Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Loyalist Wednesday: Why remain Loyal?

American history sometimes represents the Loyalists as a small handful of rich reactionaries determined to stand against the tide of freedom in protection of their own selfish interests.

History, as we often forget, is far more nuanced.  In fact, sources I have read say that a good 1/3 of the residents of the American colonies were not in favour of independence.  Only a few years prior to 1776 almost no one in the colony, including those who became the leading “patriots”, were even arguing for independence, but for a slightly fairer tax system.  It can be argued, and often has, that the revolution could easily have been prevented if the British had merely bent a little rather than remaining firmly intransigent.  See: The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman.  (Highly recommended - one of the books that has had the most influence on my political thought.)

Tarred and Feathered
Many Loyalists simply thought that there was no reason to go to war over a tax dispute.  Many agreed with aims of eventually achieving some degree of independence, but thought that Treason was not a good way to begin a county.  Many were appalled at the actions of the mob – outright ‘confiscation of property’ aka theft, beating and killing supposed opponents – and thought no good could come of it. (In the famous quote attributed to Mather Byles, Boston Clergyman, “which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or by three thousand tyrants not a mile away?” ) Many simply didn’t want to take sides, and found themselves being forced to when their homes were torched and their property taken. 

I was surprised to learn what firm Loyalists many Scots were.  One would assume that having fought so hard against the British in 1745 they would be on the anti-British side. Nope.   A lot of Scots who’d come to America after Culloden were Loyalists.  They feared what rebellion could do.   One of Scotland’s greatest heroines, Flora McDonald, saviour of Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden, moved to America when she was released from prison, and was a staunch Loyalist.   She returned to Skye via Canada after the American Revolution where she remained until she died. 

According to a source I read, the Jacobites did not consider themselves to be ‘rebels’ in any way. They supported what they considered to be the true King of Scotland. Thus were not inclined to support rebellion in America.
Flora McDonald

The Loyalist characters in More than Sorrow are Hamish and Maggie Macgregor, as I wanted to pay homage to those tough Scotsmen and women.

The Loyalists were an incredibly mixed bag, and next week I’ll try to talk a bit more about the type of people they were.

Caveat:  I am not a historian and I am not an expert on this period.  All my sources come from reading other people’s work.  If I am wrong, please feel free to let me know.  I’d also appreciate hearing from those who know far more about the Loyalists that I do.

Pre-order:  More than Sorrow is now available for pre-order.  Books and Company in Picton, and Greenleys in Bellville are taking orders.  Also at,, Chapters/Indigo.

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