Jasanoff (History/Harvard Univ.; Edge of Empire: Life, Culture, and Conquest in the East 1750–1850, 2005) examines the effects of the American Revolution on those whose loyalty to the Crown compelled them to flee the new United States.
As the author writes, few expected the Revolution to succeed, but when it did, the American supporters of King George III found their property and lives in dire jeopardy—even the Anglican clergy, who had sworn fealty to George III and felt honor-bound to their oaths. Loyalists were beaten and tormented constantly. After a swift summary of the war, Jasanoff focuses on those who did not remain. Where did they go? Did they prosper? Upper-class white loyalists were inconvenienced, but many managed to find havens elsewhere. The lower classes, however, including the American Indians and African-Americans who had sided with the British, found their lives shattered and their futures bleak. Jasanoff moves artfully from larger global issues (where to resettle?) to individual stories of people who documented the turmoil with publications, letters and diaries. Some individuals stand out. Sir Guy Carleton organized a massive evacuation of up to 100,000 soldiers and civilians from U.S. coastal cities. Dr. William Johnston struggled with the many ill immigrants in Jamaica. John Clarkson was the white Moses of the emigration in 1792 of hundreds of blacks from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. Jasanoff gives just space to each of the principal destinations—Nova Scotia, the Bahamas and Jamaica, Canada and Sierra Leone. The struggles were fierce in all the locations, but the author has perhaps her kindest words for the African settlers, who, after a devastating attack from the French, succeeded in Freetown. Jasanoff’s most sympathetic words go to the American Indians, who listened and trusted, and suffered horribly as a result.
Splendidly researched, sensibly argued and compassionately told.