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  • Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World
  • Liam Riordan (bio)

American Revolution, Loyalists, Revolutionary War, Canada, British Empire

Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. By Maya Jasanoff. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Pp. 460. Cloth, $ 30.00.)

Liberty’s Exiles seems likely to become the most influential work on loyalism since Bernard Bailyn’s landmark The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (Cambridge, MA, 1974) and adds to an impressive body of recent scholarship that reexamines loyalism and the Revolutionary era as transnational phenomena.1 Maya Jasanoff ’s imperial perspective provides a border-crossing Atlantic view, and looks still further afield to India, [End Page 506] to explain how American loyalists informed and anticipated emergent forces in the nineteenth-century British Empire. The book is necessarily sprawling in its territorial embrace, but Jasanoff contains this reach by engagingly narrating numerous life stories. Most importantly, she offers the “spirit of 1783” as a counterweight to the 1776 bias of most interpretations of the American Revolution and its consequences. Jasanoff returns to this key concept throughout the book as she explores its tenets of imperial expansion, liberty, and authority in far-reaching locales as tested by diverse loyalists. The diasporic experience is paramount here with an emphasis on contingency, coercion, and self-interest among the large cohort of refugees who shared a common empire but lacked a deeply unifying ideology.

Jasanoff interweaves the tales of nine principal figures, whose selection shapes the major themes that emerge. Two of the most closely examined individuals, Beverley Robinson and Elizabeth Lichtenstein Johnston, are contextualized within larger family networks that help extend their stunning geographic trajectories—the former with ties to New York, England, New Brunswick, and India; the latter to Georgia, East Florida, Scotland, Jamaica, and Nova Scotia, and other places as well. Jasanoff highlights racial diversity among loyalists with two closely linked black Baptist preachers, David George and George Liele, as well as the Mohawk Joseph Brant. A more authoritarian paternalism is showcased in the British officials Guy Carleton (though he comes off especially well) and John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore (better known to most as Virginia, and Bahamas, Governor Lord Dunmore), while two less familiar adventurers, John Cruden and William Augustus Bowles (who might also be classified as a Native American loyalist) complete the core group. Revealingly, five of this main cast were born in the British mainland colonies, three in the British Isles (none in England), and one in Iroquoia.

While the details of individual lives are well told and carry this highly readable book forward, its scholarly impact lies in a careful reconstruction of loyalist emigration figures and in the original presentation of a global loyalist diaspora directly linked to the emergence of a strengthened British Empire: “All told, the 1780s stand out as the most eventful single decade in British imperial history up to the 1940s,” as they “cemented an enduring framework for the principles and practice of British rule” (11). Jasanoff ’s conclusion about the size of the loyalist migration out of the rebel colonies and new United States considerably lowers previous estimates to a conservative total figure of about 60,000 white and black loyalists in addition to some 15,000 enslaved people removed [End Page 507] by loyalists. (For this and below, see “Appendix: Measuring the Exodus,” 351–58.) Of these loyal refugees she documents nearly 38,000 going to the continuing British colonies in North America (some 30,000 to the Canadian Maritimes, including 10 percent who were black loyalists; another 5,500 white loyalists to Quebec; and some 2,000 Indians who settled at Grand River in what would later be part of Upper Canada). Given this demographic dominance some may feel that British North America deserves closer attention: Chapter 6 treats New Brunswick, Quebec, and Grand River in comparative fashion and moves rapidly across their varying circumstances in just 33 pages. Jasanoff acknowledges the importance of Canada as a model for imperial governance and “home rule,” but this is more asserted than demonstrated. Yet in a book with single chapters that also focus on Nova Scotia, Great Britain, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Sierra Leone before a...


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pp. 506-509
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