of Loyalists left in 1783-4. When they got to NS, in particular, they were shocked by the number of New England Planters already there. They came voluntarily by the thousands to take up land vacated by the expelled Acadians. These people were Congregationalists, with sympathies for the Patriots. By the time the Loyalists arrived, they had a real foothold in NS society and politics. It lead to a major schism in the province at that time, and you had instances like that of Rev. John Seccombe from Harvard being arrested for sedition in Halifax. It was commonplace.

J. L. Bell said...

Okay, I understand which migration you meant now, thank you. However, I strongly disagree with how the initial comment characterized the Nova Scotia population during the 1770s and 1780s.

Those Nova Scotians were mostly Loyalists themselves; they remained within the British Empire. A minority tried to link up with the Americans and sabotage the British war effort early on, but they failed and the province remained a bastion for the Crown. Rather than being "republican minded," those farmers accepted the monarchy long after New England and the rest of the U.S. of A. had discarded that ideology.

Some of those former New Englanders had been settled in Nova Scotia for two decades by the time the Loyalists of 1783 arrived, so their presence should hardly have been a surprise. It's likely that wealthy Loyalist refugees from outside New England were taken aback by the more egalitarian values of some Nova Scotian towns, but that's a different sort of surprise.

It would also be useful to know what constituted "harsh treatment" for the Loyalists of 1783. For instance, how did it compare to the lives of Loyalists of African descent, and did the longer-settled subjects have their own complaints about the new wealthy Loyalists’ plans?

Mark said...

My apologies, I did a poor job of laying things out. Generally speaking, the point that I was trying to make is that NS wasn't the great refuge that many Loyalists thought it was. I've read a few quotes over the years from incoming Loyalists regarding the poor treatment they received after arrival....one of the Loyalists went so far as to say that the treatment received was on par with what they had experienced in New England (I'm paraphrasing). Now, there's hyperbole there, no doubt, but you get the idea....

By the way, you're right about Halifax being a garrison town, but I wasn't really referring to Halifax itself. Most of the Loyalists and the New England Planters before them didn't settle in Halifax. They settled throughout the Province in places like the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore, far removed from the watchful eyes of the Halifax authorities who would have protected and advocated for the Loyalists. You had a weird scenario going on, where the authorities were welcoming, but the general population was antagonistic. There was resentment on the part of the old settlers b/c they saw the authorities bending over backwards to help and appease the incoming Loyalists....not that life for some of these Loyalists was easy.

Which brings me to another point...one touched on by the re-enactor guy in the article who said the Loyalists really could have used a few hugs. There's no questioning that, b/c many of them went through hell when they landed in the complete wilderness of places like Shelburne or Saint John. Sarah Frost, a L'ist from Mass. wept bitterly when she realized that the barren, empty shore she just stepped on to was to be her new home.

Where re-enactor guy was somewhat wrong, was in the characterization of L'ists as everyday folk....that might have been the case for those L'ists who resided in the 13 states, but not the ones who left and became refugees. The ones that left were relatively monied and privileged (as refugees go). Many of these people left behind vast estates, positions of power. All the more reason it was so shocking for them to have to camp out in the howling woods, in some cases, while rudimentary accomodations were constructed.

You had a link relating to Edward Winslow, who was one of the more prominent L'ists. Winslow was one of the many who felt the cold shoulder of the old settlers, prompting him to say that he didn't appreciate the treatment from "the nabobs of Nova Scotia". He certainly wasn't the first to feel this or say it, and Winslow led many others to form the new province of New Brunswick in 1783-4. They did so, in part, to create a Loyalist haven that NS would never be. And they were smart enough to realize that. It was Winslow, I believe, who said that the new province would be "the envy of the American states".

J. L. Bell said...

That line about Loyalists being ordinary folks had also struck me. Sure, the group who fought for the Crown included ordinary folks, but in New England it's pretty easy to pick out the families most likely to become Loyalists, and thus the ways the Loyalists differed from the bulk of the population: they were wealthier, with more economic ties to the British Empire as a whole; they were more recent arrivals to America; ethnically and/or religiously they didn't fit into the English Congregationalist orthodoxy of the region; and so on.

When I read the complaints of wealthy Loyalists who ended up in London or Canada and had a bad time, I can't shake the sense of entitlement. Thousands of people arrive at an outpost at once, and they complain that the prices go up? They move to London for the first time in their lives, and they feel like poor provincials? Well, there are logical reasons for those experiences.

That seems to have been part of the friction between the arrivals of 1783 and more settled Nova Scotians, as you describe. Hugs or the eighteenth-century equivalent might have been nice, but many groups have come out of a war with much less. Still, it's good to remember and explore those voices.

J. L. Bell said...

I should acknowledge that I often sense the same feelings of entitlement when reading about wealthy American Patriots. Complaining about London merchants asking them to pay their bills, about the Crown's tactics during the war, about their slaves' preference for being free…