Tory vs Patriots During the Revolutionary War

By Awet Amedechiel

The Americans of 1776 were not all patriots. In fact, according to John Adams' estimates, about one third were patriots, one third loyalists, and one third were either neutral or indifferent. In New York and Georgia, more people joined the King's army than the Continental Army, while New Englanders generally supported Washington's efforts. In almost every ethnic, national, and religious group, there were Americans on both sides. By the time the Revolutionary War began, there were about 200,000 American Indians east of the Mississippi, members of 85 different nations. A large number of them, resentful of the antagonism of the colonists and attracted by the comparatively friendly diplomacy of the British, sided with the crown. Tribes such as the Mohawks, under Chief Joseph Brant, and the Cherokees, under Dragging Canoe, joined the British to prevent the westward expansion of European settlement. Other tribes remained neutral in the struggle. Still others, such as Oneidas, Mashpees, and the Catawbas, fought on the patriot side, although their numbers could not compare to the 13,000 American Indians fighting for the British. In 1778, the Delawares signed a treaty with the United States, pledging, among other things, mutual friendship and support for the patriot war. This was the first treaty between the United States and an American Indian tribe.

The English were split as to whether they would support George the King or George Washington. The major division did not occur until after the post-Boston Tea Party of 1773. A number of individuals, such as John Joachim Zubly and Daniel Leonard, began as staunch loyalists, but later joined the patriot cause. Some members of the First Continental Congress, such as Joseph Galloway, later became loyalists. In fact, most members of the First Continental Congress, except the delegates from New England, favored reconciliation with Britain. As the majority national group in the colonies, the English-Americans comprised most of the leadership among loyalists and patriots, including most of the founding fathers of the United States. English-Americans fought with conviction on both sides of the war, some with courage and honor, others with barbarity and cruelty. By the time independence was declared, patriots of English ancestry had made a break with England that cut more deeply than the political secession that had been asserted. They viewed themselves as Americans fighting against British tyrants, rather than rebellious Englishmen fighting their fellow countrymen. This distinction became crucial in establishing the justification upon which the new nation would be built.



Although most of the Americans involved in the Revolutionary War were English immigrants or descended from English immigrants, many non-English people took part. Many people from the next largest ethnic/national group, African-Americans, became involved in the war. From the British side, Lord Dunmore (John Murray) made a proclamation declaring that any slaves who joined the loyalist cause could be emancipated. Of the eight hundred slaves who took him up on the offer, few were better off since many died while being transported. Dunmore's offer was withdrawn under pressure from officials in London, who were unwilling to antagonize southern colonists who could be swayed to the loyalist cause. On the patriot side, at least 25 African-Americans fought in Massachusetts, and at least five were killed at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Among those fighting in Massachusetts was African-American Salem Poor, whose courage and dedication to military service attracted so much attention that fourteen officers petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to present to him a monetary award. Another Massachusetts patriot soldier of African descent was Barzillai Lew, who was believed to have organized a group of African-American guerilla fighters. African-Americans such as Crispus Attucks, first person killed in the Boston Massacre, and Peter Salem, who killed the first British officer in the Battle of Bunker Hill, were hailed as national heroes by some who might not ordinarily praise a black man.

In November of 1775, after numerous black minutemen and other African-Americans had already given their lives and service to the United States, General Washington forbade blacks to enlist in the military. After Lord Dunmore's declaration, however, Washington rethought his policy and amended it, allowing free blacks to enlist in the Continental Army. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut proceeded to organize regiments and other military groups with African-American troops. Maryland and Virginia also sent African-Americans to fight for the patriots. People like James Armistead, Pompey Lamb, Saul Matthews, and Antigua of South Carolina served as spies for the Continental Army. There was even a black brigade from Haiti, fighting as part of a French unit, which was credited with saving Franco-American forces from destruction in Savannah, Georgia in 1779.

Although the many loyalists and much of the patriot leadership were dominated by people of English ancestry, many non-English Europeans were involved in the war, on both sides. Highland Scots in America were perhaps alone in supported the crown as a national group, and the British took advantage of this loyalty by organizing bands of Scottish-Americans to fight in New York and North Carolina. Nevertheless, Scottish immigrant John Paul Jones became one of the most famous naval commanders to fight for the Continental Fleet. Most Irish-Americans supported the patriot cause. The Scotch-Irish were reputed to have been all patriots; in reality, the myth about their unanimous patriotism may have been perpetrated by supporters of such later Scotch-Irish-American presidents as Andrew Jackson. In fact, the Scotch Irish of the backcountry were generally opposed to the revolution because of hatred of the elite leadership and fear of losing British land grants. German-Americans in the Mohawk Valley on New York's frontier strongly supported the Revolution, whereas those in British-occupied Philadelphia were generally loyalists. John Morton of Pennsylvania, a Swedish-American patriot, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. John Hanson, another Swedish-American, was a presiding officer over the Continental Congress. A number of firmly religious individuals were involved in the war effort. In each major religious group, there were supporters of the cause on both sides of the front. Lutheran Henry Muhlenberg was part of a patriot "clerical regiment." Among Methodists there were many loyalists, following their church's founder, John Wesley, in his condemnation of the revolution. John Caroll of Baltimore, the first American Roman Catholic bishop, was involved in a diplomatic mission to seek help from Canada for the patriot cause. Another Catholic American, Irish-American Charles Carroll of Carollton, Maryland, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Reverend Isaac Touro, leader of the Newport Jewish congregation, was an avowed loyalist.

Members of the same religious group often had different opinion on the revolution depending on the region in which they lived and their particular interests. Anglicans in the South had developed a very Americanized church, so that many of them supported the revolution and felt no qualms about fighting England. Anglicans in New England and the Middle Colonies, however, concerned about their minority status, maintained closer ties to England, and were generally loyalists. In addition to the loyalist Anglicans in Pennsylvania, there were pockets of loyalist Quakers, many of whom were thankful to King George for having been their protector and benefactor. An even greater problem for the patriots was the pacifism embraced by Quakers, Moravians, Mennonites, and many others. Benjamin Franklin was able to convince many to serve the patriot cause in civilian capacities.

The highest rank attained by a Jew in the Rev War was lieutenant-colonel, Solomon Bush. Many Jewish Americans contributed to the Revolutionary War effort in civilian capacities. One of the most important heroes, however, was Haym Salomon who, along with Robert Morris, helped finance the American Revolution. A number of merchants assisted American consumers in maintaining their pre-Revolutionary boycott of British goods, as well as selling supplies for military and civilian use. After the war, however, many Jewish Americans, including Salomon, Aaron Hart, and Barnard Judah, were unable to collect payment for the goods, services, and loans extended to the government. Some, such as Salomon, were not even officially recognized for their contribution to the war until the twentieth century. The presence of a vast variety of ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds among the Americans of 1776 is certainly reflected in the individuals who participated in the Revolutionary War. Some of these Americans fought for reconciliation with Britain, while others fought for independence from Britain. Some fought in the military, while others served on the civilian front. Their efforts created a war of historic proportions, and the victorious patriots established the first nation of its kind. Later years would see a country of immigrants from even more diverse backgrounds. Because of the participation of such a broad range of people, the new nation of the United States of America was built upon the labor and from the blood of a near microcosm of the world.