Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New York Public Library's "List of Loyalists Whom Judgments Were Given Under the Confiscation Act"

The New York Public Library recently announced that it has digitized the "List of Loyalists Whom Judgments Were Given Under the Confiscation Act". This document is a list of judgments against loyalists in New York State following the passage of the Confiscation Act of 1779. The document includes the names of the loyalists convicted, their occupations, the town or county that they resided in, dates of indictment, and dates of judgment. The indictment dates and judgments span 1780-1783.

A casual review of the list reveals that the majority of these loyalists were from the middle and lower classes of society. Many are listed simply as "yeoman" and "laborers". Of course, this list underscores the need to destroy the popular myth that most loyalists were corrupt, inept, greedy people whose blind faith to the British crown led to their downfall. Such erroneous stereotypes only undermine and trivialize the struggles of the American loyalist.

By the conclusion of the American Revolution, between 80,000 and 100,000 loyalists had fled the American colonies. Almost half of them escaped to Canada. Of those, 45,000 refugees settled in the Canadian Maritime region. An additional 9,500 refugees fled to the Quebec province. From Quebec, 7,500 loyalists ultimately settled in Upper Canada. These men, women and children that fled the American colonies left behind more than their homes. They left behind their experiences, personal belongings, communities, friends and relatives.

Many colonists who ultimately became “Tories” were not distinguishable from their neighbors who embraced independence. Many loyalists were respected members of their towns; often well-educated Harvard graduates who worked as merchants, doctors, lawyers, distillers or ministers. Individuals such as Sir John Johnson, Richard Saltonstall, Jonathan Sewell and Admiralty Judge Samuel Curwen, who would later enlist in the loyalist cause, were seen prior to the American Revolution as leading and influential members their respective colonies.

However, most colonists from New York and New England who remained faithful to the crown hailed from the middle and lower classes of the American colonies. These loyalists enjoyed neither wealth nor privilege. Of the four hundred eighty-eight loyalists who eventually settled in the Ontario region of Upper Canada and submitted claims to the British government for losses sustained during the American Revolution, only five held public office. Three were considered modest political posts. Only one claimant, a physician, would be considered a professional by modern standards. A small number owned shops, ran taverns or were considered artisans. Ninety percent of those loyalists who settled in the Ontario region simply identified themselves as farmers.

The average loyalist farmer who ultimately took refuge in Upper Canada leased or owned less than two hundred acres of land prior to the American Revolution. Forty-two percent of the Ontario settlers admitted they had cleared less than ten acres of land prior to their flight. Fifty-four percent of the farmers hailed from Tyron County, New York. An additional twenty-five percent had ties to Albany County. Fourteen percent claimed Charlotte County as their prior residence.

Over half of the refugees who settled in Upper Canada were foreign born. Over fifty percent of Ontario loyalists were Scot Highland Roman Catholics. Second in number were German and Irish immigrants. An additional eight percent claimed England as their place of birth. Many did not speak English. Many loyalist Scot immigrants had only resided in the American colonies for four years at the start of the American Revolution. English immigrants had resided in America on average for eight years. By comparison, many Irish and German immigrants had lived in the colonies between eleven and eighteen years.

Joining these loyalists were African-American loyalists. Almost ten percent of loyalists that fled to Canada were of African-American descent. Whether slave or freeman, many African-Americans cast their lot with the crown in an attempt to secure a better life for themselves and their families. Likewise, many Native American allies of the crown also retreated to Canada after the war. Over two thousand Iroquois from the Six Nations, Mohicans, Nanticokes and Squakis had settled in the Ontario region by 1785.

Regardless of their economic or social background, native born whites, immigrants, slaves, freemen and Native Americans banded together in support of King George and the British government. Regardless of the lack of supplies, political support or financial backing, the campaign to defend the British crown was enthusiastically and admirably waged by loyalists from the print of local newspapers to the siege lines of Yorktown. Granted, their defense of British policy often fell on deaf ears and their military endeavors were often insufficient to turn the tide of war, their willingness to undertake such endeavors is noteworthy.

1 comment:

  1. I have looked at this list and it's front page says 1802....20 years after the Rev War ended....were they still taking peoples property at that point? This list does not include all those who lost their property....there is a much longer list in "New York in the Revolution Supplement" but it does not include details of where or when or descriptions of the property. Stilljohn Purdy is on pg 127 of the Supplement and I would love to find the details.

    Linda Herman