The Role of the Loyalists in the Revolutionary War

Loyalists were individuals who remained loyal to Great Britain through the struggle for American independence in the Revolutionary War of 1775-1783. According to the Independence Hall Association, Loyalists made up about 20 percent of colonists and were mostly from the older, more educated and wealthier ranks of American society.


In the period befre the outbreak the war, some Loyalists played an important role in promoting reconciliation and avoiding conflict with Britain. In 1774, for example, the Loyalist Joseph Galloway, presented his Plan of Union to the First Continental Congress. Galloway advocated compromise with a popularly elected Grand Council to represent the colonies while remaining under British control. Galloway's proposal was rejected by a vote of six to five.

Public Life

Although "the Patriots generally controlled public discourse" on the issue of independence, there were some who openly engaged in debate (Independence Hall Association). In response to Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense," for example, the Loyalist James Chalmers wrote "Plain Truth." Chalmers reminded colonists of the debt owed to Britain and defended against Paine's attack on the English Constitution. The clergyman, Charles Inglis, also responded to "Common Sense" with "The True Interest of American Impartiality State," in which he advocated a reconciliation between Britain and the colonies.


Loyalists also played a military role in the American Revolutionary War. They formed militia regiments such as the Black Pioneers, British Legion and Carolina King's Rangers, or fought in the British Army and Navy, securing victories such as that at Lexington in 1782. Some escaped African-American slaves, including Boston King, joined the Loyalist cause and fought against the Patriots. In return they were granted their freedom.


Loyalist women also played a role in the American Revolutionary War. Flora MacDonald marched alongside and spent the night with Loyalist troops before the Battle of Creek Bridge in 1776. After the British defeat, she visited and offered support to the families of the men who had been killed and captured. In 1777, Elizabeth Cornell Bayard, a Loyalist from North Carolina, brought a lawsuit against the Patriots who had seized her property and sold it to a man named Spyers Singleton. Bayard was able to regain her property.


Loyalists also supported the British government in other ways. Intelligence-gathering and spying, for example, was commonly carried out by loyal Americans, such as Anne Bates, a teacher from Philadelphia, who posed as a peddler selling needles and thread to gain access to Patriot camps. Loyalists also acted as propagandists and pamphleteers, distributing appeals for reconciliation with Britain. Some provided shelter and aid to injured British troops, even though reprisals from Patriots, such as tarring and feathering, were common, especially in the South.

About the Author

Kaye Jones has been a freelance writer since 2009, specializing in history, education and mental health. Her undergraduate dissertation was published by the Internet Journal of Criminology. Jones has a first-class honors Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Manchester.

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