Despite popular belief most loyalists did not support the crown out of blind loyalty or a misguided sense of patriotism. Instead, most chose to remain loyal due to a variety of personal, societal and religious principles. For some, religious teachings demanded loyalty to the Crown. For others, economic opportunity guided fealty to King George. For more than a few, cultural beliefs dictated support of the British government. Yet regardless of their respective motivations, the American loyalists found themselves quickly at odds with their “patriot” counterparts.
One guiding principle which influenced Tories to remain loyal to the Crown was religious beliefs. Regardless of religious affiliation, many loyalists followed interpretations of the bible and religious teachings that required solemn allegiance to the Crown. For Anglicans, many ministers firmly believed they were bound by oath to be loyal to the king. The Reverend Benjamin Pickman insisted he had to remain loyal out of the “purest Principles of Loyalty to my late Sovereign”. Fellow minister John Amory refused to support the American cause because: “ I could not with a quiet conscience...take an Oath that I would bear Arms against the King of Great Britain to whom I had already sworn Allegiance.”
Likewise, not all Congregationalists supported the revolutionary rhetoric that was frequently espoused from the pulpit in New England. Isaac Smith justified his loyalty to the crown upon religious principles. He argued his position at Harvard and his profession as Congregational minister forbade him to be disobedient to his king or Parliament, because they obliged him to “liberal enquiry.”
Sandemanians, a pacifist sect of Congregationalists, believed that the bible commanded absolute loyalty to the Crown. Samuel Pike, a prominent Sandemanian, personified this belief when he declared in 1766 that every Christian must be a loyal subject to civil authority, even if that ruler was tyrannical. In turn, many Sandemanians became outspoken critics of the American cause and quickly became embroiled in the political crisis of the 1760s and early 1770s. The Sandemanians were the first to brand the Sons of Liberty and other political organizations as traitors to the Crown. Sandemanian minister Colburn Barrell declared that the Boston Massacre was the direct result of treasonous Congregationalist ministers who defied the laws of the land.
Roman Catholics, often seen as the scourge of the British Empire, quickly found themselves being forced to side with the Crown. Following the aftermath of the French and Indian Wars, many Catholic priests who resided in the upper regions of New York Colony openly welcomed black slaves and local Mohawks into their parishes and churches. With the passage of the Quebec Act of 1774, the practice of the Catholic faith was no longer subject to restrictions in certain regions of North America. The concept of Roman Catholics openly practicing their religious beliefs in New York, let alone with slaves and “savages”, deeply concerned their Congregationalist and Anglican neighbors. Members of the New York Provincial Congress quickly warned, “the indulgence and establishment of Popery all along the interior confines of the Protestant Colonies tends not only to obstruct their growth, but to weaken their security.”
Yet religious principles were not the only motivating factor to remain loyal to the crown. Often, economic dependency and patronage dictated one’s loyalty. Political appointees like William Woolton, Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver naturally sided with the British government because their respective colonial posts ensured potential profit. For many merchants, siding with the rebel mobs almost guaranteed financial ruin. Joseph Hooper, also known as “King Hooper”, of Marblehead was heavily dependent on trade with England. John Amory feared economic losses if he ended his business relationships with England. Amory was among the merchants who protested against the “Solemn League and Covenant of 1774,” suspending all commercial business with Great Britain. A business trip to England, which he coincidentally made during the Battle of Lexington, branded him a “Tory” in the eyes of his countrymen.
However, loyalty to the Crown so as to preserve economic profit was not limited to wealthy businessmen. Many tenant farmers of Albany, Ulster and Tryon Counties, New York were heavily dependent upon their loyalist land lords for continued economic success. In short, if rebel policies and practices drove their masters to financial ruin, economic destruction would surely follow for the tenants as well.
Likewise, economic opportunity in the form of recruitment bounties attracted many to the loyalist cause. Bounties were offered to prospective recruits; however, more important was the promise of freehold land. As early as 1775 recruiters for the Royal Highland Emigrants, a corps of loyalist Scot Highlanders, promised 200 acres of land to prospective soldiers. In March 1777 the governor of Quebec promised loyalists who “shall continue to serve His Majesty until the rebellion is suppressed and peace restored ... His Majesty's bounty of 200 acres of land.” In May 1781, when recruiting was more difficult, recruits were promised the same land after only three years of service and were given six guineas for enlisting. Recruiters in Bergen County, New Jersey, were even more generous, promising 200 acres of land for each adult male, 100 acres for his wife, and fifty acres for each child. Promises of land were also made by loyalist officers. Ebenezer Jessup, lieutenant-colonel of the King's Loyal Americans and a large landowner, pledged 24,000 acres of his land to those who “would serve faithfully during the War ... and 20,000 more to such of my officers as shuld merit the same by their good conduct.”
A desire for public safety and order also influenced many colonists who remained loyal to the Crown. Looking back at the origins of the American Revolution, key players such as Jonathan Sewall viewed the original conflict not with the Stamp Act Crisis or the attempt by the British government to collect on its debt from the French Wars. Instead, many loyalists saw the Writ of Assistance case as the ignition of conflict. To many loyal to the Crown, the Writ of Assistance case was viewed as an attempt by ambitious politicians to overthrow the political establishment and replace it with a lawless or populist mob.
Most loyalists detested the mob rule that spread from Boston and New York City to the countryside and abhorred the lack of order. As tensions grew between the colonies and England, many colonists attempted to remain neutral. However, as radicals seized power, neutrality became impossible. Dr. William Paine gave up his neutrality and declared himself a loyalist after he experienced "too many abuses" and "insults" from Patriots. Samuel Curwen, Judge of Admiralty, complained Whig “tempers get more and more soured and malevolent against all moderate men, whom they see fit to reproach as enemies of their country by the name of Tories, among whom I am unhappily (although unjustly) ranked.” The Reverend Samuel Seabury of Westchester, New York, lashed out at the patriot mobs who routinely and illegally entered and searched loyalist homes:
Do as you please: If you like it better, choose your Committee, or suffer it to be
Chosen by half a dozen Fools in your neighborhood – open your doors to them
let them examine your tea canisters, and molasses-jugs, and your wives and
daughters pettycoats – bow and cringe and tremble and quake – fall down and
worship our sovereign Lord the Mob . . . and shall my house be entered into
and my mode of living enquired into, by a domineering Committee-man? Before
I submit I will die, live you and be slaves.
For many loyalists in the New York region, especially those of Scottish descent, loyalty to the Crown was determined by cultural beliefs. Following the conclusion of the French and Indian War, many Scottish veterans from the 42nd, 77th, and 78th Regiments settled in the Albany area. Almost immediately, these newcomers clashed with their Dutch neighbors who sided with the rebels. In a society where clan ties were often paramount, many Scottish residents in the Albany area viewed King George III as their Laird or clan chieftain. As a result, most refused to sign “association” documents or loyalty oaths put forth by the Tory Committee due to the fact such documents were viewed as breaking an oath of allegiance to the King. As Captain Alexander McDonald, formerly of the 77th Regiment, warned “I am determined to be true to the trust reposed in me and discharge my duty with honour . . . as long as I live.”
Finally, for those colonists who attempted to remain neutral or initially sided with the “patriot” cause, the Declaration of Independence instead drove many individuals over to the side of the Crown. Seen as either a radical document or an extreme reaction to the dispute with the Crown, men such as Justus Sherwood, renounced their affiliation with the American cause and took up arms for the King.