William Taylor: Loyalist Refugee in East Florida


May 3, 2018
by George Kotlik Also by this Author


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During the War for American Independence, displaced Loyalists from the southern colonies sought refuge in East Florida. Due to a large influx of refugees, the towns of Hillsborough and St. Johns, both towns built in Northern Florida, were erected; the former was built at the modern day Old Town Fernandina on Amelia Island.[1]Refugees like Louis Lowry,[2]Michael Wernel,[3]and James Gordon[4]are among those Loyalists who found temporary refuge in East Florida during the war.

In his book, Conservatism in Early America, Leonard Woods Larabee discusses the motives for loyalism during the Revolutionary period. The types of Loyalists he discusses include pessimists who had no confidence in rebel victory, procrastinators who believed independence would come someday but not in the 1770s and 1780s, neutralists who were forced to take a side, individuals who felt it was morally wrong to move against the Crown, people who were well established in their jobs, people who disliked violence, people who had ties to Britain through family or business contacts, people who were afraid of anarchy,[5]people who liked order,[6]individuals persuaded by “Influential Men,”[7]minority groups who felt threatened by the American majority,[8]slaves who were promised freedom by Britain, and businessmen whose interests were tied to those of the Crown.[9]

It is evident that Loyalist community numbers spanned peoples who came from every distinct social class in North America. Their reasons behind Loyalty to the Crown varied by the individual. One Loyalist settler on the East Florida backcountry was William Taylor. Patriot raiders dislocated Taylor, along with many other settlers, who were then forced to find refuge in undeveloped or underdeveloped British lands commissioned to them by the Crown. A letter that he wrote offers a new perspective on loyalist motives during the war, showing that certain loyalist sentiments stemmed out of an obligation to an individual’s employer rather than loyalty to a political cause.

According to Florida History Online, the William Taylor letter was a part of a collection of documents titled Treasury 77, Papers of the East Florida Claims Commission. The papers in this collection were not widely available until recently when these documents were digitized and made accessible through the Internet.

Taylor wrote from the safety of a British plantation known as Cecilton Plantation. Under the heirs of Lord Egmont, Taylor found refuge as a Loyalist after his frontier settlement on the St. Johns River had been raided by rebels from the north. He wrote to his employer, William Chapman,[10]

[Your instructions to me were to] ship out to St. Marys [River] to lead fifty slaves, likewise that you expected a house in Liverpool would consign to us a cargo of slaves, but I hope both you and they have laid aside your plan of so doing. You are unacquainted with the present alarming situation of affairs in the province. About 60 [rebels] from Georgia under Capt. Mack Encamped on the north side of St. Mary’s about a mile above our place in order to [claim] cattle being drove out of that province into this and likewise [intent] on driving a stock of 200 head out of this province into Georgia, in which they succeeded. Mr. Clark from Augustine came to our place and intended to stay with us all night, the rebel party having intelligence of his being there and that he was come out to drive off cattle, about midnight a party of them consisting of 12 men and a sergeant armed with rifles broke open our door and fetched Mr. Clark and carried him off. The night following thirty of them crossed the river and proceeded toward the lower settlement and returned the next day with Mr. [Martin] Jollie and two or three more prisoners. The same day a company of [British] soldiers consisting of 60 men commanded by Captain Graham arrived at our place sent out for the protection of our settlers; the instant they arrived a Negro brought us an account of his having seen the Rebels about a mile distant [at] the old Ferry. Capt. Graham shot across the river at them and they likewise shot back but did no damage, but it gave them opportunity to escape in confusion. So Captain Graham decided to take his men to the lower part of the river as they were not strong enough for [the rebels].
As we were to be left to ourselves, the rest of the settlers being carried off and we in hourly expectation of sharing the same fate and in danger of losing our Negroes I resolved to quit the place which we did that night with all our Negroes and what effects we could carry in our boats and proceeded down towards Amelia Island where we arrived late. Two or three days after we got to Amelia, I engaged an old man to go to take care of our plantation and sent him with four of the worst of our Negroes to assist him in taking care of the crops. Three of these Negroes have since been carried off by the Rebels, the one they left being lame and not able to travel with them. They likewise plundered and destroyed all the buildings on the plantation. I stayed some time at Amelia expecting Graham’s party would be reinforced with a sufficient number to protect us; that not being done and the Rebels making daily incursions into this Province. I thought it best to endeavor to get a piece of lumber land on the south side of the St. Johns River to employ our Negroes upon until we could venture to go back to our own place. I could not find any contiguous to rent but have purchased a tract of 400 acres for £60 Sterling pleasantly situated about a mile below the Cowford. Mr. Jollie, who some time ago made his escape from Savannah, has taken half of it and as he had the same number of hands as we have and his people having been in the lumber way at St. Marys, I thought it best to go into partnership with him in exporting lumber, to which he consented. We have been here about two months, have got half our houses built for ourselves and Negroes, [and] two large saw mills and about 12,000 feet of lumber.

This letter helps illustrate the dangers Loyalists faced on the frontier, particularly in the face of renegade rebel groups keen on dislodging any British presence that posed a threat to the Revolution.

To the list established by Larabee and other scholars of reasons why loyalists decided against social, economic, and political upheaval in the North American colonies during the American Revolution, we can add the “Careerist,” characterizing those who were loyal to Great Britain out of obligation to Loyalist/Pro-British employers and not the Crown itself. Although their heritage ties to the mother country did not alienate them from the British cause, heritage did not motivate them either.

Taylor’s letter illustrates this perspective in many ways. First, it is interesting to note that Taylor never spoke ill of those who caused his displacement and distress. He always refers to them simply as “rebels.”[11]Other Tory accounts of the time period use more colorful words to describe the American Patriots. For example, in a letter to her brother, Loyalist Ann Hulton describes the colonials most disdainfully: “These Sons of Violence, after attacking houses, breaking windows, beating, stoning and bruising several gentlemen belonging to the Customs, the Collector mortally, and burning his boat …”[12]Derogatory terms, like Sons of Violence, used to denote the Patriots and their cause is common in Loyalist writings. These terms, however, are absent in William Taylor’s letter. It could be argued that this is because Taylor’s letter is a professional letter to an employer, in which derogatory language would not have been appropriate. This reasoning can be counteracted by recognizing that the environment of East Florida during Patriot raids throughout the backcountry, raids that particularly affected William Taylor and his employer’s business ventures in the region, merited negative sentiment in the form of insults geared towards the belligerent rebel groups. The fact that the settlement had to be relocated and the business venture paused from further development due to war-time activities would have been reason enough for derogatory remarks by a writer who was a personal victim of the war.

The Careerist is one who remained on the side of Britain throughout the war, but who’s loyalty to the Crown was out of obligation to his employer. This person, most likely a man as in Taylor’s case, was an ambitious individual whose employer was a Loyalist throughout the war. Due to his financial aspirations for the future mixed with a need to make a living, the careerist aligned with the Crown for purposes of employment, not out of political affiliation as one might assume in a very political war.

During his time on the frontier, Taylor experienced life-threatening moments that would have influenced many in his position to rethink their political affiliation. These dangers took the form of breaking and entering, threat of abduction, and death.[13]

A few days after we left Amelia with our Negroes a party of the Rebels to the number of 100 came to St. Marys by water in a flat [along with] a schooner and the flat had one 18-pounder mounted on the hull and two or three swivels [guns]. An armed [British] schooner commanded by Lieutenant Grant was to protect the river, [but as he could see them coming it caused] him to weigh his anchor [and go] out to sea. Captain Graham being then at Amelia with his party being [threatened] followed his example and retreated … The Rebels plundered Lord Egmont’s plantation and other plantations on St. Marys River and have since plundered all the plantations between St. Marys and St. Johns . A few days ago one of their scouting parties carried off 15 prisoners from the Cowford amongst which was a Sergeant and six men who included a Capt. and four seamen who belong to vessels in this river and some other gentlemen. We have had frequent alarms … [seven lines illegible].

The mere fact that Taylor worked in a war zone without abandoning his duties in the face of danger shows loyalty not to the Crown, but to the employer who provided Taylor with a way to make a living. Without his job he would be out of work in a frontier colony where work must have been scarce, particularly in a period where slaves took much of available manual labor in the colonies. Examples of these “Careerist Loyalists” are most likely more prevalent in government careers, but there were also private careers such as William Taylor’s. Political loyalties take a back seat when compared to individual loyalties pertaining to wage relationships, in the face of practicality with regards to survival, eating and maintaining a roof over one’s head.

Taylor’s letter offers a fresh perspective on Loyalist motives during the American Revolution.  It indicates that some Loyalists chose to side with the Crown out of obligation to employer interests rather than personal affiliations. In his letter, Taylor had plenty of opportunities to express his Toryness by insulting the rebels, but instead he chose a neutral tone. He also chose to remain in the backcountry to settle the affairs of his employer despite the danger his involvement in this part of the world imposed on him. Whether his reasons for staying on were out of loyalty to his employer or lack of job prospects in the region, it is arguable Taylor faced destitution if he did not remain on the job assigned to him. In essence, due to the nature of his environment and need for work to maintain his well-being, Taylor is among those who were labelled Loyalists during the war, not due to political sentiments, but out of a mixed need to survive in the wilderness and out of obligation to his employer for causes that could have been reputation-oriented for future employment.



[1]Bland and Associates. “Appendix A: Historic Context and References”. Historic Properties Resurvey, City of Fernandina Beach, Nassau County, FL, 5-6.

[2]Louis Lowry record, Florida History Online, www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/Louis_Lowry.htm.

[3]Michael Wernel record, Florida History Online, www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/Michael_Wernel.htm.

[4]James Gordon Surveyor’s Map, Florida History Online, www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/James_Gordon.htm.

[5]Leonard Woods Larabee, Conservatism in Early American History(New York: New York University Press, 1948), 164-165.

[6]N.E.H. Hull, Peter C. Hoffer, Steven L. Allen, “Choosing Sides: a Quantitative Study of the Personality Determinants of Loyalist and Revolutionary Political Affiliation in New York,” The Journal of American History,65(2) (1978) 352.

[7]Ibid., 347, 354, 365.

[8]Bruce G. Wilson, “Loyalists,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/loyalists/.

[9]Shannon Duffy, “Loyalists,” Mount Vernon Digital Encyclopedia, www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/loyalists/.

[10]William Taylor to William Chapman, May, 1776, Florida History Online, www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/Refugee_Plight_William_Taylor.htm.


[12]Ann Hulton to Henry Hulton, June 30, 1768, Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/americanrevolution/letters-female-loyalist-1768/

[13]William Taylor to William Chapman, May, 1776.



Bland and Associates. “Appendix A: Historic Context and References”. Historic Properties Resurvey, City of Fernandina Beach, Nassau County, FL.

Duffy, Shannon. “Loyalists.” Mount Vernon Digital Encyclopedia. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/loyalists/

Gordon, James. Surveyor’s Map. Map. From Florida History Online. http://www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/James_Gordon.htm(accessed April 5, 2018).

Hull, N.E.H., Hoffer, Peter C., Allen, Steven L. “Choosing Sides: a Quantitative Study of the Personality Determinants of Loyalist and Revolutionary Political Affiliation in New York.” The Journal of American History,65(2) (1978) p.344-366.

Hulton Ann. Ann Hulton to Henry Hulton, June 30th, 1768. Letter. From Alpha History. http://alphahistory.com/americanrevolution/letters-female-loyalist-1768/

Larabee, Leonard Woods. Conservatism in Early American History. New York: New York University Press, 1948.

Lowry, Louis.Louis Lowry, Loyalist Index. Record. From Florida History Online. T/77/23/fragments. http://www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/Louis_Lowry.htm(accessed April 5, 2018).

Taylor, William. William Taylor to William Chapman, May, 1776. Letter. From Florida History Online. T77/3/William Chapman folio. http://www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/Refugee_Plight_William_Taylor.htm(accessed April 4, 2018).

Wernel, Michael. Michael Wernel, Loyalist Index. Record. From Florida History Online. T/77/23/fragments. http://www.unf.edu/floridahistoryonline/Plantations/plantations/Michael_Wernel.htm(accessed April 4, 2018).

Wilson, Bruce G. “Loyalists.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/loyalists/.



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