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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 5 (October 1983)

THE LOYALISTS: GENERAL INFLUENCES
A Paper Delivered to the Bahamas Historical Society 24th February 1983

by D. Gail Saunders

As the causes of the American Revolution were complex, so were the contestants. The conflict was not a straight battle between Americans and the British. The Colonists themselves were divided.1 In fact, Dr. Wallace Brown went as far as to call it more of a civil war than the 1861-1865 hostilities.2

The origins of the division which produced 'Loyalism' in the American Society is difficult to pin-point but the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765 probably saw a beginning. It was the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 however, which demarcated the Whigs from the Tories or Loyalists. The former were for the establishment of an independent Republic, the latter opposed independence and favoured reconciliation with Great Britain.

Why people chose to remain Loyalists is difficult to explain. Wallace Brown contends that most Loyalists thought that the break with Britain would lose them something 'material' or 'spiritual'.3 Some feared the loss of their jobs, trade, prestige, and the Anglophiles the Empire. Many were alienated from whiggish circles; some thought the British rwere invincible; many opposed independence but some simply followed their leaders.4

The persecution of the Tories which began in earnest after 1774 was terrible. Each State passed legislation requiring inhabitants to take oaths to the new United States or be deemed traitors. Some Loyalists had their property confiscated; others were socially ostracised and their businesses boycotted. All types of atrocities in the name of patriotism were inflicted against the Loyalists, the most infamous and common being that of tarring and feathering.

Loyalists were fined, pressured socially, mobbed and deprived of earning a living and some were banished. Others left voluntarily, initially finding sanctuary within the British lines, especially in East Florida. Formerly a Spanish Colony, East Florida was ceded to Britain after the Seven Years War and was favoured by the Southern Loyalists, especially those from Georgia and the Carolinas. Later they left the country altogether.

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END NOTES

  1. Paul E. Albury, The Story of the Bahamas, London, 1975 p. 110.
  2. Wallace Brown, The Good Americans. The Loyalists in American Revolution, New York, 1969.
  3. Ibid., p. 80.
  4. Ibid., p. 81.