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A groundbreaking history of the revolutionary era, Liberty s Exiles tells the story of this remarkable global diaspora. Through painstaking archival research and vivid storytelling, award-winning historian Maya Jasanoff re-creates the journeys of ordinary individuals whose lives were overturned by extraordinary events. She tells of refugees like Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who spent nearly thirty years as a migrant, searching for a home in Britain, Jamaica, and Canada. And of David George, a black preacher born into slavery, who found freedom and faith in the British Empire, and eventually led his followers to seek a new Jerusalem in Sierra Leone. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant resettled his people under British protection in Ontario, while the adventurer William Augustus Bowles tried to shape a loyalist Creek state in Florida. For all these people and more, it was the British Empire not the United States that held the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet as they dispersed across the empire, the loyalists also carried things from their former homes, revealing an enduring American influence on the wider British world.
Ambitious, original, and personality-filled, Liberty s Exiles is at once an intimate narrative history and a provocative new analysis a book that explores an unknown dimension of America s founding to illuminate the meanings of liberty itself.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-11-22
- Reviewer: Staff
The plight of American Loyalists during and after the Revolutionary War has been largely forgotten. Harvard historian Jasanoff (Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750–1850) corrects that omission with a masterful account of the struggles, heartbreak, and determination that characterized specific Loyalist families and individuals. Rich and poor, black, white, and Native American, the Loyalists paid for their devotion to king and country with their blood, their property, and their prospects. The terrorist tendencies of the Sons of Liberty and the deliberate cruelty of Patriot leaders, including Washington and Franklin, are painfully described. Most tragic, however, was the postwar neglect of Loyalist refugees by the British government, which minimized the human consequences of defeat. Some Loyalists, among them John Cruden and William Augustus Bowles, responded with continuing efforts to establish armed encampments on the southeast frontier of the new United States. Others, by far the majority, settled in Canada, with smaller enclaves in the Caribbean. This superb study of a little-known episode in American and British history is remiss only in largely ignoring the Loyalist community in Spanish West Florida and the War of 1812 as a continuation of the earlier conflict. 8 pages of illus.; 10 maps. (Jan.)
The lesser-known history of the American loyalists
The American Revolution was routinely regarded at the time as a civil war between rebels who desired to break away from Great Britain and loyalists who retained allegiance to the monarchy. As Maya Jasanoff, associate professor of history at Harvard University and author of the award-winning Edge of Empire, tells us in her sweeping, consistently enlightening and beautifully written Liberty’s Exiles, there is much about the loyalists we do not often hear.
At the end of the war, 60,000 loyalists emigrated from the United States to every part of the British Empire, taking 15,000 black slaves with them. Loyalists came from varied social, geographic, ethnic and racial backgrounds, including former slaves who were granted freedom because they fought for the British Empire. Several nations of Native Americans also aligned themselves with the monarchy. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the loyalists was how varied a role ideology played in their decisions. Often much more important were such personal considerations as employers, profits, faith, land, family and even the desire to maintain the status quo: Many loyalists believed the revolution would fail.
Jasanoff has done original research on four continents, and the result is a compelling narrative that takes us into the ordinary lives of these refugees. After a vivid portrayal of the war as loyalists experienced it, including threats and violence directed at them and the imposition of anti-loyalist laws, Jasanoff then covers their evacuation from the U.S., their relocation and their often frustrated expectations for their new lives. Many refugees—particularly in British North America (the eastern provinces of present-day Canada), where the largest numbers of loyalists were sent—held protests similar to those heard earlier from American patriots, about the Empire’s unjust policies, which eventually had a significant influence on imperial reforms.
Wherever they relocated—to the Caribbean, to Africa, to India, to England—the loyalists, despite their earlier allegiance to the Crown, resisted imperial authority in other settings. Jasanoff paints lively portraits of such refugees as Elizabeth Johnston, who, at age 22, had already lived in five different places and arrived in a Jamaica full of staggering violence; Joseph Bryant, a Mohawk leader who hoped to bring about a new western Indian confederacy but died trying; and David George and George Liele, both born into slavery, who became influential Baptist leaders, establishing churches in Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and Kingston, Jamaica.
This richly rewarding narrative and analysis—the “first global history of the loyalist diaspora”—is an important look at the lesser-known consequences of the American Revolution.