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The Loyalists' Image of England. Ideal and Reality

  • Mary Beth Norton


Historians of Anglo-America have long been fascinated by the cultural relationship between the colonies and the mother country during the eighteenth century. Recently, this interest has been intensified by studies suggesting that the Americans drew heavily on English sources for their revolutionary ideology. Scholars have thus recognized the importance of defining the exact nature of the interplay between England and America, and one of the most frequently-chosen means of accomplishing this clarification has been to examine the accounts of English travelers in the colonies and the impressions of provincial visitors to the British Isles. Such personal narratives provide an excellent basis for comparing the two cultures and for delineating the extent of their shared heritage. Yet strangely enough, despite this continuing interest in colonial reactions to England and vice versa, few works have discussed in detail the experience of the loyalist refugees who fled to Great Britain during the revolutionary war. In part this seems to be a consequence of the long-term neglect of the loyalists in serious studies of the American rebellion, but even with the recent upsurge of interest in them, their time in exile has received scant attention from historians. Generally the loyalists' experience in England has been treated as something of a side show to the main event, which was acted out upon the American stage. This lack of scholarly concern is at the same time curious and lamentable, for the refugees' letters and diaries provide a wealth of information about the ways in which eighteenth-century Americans perceived Great Britain, and thus about the nature of the relationship between the two closely-connected English-speaking cultures.



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1 See, for example, Bailyn, Bernard, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, 1967) and Colbourn, Trevor, The Lamp of Experience (Chapel Hill, 1965).

2 The treatment of the exiles in Nelson, William, The American Tory (New York, 1961) and Brown, Wallace, The Good Americans (New York, 1969) is limited to one chapter each. The one partial exception to this observation is Einstein, Lewis, Divided Loyalties (Boston, 1933), which concentrates heavily on Americans who engaged in espionage activities on behalf of the British.

3 Boucher, Jonathan, A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution (New York, 1967), 592. See also Seabury, Samuel, Letters of a West Chester Farmer, ed. Vance, Clarence (White Plains, 1930), 128.

4 Allen, William, The American Crisis … (London, 1774), 67; Adams, John and Leonard, Daniel, Novanglus and Massachusettensis (New York, 1968), 145, 147, 217; Seabury, , Letters, 138.

5 Ibid., 121-22; Adams, and Leonard, , Novanglus and Massachusettensis, 170.

6 Ibid., 150; Seabury, , Letters, 140.

7 Aikman, Louisa Wells, The Journal of a Voyage from Charleston, S. C. to London (New York, 1906), 61–2; Sargent, Winthrop, ed., The Loyalist Poetry of the Revolution (Philadelphia, 1857), 89.

8 Harrison Gray, Jr. to Harrison Gray, Sept. 22, 1775, Gray Collection, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond; Samuel Quincy to his wife, Sept. 5, 1775, Samuel Quincy Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston (hereafter MHS); Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, 1739-1776 (Collections of the MHS, LXXI, 1914), 225; Codman, Martha, ed., The Journal of Mrs. John Amory (Boston, 1923), 4.

9 Jabez M. Fisher to Hannah Redwood, June 21, 1775, Society Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; William Browne to I. W., Jan. 15, 1780, Browne Letterbook, II, 5, MHS (microfilm).

10 John S. Copley to his wife Susannah, July 11, 1774, Copley Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division; Raymond, W. O., ed., Winslow Papers, 1776-1826 (St. John, N. B., 1901), 13.

11 Van Schaack, Henry C., The Life of Peter Van Schaack (New York, 1842), 135; Peter Van Schaack, Notes on Arrival in England, 1779, Van Schaack Papers, Columbia University Library.

12 For a detailed description of the loyalists' London activities, see Norton, Mary Beth, “The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774-1789” (unpub. Ph.D. diss., Harvard, 1969), 5972.

13 Ward, George A., ed., The Journal and Letters of Judge Samuel Curwen, 3rd ed. (New York, 1845), 213; Isaac Low to Peter Van Schaack, June 5, 1787, Van Schaack MSS.

14 The comment was made by Thomas Danforth, a Massachusetts attorney; see Curwen, , Journal and Letters, 71. The fluctuations of loyalist opinion are traced in Norton, , “The British-Americans,” 323–63.

15 Thomas Hutchinson to his daughter Sarah Oliver, Nov. 1, 1774, Egerton Manuscripts 2661, f. 71, British Museum, London (hereafter Eg. MSS); Hutchinson to Charles Paxton, Feb. 16. 1776, Ibid., f. 172. For a discussion of the governor's increasing disillusionment, see Norton, , “The British-Americans,” 306–8.

16 Hutchinson, Peter O., ed., The Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson (Boston, 1884), II, 408–9; Daniel Batwell to George Panton, Nov. 1, 1780, Knollenberg Collection, Yale University Library, New Haven. See also Curwen, , Journal and Letters, 212.

17 Journal of Rev. Joshua Wingate Weeks, Loyalist Rector of St. Michael's Church, Marblehead, 1778-1779,” Essex Institute Historical Collections, III (1916), 205; Jonathan Sewall to Thomas Robie, Jan. 29, 1779, Sewall Papers, MHS; Mrs. Esther Sewall to her father. March 4, 1778, Miscellaneous Manuscripts, MHS.

18 Thomas Hutchinson to Governor Grant, June 2, 1775, Eg. MSS 2661, f. 155; to his son Thomas Jr., July 28, 1774, ibid., f. 39; to [Jonathan] Sewall, December 30, 1774, ibid., f. 97. See also Hutchinson, , Diary and Letters, I, 215, 281, 356; II, 95.

19 William Vassall to Joshua Richardson, Jan. 18, 1780, Vassall Letterbook, I, 149, Harvard University Library (microfilm); Hutchinson, , Diary and Letters, I, 281; Elisha Hutchinson to his wife Polly, July 15, 1775, Eg. MSS 2668, f. 85.

20 Archibald Kennedy to Robert Watts, March 18, 1786, Watts Papers, New York Historical Society, New York City. On loyalists and American food, see Norton, , “The British-Americans,” 124–6.

21 Sir William Pepperrell to Isaac Winslow, July 17, 1778, Winslow Papers, MHS.

22 Jonathan Sewall to David Sewall, April 14, 1777, Misc. MSS, MHS. See Thomas Hutchinson to ………., Aug. 8, 1779, Eg. MSS 2661, f. 187; and Oliver, Peter, Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion, ed. Adair, Douglass and Schutz, John A. (San Marino. Calif., 1961), 162.

23 William Vassall to Dr. James Lloyd, Dec. 20, 1775, Vassall Letterbook, I, 105; Elisha Hutchinson to his wife Polly, Sept. 6, 1775, Eg. MSS 2668, f. 93.

24 Edward Oxnard, Diary, Jan. 9, 1776, Maine Historical Society, Portland. On the other topics, see Oxnard diary, Jan. 1, 1776; Curwen, , Journal and Letters, 45; Hannah Winslow to Isaac Winslow, May 5, [1782], Winslow MSS; Hutchinson, , Diary and Letters, I, 278.

25 Ibid., I, 379; Van Schaack, , Life, 136. See also Hutchinson, , Diary and Letters, II, 36.

26 Peter Van Schaack to William Laight, Aug. 16, 1784, Van Schaack MSS; Curwen, , Journal and Letters, 396. See also William Vassall to Joseph Dowse, March 10, 1785, Vassall Letterbook, I, 236; and Samuel Quincy to his wife, April 18, 1778, S. Quincy MSS.

27 Henry Caner to Mrs. Wentworth, July 10, 1776, Caner Letterbook, Bristol University Library, Bristol, England; Curwen, , Journal and Letters, 375; Van Schaack, , Lıfe, 263.

28 Ibid., 244; Curwen, , Journal and Letters, 231; [Galloway, Joseph], Letters from Cicero to Cataline the Second (London, 1781), 65; William Browne to F. B. Winthrop, Oct. 11, 1779. Browne Letterbook, I, 34.

29 Hutchinson, , Diary and Letters, I, 200.

30 Van Schaack, , Life, 304, 318.

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