The noun "persecution" means "pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment especially because of religion, race or belief."(1) For their belief in the British system of government and the Crown, the Loyalists or Tories were persecuted before, during and after the Revolutionary War. Most historians of this war agree there were two types of persecution to which the Loyalists were subjected, oppresive treatment by lawless mobs, and abuses carried out constitutionally by unjust and cruel laws authorized by the Thirteen Colonies. It was at the hands of the mob that the Loyalists first suffered persecution. On 26 August 1765 Sam Adams organized the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization of artisans, shipyard workers and wharfingers of northern Boston who were opposed to the Stamp Act that had been passed by the British Parliament for raising revenue in the thirteen colonies. The Sons of Liberty met around a liberty pole or tree, and "pledged their sacred fortunes and their sacred honors."(2) The Sons of Liberty planned and incited atrocities against the Loyalists through the use of mobs and propaganda. Sam Adams was the Master of Propoganda against the Loyalists.
During that same year Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant (Acting) Governor, attempted to enforce the Stamp Act. Samuel Adams, James Otis and a radical mob attacked and destroyed the magnificent home and library of Governor Hutchinson and the home of his brother-in-law, Judge and stamp collector Andrew Oliver. The Boston mob broke down the doors with broadaxes, destroyed the furniture, stole the jewels and money, scattered the papers and books, drank the wine in the cellar and dismantled the roof and walls. The families barely escaped with their lives!
Meanwhile, Sons of Liberty associations sprang up in the Thirteen Colonies. Through mob action, they intimidated the British officials through vicious propaganda, they prompted the patriots to fight against those who were loyal to the British Crown. In many of the colonial towns they created local Committees of Correspondence to resist the Trade and Navigation Acts imposed by the British government, Committees of Inspection to ensure that British trade was boycotted, and Committees of Safety which supplied the continental army with men and equipment.
The conflict between the populace and the British soldiers in such towns as New York and Boston led to such barbaric acts as the Boston Massacre.
On March 5, 1770, the mob of rowdies, knowing well that the British troops had strict orders not to fire on the populace, pelted and insulted a patrol and mocked it with commands of "fire"! In the confusion the patrol did fire and four or five of the mob were killed. A young lawyer named John Adams risked his career to defend the soldiers in court, and they received only a technical punishment.(3)
Seventeen months before the commencement of the Revolutionary War, on 16 December 1773, a group of Bostonians, instigated by patriot Sam Adams and disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three British ships and threw 342 chests of tea, worth £18,000 wholesale, into the Boston harbour. This act was meant to show defiance against England's taxation of goods imported into the American colonies.
The Sons of Liberty did manage to dump a consignment of East India Company tea into New York Harbour, but only to the decorous strain of "God Save the King", played by a band on shore.(4)
In other places the excesses of the mob were nearly as great as in Boston. In New York, mobs were active in destroying printing presses which had printed Loyalist pamphlets, in stealing cattle and personal property.
The nucleus of such radical mob action was the Sons of Liberty, groups first making their appearance in New England and New York, but soon springing up in virtually every colonial town. These organizations functioned as independent entities and in fact no one has demonstrated a clear and undisputed lineage between them and the...Committees of Correspondence....At the heart of radical demonstrations was the "mechanic," a catchall term covering both master employees and journeymen wage workers. The "mechanics" were the "radicals" and as such were indispensable ingredients in fueling the flame of political protests.(5)
One of the favourite pastimes of the mob was to tar and feather "obnoxious Tories." The tar was usually heated before the victim was stripped naked. The hissing tar was poured over the victim's head, shoulder, chest and back and feathers were placed over the pine tar. The victim was then paraded about the streets in a cart for all the townspeople to see what happens to supporters of the British government.
Another form of torture inflicted on some of the Tories was to force them to ride the rail. This involved placing the "unhappy victim" upon sharp rails with one leg on each side; each rail was carried upon the shoulders of two tall men, with a man on each side to keep the poor wretch straight and fixed in his seat.
Seth Seeley, a Connecticut farmer, who later fled to New Brunswick was brought before a local committee in 1776 and, as punishment for signing a declaration to support the king's laws was put on a rail carried on men's shoulders through the streets, put into stocks and besmeared with eggs and was robbed of money for the entertainment of the Company.(6)
Some of the other acts of extreme cruelty used on the Tories by the Patriots were hoisting enemies of liberty up a liberty pole with a dead animal on the pole; forcing a Tory to ride an unsaddled horse with his face to the tail of the horse and his coat turned inside out; sitting Tories on lumps of coal; whipping, cropping ears, placing the enemy in the pillory or stockade. The mob could at times be moved by extremely reactionary impulses and cruel acts.
Some of the revolutionary leaders encouraged the sadistics acts of the mobs. In December 1776 the Provincial Congress of New York went so far as to order the Committee of Public Safety to purchase all the pitch and tar necessary for the public's use and safety.
General George Washington seems to have approved mob persecution of the Tories. In 1776 General Israel Putnam, one of Washington's generals, met a procession of the Sons of Liberty parading a number of Tories on rails up and down the streets of New York and he attempted to halt this inhuman proceeding. On hearing this, Washington reprimanded General Putnam, stating that "to discourage such proceedings was to injure the cause of liberty in which they were engaged, and that nobody would attempt it but an enemy of his country."
As the revolution progressed, semi-official organizations began to harass the Tories. The Continental Congress or Provincial Congress laid down the general policy to be observed in the treatment of Tories, and local committees carried it out in detail. Early in 1776 the Continental Congress, which at the time had no basis in law, recommended that Tories be disarmed; it was the committee which then enforced the recommendation. Tories were arrested, tried, exiled to other districts and, in some cases, imprisoned. A few Tories, particularly in the southern states, were hung.
The political situation changed in the colonies when the Declaration of Independence was adopted on 4 July 1776. It recounted the grievances of the colonies against the British Crown and declared the colonies to be free and independent states. Loyalism to the British Crown became the equivalent of treason to the state. Penalties for treason began to be laid against the Tories.
The Declaration of Independence was followed by the Test Laws which required all colonists to swear allegiance to the state in which they lived. A record was kept of those who took the oath and they were issued a certificate for safety from arrest. Failure to take the oath meant possible imprisonment, confiscation of property, banishment and even death.
The Test oath was to enforce a declaration of principle from those who were indifferent to or were secret enemies of the Revolution, state legislators enacted "test" laws. (sic) The oath demanded by these laws varied in different colonies that adopted them, but in general they prescribed loyalty to the patriot cause, disloyalty to the British government, and promise not to aid and abet the enemy. In the Test Acts passed before the Declaration of Independence "the oath of abjuration and allegiance was omitted."(7)
The Tory who refused to take the oath of allegiance became an outlaw. He did not even have the right of a foreigner in the courts of law. If his neighbours owned him money, he had no legal redress. No relative or friend could leave an orphan child to his guardianship. He could not be the administrator or executor of a person's estate. If he was a lawyer, doctor or someone with some other profession, he was often denied the right to practice his profession.
Among the Whigs there was opposition to the Test Laws. Peter Van Schaak, a moderate Whig from New York State disapproved of the Test Laws and left the Revolutionary Party. "Had you," he wrote, "at the beginning of the war, permitted every one differing in sentiment from you, to take the other side, or at least to have moved out of the State, with their property...it would have been a conduct magnanimous and just. But, now, after restraining those persons from removing; punishing them, if in the attempt they were apprehended; selling their estates if they escaped; compelling them to the duties of subjects under heavy penalties; deriving aid from them in the prosecution of the war...now to compel them to take an oath is an act of severity."(8)
The early Test Laws passed by the revolutionary governments in 1776- 1777, requiring a repudiation of loyalty to George III were followed by more repressive measures. Nine states passed acts exiling prominent Tories, five states defranchised all Tories, and in most of the states Loyalists were expelled from all offices, barred from the professions, and forced to pay double or treble taxes.(9)
On 27 November 1777 Congress recommended to the states that they appropriate the property of residents who had forfeited "the right to protection" of the revolutionary government. The treasury of the Continental Congress was empty so the confiscation of properties owned by Tories provided an excellent means for filling the congressional coffers. In a resolution passed by the Continental Congress, it was recommended that the states invest the proceeds of the land sales in continental loan certificates. As Loyalists began leaving the Thirteen Colonies during the Revolutionary War, large sums of money from the sales of confiscated Tory properties began to find their way into state treasuries.
The Revolutionary War ended officially in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Provisions were made in the treaty for the Loyalists, requiring that they be treated "not only with justice and equity, but with that spirit of reconciliation which on the return of the blessings of peace, should universally prevail."(10)
The action of the state legislatures did not follow the provisions in the treaty. Article 5 of the treaty stated that "Congress shall earnestly recommend to the state legislatures that they provide for the restitution of all estates, rights and properties which have been confiscated and which belonged to real British subjects. Also the Loyalists were to be permitted to go to any part in the thirteen colonies and remain there for twelve months, unmolested in their endeavours to obtain such restitution."(11)
Article 6 of the treaty stated that "there should be no future confiscation or collection of damages and those confined should be released and not prosecuted."(12)
The seizure of Tory properties continued after the Revolutionary War and those acts of confiscation were not punished by American courts. The estate of Oliver de Lancey, Andrew Lambert, John Leonard, Philip Kearney, Cortlandt Skinner and Benjamin Thompson of New Jersey were sold to the highest bidder after 1783. The estates of John Graham and Sir James Wright of Georgia were sold after the signing of the peace treaty. Very few loyalist properties were restored and legal impediments were placed before Loyalists who wanted to collect debts owed to them, despite the fact that Article 4 of the treaty stated that British merchants were to meet no lawful obstacles in collecting their debts. There were also those ready to purchase vast holdings at very low prices. Some of them stirred up mob action to drive out the owners whose land the wished to obtain.
Between 1783 and 1789 the British government appointed commissioners who sat at Halifax, Saint John, Quebec, Montreal and in England at Lincoln's Field, London to hear the claims of exiled Loyalists. The claimants could not be expected to have brought documents with them in their flight. The commissioners had to rely, instead, on the oaths and stories from claimants and other witnesses.
The commission heard 5,072 claims in England and Canada which represent perhaps one out of twenty of the Loyalists. 954 of these were withdrawn or disallowed. The claims totalled £8,026,045, of which about a third--£3,292,452--was allowed. In addition 303 of the exiles received pensions for life; these were nearly all widows. Before it was over the British government spent about £7,500,000 losing the war.(13)
Between the years 1780 and 1781, the Provincial Congress of New York appointed commissioners to detect and prevent any conspiracies by the internal enemy--the Tories. The commissioners moved from place to place in order to arrest the enemy. A true patriot of the state was to reveal the names of Tories or be sent to prison. People were well-paid for being informers to the Patriots. Bail for prisoners ranged from £40 to as high as £5,000. Any person who retained allegiance to King George III was deemed to commit high treason. It was a felony to possess or pay for goods in counterfeit continental money which was then circulating in over forty different types.
Between 1778 and 1781 John Melchoir File and his eldest son Christopher, along with his Tory neighbours in Rensselaerwyck, New York, were apprehended on trumped-up charges, brought to trial before the New York Commissioners and fined heavily. This is how John Melchoir File would have described experiences:
"I, John Melchoir File, of the Hudson Valley, New York, father of a large family, was a persecuted loyalist. With many of my fellow German neighbours, I fought at the Battle of Saratoga and witnessed the sad defeat of the British soldiers and the slaughter of young mercenary Hessian soldiers who did not understand the terrain of our area. My second son, John File fought with Butler's Rangers and the New York Royal Regiment.
"From 1778 to 1781, my oldest son Christoper and I were fined heavily for helping Loyalists to escape to Canada, supplying the British army and the Indians with food. Our last imprisonment was for helping Blacksmith Andries Stohl and Farmer Harper Lansing escape from the cruel confinement of Serg. Elijah Adams, a continental officer.(14) Serg. Adams enjoyed the cruel Sport of finding loyalists for the Commissioners because they gave him a fat fee for each loyalist's name.
these commission trials my beloved wife Elizabeth Hunsinger died of grief.
My sons Corporal John File and his brother Melchoir fled to Canada. The
Patriot neighbours also harassed son Jacoab so he and his family fled to
Brant County after the War of 1812-1814. "In my opinion, we, Tories or Loyalists,
were the most persecuted group of the American Revolution. You must try
to walk in our shoes in order to understand the effect persecution had on
our lives. Oil did gradually take off the tar and feathers from the skin
of victims but the psychological effect of this cruel treatment lasted a
lifetime. The experience of imprisonment in the Albany Jail will always
remain with me."
NOTE: This has been printed with the permission of Angela E. M. Files, Author, and published in LOYALIST FAMILIES OF THE GRAND RIVER BRANCH, UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS' ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, Copyright 1991, Grand River Branch, U.E.L.
1. 1RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY, 2nd Edition (New York: Random House Publishers, 1988, p. 144.
2. Thomas C. Cochran and Wayne Andrews, eds., CONCISE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN HISTORY (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961, p. 552. The best known Liberty Pole was erected in New York City (1776) to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act. It became the focus of brawls between British soldiers and Liberty Boys. The original Liberty Tree was an elm at the intersection of Washington and Essex Streets, Boston, where British oppression was denounced and unpopular officials were hung in effigy. It was cut down by British soldiers in 1775.
3. Leland D. Baldwin, THE STREAM OF AMERICAN HISTORY (New York: American Book
Co., 1952), pp. 221-22.
4. William H. Nelson, THE AMERICAN TORY (London: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1966), p. 43.
5. Richard B. Morris, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION RECONSIDERED (London: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967)p. 131.
6. Wallace Brown and Senoir Hereward, VICTORIOUS IN DEFEAT, THE LOYALISTS IN CANADA (Agincourt, Ont.: Methuen Publications, 1984), p. 16.
7. Mark M. Botner III, ENYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (New York: David MacKay Co., 1974, p. 1094.
8. W. Stuart Wallace, "The United Empire Loyalists, A Chronicle of the Great Migration," CHRONICLES OF CANADA (Toronto: Glasgow Brooke & Co., 1920), p. 26.
9. Richard B. Morris and Jeffrey B. Morris, eds., ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF AMERICAN HISTORY, 6th Edition (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1982), p. 130.
10. North Callahan, FLIGHT FROM THE REPUBLIC, THE TORIES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (New York: Howard W. Sams & Co., 1967), p. 120.
11. Ibid., pp. 120-121.
12. Ibid., p. 121.
13. Walter Stewart, TRUE BLUE, A LOYALIST LEGEND (Don Mills, Ont.: Collins Publishers, 1985), p. 221.
14. Victor Hugo Palsits, MINUTES OF THE COMMISSIONERS FOR DETECTING AND DEFEATING CONSPIRACIES IN THE STAE OF NEW YORK, ALBANY CO., SESSIONS 1778-1781, Vol. II (Boston: Gregg Press, 1972), p. 646.
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