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Unnatural Rebellion

Unnatural Rebellion: Loyalists in New York City during the Revolution

Ruma Chopra
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Unnatural Rebellion
    Book Description:

    Thousands of British American mainland colonists rejected the War for American Independence. Shunning rebel violence as unnecessary, unlawful, and unnatural, they emphasized the natural ties of blood, kinship, language, and religion that united the colonies to Britain. They hoped that British military strength would crush the minority rebellion and free the colonies to renegotiate their return to the empire.

    Of course the loyalists were too American to be of one mind. This is a story of how a cross-section of colonists flocked to the British headquarters of New York City to support their ideal of reunion. Despised by the rebels as enemies or as British appendages, New York's refugees hoped to partner with the British to restore peaceful government in the colonies. The British confounded their expectations by instituting martial law in the city and marginalizing loyalist leaders. Still, the loyal Americans did not surrender their vision but creatively adapted their rhetoric and accommodated military governance to protect their long-standing bond with the mother country. They never imagined that allegiance to Britain would mean a permanent exile from their homes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3116-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    When thousands of British regulars and Hessian soldiers entered New York City on September 15 ,1776 , a diverse group of Americans—officeholders, merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers—welcomed them. As theNew-York Gazette and Weekly Mercuryrecorded, they “expressed the Feelings of their Hearts by loud Acclamations and Shouts of Applause.”¹ Envisioning their future within the stability of the British Empire, these loyalists trusted the British military forces to quickly crush the unprovoked, unnecessary, and ultimately “unnatural rebellion.” No less patriotic than the revolutionaries, the glorious cause they promoted was reunion with the empire and not American independence.

    Almost four...

  5. 1 Natural Rights and Natural Ties: Britons in New York City
    (pp. 7-28)

    The royal colony of New York protected British interests in mainland North America. Governor Bellomont’s 1699 reflections on the strategic position occupied by New York still held sway six decades into the eighteenth century: he declared that New York “ought to be looked upon as the Capital Province or the Citadel to all the others; for secure but this and you secure all the English colonies, not only against the French but also against any insurrections or rebellions against the Crown of England, if any such should happen, which God forbid.”¹ Located astride the Hudson River–Lake Champlain water route...

  6. 2 “Uncommon Phrenzy”: Rebel Usurpation, 1774–1776
    (pp. 29-50)

    Not until 1774 did British coercive measures against the port of Boston incite some New Yorkers toward rebellion. Nothing had alerted them to the fact that the colonies were about to depart from the normal practices of traditional politics. The difficulties of the decade came from the aftermath of a global war and the expected dislocations of an economy readjusting to peacetime conditions. The New Yorkers had no way to foresee the crisis that would engulf them. While many believed that the colonies would eventually outgrow their dependent status, they did not believe that moment had yet arrived.

    Although reluctant...

  7. 3 “Quicken Others by Our Example”: New Yorkers Welcome the British
    (pp. 51-79)

    General William Howe and his elder brother Admiral Richard Howe were the British commanders in chief of land and naval forces in North America, respectively. In June 1776 , they secured Staten Island and assembled the largest expeditionary force ever seen in North America. In addition to over 32,000 well-armed professional British and Hessian soldiers, their force included 10 ships of line, 20 frigates, and nearly 170 transports. The British army landed troops on Long Island on August 22, 1776, and five days later defeated the Continental Army under General George Washington in the Battle of Long Island. Thereafter, on...

  8. 4 “Lord Pity This Poor Country”: Loyalist Resilience
    (pp. 80-107)

    Printer Hugh Gaine’s decision to return to New York City from Newark, New Jersey, in November 1776 indicates the buoyant context of military victory and ideological optimism that persisted for many Americans through the spring of 1777.¹ On September 2 , 1776, Gaine reported that New York City “is now invaded by a powerful fleet and army; the inhabitants are obliged to seek a retreat in the Country.”² Worried by the imminent threat of a British invasion, later that month he abandoned New York City and hisNew-York Gazette and Weekly Mercuryand moved to Newark. On September 21 ,...

  9. 5 “Diversity of Sentiments on the Future Conduct of the War”: Loyalist Clamor
    (pp. 108-135)

    In October 1778 , William Franklin’s arrival in the city raised loyalist hopes and led to the formation of a hard-line coalition headed by prominent refugees. These refugees anticipated that Franklin could leverage his prewar position as royal governor of New Jersey to gain the trust of the British in order to place loyalist concerns at the center of British policy. Isaac Ogden hoped Franklin could revitalize the king’s friends by convincing them that “ throughout the continent . . . some attention is paid to them.”¹

    Born a bastard son of a Philadelphia printer, William Franklin had risen up...

  10. 6 “A Certificate of Their Necessity”: A Mix of Refugees and Rules
    (pp. 136-159)

    Between 1777 and 1781 , New York City’s civilian population more than doubled to twenty-five thousand.¹ Many who crowded into the city were not men of influence or affluence but those of humbler means. The colonists who clamored for British attention and overwhelmed leading loyalists included slaves who sought freedom and opportunity within British lines and a growing white underclass from rebel-controlled areas who viewed temporary exile in the British-led city as a means to avoid the rebel draft, to acquire hard currency, or to find favorable employment.

    In January 1779 and two years later in December 1780 , the...

  11. 7 “The Die Had Been Cast”: Loyalist Divisions
    (pp. 160-187)

    In the fall of 1779 , New York’s leading loyalists faced a legal death. On October 27 , the rebel government of New York enacted confiscation legislation that declared that some loyalists who had joined the British army or who had moved to a British-held zone such as New York City automatically forfeited their property. The new act also declared that these tainted persons would suffer the death penalty if discovered within rebel lines.¹

    Between 1776 and 1778 , rebel governments in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire had passed laws to secure the property of those they...

  12. 8 “Look Yo Tory Crew, and See What George Your King Can Do”: Loyalists Unprotected
    (pp. 188-222)

    In September 1781, New York’s loyalist leaders celebrated the visit of Prince William Henry, third son of the king and “patron of Liberty and the Protestant religion.”¹ He served an apprenticeship as a midshipman with Admiral Robert Digby’s fleet. At the behest of General Henry Clinton and New York’s respectable inhabitants, the prince paraded with Clinton and his officers toward Queen Street. Pastor Ewald Schaukirk noted the “concourse of people, both old and young” that had gathered to welcome him.² The loyal inhabitants of New York City viewed his visit as a timely event that symbolized the affinity of the...

  13. Conclusion: Loyalist Patriotism Exceeds Loyalist Power
    (pp. 223-226)

    British New York did not transform into loyalist New York. The British rejection of civil rule in 1776 and again in 1780 compelled the loyalists to confront a shocking realization: they found that they valued the symbols of the British Empire—legal protection of property and liberty, civil government, and constitutional processes—more deeply than the Crown’s representatives in New York or in London. Ironically, they learned too late that they cherished a more perfect version of the British constitution than the Britons across the Atlantic.

    In the fall of 1776 , New York’s loyalist leaders anticipated a partnership with...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-270)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-304)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-305)