One of my earliest childhood memories takes me to Putnam Park, near Danbury, Connecticut. The park was named after Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam. I still remember the cannons and a cave. My mother told me that soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War spent a cold, hungry winter there. That was my first lesson about the war.

My mother did not tell me about Gallows Hill. On a February day in 1779, while his Continental Army division was in winter camp, General Putnam, infuriated by the number of spies and army deserters who had been brought before him, decided to execute one of each—” make a double job of it,” he said. The spy was Edward Jones of Ridgefield, who, as an American supporter of the British was a Loyalist, or Tory. The deserter was seventeen-year-old John Smith, who was accused of planning to join the British Army as a Tory convert. Smith and Jones, ordinary men of ordinary names.

Smith spent a few minutes with a chaplain. Then, within a hollow square formed by the soldiers he wished to fight, Smith’s death warrant was read. He was taken off and killed by a firing squad, a few yards from a gallows that soldiers had built on the highest hill in theencampment. Jones was brought to it, and his death warrant was read. A noose around his neck was attached to the beam of the gallows. He climbed a ladder leaning on the beam, looked around at people he seemed to recognize, and swore to God that he was innocent. When he refused to step off the ladder, as one account puts it, he had to be “hurried into eternity,” presumably by a soldier, although one report says young boys pushed the ladder.1

As that day on Gallows Hill so lethally demonstrated, some Americans wanted to kill other Americans in the Revolutionary War. What had begun as political conflict between politicians called Whigs and their opponents, called Tories, had evolved into a brutal war. Our histories prefer to call the conflict the Revolutionary War, but many people who lived through it called it civil war. Americans who called themselves Patriots taunted, then tarred and feathered, and, finally, when war came, killed American Tories. Americans who called themselves Tories gave themselves a proud new name: Loyalists, a label that had not been needed when all Americans were subjects of the king.

When Brig. Gen. Nathanael Greene took command of the Continental Army of the South in 1781, he wrote to Col. Alexander Hamilton: “The division among the people is much greater than I imagined and the Whigs and Tories persecute each other, with little less than savage fury. There is nothing but murders and devastation in every quarter.”2

There was also collaboration. When we remember the heroic suffering of George Washington’s army at Valley Forge, we forget that only twenty miles away the British soldiers occupying Philadelphia were well housed and well fed because Tories and Tory sympathizers were sustaining them. “I am amazed,” wrote Washington to a staff officer, “at the report you make of the quantity of provisions that goes daily into Philadelphia from the County of Bucks.”3 Washington believed that most people in Pennsylvania did not support the war and “the languor of others, & internal distraction of the whole, have been among the great and insuperable difficulties I have met with.”4

Like most Americans, as a schoolboy and as an adult I had heard about the Tories, but I had not paid them much attention, believing that, as a small minority, they had not played a major role in the war. As a native of Connecticut, I had always thought of my state as a place where all the people fought the British. But soon after I started working on this book, I came across a reference to a Connecticut man named Stephen Jarvis, who had become a Tory soldier and killed other Americans. He was one of many Connecticut people who chose the king’s side, and his story is far from unusual. Such Connecticut towns as Stamford, Norwalk, Fairfield, Stratford, and Newtown had such large Loyalist populations that Patriots called them “Tory Towns.”5

Stephen Maples Jarvis, born in Danbury in 1756, was working on the family farm in April 1775 when he heard the news that British Redcoats and Rebels had clashed at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. “My father was one of those persons called Torries,” Stephen later wrote, quickly veering in his journal to his own clash with his father. Stephen, going on nineteen, was courting a young woman, Amelia Glover, who was “disapproved of by my father … and I was under the necessity of visiting the Lady only by stealth.”

To defy his father—and perhaps to impress his girlfriend—Stephen declared that he would join the Rebels’ Connecticut militia. When Stephen told his father this, the elder Jarvis “took me by the arm and thrust me out of the door.”6

At that moment in those turbulent times, when general discontent over British rule had flared into rebellion, the divided Jarvis family mirrored the splitting of families and friends throughout the colonies. Amelia Glover’s sister was married to a Rebel. Royal colonial militias overnight became Rebel militias. The militia that Stephen joined, originally formed to serve the king, was commanded by his mother’s brother, a Rebel.

In Stamford, thirty miles southwest of Danbury, Stephen’s uncle on his father’s side, Samuel Jarvis, was the town clerk. Soon after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Rebels’ Tory-hunting Committee of Inspection summoned Samuel, interrogated him abouthis Tory beliefs, and condemned him as “inimical to the Liberty of America.” The committee also found Samuel’s son Munson guilty of “signing a seditious paper, the import of which was that they would assist the King and his vile minions in their wicked, oppressive schemes to enslave the American Colonies; and tending to discourage any military preparations to repel the hostile measures of a corrupt Administration.”7

Samuel and Munson, suddenly aliens in their hometown, began planning how to get out. By the early fall of 1776, they could stand on the Stamford shore, look across Long Island Sound, and on the gray horizon see the low-lying land where the British flag had flown since the British Army drove the Continental Army out of New York. As Samuel Jarvis told the story, he and his wife and four children escaped by boat to Long Island.8 According to the Rebel version, a mob broke into the Jarvis home late one night, stripped every Jarvis naked, dragged them all into a boat, sailed it across the Sound, and forced them to wade to the British shore.9 Loyalists became a major Connecticut export.

When Samuel Jarvis reached Long Island, he recruited his son Munson and other Tories into the Prince of Wales’s American Regiment, one of more than two hundred Loyalist military units.10 Samuel and Munson would be among the thousand or so Connecticut men who served in Loyalist regiments, aboard the ships of the Royal Navy, or as Tory privateers.11 Rich and prominent landowners or royal officials organized and commanded Tory regiments, but the soldiers were usually farmers, laborers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers. Munson Jarvis, like Paul Revere in Boston, was a silversmith.

When Stephen’s militia was temporarily released from active service, he deserted, apparently without telling his Rebel uncle. Stephen promised his father that he was through with the Rebels, which was true, and that he was through with Amelia, which was not. Stephen joined the Tories by following his uncle’s example. With other young Connecticut men, Stephen rowed across Long Island Sound, went into New York City, and, after service in another unit, joined the Queen’s American Rangers. They wore forest green uniforms to distinguishthemselves from their comrades in war, the British Redcoats.12 The Rangers saw themselves as the elite unit among all the Loyalist forces fighting for the king.

Later in the war the Queen’s Rangers joined with British forces in an attack on Stephen’s birthplace, Danbury. Tories guided the invaders to secret stores of Rebel arms.13 After the battle, Rebel troops, out for revenge, swooped down on suspected Tories. One was Stephen Jarvis’s father. They beat him and pillaged his farmhouse.14

Stephen did not take part in the Danbury raid, but he soon was heading for Pennsylvania to begin a long campaign of fighting and killing other Americans. In one battle, he wrote, a Rebel soldier “fired and missed me and my horse and before he could raise his rifle he was a dead man.”15

After seven years as a Tory soldier, Stephen returned to Danbury, naively expecting to resume a life merely interrupted by war. He and his beloved Amelia planned to be married in an Episcopal church by a clergyman who was a relative. Stephen did not realize that, because the Episcopal clergy’s duties included prayers for the king, the Patriots had silenced most Episcopal clergymen in the colonies and forced the closing of their churches. (One Connecticut cleric who defied the Patriots was shot at as he preached. The bullet lodged in the sounding board of his pulpit. He kept on preaching and was not shot at again. Many of his fellow clerics had already fled to England.)16

Stephen had to change his marriage plans. After calming a mob that burst into his father’s house, he hastily arranged to marry Amelia there: “A clergyman was sent for, we retired to a room with a select party of our friends, and we were united, after which the mob dispersed and had left us.”

The next morning the local sheriff, carrying a warrant for Stephen’s arrest, forced his way into the bedroom of the bride and groom. Stephen “met him with such a determined and threatening attitude that in his retreat he tumbled from the head of the staircase to the bottom.

He then selected a posse—and surrounded the house… . I made my appearance at the window of my bedchamber, spoke to the persons outside, who seemed to look rather ill-natured. I threw them a dollar, desired they would get something to drink the Bride’s health, which they did, and before they had finished the bottle I had won them all to my side.”

But sometime later another mob stormed the house, attacking Amelia and her father-in-law. Stephen ran away and hid out. The war had not ended for him, and now it had not ended for Amelia. He began to think about leaving America. By then thousands of Tories were continuing a flight from America that had been going on since the first stirrings of the Revolution.

The first self-exiles had sailed to the motherland. “As the Rebellion is general thro’ the provinces,” a Boston clergyman wrote the archbishop of London in August 1775, “the friends of Governmt have no certain place to fly to for safety but to Eng.”17 Clergymen and royal officials began the exodus, which continued throughout the war. Thousands moved to temporary sanctuary in places where Tories ruled, hoping to return home after British victory. Tories jammed New York City; others chose Canada, or Charleston, South Carolina, a Tory town of the South.

Some moved to East Florida, where Britain had established an outpost to discourage Spanish incursions. But the treaty that ended the war handed East Florida over to Spain. So, while northern Loyalists were fleeing to Canada, southern refugees fled from Florida and Charleston to Bermuda and Jamaica. The exodus reached its climax in New York City on November 25, 1783, when a British fleet began evacuating thousands of Americans to Canada. These did not resemble the colonial officials and wealthy Loyalists who had sailed to England at the beginning of the war. The 1783 evacuees’ occupations included baker, house carpenter, miller, scrivener, trader, cooper, vintner, breeches maker, and innkeeper.18

Royal officials, needing settlers for the Canadian wilderness, sent the Loyalists to harbors along the rocky Nova Scotia coast or up broad rivers. They landed on virgin shores and were handed army rations, tools, lumber, blankets, and cloth for making clothing. New communities sprang up. New lives began.

One of the new Canadians climbed to the top of a desolate hill to watch the sails of her ship disappear over the horizon. “Such a feeling of loneliness came over me,” she later wrote, “that, though I had not shed a tear through all the war, I sat down on the damp moss with my baby on my lap and cried bitterly.” Her name was Sarah Frost, originally from Stamford. She was the daughter of Patriots and the wife of a Tory who became a notorious raider in an amphibious war waged between Connecticut Rebels and Long Island Tories.19

By some counts, about 80,000 Tories left the colonies—proportionally, six times the number of people who fled France during the French Revolution.20 A larger estimate came from a Tory historian who was in New York when, he said, “not less than 100,000 souls” left the city in a mass postwar exodus.21 That estimate does not count Tories who left from other places in other times, including large-scale evacuations from Savannah and Charleston. We will never know the total number, but we do have solid knowledge about the flight of thousands of individuals. Stephen and Amelia Jarvis and their infant daughter, for instance, left Connecticut on May 1, 1785. They began their Canadian lives in a settlement newly named Fredericktown, in honor of Prince Frederick, second son of King George III.

Among the exiles who sailed to Canada were some thirty-five hundred black Tories, ex-slaves given their freedom because they had joined the Loyalist cause. In 1792, nearly two thousand of them, bitter over the way they were treated in Nova Scotia, sailed from there in a fleet of fifteen ships to Africa, where they became the founders of modern Sierra Leone. Thus, in ways no one could have imagined in 1776, the Revolution led to the creation not only of the United States but also of a new Canada and a new nation on another continent.

From the battle at Concord to the battle at Yorktown, Patriot troops fought armed Loyalists as well as British troops. By one tally, Loyalists fought in 576 of the war’s 772 battles and skirmishes.22 Relativelyfew of these Loyalist-Patriot clashes get much mention in military chronicles, and few had an important effect on the outcome of the Revolution. But they did strengthen the solidarity of the Loyalists: They were not merely opposing the Revolution; they were fighting and dying to end it.

In the earliest days of the war Patriots looked longingly at Canada as a potential participant in rebellion.23 But the Rebels’ liberation invasion did not trigger an uprising against the king. Canadian Loyalists fought the American Rebels. Canada became a place that resisted the Revolution—and thus a place where Tories could find refuge.

No one knows how many Tories there were. The Tories themselves consistently believed that they were in the majority.24 But there is no reliable head count for determining the actual number of Tories, white or black, at any specific time. A modern estimate of Loyalist strength—colonists who fought on the king’s side, worked for the British, or went into exile—allots them 16 percent of the total population or nearly 20 percent of the white population.25 To turn that estimate into a Loyalist head count, however, you need to know how many Americans there were. Estimates of the total American population—based on tax lists, militia musters, and other available records—are as low as 2,205,000 and as high as 2,780,400.26 So, using the 20 percent figure, there may have been as few as 441,000 or as many as 556,080 Loyalists.

Down the years many historians have cited John Adams as an eyewitness source for an estimate of one-third Tories, one-third Patriots, and one-third indifferent. That view has prevailed because of a consistent misinterpretation of Adams’s words. In a letter written in January 1815 to James Lloyd, a forty-six-year-old Massachusetts politician between terms as a U.S. senator, Adams says: “The middle third, composed principally of the yeomanry, the soundest part of the nation, and always averse to war, were rather lukewarm both to England and France; and sometimes stragglers from them, and sometimes the whole body, united with the first or the last third, according to circumstances.” (Sometimes the Adams quote is cited only as far as “lukewarm.”) But Adams was not writing about American reaction to the Revolutionary War. He was giving his judgment about how Americans thought about England and the French Revolution when he was president.27

Adams did discuss the Tories in another long letter that same year. From 1765 to 1775, he wrote, the British government “formed and organized and drilled and disciplined a party in favor of Great Britain, and they seduced and deluded nearly one third of the people of the colonies.” In that letter, to the Reverend Jedediah Morse, an author of geography textbooks, Adams went on to say that “many men of the first rank, station, property, education, influence, and power, who in 1765 had been real or pretended Americans, converted during the period to real Britons.” Among them, Adams continued, were “my cordial, confidential, and bosom friends,” drawn away to the ranks of the Tories by offers of power and prestige.28

Adams’s description of the effort to convert Americans to Britons covers only the decade before the war began. He did not speak to the activities of Tories during the war. Nor did he mention the thousands of Loyalists who joined the regiments that were formed to fight the Continental Army, or the Continental Army soldiers and state militiamen who deserted their regiments not because they no longer wished to be soldiers but because they wanted to fight on the Loyalist side. Neither did Adams take up the numbering of what George Washington called “half tories,” who secretly aided the Rebels, usually as spies.29 Two distinguished historians, Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, analyzed Adams’s one-third thesis and wrote:

If by Patriot we mean only those who were ready to fight for the new nation, then Adams’ one third is too high; after all, a free population of only 2,000,000 could not put over 25,000 men in the field at once, and a rich and fertile land allowed its soldiers to freeze and to starve. If by Loyalist we mean only those who were actively loyal, and whose loyalty carried them into exile or into British ranks, then again Adams’ estimate is too large. But if the term Loyalist is stretched to cover not only those who were actively loyal but also those who were against independence and war, and tried to hold aloof, then the figure of one third is clearly too small. Two things are apparent: that there was always a substantial portion of the American population which had no enthusiasm for either the rebellion or its suppression, and that the number and zeal of Patriots and Loyalists alike changed constantly with the varying fortunes of the war.30

Adams believed in the importance of finding the records of what he called the “intrigues” perpetrated by the British to “divide the people.” He also wondered how many incriminating records still existed from the proceedings of Patriot committees that ferreted out Tories and punished them. Until those records were discovered, he wrote, “the history of the United States never can be written.”31

Many of those records do exist. They are the Loyalists’ legacy, and, like the Loyalists, they are scattered. I have found them in Canada, Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland, in the Library of Congress, and in the archives of the original colonies. I have also seen diaries, letters, and other documents collected by American families who discovered, sometimes to their surprise, the Tories in their family trees. Those documents give faces to forgotten Americans who fought on the losing side.

The Loyalists add a dimension to the Revolutionary War, transforming it into a conflict between Americans as well as a struggle for independence. Paddy Fitzgerald, a historian of Irish migration, once told me, “Every country has a Grand Story, and there are always stories under the grand story.” Loyalists lived and died in the Grand Story’s underground, fighting to keep America ruled by the king. But they were nonetheless truly Americans, introducing the nation’s first generation of politicians to a truth that would endure: Woven into the tapestry to be known as We the People, there would always be strands of a defiant, passionate minority.

A note about words and labels. I retain the often peculiar spellings that appear in documents of the era, but I do introduce modern punctuation for clarity. As for labels, people who lived during the Revolution called each other Tories and Whigs, Patriots and Loyalists, Rebels and Friends of the King. “Tory” and “Whig” were political labels.

“Whig” faded away when political disputes evolved into rebellion. But “Tory” endured and became the Rebels’ favorite name for their foes. Some people today, particularly the descendants of Loyalists, find the word “Tory” offensive. They also object to “Patriots” for supporters of the Revolution on the grounds that their ancestors were patriots, too: British patriots. Some people prefer “colonials” as a label for everybody in America in those days. But I think a “colonial” is what someone would have been before Americans began calling themselves Americans, whether or not they supported King George III.

I use “Loyalist,” “Tory,” “Rebel,” and “Patriot” not as labels that disparage or commend but as descriptive terms that fit the events and times described. I don’t use “American army” or “American” for one side or the other because the Revolutionary War was a civil war, and when Loyalists or Tories fought Patriots or Rebels, everyone in the fight was an American.



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