The Revolutionary War took a heavy toll on Great Britain. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 left it not just bereft of former colonies but militarily humiliated, politically divided, and financially straightened. The cost of the eight-year war had averaged £12 million per annum and left the Treasury with a national debt of £250 million. In addition, Britain had suffered the near collapse of many of her most lucrative import markets. It would have been understandable then, if her government had turned its back on North America, reneged on its financial obligations, and drawn a line under all its former associations.
It was to the immense credit of King George III that they did not do so. Indeed George, a man for whom loyalty was a dominant personal characteristic, insisted every American who suffered financially in support of the crown should receive compensation. His Ministers, both at and after, the peace of Paris, fully recognised this principle. Frustratingly it proved to be a principle much easier to recognise than to implement.
In 1784 British commissioners were appointed to investigate the nature of Loyalist debts, but after sitting ten years were still unable to make an award, as when a point was pressed on the American commissioners, they retired, “and would not return unless a promise was made them that that point should be abandoned.” Finally in 1802, a convention was formed between the British and American governments, by which the former accepted from the latter £600,000 in lieu of all the debts rendered as a consequence of the war.
Unfortunately, this was a fraction of the money claimants had already made upon the Government. John Ingram Lockhart MP, who became something of a champion in Parliament for the Loyalists’ compensation claims, wrote, “Had the commissioners pursued their labours to a successful termination, they would in all probability have needed at least two millions as the whole amount of that class of debts to which their investigation was directed.” This financial disparity caused increasing amounts of friction between Loyalists and successive governments, as the Treasury now had a finite amount of compensation it felt obliged to pay out.
In addition, some politicians believed Britain had no responsibility to the Loyalists at all. Most prominent amongst these was Whig leader Charles James Fox who blamed British and American Tories for misleading the public about conditions in America and perpetuating the war. Fox, however, appears to have been in a minority. Far more typical were the comments of John Willmott MP, a like-minded Whig, who had abhorred the war and regularly voted against Lord North’s Government. Upon his appointment by Lord Shelburne as one of the two commissioners to inquire into the sufferings of Loyalists, he declared ‘I would share with them my last shilling and my last loaf.” Despite his personal opposition to the war Wilmott worked tirelessly in parliament to arrange for Loyalists adequate compensation.
As a class, Loyalists had included some of the colonies’ most wealthy and influential citizens. It was no surprise, therefore, to find them organised in Britain as a vocal and resilient enclave in the immediate years after the peace. Most had lost something. A few had lost everything. All contended that they had a right to the full amount of their debts, guaranteed as they had been by the American government in the original peace treaty.
They coordinated themselves into an aggressive force of lobbyists producing sophisticated pamphlets and books to support their case. Indeed they proved to be as vociferous and resolute in their claims against the British Government as they had been supporters of it during the war. Incredibly, Loyalists and their successors were still making claims in parliament well into the middle of the nineteenth century, with individual petitions being debated as late as May 1844 during Sir Robert Peel’s Ministry.
Each claim or memorial was considered by the commission and adjudicated upon. These memorials give an insight into how the most wealthy and influential Americans lived in the period up to the outbreak of war and provide a fascinating snapshot of the life of America’s prosperous elite.
One of the most revealing and extensive memorials came from Mary Loring, then living in the semi-rural village of Highgate in North London. In 1783 she presented a claim “To the Commissioner appointed by Act of Parliament for enquiring into the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists.” This memorial was on behalf of her late husband Joshua Loring whom she described only too accurately as “so obnoxious to the people that he was repeatedly mobbed and otherwise ill-treated in such manner as to oblige him to leave his house.”
Loring had been a commodore in the British navy and with the outbreak of the war proved to be an intractable foe to the Republican cause. Challenged about what he would do when faced by a choice between remaining loyal and supporting the revolt, Loring replied: “I have always eaten the King’s bread, and always intend to.” He was denounced by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress as “an implacable enemy to their country” on March 30, 1775. Despite this, the Lorings remained in Boston until 1776. When the army evacuated the city for Halifax, however, many Loyalists who had sought refuge within British lines went with them, the Lorings included. They travelled to Halifax and then on to England, where the commodore died suddenly in 1781 before the war’s end.
From being the matriarch of one of the most wealthy and influential families in all of the American colonies Mary Loring was now in a state of financial penury, her husband’s pension having been stopped in July 1781 even before his death. She wrote as a heartfelt introduction to her claim. “Your Memorialist has five Children, four Sons and a Daughter . . . She was not able to procure any Allowance whatever as his Widow until 5th May 1782 when it commenced at one hundred pounds per annumn.”
Mary Loring’s memorial then proceeded to itemise and value the fixtures, furnishings and working accoutrements of their estate at “Jamaica Plain in Roxbury within five miles of Boston.”It was almost a forensic list with the largest claim in the schedule being for the house and land at £2500, down to £3 for “60 barrells of Cyder.” Little was left uncatalogued from these two memorials presented by her and her son Joseph Royall Loring (then serving in His Majesty’s navy) and which were considered in December 1783 and April 1784.
At the head of the schedule, Mary began her claim with “A large well-built House, out Houses, Coach House & Stable with Sixty Acres of Land under the best Improvement.” It is easy to discern in this description of her home and farm a great familial pride. For “Well built . . . Under the best improvement” was no idle boast. The Lorings were very much at the forefront of Boston’s landed gentry, and this social status needed to be reflected by their home. At many times in its life, the house (which still exists today) was described as a “manse.” Originally taken from an archaic Scottish word for the residence of a clergyman, by the revolutionary period the term had simply come to mean a large imposing residence. It was formally seized by the Provincial Congress on June 23, 1775, and converted into an infirmary for rebel troops during the siege of Boston. The entire estate was then confiscated in 1779 and sold at auction. The Lorings received nothing from the proceeds.
Though the Loring House was an elite establishment, the property was very much an active farm and the manse stood at the heart of an expansive and flourishing agrarian estate. Farming remained the lifeblood of the everyday existence for even the most affluent in colonial America. It is not surprising then that most prolific items catalogued below the house refer to agriculture and include an extensive list of farm implements and livestock.
Significantly within these agricultural implements Loring consistently emphasises the word “iron,” as in the £25 she claimed for an “Iron tooth harrow.” Today this metal is commonplace. But during the Revolution, ironworks were few and their finished products costly. Most of Loring’s contemporaries would have farmed using implements made almost entirely of wood with only the very tip being covered in iron. That they had such metalwork in abundance illustrates not just wealth but also that the estate was at the forefront of the nascent agrarian revolution, with its owners prepared to invest in the most modern farming implements.
It is ironic then that the most expensive claim Loring makes is not for any of her many pedigree beast or sophisticated machines but £90 for “300 Loads of dung in the yard.” This may at first seem whimsical, but before modern chemicals, manure was used as a rich fertilizer, an efficient fuel and even a useful building material.
What is interesting about the claim is it that whilst it provides ample evidence of the wealth of the family it also illustrates how they spent that wealth. Loring’s memorial is an extensive catalogue of opulence exhibiting many luxurious furnishings imported from all over the world.
Most modern depictions of Revolutionary period interiors fall into the trap of depicting them as staid and drab with muted colours. This was much more in keeping with later Regency or Federal America. In fact, during the 1770s the rich were keen to make their houses as colourful as possible. Loring specifically highlighted her many multi-coloured “Chintz” furnishings. This calico fabric needed to be specially imported from India and was the rage in the decades immediately before the war. So expensive was it that the £8 she claimed for “Chintz Bed Curtains” and “Chintz Window Curtains” would have been the equivalent of around four months wages for a Massachusetts butcher or carpenter. Despite its cost, it remained so popular that in Britain its purchase was banned when it began to impact disastrously on home-produced textiles. These so-called “Calico Acts” however did not affect the British American colonies and they remained a prime export market for the East India Company.
Mirrors or “looking glasses” as they were then referred to are also noticeably abundant on the list. We take them for granted today, but until the middle of the nineteenth century, they were rare and expensive items of furniture and a luxury few could afford. No suitable plate glass was manufactured in the United States before the nineteenth century, so these continued to be shipped from Britain and France. The difficulty of shipping such a fragile cargo made them a precious commodity and only added to their expense.
Even small items of glass were phenomenally expensive. She troubles to note “a pyramid of Jelly glasses” at £5. Glass for dining is now commonplace and passes without comment. However, in 1780 it was a notable extravagance. Though there were some glass producers in the colonies (mainly German immigrants) they were skilled artisans and their produce was scarce. Most fine or “clear” glass needed to be imported from Britain. Desert glasses for jelly and flavoured ices indicate not only that the Loring’s could afford to buy such relative fripperies, but that they also dined in an aristocratic, formal style.
cutting-edge technological marvels in an age when some people still told time by checking the position of the sun. The rich now had the ability to dissect time precisely into minutes. They were priced as mechanical wonders. Even the cheapest were expensive status symbols and Loring has deliberately emphasised the clock’s wood and movement type. Mahogany was the most expensive case wood, and an eight-day movement the most technologically advanced. The more common oak thirty-hour clocks were driven by a single weight. Though these were much less expensive than Loring’s mahogany eight-day example they would still cost the equivalent of two years of a farm labourer’s wages.
As leaders in local society, the Loring’s were expected to play an active part in the church. The claim lists both “a Pew in the Church in Jamaica Plain” and “a Pew in Trinity Church in Boston.” This illustrates the custom, now lost, of renting Church pews. It was common in Anglican churches to auction pews to families or individuals as a means of raising income, especially in colonial America where churches lacked government support through mandatory tithing. The practice was almost universal during Loring’s time in Boston, but the Revolution had profound effects on not just politics, but religious practices too. Those lacking the money for luxuries such as pews were demeaned by their relegation to “free seats,” a practice that began to die off in America during the nineteenth century.
Perhaps the most startling item in Loring’s list is the £50 she claimed for “A Negro Man named London.” Though he is not denoted as a slave, there can be little doubt that London was such. Boston is not associated in popular imagination with the practice of slavery, yet Massachusetts was the first colony in New England with slave ownership and was a center for the trade throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Slave numbers in Roxbury increased with the progress of wealth in the town. No legislation was passed in the state to abolish this practice until the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. In reality, however, the institution had practically died out by the late eighteenth century through judicial actions litigated on behalf of individual slaves seeking manumission. These cases began just after Loring’s departure in 1781 and in such numbers that no slaves were listed in Massachusetts by the 1790 census. Unlike Virginia and the Carolinas, few slaves were employed in field work, the cultivation of crops being unsuitable to those labor-intensive methods common in the south. As such it is more likely that London was a domestic servant or footman.
Mary Loring’s memorial presents itself as an intimate illustration of everyday life of the wealthy in revolutionary America. It also graphically illustrates how much some Americans lost as a consequence of their allegiance to the British crown. Mary did not live long enough to see her claims come to a full settlement, dying in Middlesex, England, in 1795. Her family eventually received less than half of the £4,815 they claimed. She was to never see her beloved Roxbury estate again. She did, however, rear sons who provided exemplary service to Great Britain, particularly within the Royal Navy. This service was recognised by the Admiralty during the Second World War when the destroyer escort HMS Loring was named in their honour. Symbolically it was built in Boston under lend-lease arrangements and was, perhaps, the most fitting tribute that could be paid to this remarkable Anglo American family.
“We have lost thirteen provinces of America; we have lost several of our Islands, and the rest are in danger; we have lost the empire of the sea; we have lost our respect abroad and our unanimity at home; the nations have forsaken us, they see us distracted and obstinate, and they leave us to our fate. This is your situation, when you are under the conduct of Tory ministers and a Tory system, when you are disunited, disheartened, and have neither confidence in your ministers nor union among yourselves; when your cause is unjust and your conductors are either impotent or treacherous.” Speech in the House of Commons (November 27, 1781), reprinted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons, J. Wright, ed. (London, 1815), 429.
For the two most articulate publications produced on behalf of American Loyalists see The case and claim of the American Loyalists impartially stated and considered(London: “Published by their Agents,” 1783), and Joseph Galloway, The claim of the American Loyalists reviewed and maintained upon incontrovertible principles of law and justice (London: G. T Wilkie, 1788).
“Mr Jervis rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, that this House will, on Tuesday next, resolve itself into a Committee to consider . . . the following claim made by John Hopton Russell Chichester, Esq., of Lincoln’s Inn, as sole executor of Robert William Powell, an uncompensated American Loyalist, deceased, and that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to advance to such claimant the amount of the balance due to the estate of the said Robert William Powell, for losses incurred in consequence of his adherence to his allegiance, as ascertained by the Commissioners appointed for that purpose, and to assure Her Majesty that the House will make good the same.” House of Commons. May 30, 1844, api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1844/may/30/american-loyalists-mr-powell.
For the History and architecture of the Loring house see The Loring-Greenough House Boston Landmarks Commission Study Report, www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/The%20Loring-Greenough%20House_tcm3-44535.pdf.
“Iron refining was as much an art as a science in the colonial era.” Though the colonies produced a sizable quantity of pig Iron, they were banned by Act of Parliament from turning it into finished goods in order to protect British foundries. Most of their good quality pig Iron was exported to Britain to be worked into finished goods. Herbert A. Applebaum, Colonial Americans at Work (Lanham, MD: University Press of America. 1996 ), 211.
The East India Company brought new goods and fashions to Europe, but North America became an increasingly valuable market. The light cotton chintz of India was particularly suited to the humid summers of the south-eastern states.
The ship was commissioned into service in the Royal Navy as HMS Loring (K565) under the command of Lt. Anthony d’Evelyn Sangster. She served on patrol and escort duty in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean for the remainder of World War II. The Royal Navy decommissioned Loring in 1945 after the conclusion of the war and returned her to the U.S. Navy.