Book review: From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists by Rebecca Brannon (University of South Carolina Press, September 2016)
First and foremost, let me just start by saying what a unique and interesting subject Ms. Brannon chose for her book. There are many books out on what happened to the Loyalists who departed for Nova Scotia, England, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands. To my knowledge, there is almost nothing written on what happened to the loyalists who stayed behind. I have always noticed a large discrepancy between the numbers of those who departed and the numbers of Loyalists who lived in the South Carolina back country. Because of that discrepancy, I was very excited to be assigned the task of reading and reviewing this text.
The American Revolution in South Carolina developed into a very vicious and personal campaign where neighbors turned on each other and whole families found themselves ostracized from the community. By the time the conflict ended the victorious Whigs were ready for some official and permanent payback. If the Loyalists were not outright banned as leaders they found their property taken and under threat of confiscation by the state. South Carolina needed money and the easiest way out of their situation seemed to come from sale and confiscation of Loyalist property.
The first opportunity for reintegration came right after Gen. Nathanael Greene’s battle at Eutaw Springs in 1781. They considered it a great victory and Governor Rutledge issued a proclamation stating that any Loyalist willing to serve in the Patriot militia for six months could earn the privilege of staying in South Carolina with their family and property intact. There were a number of Loyalists who took the offer and chose to remain. That plan worked well for some but many others were not yet convinced the war was lost and stayed loyal to the Crown. Unfortunately, even many of those who took the offer found their property looted anyway. The Loyalists responded with the famous raids of Bloody Bill Cunningham and his round of murder and retribution. The political situation turned even uglier.
Beginning in 1782 the state Assembly passed a series of acts meant to punish the Loyalists yet still allow them a path to citizenship. It was a difficult path to follow that included losing at least ten percent of their property and serving nine months in the militia. One of the new laws actually named about 230 Loyalist leaders whose lands were totally forfeited and those individuals were simply no longer welcome in the state. However, did these good people actually lose their lands and accept banishment? The answer turns out negative. Instead, they worked with neighbors to seek forgiveness and regain local acceptance. Just how did they accomplish this near miracle of reintegration? I think that answer might be better left to those interested enough to read the book.
Rebecca Brannon’s book is well written and a pleasure to read. She provides some excellent examples of just how and why so many Loyalists managed to remain and rejoin the local communities. Her text should provide other scholars a great example of how this research can be done and how the reintegration process impacted the written and oral histories done in the nineteenth century. Hopefully we will see similar research on the other colonies in the future. The book is incredibly interesting and I highly recommend From Revolution to Reunion to all those interested in the fate of the eighteenth century Loyalist in America. It is well presented, unique, and introduces some sources I had not previously considered. A score of 10 might suggest perfection, but, alas, I think perfection might require that she tell me more, and more, and more.
Although not written by you, your review of “From Revolution to Reunion” ,by Rebecca Brannon caused me to purchased this book. I have been curious for quite a while about Loyalist remaining and being accepted after the Revolution. I am 72 years old and remember that my grandparents still had family memories of their forefathers and did not think that there was any reason to support England in WWI. It seems to me that, as in many political conflicts, that it was generally 30% for, against, and neutral. In the back country, it appears to me that the approximately 30% neutral were more shifted to being for the Revolution by the British actions not to just leave them alone. I look forward to reading the book. As a side note, (although all of my ancestors were pro Revolution partisans) it seems that Memorial Day should also recognize the Loyalist since at the time they supported the actual government at the time.
Thanks for the comment Giles. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. In my readings, I have not run across anything that would provide me with actual percentages of the population that remained loyal. I do have a few thoughts on the subject but no conclusions. One of the main problems encountered by Cornwallis in his attempt to bring the militia back to Crown control was the lack of youth and military experience. From the letters between him and his outpost commanders it seems clear that most of the military leaders and young men of fighting age had gone Whig prior to the occupation of the back country. This left the British with few good choices to serve as officers and ranks filled with aging men or simply those who had not cared for the fighting earlier. When Cornwallis instructed not to allow Whigs into the new militia regiments he seriously limited the quality of the soldier as well as the quantity. In the early days there had probably been a good number of loyalists, even a majority back in 1775, but most of those who were able and willing to fight the Whigs had gone to East Florida and joined McGirth or Brown long before 1780.