At the time of the American Revolution, Great Britain was the most powerful country on the earth. When Patriots decided to stand up to British rule, it became necessary for colonists to choose sides. For some, the decision was not easy. As many as one-third chose to align with the crown. They were known as “Loyalists” or “Tories.”
Loyalists had a variety of reasons for supporting Great Britain. Some were successful merchants who relied on a working relationship; others were pacifists who wanted to avoid war; and some served in prominent roles appointed by the British government.
One prominent Loyalist was Thomas Hutchinson who served as the Governor of Massachusetts. Hutchinson was born in Boston and was an avid collector of historical materials related to early Massachusetts colonial history. In 1765, after the Stamp Act, angry colonists burst into his Boston house, ransacked it and destroyed the contents. Hutchinson and his family barely escaped. Most of the historical documents were destroyed. Hutchinson was eventually replaced as Governor and left the colonies for London, where he later died.
Patriot or Loyalist? The question created division within communities. In a letter to John Hancock, George Washington expressed concerns about Loyalists who are “in Arms against us.” Yet Washington wanted to leave the door open for those who were willing to join the revolution. “I should suppose, that it would be expedient and founded in sound policy, to give every suitable assurance to induce them to come. Such an event would be attended with Salutary effects – would weaken the enemy – distress them greatly and would probably have a most happy influence in preventing Others from joining their Arms,” Washington wrote.
In order to alleviate the burden on British troops, British officials developed a plan to enlist more loyalists to fight. Lt. General Charles Cornwallis rallied Loyalists in southern colonies. They initially had success at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, but as they marched north, many Loyalists feared retribution and inadequate protection and chose to stay out of the fray.
Cornwallis issued a proclamation urging Loyalists to take up arms. “It is his Majesty’s most gracious wish to rescue his faithful and loyal subjects from the cruel tyranny under which they have groaned for several years,” Cornwallis wrote. “I invite all such loyal & faithful subjects to repair without loss of time with their arms and ten days Provisions to the Royal headquarters now erected at Hillsborough, where they will meet with the most friendly reception.” His proclamation did not elicit the volunteers he needed. Cornwallis was eventually defeated at Yorktown and the military aspect of the American Revolution ended. After the revolution, some Loyalists chose to remain in the colonies and were offered protection without fear of retribution under the Paris Peace Treaty.
If you would like to learn more about the role of Loyalists in the American Revolution, search our Revolutionary War collection on Fold3.com!