Loyalist (American Revolution)

Britannia offers solace and a promise of compensation for her exiled American-born Loyalists. (Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783. Engraving by H. Moses after Benjamin West.)

Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution and called them "persons inimical to the liberties of America". [1] Prominent Loyalists repeatedly assured the British government that many thousands of loyalists would spring to arms and fight for the crown. The British government acted in expectation of that, especially in the southern campaigns in 1780-81. In practice, the number of loyalists in military service was far lower than expected. Across the colonies, Patriots watched suspected Loyalists very closely, and would not tolerate any organized Loyalist opposition. Many outspoken or militarily active loyalists were forced to flee, especially to their stronghold of New York City. William Franklin, the royal governor of New Jersey and son of Patriot leader Benjamin Franklin after his release from a Patriot prison in 1778, became the leader of the Loyalists. He worked to build Loyalist military units to fight in the war, but the number of volunteers was much fewer than London expected.

When their cause was defeated, about 15% of the Loyalists (65,000–70,000 people) fled to other parts of the British Empire, to Britain itself, or to British North America (now Canada). The southern colonists moved mostly to Florida, which had remained loyal to the Crown, and to British Caribbean possessions, often bringing along their slaves. Northern Loyalists largely migrated to Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. They called themselves United Empire Loyalists. Most were compensated with Canadian land or British cash distributed through formal claims procedures. Exiled Loyalists received £3 million or about 37% of their losses from the British government. Loyalists who stayed in the U.S. were generally able to retain their property and become American citizens. [2]

Historians have estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of the 2 million whites in the colonies in 1775 were Loyalists, or about 300,000-400,000 men, women and children. [3]


The American Revolution was a civil war based on who would rule in the Thirteen Colonies. Families were often divided as war forced colonists to choose sides in a conflict that remained for many years uncertain. Colonists, especially recent arrivals, often felt themselves to be both American and British, subjects of the King, still owing a loyalty to the mother country. Many, like Maryland lawyer Daniel Dulaney, opposed taxation without representation, but would not break their oath to the King or take up arms against him. In one of his many pamphlets, Dulaney wrote: "There may be a time when redress may not be obtained. Till then, I shall recommend a legal, orderly, and prudent resentment". [4] Most hoped for a peaceful reconciliation, and were forced by the Patriots who took control nearly everywhere in 1775-76 to choose sides. [5]

Likely the earliest formal meeting, and use of the term "Loyalist" and the source of the United Empire Loyalist ("UEL") acronym, took place in Boston on October 28, 1775. At the meeting, held at the suggestion of General Thomas Gage, these Loyalists formed a society called "The Loyalist Associators Desiring the Unity of the Empire". [6]

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