Friday, June 13, 2008

On the Trail of United Empire Loyalists, Tories, Hessians and British Soldiers in the American Revolution

You say your family fought in the American Revolution...on the other side? Finding military records or other documents that can provide you with key dates and data about your late-eighteenth century relatives can still be found.
Loyalists, Tories, British Soldiers
Perhaps to develop a sense of nationalism or possibly because the victors chose to distort things just a bit, American tradition would have you believe that there was almost no opposition of the Revolutionary War. In fact, there was strong opposition to the war of independence in parts of the 13 colonies. Hence, in every county, you were likely to find someone who was a "Loyalist."

United Empire Loyalists (UEM) were, understandably, labeled traitors by the new government. A tory was considered to be more or less sympathetic towards the Loyalist cause, but not necessarily a threat to the revolutionaries. Tories were, for the most part, treated better than their Loyalist neighbors, whose land and property were frequently confiscated by the representatives of the fledgling nation. However, Loyalist and Tory are generally interchangeable terms.

Loyalist ProfileRef:1

Nothing is hard and set, so there are exceptions to the basic make-up of those who chose to remain loyal to the British Crown. However, many were successful merchants, lawyers, or held a political office of some sort for the British government. Their religious persuasion tended to be Anglican (The Church of England), although there were many exceptions to this. British sympathies were strong in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and North Carolina. They were strongest, however, in New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. They were least likely to be found in Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut. Large landowners of every socio-economic strata tended to feel it was in their best interest to be sympathetic to the Crown.

Some Loyalists immediately left for England, where they rallied King George III's subjects for their cause. Others went to Canada. But many, perhaps most, remained in America. Some fought their neighbors or agitated local Indians against the Americans. Others did little to support the troops who fought for their cause, often from fear that their property would be confiscated and sold.

The American Revolution, like its later counterpart, the American Civil War, was a war of the people that divided families and communities. When it became obvious that the war was a lost cause of the UEM, many left for Canada, the Bahamas, and other remaining English colonies. It's estimated that 80,000 fled the country during or immediately following the end of the American Revolutionary War.

Slave LoyalistsRef:2

Although there was a core group of Loyalists and Tories, they still needed to come up with enough soldiers to fight the Americans. To increase their forces, the British promised freedom to slaves who would fight for them. Around 30,000 slaves left in the hope of attaining freedom. The British did not keep their word. At the end of the War, this group of soldiers and laborers, treated little better than by their former masters, were taken to Nova Scotia with other Loyalists. There settlement, however, really never took. Although some stayed in Canada, many eventually moved to Sierra Leone. For more on this part of American History, please see Canada's Digital Collections' Black Loyalists.
Those Who Went to Canada

From the first days of the American Revolutionary War, many of those who believed that the British should continue their rule of the American colonies fled to Canada. Nova Scotia was their principal destination. This was especially true if they were forced from their homes by the American government. At the end of the war, facing even more repercussions for treason and living under a government they did not support, thousands more settled in Quebec and Ontario.

In 1784, the American government began allowing Loyalists to return to their homes without fear of repercussions. Some did return; others stayed. In fact, some Loyalists from Dutchess County, New York, chose to stay, but filed legal claims against their former neighbors for illegally confiscating and disposing of their land and goods.

Those Loyalists who remained in Canada were allotted land according to sex, marital status, and military rank. Officers received 300 - 1000 acres. Non-commissioned officers received 200 acres; their wives could apply for an additional 200. Private soldiers and heads of households who proclaimed they were Loyalists were granted 100 acres with each family allotted an additional 50 acres. Unmarried men received 50 acres. Land had to be occupied for one year before a deed was granted.

In 1789, it was decided that Loyalist children should be granted 200 acres. For the sons, it would be on their 21st birthday. Daughters recieved their allottment upon marriage or their 21st birthday, whichever came first. Hence, in the absence of vital records, a Loyalist child's birthdate can be determined, or at least estimated, by when they received their 200 acres. This is referred to as the Order in Council (OIC).

The NARA has images of the War from the British Viewpoint.

1. The Growth of the American Republic (Volume I) by Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry S. Commager, William E. Leuchtenburg. Publisher: Oxford Press.

2. Canada's Digital Collections' Black Loyalists.

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