Descendants of loyalists to Britain who moved to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, during the American Revolution, stage annual reenactments
The loyalists were the losers of the American Revolution. Americans who rejected independence and who fought to keep the colonies safely within the bosom of the British Empire forfeited almost everything when the patriots declared victory at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. History quickly lost sight of them, and from our contemporary perspective it’s hard to understand why so many ordinary Americans were bitterly opposed to the break with Britain and the birth of a new democratic nation.
Historian Richard Bell examines the American Revolution from the point of view of those colonists who remained staunchly loyal to Britain and the Crown. Focusing on individuals with compelling personal stories, Bell challenges deeply rooted stereotypes of loyalists as sycophantic, cowardly, and selfish persons of means—usually merchants, petty aristocrats, or government officials.
In truth, loyalists came from all rungs of the social ladder. Many were white, like the Anglican minister Jacob Bailey, and some were black, like George Washington’s escaped slave Harry. Using their experiences as examples, Bell examines why men and women like them chose to remain loyal to Britain, what the experience of the Revolution was like for them, and how their lives changed once the patriots won the war.
Bell is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland College Park.