- That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution, and: Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785–1810
In the two decades since historical interest shifted to the "center–colonies, periphery" relationship between the imperial capital and the outlying [End Page 554] historians have broadened and complicated their theoretical understanding of the connections between the New World and the greater Atlantic one. Historians now know more about the social, economic, political, and constitutional relationship between all the European powers and their overseas possessions than ever before. The two studies under review here continue to expand the efforts to situate colonial North America within the center–periphery and Atlantic world framework. Both do so by concentrating on an interesting and neglected aspect of North American colonization, loyalty.
In That Ever Loyal Island, Phillip Papas explains why "almost 99 percent of Staten Islanders remained loyal to the crown," thereby making this stretch of land perhaps the most loyal in British North America (1). Papas details how, by the eighteenth century, Staten Island became ethnically and religiously diverse as Dutch, English, Native American, and African slaves populated the Island, while a pluralistic religious society dominated by Anglicans emerged. By the 1760s, Anglicans controlled the island's religious and political affairs.
When the imperial crisis struck in 1765, Staten Islanders, unlike their fellow New Yorkers, reacted by advocating moderation and the status quo. The Island remained loyal during the crisis because of its strong Anglican influence, the success of Anglicanization, a thriving economic connection between the Island and the Empire, and the lack of a large-scale artisan class. Although Papas effectively illustrates the emergence of these factors, his conclusion that they are the reasons why the island failed to embrace the Whig argument fails to persuade. This problem stems from Papas's decision to skip the critical decade of 1765–1774, throwing it away in one paragraph at the end of the first chapter. One wonders whether anyone on Staten Island may have challenged the status quo by advancing Whig arguments. This is an especially pertinent point considering that Whigs did reside on the Island, however small in number. Despite acknowledging the issue, Papas also never fully recognizes that many of those British Americans who became Loyalists during the War supported the Whig argument, but could never accept secession from the Empire.
Instead, Papas devotes time to detailing Staten Islanders' resistance to the Continental Association and the New York Provincial Congress. The Island abhorred the Association, not on any principled grounds but because "it closed the transatlantic market," which meant "higher prices for domestic goods" (28). The tacit assistance that the Island lent to the [End Page 555] colonial resistance movement sprang from necessity and self-preservation, and led to attempts to frustrate the actions of New York's Provincial Congress.
When the Revolutionary War came, the British army found Staten Island a hospitable place, as the Island's residents used clandestine means to circumvent American forces and provide support to the British army. While Papas does a commendable job discussing Staten Island's part in the Revolution, a role historians have woefully overlooked, he devotes much of the second half of the book to events outside the Island, most of which have only a tangential relationship to the book's purpose.
Where Papas succeeds, however, is in detailing the "price of loyalty" paid by many Loyalists because of their support for the British. Not only did the British military presence on the Island exacerbate tensions between Loyalists and Whigs, but the army did significant damage to property, spread communicable diseases, forced harsh economic policies upon the Island's residents, and raped local women. After the war, a number of the Islanders left their homes either voluntarily or through coercive New York legislation. Those who remained sometimes found themselves the...