Any careful study of the closing of the Colonial period would be most incomplete without further mention of those devoted men whose undeserved fate gives a tragic element to the history of the new-born State. In the paeans of history which closed the war and celebrated the conclusion of peace, there was one discordant note whose mournful tone swelled into the most solemn of threnodies.
The sad story of the Loyalists of Long Island must give its dark undercurrent to any truthful chronicle of the revolutionary years. Their principles were the natural outcome of the Colonial growth of New York, and their sufferings demand the tribute of impartial and reverent attention. But the worst was yet to come. They endured as much from British indifference and the rapacity of officers high in rank as American Vindictiveness. The malignity of their professed enemies did not cut as deeply as the apathy and the evasions of those who should have been their grateful protectors. Every revolution brings woe to the better class of the community. It is intelligence and refinement which suffer most. Conservatism runs in the blood of the educated and stale member of any society, and a great political upheaval is their destruction.
This was eminently true on Long Island. The limitations of commerce and the restrictions upon manufacture so fatal to the development of a new country, more even that the supposed violation of their abstract and constitutional rights, were the fundamental causes of the American Revolution. These causes were most potent in New England. The Middle and Southern States, from all the circumstances of their planting and growth, were the pre-determined friends of established order, and in New York, nowhere were men more ardently loyal than on the Island of Nassau.
The Colonists sought for redress of specified grievances, for a Bill of Rights, but therein were as sincere in their efforts to sustain the Government as were the "rebellious" Barons at Runnymede. The struggle was begun with no thought of Independence. They were forced to that end by a small and wavering majority. The Declaration of Independence was a breach of faith to the great mass of the people, as well as to the statesmen who had in Parliament zealously championed the American cause, to Chatham and Burke and Fox. Until then, Whigs and Tories differed only in the degree in which they held their allegiance to the King, in the faith they had in the honest intention of England to redress their wrongs, and in their measure of the rights of the subject as opposed to the constitutional rights of the King. These relations were changed by the work of the Continental Congress in July, 1776, and they who did not accept its action, but still looked for reconciliation with the Home Government, were branded as traitors.
In the new order of affairs then instituted, men were classed as "friends of Government"--the new, self-ordained government, --or as "Enemies to the Liberties of their Country." This expression gave place to the now obnoxious term of Tory, which losing its old political significance came to express everything that was despicable, and was applied to men as widely different in character and motives as the venerable Colden and the scheming Galloway.
There were unquestionably two classes among those who adhered to the royal Government from sincere and disinterested motives, the men inspired by an innate principle of loyalty, to be maintained come weal or woe, and those who timidly feared the effect of any change in the standing order of affairs. There were also those whose adherence to England was from motives more or less mercenary. Prominent among them were the various officials of the Crown, numerous enough to be in a degree independent of popular support and suspected of being informers. They were the most offensive to those who arrogated to themselves the name of Patriots. While the great body of American tradesmen were those who rose up against the restricting Acts of Parliament, there were many merchants, whether of English or American birth, whose business was endangered, and who were forced to sign Agreements against the importation of British goods. These men, with selfish ends to serve, easily became smugglers, and were often in the pay of England.
But the party took its tone from and was inspired by those men of nobler spirit, exalted in public and private life, loving America as their home but having grown up to look upon England as the mother-land; ready to condemn and to oppose the unjust oppression of the Government, but believing that calm remonstrance could adjust all differences. Their strongest sentiment was an ingrained reverence for constitutional order, and most of all they dreaded the anarchy they believed would follow the overthrow of established authority and the substitution of popular rule. Many of the, however, while clinging to the Crown as long as there remained a shadow of its power, when the independence of the Colonies was acknowledged by England, would have become loyal subjects of the existing Government, acknowledging it as the authority de facto, if not in their estimation de jure But the United States in angry haste expatriated tens of thousands of her best citizens, on hundred thousand, one-third the white population of the new nation.
Of the two periods in the history of the Loyalists, their treatment during the war and their fate after the conclusion of peace, the former has been already noticed. They formed a part of the population numerically important, still more so, when it is remembered that in their ranks was much of the best blood of the country. There were at one time more than twice as many armed native Provincials, as were men under the command if Washington.(1) Fully twenty-five thousand loyal Americans were in the British army and many officers experienced in the French and Indian wars.(2)
Severe as was the legislation against the Loyalists, more to be condemned was the action of self-constituted Committees who spread terror throughout the entire period of the war. Groups of men in any neighbourhood assumed authority, or received its semblance from the Provincial Congress, to spend their wrath upon any unoffending person who might come under their suspicion. A mob was invested with full power for domiciliary visits, inquisition into the political status of any person not active in the cause of the new Government, and for the administration of such punishment as seemed good in their eyes. Neutrality was impossible, and he who was not openly for them, was condemned as against them. The only choice for the Loyalists was to remain at home, waiting for peace, and exposed to these dangers, or, if seeking safety within the British lines, at the close of the war, there remained only confiscation and exile.
The action against the "Tories," as conducted by these self-appointed censors, ran in gradation from the endeavor to force opinion, to disarming, fines, imprisonment, confiscation, banishment, and death. Individual wrongs were never redressed by public justice; lawlessness was unrestrained. The State legislation added impetus to the mad career of private animosity. During the war every one of the thirteen colonies had passed acts against the Loyalists. A classification of offences existed, such as giving information to the English; supplying the enemy; piloting the enemy; enlisting in the British army; speaking against the authority of Congress; going to another province; refusing to renounce allegiance to Great Britain; refusing to swear allegiance to the United States.
Early in the war many Loyalists had left the country. At the evacuation of Boston more than one thousand accompanied General Gage to Halifax. When the British left Philadelphia in 1778, three thousand loyal inhabitants followed them. On Long Island most of the people sought to remain in their homes and to follow their usual vocations. But the progress of the war broke up the quiet life which had there prevailed. The persecutions which preceded and followed the Battle of Brooklyn were continued throughout its course, by the raids of the Connecticut whale-boaters and other lawless Whigs, by the occupancy of the British army, and by the indiscriminate plunder of the Board of Associated Loyalists stationed at Lloyd’s Neck, who rarely discriminated between friend and foe. New York was the Loyalist stronghold, containing more than any other colony, and Queens County was the most loyal part of New York. At the close of the war more than one-third its people went to Nova Scotia, while Hempstead had provided for so many refugees that its poor-rates were trebled. All taxable inhabitants of Queens who had remained there during the Revolution were assessed fourteen pounds for the expenses of the war.
As the war drew near its close and negotiations for peace were in progress, the Loyalists began to fear themselves abandoned, and that their fervent sacrifices had been useless. Then, under date of August 10, 1782, they addressed this appeal(3) to Sir Guy Carleton, who had arrived in New York in April:
"To their Excellencies Sir Guy Carleton, K. B., General and Commander-in-Chief, &c., &c., &c., and the Honourable Rear Admiral Digby, Commander-in-Chief of his Majesty’s ships, &c., &c., His Majesty’s Commissioners for restoring peace, &c., &c., &c.,
"The Loyal Inhabitants and Refugees within the British Lines at New York beg leave most respectfully to present their united acknowledgements to your Excellencies for the ready and polite communication you were pleased so obligingly to make to them of the contents of the letter sent by your Excellency to General Washington--respecting the negotiations for a general peace by the several powers at war, now at Paris; and the proposal directed to be made by is Majesty of the independency of the Thirteen Provinces of America, in the first instance, instead of making it a condition of a general treaty.
"As it is impossible for us to express the consternation with which we were struck even on the probability of so calamitous an event taking place, as that held out in the proposition stated, so we cannot suppress our feelings on a point so exceedingly momentous in its consequences to the British Empire and in particular to our own future peace, safety and happiness.
"To preserve the British dominion entire and to evince our disinterested affection for is Majesty’s sacred person and government, we hesitated not to step forth and hazard our lives and fortunes, confidently relying on the assurances repeatedly given to us by his Majesty, and firmly depending on the justice, magnanimity and faith of Parliament that we should never be deserted in a cause so just and in distresses so great and overwhelming.
"With unfeigned gratitude we acknowledge his Majesty’s paternal goodness and attention to the sufferings of his loyal subjects in America, for the protection hitherto offered them; the bounties furnished and the great and spirited efforts made by a brave and generous nation to reclaim the Colonies to a due connection with the Parent State.
"We have most pathetically to lament that such noble and more than equal exertions have failed; although their failure has not been owing to any real implacability of the war. We take leave to assure your Excellencies that we have every reason to believe there exists a majority of the people throughout the Province who are ardently desirous to be again reunited in his Majesty’s just authority and government; and that from a combination f circumstances arising from various public distress, the spirit of re-union is now actually operating in several quarter to bring forward measures productive of the most favourable consequences to his Majesty’s interests.
"With such flattering prospects in view, at a moment that through the Divine assistance his Majesty’s naval superiority has been gloriously asserted and regained; when the most brilliant advantages have been obtained by his victorious arms in the East; when instead of any symptoms of real debility, the natural commerce, resources and spirit seem to be rising far beyond those of our combined enemies, we joyfully concluded that the Independency of those Provinces would still have been considered inadmissible because injurious to the safety and incompatible with the glory and dignity of the whole British Empire. The hour of victory and success may perhaps be the proper hour to treat of peace, but not, we humbly conceive, to dismember an Empire.
"We presume not, however, to arraign the wisdom of his Majesty’s Councils, nor to judge of the great political necessity which may have existed to justify this measure to the virtue, wisdom and prudence of his Majesty, of his Parliament, and of the nation at large; we must submit this great and weighty question.
"But should the great event of the independency of the Thirteen Colonies be determined and we thereby have to encounter the most inexpressible misfortune of being forever cast out of his Majesty’s protection and government, we have only then to entreat your Excellencies’ interposition with his Majesty, by every consideration of humanity to secure if possible, beyond the mere form of treaty, our persons and properties, that such as think they cannot safely remain here may be enabled to seek refuge elsewhere.
"These are the sentiments, may it please your Excellencies, which in the fulness of our hearts we feel ourselves constrained to express in this alarming moment, influenced, however, by a hope that it may not yet be too late. We most earnestly request of your Excellencies that you will be pleased to represent to our gracious Sovereign, accompanied with our warmest and most affectionate assurances of duty and loyalty, our present distressed situation, the confidence we have in his royal and benevolent attention and in the justice of the British nation to save us from that ruin and despair which must otherwise fall upon our devoted heads.
"As witnesses to our distress and generously sympathising with us in our misfortunes, we cannot fail to have advocates in your Excellencies to the throne of our beloved Sovereign, the most zealous and able. Firmly persuaded of this we shall in the mean time by a manly and steadfast conduct and loyalty endeavour to support his Majesty’s interests within theses lines, preserving your Excellencies opinion and patiently wait the event.
"Signed by the Committee.
"New York, August 10, 1782."
Sir Guy Carleton(4) was unquestionably the most sincere friend of the Loyalists, but his ingenuous nature was no match for the double- dealing with which he had to contend, and he was not seldom imposed upon by his astute legal adviser, that William Smith of whom "McFingal" had already said,
"Smith’s weather-cock with forlorn veersJudge Jones complains bitterly that, in the time between the reception of the Treaty and the Evacuation, Sir Guy did not use his power to compel the payment of debts to the men attainted by the Act of October 22, 1779. He appointed a committee to examine their claims, but in a session of seven months it did nothing. It had indeed no power beyond the Courts of Police, or over debts incurred before May 1, 1776, the payment of which his petitioners had begged the General to enforce. The failure therein weighed heavily on rich and poor, reducing many gentlemen from affluence to poverty, and those of more modest means to absolute want.
Could hardly tell which way to turn."
The Evacuation of New York had been much delayed by Sir Guy’s persistent efforts to make suitable provision for the impoverished Loyalists who crowded to the city He had addressed both the Congress and the New York Legislature, and had written in their behalf to Governor Clinton, and he had written in vain.
Nor was England more active in the adjustment of claims and in reparation to her injured sons. The Compensation Act of July, 1783, was "to inquire into the circumstances and former fortunes of such persons as are reduced to distress by the late unhappy dissentions in America," and gave no authority for action. It limited the time of receiving the claims to March 25, 1784. The time was extended by three later acts, but the business was not completed until the spring of 1790(5). The matter was complicated by the sensitiveness of the claimants who would not appear as suppliants for alms, and further retarded by the requirement of vouchers and inventories, difficult and often impossible to obtain. The whole number of claimants was three thousand two hundred and twenty-five. Of these, nearly one thousand claims were refused or with-drawn. Over ten millions pounds were paid, but the average amount was less than one-third the claim.(6) Those compensated were not the tenth of those who had been impoverished, and had no one to present their claim.
There was much feeling among the Loyalists who were allotted land in Nova Scotia over the unequal granting of the same. In July, 1783, Abijah Willard(7) and fifty-four others, petitioned Sir Guy for the same amount of land as was given to field officers of the army, their position being as high and their sacrifices greater. This would assign to each one some five thousand acres of land. Their appeal was followed by this counter-petition(8) :
"To his Excellency
Sir Guy Carleton
Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, General & Commander-in-chief &c. The MEMORIAL of the Subscribers humbly sheweth,
"That your Memorialists having been deprived of very valuable landed estates and considerable personal property without the lines, and being also obliged to abandon their possessions in this city on account of their loyalty to their Sovereign, and attachment to the British Constitution and seeing no prospect of their being reinstated, had determined to remove with their families and settle in his Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia on terms which they understood were held out equally to all his Majesty’s persecuted subjects." Here follows their protest against The Fifty-five and an entreaty for delay in locating lands, that they may take possession of that allotted them, August 15, 1783.
Carleton’s reply was that he believed no person would receive more than a thousand acres, and that the power of granting patents rested exclusively with Governor Parr of Nova Scotia, "who was extremely solicitous to do justice to all."
Another memorial, recently found in the Archives of Nova Scotia,(9) and signed by six hundred and forty-two persons, among whom are many of Long Island name, further remonstrates with Carleton against the Fifty-five, and ends by saying:
"Your memorialists can not but regard the Grants in Question if carried into effect, as amounting nearly to a total exclusion of themselves & Familys who if they become Settlers must either content themselves with barren and remote Lands, or submit to be tenants to those most of whom they consider as their superiors in nothing but deeper Art and keener Policy."
The Loyalists were widely scattered now. Those who had been in London during the war had lived in comparative poverty, and received but slight consideration. As Governor Hutchinson--whose History Ellis calls "that marvel of temperate recital under the pressure of natural resentment"-- simply remarks: "We Americans are plenty here and very cheap. Some of us at our first coming are apt to think ourselves of importance but other people do not thinks so, and few if any of us are much consulted or enquired after." Others, less philosophical under neglect and ingratitude, beset the Court in the vain hope of winning better terms for their fellows. But the fulfilment of the repeated promises of the British officials, confirmed as they were by the King and Ministry, had depended on the speedy conclusion of the war, and their reimbursement was intended to be at the expense of the defeated rebels.
Their treatment throws a shadow of cruel irony upon Benjamin West’s famous painting of the Reception of the Loyalists by Great Britain, wherein Religion and Justice support the mantle of Britannia, who extends her arm and shield to a group of Loyalists led by Sir William Pepperell and William Franklin, a varied group of men, women and children, priests in sacerdotal robes, lawyers in gowns and wigs, broad-brimmed Quakers, and Indian chief, negro slaves.
The prevalent sentiment in the United States was expressed in the newspapers of the day, as for example in the Massachusetts Chronicle of May----, 1783: "As Hannibal swore never to be at peace with the Romans, so let every Whig swear by his abhorrence of slavery, by liberty and religion, by the shades of departed friends who have fallen in battle, never to be at peace with those fiends, the refugees, whose thefts, murders and treasons have filled the cup of woe."
"Even moderate men held the Loyalists as "more malignant and mischievous enemies of the country than its foreign invaders," and even now more to be dreaded than any outside foe. When such feeling was to be withstood, the only safety was in the speedy removal of the domed men, and the arrangements for the embarkation of the Loyalist to the various British Provinces, went on as rapidly as was possible.
(1)- Winsor’s Critical History of America, vol. vii., p. 193.
(2)- Most noteworthy among these regiments were the
Kings Rangers; Queen’s Rangers; King’s American Regiment; Prince of Wales’s American Volunteers; The Royal Fencible Americans; The British Legion; The Loyal Foresters.
The House of Commons, June 17, 1783, by motion of Lord North, voted half-pay to the officers of these regiments.
(3) Remembrancer, vol. xiv., p. 326.
(4) "so honest, so good, so just, so kind a man, and one so attached to this unhappy land."--Jones’s Hist. New York, vol.ii., p. 124.
(5) In March, 1821, Parliament debated the question of paying with interest the unsatisfied claims.
(6) See Lecky’s Hist. of England in Eighteenth Century, vol. iv., p. 268. Winsor’s Critical Hist. America, vol. vii., p. 211
(7) Abijah Willard was from Lancaster, Massachusetts, and in 1776 went to Halifax with General Gage, but was on Long Island during the war.
(8) Remembrancer, vol. xvii., p. 59.
(9) See New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. xxi., p. 186.
*EARLY LONG ISLAND
LINKS TO OTHER LOYALISTS INFORMATION
- The Port Roseway Association Group of Loyalists
- The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies -> Excellent!
- Golbal Gazette -> Loyalists in Canada
- Grantbook Database -> This database consists of records of land settlement in New Brunswick in the period 1765-1900. SEARCHABLE
- The Abegweit Branch -> is the local branch of the United Empire Loyalist Association on Prince Edward Island.
- THE UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS' ASSOCIATION OF CANADA"
- Nova Scotia Historical Review -> An Index of the Articles Contained in the Nova Scotia Historical Review
- Black Loyalist Heritage Society web page.
- US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY -> The War of American Independence; SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY;b Loyalist Participation.
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