Kimmitt Genealogical Research

20 September 2015

Would You Be Loyalist or a Patriot?

Sudbury Company Of Militia, Mountain View Cemetery, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts,
photo by Tina Clegg, 2007.
Have you ever stopped to wonder which side you would have chosen during the Revolutionary War? Would you have been a Whig (Rebel /Patriot) or a Tory (Royalist/Loyalist)?

I found a little Wikipedia article that discusses motivations for choosing a side. Not everyone actively made a decision, but supposedly about 40-45% were Patriots and 15-20% Loyalists. The other 35% just chilled and managed to get by without taking an oath pledging allegiance to either side. There are eight key differences. According to the article, on the whole:
  1. Loyalists were older, better established, and more likely to resist innovation. 
  2. Loyalists saw the Crown as the legitimate government, and resistance to it morally wrong, while Patriots asserted that the British government had violated our constitutional rights. 
  3. Men who objected to physical attacks on Royal officials took the Loyalist position, while those who applauded were being Patriots. 
  4. Most men who wanted to find a compromise solution wound up on the Loyalist side, while the proponents of immediate action became Patriots. 
  5. Merchants with financial and sentimental attachments to the Empire were likely to remain loyal to the system. Few Patriots were so deeply enmeshed in the system. 
  6. Some Loyalists were procrastinators who believed that independence was bound to come some day, but wanted to postpone the moment; the Patriots wanted to seize the moment. 
  7. Loyalists were cautious and afraid of anarchy or tyranny that might come from mob rule; Patriots made a systematic effort to use and control mob violence. 
  8. Loyalists lacked the Patriots' confidence that independence lay ahead. [1]
Where would you stand if this were happening today? Here are my reactions to these eight points.
  1. I'm old and reasonably well-established, though I don't resist innovation: Loyalist.
  2. I respect the government and our laws even if I know they are far from perfect: Loyalist.
  3. I don't like to hurt people, so I wouldn't be approving of the old tar and feathering: Loyalist.
  4. I'm a compromiser: Loyalist.
  5. I'm don't own a Fortune 500 company: Patriot.
  6. I'm not a procrastinator, but I'm really patient and believe that eventually things come to some kind of equilibrium: Loyalist.
  7. I just hate mob rule: Loyalist.
  8. I would be unsure as to the outcome and fear repercussions for the losing side: Loyalist.
King's Rangers at the Fort at Number Four, Charlestown NH,photo courtesy of Dan Dudley.
Of course, my opinion wouldn't have mattered at all because I'm a woman. But let's say I was male, and like most of my ancestors, a farmer. I can't imagine getting all that worked up about unfair taxation while worrying about crops and livestock, at least not enough to to to war over it. But that's female 21st century me, talking. You might imagine that I probably wouldn't have been schooled enough to know or care about the cause of republicanism either. But the concept is one easily grasped and I can see how it took root even among those who had very little education. It was a noble, rational, modern, uplifting concept, and I would have bought into it completely, so despite all of the above, I still don't know!

I've got bunches of Loyalist ancestors who did flee the country and ended up in New Brunswick, Canada. They came from New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island mostly. I have not delved into deep research on them but have collected bits and pieces from my mother's research and online records. There are published sources on early Loyalists that provide some help as well. The problems start to arise when we look at their descendants. Life was very rough up there and record keeping left a lot to be desired, so what remains today is sparse. I'm excited to plan a research trip to New Brunswick and really dig in.

Old Sturbridge Village, Redcoats and Rebels Event,
with King's Rangers Loyalist group, photo by Dan Dudley, August 2015.


1. "Patriot (American Revolution)," Wikipedia ( : accessed 22 April 2015), citing Leonard Woods Larabee, Conservatism in Early American History (1948) pp 164-65; allso N. E. H. Hull,Peter C. Hoffer and Steven L. Allen, "Choosing Sides: A Quantitative Study of the Personality Determinants of Loyalist and Revolutionary Political Affiliation in New York," Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Sept. 1978), pp. 344-366 in JSTOR; also Edwin G. Burrows and Michael Wallace, "The American Revolution: The Ideology and Psychology of National Liberation," Perspectives in American History, (1972) vol. 6 pp 167-306.

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