Following on from Emily Yankowitz’s review of The Consequences of Loyalism: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Calhoon (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2019), we continue our Review/Q&A format with an interview with the editors, Rebecca Brannon and Joseph S. Moore. Brannon is associate professor of history at James Madison University and the author of From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016), which was reviewed on The Junto in 2017. Moore is associate professor of history and department chair at Gardner-Webb University. He is the author of Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
JUNTO: Can you say something about the motivation behind the volume?
Joseph: Robert M. “Bob” Calhoon had, in some ways, three separate scholarly identities. First, in the 1970s-80s, he wrote what I’ve often called “The Ideological Origins of American Loyalism.” He took Bernard Bailyn’s insights and turned them onto the other side. Then, in the 1980s-90s, he turned to scholarship on the American backcountry in the Early Republic. Finally, in the 21st century, he tied this together by trying to unpack what “moderation” meant in early America and how important moderates are. Those three projects produced volumes for scholarly communities that rarely engage one another. For those who understood Bob’s mind, it was all part of one project. This book was an attempt to honor that by returning to the Loyalists and see how a new generation of scholars views what Bob called living with the effects of trying to hold “the principled middle ground.”
Rebecca: I would just add in addition that I was motivated by wanting to offer an intellectual homage to Calhoon’s work. But I also wanted to show how the Loyalist field is rapidly changing—and is far more dynamic than some scholars have perhaps realized. When I began working on the Loyalists, Loyalist studies in the United States felt like a quiet backwater. And yet I was fascinated. Maybe Bob Calhoon had done too good of a job? In any case, Loyalist studies has been recharged again and there are more and more scholars out there doing fascinating work. So much so that I overhear the idea that Loyalists are “cool again” in hotel bars filled with conference-goers. I’m glad we are rediscovering the Loyalists, and hope the volume helps with the process.
JUNTO: How has editing the volume changed how you think about loyalism and the American Revolution?
Rebecca: I have been blown away by the amazing contributors and the breadth of work being done out there on Loyalists. I also got serious about thinking about the Loyalist experience more broadly than just the American scholarship and began to read more in the Canadian scholarship. I especially loved learning how much the Loyalists who had to leave the United States and move to places like Jamaica and Nova Scotia became thorns in the side of royal governors across the British Empire. They were loyal to the British Empire, but they were loyal to a sometimes strangely constructed ideal of how the empire worked that did not match reality. Often Loyalists who had not started as ideologues became so after they had to flee—perhaps as a way of justifying the terrifying changes in their lives.
I also owe Nathan Coleman, one of the contributors. I pulled him in because we both have written about Loyalist reconciliation with other Americans after the American Revolution. Our early conversations taught me about transitional justice theories and approaches. I decided to run with the mantra that theory can be “good to think with” and tried out transitional justice theory like my kids try out a new crayon box—with reckless abandon. Turns out there is a lot there. I leave it to readers to decide what they think about the ways I use transitional justice thinking to understand the choices Loyalists and Patriots made on the bumpy national road to the reintegration of the vast majority of Loyalists. I am still inspired by the possibilities and will continue to think on these lines.
JUNTO: There are a large number of contributors to the volume. Can you describe the editorial process you adopted?
Joint Response: We both read and edited everything in the book through each stage of contributions, edits, copy editing, and page proofs. Having two sets of thoughtful eyes was really helpful. Rebecca did the lion’s share of work on the historiographical side. Since Joseph came to work with Bob on the Loyalists but then went off tracing Scottish radicals, he tried to revise with the eye of a reader who knows the scholarship of early America but isn’t a master of the Loyalist scholarship itself. That gave us a kind of one-two punch that was keen on delivering good content for subject matter experts as well as generalists.
JUNTO: For those who haven’t read the book, can you say something about the importance of loyalism during the Revolutionary Era?
Generations of American historians have understandably overemphasized how many people supported the Patriot cause and the American Revolution. That makes sense—we are Americans, and every revolutionary likes to think they truly support the mass of the people. But in fact the majority of colonial Americans were either disaffected, trying to stay neutral, or actively opposed to the Revolution. Our country was at first a minority project. The American Revolution and the early Republic look different when you start there. We hope reexamining the ideas of the Loyalists, the sheer number of them, and the military and social contributions they made to the United States and Canada serves the larger historiography of the Revolution. Many white Loyalists, for instance, had their own kind of manifest destiny with the aim of a giant North American empire generating wealth for white settler-colonists. As Catherine Cottreau-Robins shows in the book, white Loyalist refugees moved to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and continued to enslave African-descended peoples. The American Revolution was a tragedy for many peoples and a victory for only a few.
JUNTO: What do you hope will be the legacy of the volume?
Joint Response: We hope that we honor Bob Calhoon’s life of scholarship and his model of warmth for others in the academy. As Joseph says, he so loved being a scholar. He found the whole of the profession, even those who disagreed with him, fascinating. He was in awe of the life of the mind. We both want to honor him by perpetuating that love for the conversation itself. We then hope that it drives this new conversation about how we integrate the ideological and political histories of Calhoon and his contemporaries with the social and cultural histories that have followed. We also were glad to include both Canadian and American authors writing about Loyalist history in both countries. It is hard to talk about Atlantic history without acknowledging the importance of Loyalist history in both countries.
JUNTO: Can you tell us about your next projects?
Joseph: I’m currently working on a 300-year history of financial advice in America in cooperation with a political science colleague. We’re trying to tease out where and how people living with capitalism saw their personal finances intersecting with political economy.
Rebecca: I’m working on a history of old age in the 18th and early 19th century. I want to know where we get our terror at the prospect of getting old—even when we all agree it is far better than the alternative! I also found co-editing a book to be such a great experience that I signed up to do it again. I am now co-editing A Cultural History of Old Age in the Era of Enlightenment and Revolution (1650–1800) with Susannah Ottaway, a historian of old age in early modern England. But despite all this new work, I certainly have not gotten the Loyalist “bug” out of my system.