Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists In The Revolutionary World, by Maya Jasanoff
As I have noted before, I come from a background that includes loyalists from the American Revolution, and given the importance of loyalists to the foundation of Canada and other British settler colonies, I have thought it worthwhile to explore history that discusses the importance and role of the loyalists in historiography. It is well-known that the history of loyalism has been somewhat disregarded in American history because American history has been written by the victorious Patriots, and in Canada the history of the loyalists has been viewed as a bulwark of conservatism rather than recognizing how similar to the American rebels the loyalists actually were. I found this particular book to be poignant in that it demonstrated something that has been a problem for me and my family and that accounts for the powerful resonance of the loyalist experience of exile with the melancholy semi-nomadic course of my own life. Once one uproots oneself from home, it is difficult to find that sense of home and belonging once again, and just as the loyalists were already colonists who had been uprooted and found themselves uprooted again (and sometimes again and again), I could definitely feel that sense of loss deeply that the author discussed through the stories of the people here.
This book is about 350 pages long and begins with a list of maps and cast of characters, and an introduction that looks at the lessons that the British drew from 1783 that they then used in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars that followed. The first part of the book focuses on the experience of loyalists, both black and white, as refugees (I) dealing with the civil war of the American Revolution (1), the unsettling peace which uprooted them from their homes (2), and the disorder that they spread with them when they sought more comfortable places to land (3). After that the author discusses loyalists as settlers (II), some of whom returned to the heart of the empire in Great Britain where they were looked down on as Americans (4), where they settled wilderness areas in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and sought to hold on in Florida (5), and became a part of various loyal Americas that sprang up in Canada as well as the Bahamas (6). The author then discusses the fate of the loyalists as subjects of the British Crown (III), discussing the fate of those who sought to settle the Bahamas (7), those who found a false refuge in Jamaica (8), those who sought to make a promised land in Africa in Sierra Leone (9), and those who sought to create empires of liberty that struggled to find the balance between empire and liberty (10), a struggle the United States also knows. The book ends with a conclusion that looks at loyalists as both losers and founders while providing an appendix that discusses the numbers of the loyalist exodus as well as acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Indeed, it is important to recognize the loyalists not merely as those whose loyalty to a king led them to lose their homes in what became the United States but as those whose experience in dealing unsuccessfully with revolution in the search of freedom and dignity gave them an ambivalent relationship with the authority of the British on whom they were dependent. Whether as black slaves seeking freedom and finding hostility and injustice in Nova Scotia, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and later Sierra Leone, or as white settlers of Canada and Florida and other places, the refugees of the defeated loyalist side were dependent on property rights and reimbursement and frequently even food from the English, and the English were not inclined to give civil rights in the aftermath of the American experience. Yet England’s recovery from the American Revolution did allow it to survive the fervor of Revolutionary France, even if a scarred and wary empire it long remained with regards to its own relationship to its various settlements which demanded rights and which struggled to keep themselves in a good state without a great deal of help from the mother country.