That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution

That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution

That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution

That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution

Synopsis

Of crucial strategic importance to both the British and the Continental Army, Staten Island was, for a good part of the American Revolution, a bastion of Loyalist support. With its military and political significance, Staten Island provides rich terrain for Phillip Papas's illuminating case study of the local dimensions of the Revolutionary War.

Papas traces Staten Island's political sympathies not to strong ties with Britain, but instead to local conditions that favored the status quo instead of revolutionary change. With a thriving agricultural economy, stable political structure, and strong allegiance to the Anglican Church, on the eve of war it was in Staten Island's self-interest to throw its support behind the British, in order to maintain its favorable economic, social, and political climate.

Over the course of the conflict, continual occupation and attack by invading armies deeply eroded Staten Island's natural and other resources, and these pressures, combined with general war weariness, created fissures among the residents of "that ever loyal island," with Loyalist neighbors fighting against Patriot neighbors in a civil war. Papas's thoughtful study reminds us that the Revolution was both a civil war and a war for independence- a duality that is best viewed from a local perspective.

Excerpt

In 1775, Alexander McDonald of Staten Island, New York, was deeply disturbed by the “unhappy State of America.” Although he initially had been content to leave the debates over colonial rights to others, McDonald could no longer remain silent as, in his words, “madness prevails all over America” and “King & Country [are] reviled & their Laws treated with Contempt.” For McDonald, the moment was extraordinary because the American colonists were “Commencing Rebellion.” By 1775, the colonists' protests against British imperial policy had escalated, leading some Americans, like McDonald, who valued their bond with Britain, to do what they could to defend “the Authority of the Parent State.”

Many of Alexander McDonald's neighbors on Staten Island shared his views of the imperial crisis. in fact, almost 99 percent of Staten Islanders remained loyal to the Crown by defying the colonial resistance movement and refusing to support American independence. Loyalism was thus a communal experience both unique and important to Staten Island. This book analyzes how such factors as the island's expanding commercial agrarian economy, the deferential structure of its society and political culture, its history as a British military staging area during the French and Indian War (17 54-1763), the methods used by the Whigs to enforce con-

the term Whig refers to the earlier supporters of a limited monarchy and guarantees of
political and religious liberties in Britain. To Whig propagandists, colonists who refused to
cooperate with the colonial resistance movement and resisted the measures taken by the
Continental Congress were enemies of American liberty. the Whigs labeled these Ameri
cans Tories, after the traditional supporters of the authority of the church and the monar
chy in Britain. American Tories believed that the political impasse between the colonies
and Britain could and should be peacefully reconciled. They felt that colonial grievances
could be redressed within the existing framework of government and by means of negotia
tion. As the American Revolution progressed, the terms Patriot and Loyalist were used to
denote the differences between the two opposing viewpoints.

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