Allen, Thomas B. Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War

By Hollis, Matt | International Social Science Review, Fall-Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Allen, Thomas B. Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War


Hollis, Matt, International Social Science Review


Allen, Thomas B. Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War. New York: Harpereollins, 2010. xxiii + 473 pages. Paper, $16.99.

It is very tempting for historians of the American Revolution to create an oversimplified battlefield; two distinct sides aligned with two polemical doctrines battling for political control. The American Revolution has particularly suffered from such streamlining, as the acknowledgment of American power in the modern world influences most attempts to explain the incredibly complex circumstances surrounding that event. Many authors feel a need to delineate clearly the British from the new, rugged, and rebellious Americans in a historical dialogue to reaffirm the truly "revolutionary" nature of the events that ushered in the creation of the United States. In Tories, historian Thomas B. Allen challenges these conceptions by analyzing the true nature of the Loyalist movement during the Revolution. In so doing, Allen comes to two important conclusions: First, the Revolutionary War was very much a civil war against Americans who remained loyal to the British Crown, and that the reasons for this loyalty differed according to region, as well as one's economic status and ethnicity; Second, as the conflict progressed and expanded from a localized theater in New England to one involving nearly all British possessions in North America, the barbarous and cruel methods used by both sides to fight the war became more frequent and intense.

Allen's research for Tories appears to have been methodical, and his choice of source material reflects his depiction of a civil war ripping the colonies apart. The author draws his information from familiar military manuscripts, correspondence, and founding documents of the American nation, but he has also mined the personal accounts of Loyalists from all aspects of American society. Immediately in the first chapter, Allen uses Boston's Old Plymouth Colony Club as a microcosm for the birth of what would eventually become a movement that spread throughout British North America. Between 1764 and 1773, this local club went from celebrating the victories of the earliest Anglo-American settlers and their Protestant heritage to a hasty collapse following the turmoil stemming from the Boston Tea Party and the bloody shootings on King Street. The chapter ends on an ominous note, as members of the Sons of Liberty split Plymouth Rock in half, with half of it sinking forgotten into the sea.

Such tales dictate a radically different interpretation of the American Revolution. Allen devotes some attention to the birth of radical patriotic movements, the organization of the Continental Army, and the usual cadre of colorful and long celebrated "American" personalities. But this is only used for background to further illuminate the canvas on which the Loyalists organized and persued their vision of American life. Having long been glossed over, the story of the Loyalist involvement in the American Revolution proves just as complex as that of the Founding Fathers and the men who fought for independence. The central theme of Loyalism during the early phases of the Revolution was that Loyalists viewed themselves as the true patriots, defending their own interests and, in so doing, those of the British Crown. …

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