… If cats should be chased into holes by the mouse, If mammas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown, If summer were spring and the other way round, Then all the world would be upside down.
—Nursery rhyme, “The World Turned Upside Down”1
During the negotiations for the surrender of Cornwallis at York-town, a British officer brought up the uneasy topic of Loyalists, for he knew that many armed Tory units were among the troops who had laid down their arms. He also knew that those troops were not in the British Army and not affected by the terms of surrender. Finally negotiators hammered out an article of capitulation that attempted to give them legal immunity: “Natives or Inhabitants of different Parts of this Country … are not to be punished on Account of having joined the British Army.” Washington, well aware of the anti-Tory laws passed by every state, took a look at the article and insisted that those laws be somehow acknowledged. So an awkward sentence was added: “This Article cannot be assented to being altogether of Civil Resort.”2 Those words would be the grounds for hunting down the fifteen hundred Tories suspected of having served at Yorktown.
Still, a way was found to get some of them out safely. In another article of capitulation, Washington allowed the Royal Navy sloop Bonetta to be “permitted to sail without Examination …,” ostensibly so that Cornwallis could send a report to New York.3 Lt. Col. John G. Simcoe was allowed to board because he was in poor health. Some of his Rangers also slipped aboard, as did other Tories who rowed out as the Bonetta set sail. Among them were ex-Rebels who had served in state militias, viewed by Patriots as deserters who could be executed for taking up the king’s arms. The fate of other Tories at Yorktown is not known. Some men were caught and executed for desertion. Some Loyalist muster rolls show the surrender of 241 officers and men of the British Legion, including a lieutenant colonel.4
That would seem to be Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, who had commanded the British force at Gloucester Point, across the river from Yorktown. A captain, a lieutenant, and two enlisted men of the New Jersey Volunteers were also captured at Gloucester. They presumably became prisoners, like the men of the British Legion, indicating that at least some Loyalist soldiers were treated as prisoners of war. Tarleton, who feared he would be attacked at the time of the surrender, did reach New York and eventually England, as did Simcoe. Many Rangers and veterans of Tarleton’s Legion, presumably using Tory safe houses along the way, did get to New York and would sail away to Nova Scotia during the British evacuation of the city.
In the days before and after the surrender, many of the runaway slaves who had fled to Cornwallis were dying of smallpox. As the British troops had marched north from the Carolinas, slaves had joined the invaders in a bid for freedom. Many carried smallpox and died along the road. “Within these days past,” a Connecticut soldier wrote, “I have marched by 18 or 20 Negroes that lay dead by the way-side, putrifying with the small pox… . infecting the air around with intolerable stench & great danger.”5 Cornwallis, who had put the former slaves to work on his redoubts, could not feed them as the siege tightened. So he sent them out to fend for themselves. Private Joseph Plumb Martin, ever a witness, wrote, “During the siege, we saw in the woods herds of Negroes which lord Cornwallis … had turned adrift, with not other recompense for their confidence in his humanity than the small pox for their bounty and starvation and death for their wages. They might be seen scattered about in every direction, dead and dying, with pieces of ears of burnt Indian corn in the hands and mouths, even of those that were dead.”6
Soldiers then, as well as Benjamin Franklin later, speculated that the British were deliberately using dead and dying blacks to infect the Continental Army with smallpox. Buttressing the speculation in her 2001 work, Pox Americana, the historian Elizabeth A. Fenn quotes from a letter written to Cornwallis by Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie: “Above 700 Negroes are come down the River in the Small Pox,” he wrote. “I shall distribute them about the Rebell Plantations.”7 Under Washington’s edicts the soldiers of the Continental Army were inoculated, but few militiamen were. It will probably never be known whether Leslie’s suggestion was carried out and, if so, whether any Rebels were struck down.
By the time Sir Guy Carleton succeeded Clinton in May 1782, there was no doubt that the war was lost. Carleton promptly ordered the evacuation of Savannah and Charleston—” a deplorable necessity in consequence of an unsuccessful war.”8 The evacuation of Savannah, which came in July, was supposed to be primarily a military operation, carried out under terms laid down by Major General Wayne, who had arrived in Georgia in January with orders to drive the British out of the state.
As in Boston in 1776 and Philadelphia in 1778, Tories wanted to leave with the British soldiers. And Wayne, who had fought Tories on his road to Savannah, had to deal with Tory militiamen, who were not leaving. Georgia, the only colony to be conquered by the British, had reestablished royal militias; they had to be disbanded.
Wayne had already broken the royal militias by encouraging desertions to Rebel militias. He made sure that the deserters were well treated when they changed sides, inspiring further defections. Working closely with Wayne, Patriot governor John Martin, in a proclamation of February 1782, promised two hundred acres of land, a cow, and two breeding swine to every Tory who defected. Scores of Tory militiamen immediately deserted. Copies of the proclamation, translated into German, were slipped into Hessian encampments, and twenty-six deserted immediately. British officers in the South lost whatever confidence they might have had in Georgian and Hessian soldiers.9
Shortly before the evacuation of Savannah, Wayne promised that he would exert every influence “in my power with the Civil Authority, that all past offences (except murder) shall be buried in Oblivion”—providing that the militiamen enlisted in the Georgia Continental Infantry for two years or for the duration of the war in Georgia.10 More than two hundred militiamen joined, switching sides with ease.11 Eventually many of the civilians in Savannah’s swelling refugee population chose to go to New York with the British Army. Wealthy families could book passage to England. Others, particularly families with large numbers of slaves, chose to go on army transports to Jamaica or the British colony of East Florida.
Some two thousand white Tories and five thousand slaves left Savannah. Most of them headed for St. Augustine in Florida; others sailed to Charleston.12 In Florida the newcomers could expect grants of land, “upon which,” in the words of the Loyalist historian Thomas Jones, “they sat down and began the world anew.”13 Nearly seven thousand Tories from Georgia and the Carolinas were already in East Florida, which since 1775 had been giving free land to Loyalists. Many of them had been driven there by confiscation-and-banishment laws.14
In December 1782 came the evacuation of Charleston, which completed the British withdrawal of all troops from the southern colonies. Thousands of civilians chose to leave with the troops. By one accounting, 9,127 Charleston Loyalists became exiles. A total of 1,278 whites went to Jamaica, accompanied by 2,613 slaves. East Florida was chosen by 1,615 white evacuees, who took with them 3,826 slaves. England was the destination of 274 whites; they sailed to England with 56 slaves, who probably would be called house servants in England. Twenty men took 350 slaves to the sugar plantations of St. Lucia in the West Indies. About 190 people, with 50 slaves, went to New York, and 417 men, women, and children, with 53 slaves, picked a new destination being suggested by Carleton: Nova Scotia.15
The evacuations were preludes to the spreading dread among Loyalists that they and Britain, having lost the war, now were about to lose the peace. For Britain, life would go on much as before, but America’s Loyalists now were aliens and, to the most vindictive winners, enemies. “The Rebels breathe the most rancorous and malignant Spirit everywhere,” a New York Tory wrote. “Committees and Associations are formed in every Colony and Resolves passed that no Refugees shall return nor have their Estates restored. The Congress and Assemblies look on tamely and want either the Will or the Power to check those Proceedings. In short, the Mob now reigns as fully and uncontrolled as in the Beginning of our Troubles and America is as hostile to Great Britain at this Hour as she was at any Period during the War.”16
On March 25, 1783, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer reported that a ship had arrived at Philadelphia, “in thirty-five days from Cadiz, with dispatches to the Continental Congress, informing them that … the preliminaries to a general peace … was signed at Paris, in consequence of which hostilities by sea and land were to cease.” When the news became official a few days later, instead of cheers there were “groans and hisses … attended by bitter reproaches and curses upon their kind for having deserted them.”17
Finally came the details: The new residents of Florida learned that Spain, which had entered the war as an ally of France, was rewarded by getting back its former possession, Florida. British subjects living there had until March 1785 to clear out. The Indians along the frontier, who had expected rewards of lands for helping the British, learned that the treaty gave the United States virtually all the land east of the Mississippi River, except for British possessions in Canada and Spanish territory in Florida. And Loyalists learned that the treaty’s words dealing with their future were meaningless. Congress, the treaty said, would “earnestly recommend” to the states that Loyalists’ “estates, rights, and properties” be restored. But the states had alreadyconfiscated the property of tens of thousands of Tories and, because there was no national government, the states had no need to accept any recommendations from Congress.
New York City and Long Island, which had been Tory citadels, now became exits to exile. The wealthiest Tories had gone to England long before, and most reports of life there were dire. Transplanted Americans were treated as Americans, not former or new Britons. Hannah Winslow, who had left Boston with the evacuation ships in 1776 and had expected to return when the war ended, had a typical lament: She did not like where she was living but knew she could not return because “my unhappy fate is fix’d.”18One outstanding Loyalist who did not leave was James Rivington, the Tory publisher. Beginning around the time that France became a Rebel ally, Rivington became an ally, too—a secret one, spying for Washington, who personally paid him in gold at the end of the war. He lived in New York until his death in 1802.19
Some wealthy Loyalists chose exile in England, though they knew Loyalists were not welcome there. Still, merchants, expecting an awakening of transatlantic trade, chartered ships, loaded them with the contents of their warehouses, and sailed off with their families. The merchants had no worries about breaking any trade laws. Carleton had ordered port officials to grant the evacuees “particular permissions” to leave New York and make whatever profits they could.20 Carleton had assured the Loyalists that his troops would not leave New York City until the departure of all of the civilians who wanted to go. And Carleton knew where they should go: Canada. The land that awaited them in Nova Scotia had once been the land of the Acadians, a French people expelled in the 1750s in a cruel deportation. By pouring Loyalists into sparsely populated Nova Scotia, Britain would assure the creation of an English-speaking region that would offset the French-speaking, Roman Catholic Quebec region.
The Reverend John Sayre had run off from his church and home in Fairfield during Tryon’s raids on the Connecticut coast. He andhis wife and eight children, “destitute of food, house, and raiments,” joined the refugees in New York, and he became a propagandist for Carleton’s Canadian plan.21 In April 1783, he went to the large Loyalist refugee community at Eaton’s Neck, Long Island. During a worship service in a schoolhouse, he preached about Nova Scotia. Each Loyalist family, he told the congregation, would get two hundred acres of land. They would also receive warm clothing, a year’s worth of provisions, and a house—which would be in the form of planks, nails, and even window glass, all waiting for them in storage in Nova Scotia. Along with those supplies would come an iron plow and other farming equipment. A world anew.
Within days dozens of people in Lloyd’s Neck decided to go, joining the official evacuation, which would begin in April and for which Carleton had found 183 ships to sail in fleets from New York. On Long Island 471 heads of families were divided into sixteen companies and assigned to Royal Navy transport ships. Each company had a captain and two lieutenants. They were to maintain order on the ship and, when the ship arrived in Nova Scotia, apportion tracts in a land they had never seen. That would basically be the system used for the entire evacuation, which would last until November.22
Soon after Sayre preached, HMS Union sailed into Huntington Bay and, on April 11, began taking on 209 passengers—108 of them children. About half of the passengers were from Connecticut. The rest were from Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Only twelve of the sixty-one white males had served in Loyalist regiments. One of them was Tom Hyde, a twenty-seven-year-old ex-slave who had run away from his master in Fairfield, Connecticut, and joined British forces.23 Hyde was traveling as the servant of Fyler Dibblee, a Connecticut lawyer who had fled to Long Island only to be kidnapped in a whaleboat raid. He had been held for several months and then released in a prisoner exchange, one of the rituals of the whaleboat war.
On April 16 the Union sailed down Long Island Sound to New York City and ten days later joined a fleet of twenty ships headed for Nova Scotia. On May 11, the Union entered the port of Paartown(now Saint John, New Brunswick) on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, at the mouth of the Saint John River. Three scouts left the ship in search of suitable home sites, followed a week later by the rest of the passengers. Most of them settled on a long peninsula at a village called Kingston. “A happier people never lived upon the globe,” one of the passengers later wrote. “… Here with the protection of kind providence we were perfectly happy, contented and comfortable.”24
Back in New York City, Rear Admiral Robert Digby, who had recently arrived to command the Royal Navy in America, became Carleton’s close ally. Digby supervised the sailing of the armada carrying Tories out of America. An admiral who had often commanded warships in battle, he now found himself shepherding voyages of transports like the Union because, as he said in one of his orders to a ship captain, “I think too much cannot be done for their [Loyalists’] assistance.”25 He reminded another captain about a phrase in article 7 of the peace treaty: “… his Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any Negroes, or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his Armies, Garrisons, and Fleets from the said United States.” The phrase Digby cited was about “not carrying away Negroes.”
Thousands of slaves and ex-slaves were pouring into New York. Many of them found shelter in Canvas Town, an area burned out in the 1775 fire. All were claiming the right to sail to Nova Scotia because they were Loyalists who had served in British forces and had been freed. But white masters had no interest in article 7; they wanted their slaves back.
Slave catchers went to New York to claim their property, even seizing ex-slaves on the streets. Boston King, born a slave on a plantation near Charleston, had joined the British, carrying dispatches and working aboard a Royal Navy warship. As the war was ending, King made his way to New York City, where he married Violet, a fellow runaway who had fled a master in North Carolina. Along with all theother ex-slaves in New York, they were terrified when “we saw our old masters coming from Virginia, North Carolina, and other parts, and seizing upon their slaves in the streets of New York, or even dragging them out of their beds.”26 And then the word began to spread: Ships were sailing off to Nova Scotia with ex-slaves aboard.27 Carleton had his own interpretation of article 7: Negroes who had served British forces were not property. They were the king’s subjects.
Carleton ordered Brig. Gen. Samuel Birch, commandant of New York, to arrange for the certification of any black who claimed British service and thus the right to join the Nova Scotia fleets. Birch had a printer (probably Rivington) produce passes that could be issued to freed blacks. A typical pass said:
This is to certify to whomsoever it may concern, that the Bearer hereof, ______, a Negro, resorted to the British Lines, in consequence of The Proclamations of Sir William Howe, and Sir Henry Clinton, late Commanders in Chief in America; and that the said Negro has hereby His Excellency Sir Guy Carleton’s Permission to go to Nova-Scotia, Or wherever else may think proper.
By Order of Brigadier General Birch28
George Washington, a fourth-generation slave owner, was shocked to learn how Carleton was interpreting article 7. The topic came up at the first and only meeting of the two men, on May 6, 1783, at a house at Washington’s headquarters in Tappan, New York. Washington said he had three points to raise: the timetable for the withdrawal of British forces from New York, the release of prisoners, and the point that he wished to raise first: “The Preservation of Property from being carried off, and especially the Negroes.” Carleton said that some Negroes had already left—660 black men, women, and children—on April 27. Washington “appeared to be startled.”29
Washington told Carleton he was violating the treaty. Carleton countered that the former owners of the former slaves could be compensated, and he described what became known as The Book of Negroes, then consisting of a handwritten list of black passengers leaving New York. Each one was identified by name, age, and physical description.
Some names included a former owner’s name and residence. At least one once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.30 Three appear to have run away from Washington’s Mount Vernon.31 The list was compiled by General Birch’s men, who also gave out the passes. American “commissioners” were supposed to be present for the embarking of all ships. So presumably they, unlike Washington, were aware of the passes and the list.32 Copies of the list that Carleton referred to were bound, creating The Book of Negroes. One copy of the book is in the British National Archives, another in the Nova Scotia Archives.*
In a formal letter to Carleton, written on the day of the meeting, Washington said it was not up to him to decide whether the treaty had been violated. But he added that he was ready “to enter into any Agreements, or take any Measures, which may be deemed expedient to prevent the future Carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants.”33
No measures were taken, and the sailing of ex-slaves continued. Eventually, nearly three thousand ex-slaves would sail to Nova Scotia and be granted land, usually small, hardscrabble tracts, in contrast to the better, and usually bigger, tracts granted to white Loyalists.
Many of the black Loyalists settled on the outskirts of a landing that became Shelburne. By the end of 1783, Shelburne’s population was 7,922, of whom 1,521 were freed slaves. They named their community Birchtown, after the general who signed the ship passes. One of its leaders was Colonel Stephen Blucke, the man who succeeded Colonel Tye in the New Jersey raiders.34
The last recorded black evacuees were former members of those New Jersey raiders known as the Black Brigade, along with their kin: fortyseven men, thirty-seven women, and sixteen children. They are listed in The Book of Negroes as “Inspected on the 30th of November … on Board the fleet laying near Statten Island.”35
In 1792, unhappy about their treatment in Nova Scotia, 1,196 black Loyalists decided, with British help, to seek a new life in Sierra Leone, a West Africa territory controlled by Britain. Sixty-seven people died during the voyage. The rest of the African returnees, including Boston King and his wife Violet, landed at Freetown and began a new country.
Within a year after the war ended, about one hundred thousand Americans left their homes. Most of them went to Canada. The rest chose England, Scotland, or British possessions in the West Indies. Within a generation the new Canadians had spread across the vast British dominion, taking with them the virtues and the visions that they and their ancestors had had as American colonists. Granted large tracts of land, they transformed a wilderness into a vibrant nation. Many became prosperous farmers or started mercantile dynasties. “Seldom had a people done so well by losing a war,” a Canadian historian wrote.
Today, four to six million Canadians—about one-fifth of the population—claim a Tory ancestor. Many Canadians believe that their nation’s traditional devotion to law and civility, the very essence of being a Canadian, traces back to being loyal, as in Loyalist.
Below the border live the people who started another country, built by Rebels. Within a generation, those Rebels would begin to forgive—and forget—the Tories. They would call the Revolution a war between Americans and the British, losing from their collective memory the fact that much of the fighting had been between Americans and Americans.
* There is no copy of The Book of Negroes in the National Archives in Washington. Copies of the lists exist in a file containing miscellaneous records of the Continental Congress.