Review, Rebecca Brannon and Joseph Moore, eds. The Consequences of Loyalism

Brannon, Rebecca, and Joseph S. Moore, eds. The Consequences of Loyalism: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Calhoon. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2019).

If you are studying or researching Loyalists in some way, Robert M. Calhoon’s name is bound to come up. The “dean of American Loyalist studies,” as Joseph Moore terms him, is a well-esteemed scholar, writer, and mentor who has been the leading voice in American Loyalists historiography for decades.”[1] By engaging Loyalists in a multi-dimensional fashion, Calhoon’s work elucidated the now-incontrovertible inference: that Loyalists were multi-dimensional figures who were not too different from their revolutionary counterparts. In fact, the irrefutability of this idea is no doubt due in part to his work. In honor of him, Rebecca Brannon and Joseph Moore edited a Festschrift titled The Consequences of Loyalism.

The book is divided into two sections shaped by two themes in Calhoon’s work. The first section, “Perceptions” relates to Calhoon’s interest in Loyalist ideologies. These essays emphasize the role of contingency and suggest how Loyalists were forced to make decisions based on limited information and their evaluations of the world around them.[2] The second section, “Moderation,” draws on Calhoon’s fascination with historical moderates. It contains essays that seek to understand how Loyalists dealt with the result of their actions.[3] The essays revise old interpretations, offer new directions for studying Loyalists and effectively draw on other fields such as archaeology.

The fifteen essays cover a wide range of topics including Quaker women’s writing to post-war Loyalists hopes. The book concludes with an insightful reflection by Warren R. Hofstra on Calhoon’s scholarly contributions.[4] Moore and Brannon have done an excellent job incorporating work by both male and female historians, scholars ranging from both early career to established faculty, and individuals who work in public history. Given the geographical focus of Calhoon’s work, it is not surprising that the essays generally concentrate on well-covered Loyalist hubs such as New York, Nova Scotia, and South Carolina. However, the authors offer new methods of analyzing these Loyalist communities.

Some of the essays effectively complicate the “Loyalist-revolutionaries” binary by highlighting the complex relationships between individuals of both groups. Sally Hadden’s essay, “Lawyering for Loyalists in the Post-Revolutionary War Period,” concentrates on Harrison Gray Otis and Christopher Gore who worked on behalf of displaced Loyalists who lived overseas largely to reclaim lost property. Separated by oceans, lawyers and Loyalists generated large amounts of correspondence, a “treasure trove for historians.” Hadden suggests that these lawyers worked on behalf of Loyalists either because they had “preexisting ties” to them or they expected to be paid very well.[5] Focusing on another set of relations among those who supported the Revolution and Loyalists, Eileen Ka-May Cheng’s “Plagiarism and the Nationalist Uses of Loyalist History: Alexander Hewatt and David Ramsay,” explores how nationalist historian Ramsay plagiarized from the work of Loyalist historian Hewatt. She demonstrates how Ramsay’s historical work incorporated and transformed Hewatt’s claims about the  colonists’ relationships to nature, Native Americans, and slavery to serve his own nationalist goals.[6]

Other historians offer new perspectives on Loyalists in New York. While Chris Minty offers a reinterpretation of the demographic composition of Loyalists in New York, Christopher Sparshott presents a reinterpretation of the exile experience in New York City.  Minty’s essay offers a refreshing revision of Wallace Brown’s The King’s Friends, a foundational work on Loyalists, that presented statistics on the Loyalist populations of all thirteen states.[7] Acknowledging the work Brown did without dismissing it, Minty uses modern data analysis to revise and substantiate Brown’s assessment of New York Loyalists. Minty analyzes the social composition of 9,338 New York Loyalists, along with categories such as occupation, wealth, age, and religion.[8] In some cases, Minty’s findings align with Brown’s, but in other cases, Minty’s findings offer revisions of Brown’s.[9] This essay will be an excellent resource for scholars looking to revise discussions of Loyalists, showing that they were not one uniform type of person.

Similar to Minty’s essay, Christopher Sparshott’s essay “Loyalist Refugee Camp” offers a new perspective on occupied New York City. Given how frequently contemporaries (and Loyalists themselves) referred to Loyalists as “refugees,” Sparshott’s willingness to explore this idea further is commendable. He However, his analysis of British-occupied New York City as functioning like a refugee camp runs the risk of being misused. His analysis draws on Simon Turner’s model based on his work on the United Nation’s Lukole Refugee Camp for Hutu refugees from Burundi’s silent genocide in 1993.[10] While provocative, this method risks overlooking critical historical differences between the experiences of Loyalists in New York City and modern refugees.

Reflecting Calhoon’s own interest in utilizing innovations from other disciplines, other historians present successful interdisciplinary work, particularly in the fields of archaeology and transitional justice. Catherine M.A. Cottreau-Robins studies two slaveholding Loyalist families who moved from Massachusetts and New York to Nova Scotia. To supplement these families lack of archival records, Cottreau-Robbins uses history, historical archaeology, and cultural geography.[11] Because the archaeological work is ongoing, she leaves some unanswered questions, but her method demonstrates the fruitfulness of utilizing more than one discipline.

As scholars who study the reintegration of Loyalists after the Revolution, Aaron Nathan Coleman and Rebecca Brannon both examine the relationship between this type of research and political science work on transitional justice. While Coleman urges scholars of transitional justice to draw on historical methods, Brannon encourages historians to rely on transitional justice methods. Coleman suggests that transitional justice scholars should study how historians rely on contingency and context to examine peoples’ decisions. This approach would help transitional justice scholars understand how “historical reality can reveal the practical limitations of theory.”[12] Working in the opposite direction, Brannon urges historians to use transitional justice methods and language to analyze the strategies for Loyalist reconciliation after the Revolution. Brannon notes that federalism poses a challenge for historians seeking to use transitional justice methods. Purges (lustration) of Loyalists were part of the national policy during the Revolution, but Loyalists reintegration was later carried out on state and local levels.[13]

As an edited collection in honor of a scholar will likely be, The Consequences of Loyalism reflects on the state of the field tailored to Calhoon’s interests. To this end, Calhoon’s work focused more on Loyalists who did not join the permanent diaspora. Instead, these essays seem to address Calhoon’s call for greater attention to be paid to the loyalists who remained in the United States and the role they played in events after the Revolution.[14] These essays provide insights into the experience of moderate individuals who chose to side with the British for a variety of reasons and suffered the consequences of doing so during and after the war. For scholars, such as myself, interested in asking questions about moderate Loyalists and Loyalists who remained in the United States after the Revolution, The Consequences of Loyalism will be a useful resource.


[1] Joseph S. Moore, “Preface,” in The Consequences of Loyalism: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Calhoon, ed. Rebecca Brannon and Joseph S. Moore (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2019), xii; Rebecca Brannon, “Introduction,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 4.

[2] Brannon, “Introduction,” 5.

[3] Brannon, “Introduction,” 6–7; Robert M. Calhoon, Political Moderation in America’s First Two Centuries (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[4] Kacy Tillman, “Constructing Female Loyalism(s) in the Delaware Valley: Quaker Women Writers of the American Revolution,” Ruma Chopra, “Postwar Loyalist Hopes: To Be ‘Parts and Not Dependencies of the Empire,” Warren R. Hofstra, “Afterword: Robert McCluer Calhoon—The Politics of Moderation and a Passion for Teaching,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 48-60, 228-43, 244–50.

[5] Sally E. Hadden, “Lawyering for Loyalists in the Post-Revolutionary War Period,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 136.

[6] Eileen K. Cheng, “Plagiarism and the Nationalist Uses of Loyalist History: Alexander Hewatt and David Ramsay,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 209.

[7] Wallace Brown, The King’s Friends; the Composition and Motives of the American Loyalist Claimants (Providence: Brown University Press, 1965).

[8] Christopher Minty, “Reexamining Loyalist Identity during the American Revolution,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 34.

[9] Minty, 36, 38.

[10] Christopher Sparshott, “Loyalist Refugee Camp: A Reinterpretation of Occupied New York, 1776-83,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 63–64.

[11] Catherine M.A. Cottreau-Robins, “Exploring the Landscape of Slavery in Loyalist Era Nova Scotia,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 22.

[12] Aaron Nathan Coleman, “Justice and Moderation? The Reintegration of the American Loyalists as an Episode of Transitional Justice,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 178.

[13] Rebecca Brannon, “America’s Revolutionary Experience with Transitional Justice,” in The Consequences of Loyalism, 191.

[14] Robert M. Calhoon, The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760-1781, The Founding of the American Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), ix.

One response

  1. Pingback: Q&A with Rebecca Brannon and Joseph S. Moore, editors of The Consequences of Loyalism « The Junto


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