In part two of our discussion on the female Loyalist experience during the War for Independence, we review some of the acts of violence directed towards Loyalist women and their families.
As loyalist men fled to the safety of British lines, there was a theoretical belief held by men regarding the treatment of Tory women and children as innocent bystanders. As Loyalist Captain Alexander McDonald opined “surely the people [the Patriots] has not got so barberously mad as to Mollest or hurt a poor innocent woman and still more Innocent poor Children.” From the male loyalist perspective, their wives were mere appendages with no independent wills or political roles of their own. Likewise, many male loyalists assumed, under the theories of feme sole trader and deputy husbands, that if their spouses were left behind, personal and real property would be carefully protected from seizure or destruction.
Unfortunately, both views were rejected by the enemy. Patriot committees and colonial governments concluded that unless there was evidence to the contrary, the families of fleeing male loyalists shared in the guilt. From the patriot perspective, women could not act independently from the men in their lives. The political decisions of the men also incriminated the women. By joining the enemy and participating in the often vicious raids on frontier communities, the men had tainted not only themselves but also their families. The Patriots felt justified in striking back and punishing those raiding their frontiers and participating in treason. The men, however, were in Canada, beyond the Patriots' reach. Loyalist women left behind were seen as vipers living in their midst. Thus, it was the women and their families who bore the brunt of the Patriots' rage.
Women who had either participated in the war themselves or were married to men who had were subjected to various forms of punishment, the most common and devastating being the confiscation of their property. Looting and destruction of loyalist property were also conventional. Likewise, many women also faced imprisonment and violence at the hand of local mobs.
Loyalist Sarah Mcginnis of New York enjoyed a close relationship with neighboring Mohawks. At the outbreak of the war she was offered twelve shillings York currency per day and a guard of fifteen men if she would try to influence the Mohawk on their behalf. Instead, she provided intelligence to British authorities and assisted loyalist refugees with their flight north. In retaliation, local patriot officials arrested her son in law and plundered her property. Sarah, her daughter, and her granddaughter watched as the Patriots sold all of their possessions, “except what would scantily support them in victuals and clothes,” at public auction. After this, the women were imprisoned in a local fort and so badly treated that Sarah's granddaughter later died. Sarah and her daughter "escaped at night with only what they could carry on their backs.” Sarah was forced to leave behind a son “who was out of his senses and bound in chains ... and who some time afterward was burnt alive.”
In the case of the Loyalist Empy family, Philip, husband and father of eleven children, was subjected to “many insults and abuses from rebels.” When Philip and his three sons escaped from prison, the local Patriots turned their eyes to his wife and seven other children. Mrs Empty and her children were imprisoned and all of their real and personal property was confiscated. Mrs Empy and her family were eventually released. But when she returned to her home, she was “beat and abused” by “4 men” who left her on the road. Although she was rescued by friends and taken to Schenectady, she later died.
Elizabeth Cary Wilstee, a resident of the New Hamphshire Grants whose family had been victimized by the Green Mountain boys in the 1760s, watched helplessly as a Patriot band ransacked her home in 1776. In the middle of winter, the “outlaws” broke into her home and ordered her and her children to leave for her father's place. Although it was snowy and cold, she had no choice. “Looking back while on her way,” she saw the “outlaws moving her furniture and provisions from the house and loading them into a wagon.” Next she witnessed them “open her feather beds and shake the feathers from the ticks out of the windows and put the ticks and bed clothes into the wagon.” Finally, she watched them “pry the logs of the sides of the house out at the corners until the roof fell in.” Having finished with the Wiltsee home, the band moved on to the homes of other tenants in the neighborhood.
Shortly after his escape, Loyalist Daniel McAlpin’s property was seized and his wife and family were arrested. Mary McAlpin described her family’s treatment at the hands of the rebels in vivid
language. “From the day her husband left to the day she was forced from her home the Captain's house was never without parties of the Rebels present. They lived at their discretion and sometimes in very large numbers. They destroyed what they could not consume. Shortly after the capture of the fleeing loyalists a group of armed Rebels with blackened faces broke into the McAlpin's dwelling house. They threatened Mary and her children with violence and menace of instant death. They confined them to the kitchen while they stripped every valuable from the home. A few days after this, by an order of the Albany Committee, a detachment of Rebel Forces came and seized upon the remainder of McAlpin's estate both real and personal.” Mary McAlpin and her children were taken to an unheated hut located in Stillwater and locked inside “without fire, table, chairs or any other convenience.”
Hoping that the hardship would eventually break Mrs. McAlpin and induce her to beg her husband to honorably surrender, the rebels kept Mary and her children in captivity for several weeks. Mary McAlpin refused to comply and instead responded her husband “had already established his honour by a faithful service to his King and country.” Enraged, rebels seized Mary and her oldest daughter and “carted” both of them through Albany. According to the Reverend Munro, “Mrs. McAlpin was brought down to Albany in a very scandalous manner so much that the Americans themselves cried out about it.”A second account stated “when Mrs. McAlpin was brought from the hut to Albany as a prisoner with her daughter . . . they neither of them had a rag of cloaths to shift themselves.”