When Loyalists Shunned Rebels

Article excerpt


As a lad growing up near Dan bury, Conn., Tom Allen heard local legends about the Tories, Americans who sided with the king in the American Revolution, but I had not paid them much attention, believing that, as a small minority, they had not played a major role in the war. Now Mr. Allen advances - and superbly documents - the conclusion that enough crown loyalists fought alongside British redcoats to warrant calling the conflict America's first civil war. His task was not easy. He quotes Founding Father John Adams as lamenting that there would never have been a good history of the war because so many documents left the country with the Tories.

No matter to the energetic Mr. Allen, whose scope of research is truly staggering. He and his wife, Scottie, ferreted out obscure documents in libraries and archives in Canada and elsewhere. They found a story, related in vivid and very readable prose, that is at once enlightening and disturbing. In this war, friends-turned-enemies fought one another with primitive savagery in give-no-quarter battles that ranged from New England into the Carolinas. The cruelties on both sides can only be described as appalling.

By Mr. Allen's tally, loyalists fought alongside the British in 573 of the 772 battles and skirmishes of the war. But few of these encounters are mentioned in military histories, and few had an important effect on the outcome of the Revolution. These persons, Mr. Allen contends, were not merely opposing the Revolution; they were fighting and dying to end it. And although exact statistics are understandably sketchy, Mr. Allen deduces that between 441,000 and 565,080 persons (of a population of 2.5 to 2.7 million) remained loyal to the crown.

Once the war ended, about 80,000 Tories left America, chiefly for Canada, many becoming prosperous farmers or founders of mercantile dynasties. Seldom had a people done so well by losing a war, a Canadian historian noted.

Why did loyalists shun the rebels? John Adams complained that many real or pretended Americans were attracted to the ranks of the Tories by offers of power and prestige. Some joined regiments that the British mobilized; others fought as guerrillas. Still others had roles as what George Washington called half tories, who aided the British as spies. (The author of an earlier book, George Washington: Spymaster, Mr. Allen pays keen attention to the intelligence aspect of the war - for instance, the British routinely put errors on copies of maps likely to fall into enemy hands. )

The British, never squeamish when it comes to waging war, relied on Indians to supplement Tories on the fringes of the Colonies. An estimated one-third of the inhabitants of the New York frontier were killed or carried off. The Irish-born British commander in the West, Henry Hamilton, was known as the Hair Buyer because of the bounties he paid for scalps - 129 in one batch alone, 81 in another. …