An officer and a lady - Henry Alexander Ogden (1856-1936)
I was not permitted to take photographs inside the Silas Deane house when we visited; however, the organization that preserves the house and offers tours has a webpage that not only offers several beautiful pictures, but it tells more about the history of the structure here. (It is also listed as the source link on this post.)
GooDBYe frIENds i AM goNE
Ernest Crofts (1846-1911) ” Cavalry on a Country Road”
Robe à la Polonaise
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This is a question that was asked today over at /r/askhistorians on reddit. This is my answer from there.
The 1/3rd quote is often attributed to John Adams and goes something like this. “One third of the American people were opposed to the Revolution, one third were enthusiastic supporters, and one third were lukewarm or neutral.”
The problem with that particular quote is that it’s based on a letter that John Adams wrote in 1815 to Massachusetts Senator James Lloyd where Adams is specifically talking about the French Revolution.
"I should say that full one third were averse to the revolution…. An opposite third… gave themselves up to an enthusiastic gratitude to France. The middle third,… always averse to war, were rather lukewarm both to England and France….” 1
The truth is that we don’t know how many people were Loyalists or how many people fully supported the war. As with most wars the number of people who were enthusiastic supporters and those who were lukewarm or opposed changed over time.
There are several factors that impacted whether or not a person ended up a Loyalist or a Whig (as those who supported separation were generally called), and it wasn’t necessarily just their ideas about liberty or freedom2.These factors included geography, religion, occupation, pre-war conflicts, and ethnicity.
In addition there was a fair amount of side switching that happened too. People would fight for a Loyalist militia unit and then become discouraged or disillusioned and join with a Whig militia unit for awhile, and then rejoin a Loyalist unit, or vice versa. Sometimes people would switch sides and desert the British forces and join the American army and keep fighting or vice versa.
As for the break down of who was Loyalists, at the outbreak of the conflict, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of Americans supported the war efforts. In New England that majority was probably over 85%, and in Massachusetts the majority was so strong that they’d been able to drive all royal authority from the province (except for Boston) during the summer and fall of 1774.
In the middle colonies there was more opposition, with significant groups of opposition in New Jersey and New York. In Pennyslvania the opposition came from the Quakers who mostly controlled the government of the colony. As pacifists they opposed any violence. However there was a very strong radical movement in Philadelphia and there’s some thought that this radical movement helped spur Congress into declaring independence.
South Carolina lacked a strong Loyalist presence until later in the war—early on the Whig forces seized control early, though they were never as numerous there as in the north. This also held true for North Carolina.
Virginia was mostly Whig—or at least the Whigs dominated the government and took control of the governing apparatus early on.
When it comes to religion, there’s also some stark break downs. In New England the vast majority of Anglican church members and ministers stayed Loyalists. In the South the opposite was true—Anglicans tended to practice a less formal religion in the South, and the divide was more equal.
Most of the Baptists congregations in the South were Loyalists.
Tobacco growers were by and large Whigs. Interestingly enough those who made a living dealing iron (most of the ironworks being in the middle colonies) were also almost all Whigs. In South Carolina the rice and indigo growers were by and large Whigs as well. All three industries had a commonality of strict price controls and other interference from England regarding where and what they could sell.
A couple of other things I forgot to mention that deserve to be pointed out. In New England it’s been pointed out that nearly every man who was old enough to be part of the militia saw at least some service during the Revolutionary War. This might have ranged from a few weeks to a few months worth of time—but the call up of the militia was an important aspect of the war (despite the short shrift they’re often given). Although we don’t have as thorough of records for other areas of the colonies, there were some states (e.g. South Carolina) that saw significant percentages of the adult male population participate in the war at one point or another.3
Maya Jasanoff points out that nearly 70,000 Loyalists emigrated during or after the war. (this also includes black Loyalists). Factoring in those who were killed and the small number who stayed, a likely number for Loyalists might be around 1/5th of the population.
1.) John Adams did use this expression in other writings. At one point he described the officers in the Continental Army as 1/3rd being great, 1/3rd being average, and 1/3rd being lazy good-for-nothings. Another time he described members of Congress as 1/3rd “caricature print”, 1/3rd “Whig”, and another third “mongrels”. So the 1/3rd, 1/3rd, 1/3rd rule may have been something that he would have applied to the American Revolution had he thought about it—only we have no record of him doing so.
2.) Often what separated Whig and Tory wasn’t their political beliefs but the act of rebellion. For example Joseph Galloway was at one point a leading opponent to English policies in America, but couldn’t make the final break and ended up leaving the colonies.
3.) The vast majority of the records we have are for the Whig participants in the battles. Mark Scroggins notes the paucity of Loyalist records in The Day it Rained Militia.
1775: A Good Year For Revolution by Kevin Phillips. Phillips spends a great deal of time talking about various factors which might cause someone to decide to rebel or stay loyal.
Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff for how Loyalist free thinkers impacted British policy
Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War by Thomas B. Allen for cific examples of Loyalists and how they lived.
The Day It Rained Militia: Huck’s Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780 by Michael C. Scroggins for some discussion of Whig and Loyalist reactions in South Carolina specifically.
American Insurgents: American Patriots by T.H. Breen for a discussion of how the various committees of safety and correspondence through the colonizes democratized America (as well as a brief discussion of the impact that the various Philadelphia committees had on the debate for independence).
The Minute Men and Their World by Robert A. Gross briefly discusses the impact of the war on Concord specifically but also New England in general.