In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Loyalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Biographies
  • Military
  • Regional and Community Studies
  • Literary Loyalism
  • Native Americans
  • Women
  • British and Imperial Political Culture
  • Loyalism and Postwar Britain
  • Loyalism and the Postwar United States
  • Loyalism and Postwar Canada

Atlantic History Loyalism
Liam Riordan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0118


Loyalism as explored here refers to the ideologies, experiences, actions, and legacies of those who opposed the American Revolution. As a subject framed in large part by negation, it continues to elude definitive scholarly treatment, and this difficulty has been compounded by the searing partisanship of the Revolution, the dominant nationalist perspectives stimulated by that conflict, and, above all, by the ongoing force of nationalism in shaping our understanding of the past. Nation-centered historical interpretations have yielded three basic views of loyalists, each of which treats them inadequately, whether disparaged through condescension or lack of attention by US scholars, viewed as oddly embarrassing outsiders in the British tradition, or even when championed as the best and brightest founders of English Canada. Recent Atlantic scholarship on the Revolutionary world has tended to explore transnational connections among radicals, which has limited the recognition of loyalism as an equally innovative force with deep Atlantic sources and influence. Thus, loyalism is particularly ripe for reassessment from an Atlantic perspective, but this revisionist scholarship is still at an early stage of development. As a result, this bibliography includes some citations to work that lacks a strong Atlantic orientation but that contributes to the necessary foundation for future research. For example, studies that focus on maritime Canada, Upper Canada, the Floridas, the Bahamas, and the West Indies merit attention, since developments in these places are crucial to the maturation of Atlantic loyalist scholarship, which must broaden its view beyond the thirteen colonies that became the United States. Similarly, attention to loyalism and Native Americans, while not necessarily at the center of Atlantic work, is also necessary for a balanced and meaningful understanding of loyalism. While there is obviously a deep Anglo-American tradition for assessing loyalism as a conservative and dependent relationship between the metropolitan center and colonial periphery, new Atlantic scholarship is more multinational, stresses dynamic aspects of loyalism, and includes close attention to Canadian developments and the loyalism of people of African descent.

General Overviews

These studies provide a broad introduction to loyalist scholarship, and the more recent emergence of studies using an Atlantic framework. Sabine 1864 stands as the first sympathetic American historical study of loyalism by a nonparticipant. The work of Nelson 1961, Brown 1965, and Calhoon 1973 provides the foundation for contemporary scholarship. Nelson’s short book provides a traditional narrative overview, Brown has a more social scientific approach, and Calhoon explores the perception and motivation of loyalists, while all three focus primarily (if not exclusively) on events and individuals in the thirteen colonies. Brown 1970 provides a concise historiographic assessment of early publications that are more extensive than often realized. Palmer 1982 is an essential guide to original sources in US, Canadian, British, and Irish archives. The final pair, Pybus 2006 and Jasanoff 2008, adopt global and imperial perspectives, respectively, and represent the broadening scope of current Atlantic scholarship.

  • Brown, Wallace. The King’s Friends: The Composition and Motives of the American Loyalist Claimants. Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1965.

    A pioneering study of 2,908 white claimants’ appeals to the Loyalist Claims Commission for compensation from Revolutionary War losses. Stresses provincial variation, with a colony-by-colony book organization. Finds that loyalists came from all socioeconomic ranks. Includes useful tables, though the sharp critique of Fingerhut 1968 (cited under Primary Sources) must be considered.

  • Brown, Wallace. “The View at Two Hundred Years: The Loyalists of the American Revolution.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 101 (1970): 25–47.

    Still an insightful guide to a surprisingly large scholarly literature, and a useful commentary on the challenges the field still faces. As a Briton who did his graduate training in the United States and taught for many years at the University of New Brunswick, Brown’s biography helped him to appreciate the transnational force of loyalism.

  • Calhoon, Robert McCluer. The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760–1781. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973.

    Synthetic and comprehensive assessment by the leading US scholar of loyalism. Makes intensive use of elite biographies in the first half, while the second half adopts a regional approach to New England, the Middle Atlantic states, and the South. Pays particular attention to perception and motivation in a fundamentally ideological interpretation.

  • Jasanoff, Maya. “The Other Side of Revolution: Loyalists in the British Empire.” William and Mary Quarterly 65 (2008): 205–232.

    Most important statement of an emergent Atlantic view of loyalism to be explored further in a forthcoming (as of 2010) book. Close attention to the loyalist diaspora as an imperial phenomenon. Argues that loyalists reveal key tensions in later-19th-century British liberalism, such as inclusion/exclusion, opportunity/loss, and liberty/authoritarianism.

  • Nelson, William H. The American Tory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.

    Still the most readable and concise introduction. Stresses the deep American commitment of loyalists, even while using the polemical label “Tory.” Provides a sound judgment based on qualitative sources of loyalist elites, yet also forwards an influential argument about the centrality of “cultural minorities” to loyalism.

  • Palmer, Gregory, ed. A Bibliography of Loyalist Source Material in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Westport, CT, and London: Meckler, 1982.

    Essential resource for undertaking original research on loyalists. This enormous guide exemplifies the transnational nature of loyalism and is among the important fruits of the multinational Program for Loyalist Studies and Publications that began in 1968.

  • Pybus, Cassandra. Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty. Boston: Beacon, 2006.

    A dramatic narrative about former slaves who joined the British during the Revolutionary War. Follows their movement to London, Sierra Leone, and even to Australia. Impressive prosopographical recovery that pushes the Atlantic toward a global view. Engaging for undergraduate students. Also see Black Loyalist, a recent online outgrowth.

  • Sabine, Lorenzo. The American Loyalists, or Biographical Sketches of Adherents to the British Crown in the War of the Revolution. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1864.

    A huge biographical dictionary, expanded from the 1847 edition. A pioneering recovery that helped prevent the erasure of loyalism from US memory. Shaped by the author’s borderlands perspective in Maine. Expanded in Gregory Palmer’s massive Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1984).

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