British forces landing on Long Island in late August 1776 precipitated a mass exodus of revolutionary citizens from their homes in lower New York. Drawing on colonial precedents as well as wartime innovations, the New York provincial congress and an assortment of local committees of safety stepped in to help relocate these refugees to safe havens farther up the Hudson Valley. In providing housing and financial support to the displaced, these institutions—from the state to the municipal level—enhanced both their capacity to govern and their right to rule over the state’s citizens. But the revolutionary government also taxed, mobilized, and exploited this dispossessed population in ways that reinforced revolutionary political power. Refugees facing terrible hardships were utilized as part of the construction of active and interventionist revolutionary government. The previously neglected story of New York’s refugees challenges ideas about the weakness of political authority in New York and illuminates the complicated history of authority, obedience, and consent in revolutionary America.

ON August 31, 1776, members of the Committee of Public Safety for Southampton, Suffolk County, New York, met to discuss preparations for the evacuation of the township. Four days earlier, New York’s provincial congress had begun the process of removing civilians from Long Island, and the members of the Southampton Committee who remained now approved the petitions of a number of inhabitants, including its own committeemen, to be allowed to remove their families and possessions to Connecticut.1 Five thousand Long Islanders—one-fifth of the population—subsequently abandoned their homes. They were joined by as many as twenty-five thousand other New Yorkers who became refugees in the late summer of 1776 as the largest expeditionary force Britain had sent outside of Europe arrived in New York Harbor. Only four hundred inhabitants remained in New York City, previously the second-largest urban area in the thirteen colonies, when General William Howe’s army landed on Manhattan Island on September 15.2 One of the largest and most sustained refugee crises of the American Revolution had begun. [End Page 65]

One of the petitioners permitted to leave on August 31, 1776, was militia captain Elias Pelletreau. A fifty-year-old silversmith, Pelletreau’s business had prospered in the years before the American Revolution.3 When he fled advancing British forces in 1776, Pelletreau took with him significant property, including three loads of household goods, several horses, at least eleven head of cattle, and a “servant Negro girl.”4 The cost of moving this “stock” across Long Island Sound was high, but the emerging political institutions of revolutionary New York and Connecticut stepped in to support Pelletreau. The silversmith eventually received £24.12.6 N.Y. to remove to the Hartford/Simsbury area, a small but not insignificant sum.5 And Pelletreau was not alone. Prorevolutionary officials in New York provided public relief to thousands of refugees throughout the war and sought to insulate their citizens from some of the worst effects of dispossession.

State support for refugees such as Pelletreau spoke directly to the revolutionaries’ desire to govern. As imperial control collapsed in the fractious chaos of 1775 and 1776, a series of parallel revolutionary institutions emerged to fill the political vacuum.6 Drawing on colonial precedents as well as wartime innovations, these politically active and economically interventionist institutions took upon themselves the responsibility of managing the refugee crisis. Although interactions between the emergent [End Page 66] revolutionary states and their dispossessed citizens have received scant attention—displacement in revolutionary America is seen as synonymous with loyalism—these efforts demanded a significant mobilization of manpower and resources.7 The importance of these efforts was recognized at the time. Leading revolutionaries such as Connecticut-born jurist and New York legislator John Sloss Hobart argued that, in spite of the difficulties, the honor of government depended upon the state providing its citizens with the necessities of life.8

The decision to care for refugees mattered to revolutionary institutions’ efforts to claim political authority—that is to say, the government’s ability to demand obedience from the people. Though closely related to political legitimacy—the perceived right of the government to demand obedience—political authority was also determined by the physical capacity of revolutionary officials to assume the mantle of rule.9 New York’s leaders recognized that the refugee crisis had the potential to expand or threaten their embryonic authority and supported the displaced as a part of wider efforts to shore up revolutionary claims to sovereignty over the people. As revolutionary institutions met the challenge of large-scale displacement, they not only sanctioned their right to govern but also expanded their ability to enforce compliance from war-torn communities. As refugees abandoned their livelihoods, they became marginalized, insecure, and dependent upon support. In time, protecting them became a crucial pillar of revolutionary political authority.

Material support for refugees created powerful municipal and state-level institutions that shaped the functions of revolutionary government. As Patrick Griffin and John Smolenski both argue, scholars have dwelt for so long on a sanitized reading of the American Revolution that they have, in Griffin’s words, “overlooked the fact that revolution is ultimately about [End Page 67] states, institutions, and how cultures evolve in response to fundamental shifts in power and violence.”10 Refugee support was entangled with questions of how power and violence legitimated authority. The revolutionaries did not simply provide for the refugees; they harnessed their human and material capital as part of a wider effort to control people, movement, space, and social worlds. As the revolution opened up enormous fissures in established patterns of governance, the revolutionaries made considerable innovations as they sought to rule in more rigorous and structured ways.11 The war was not solely about the forces of liberty versus authority. It was also about where political authority would reside and how it could be stabilized and exercised effectively.12 Considered in that context, the story of New York’s refugees calls attention to the neglected process of how and why considerations of authority and obedience were enhanced within the revolutionary lexicon.

New York offers an unrivaled case study of this process. Political authority in the colony was extremely volatile due to geographic, religious, and socioeconomic diversity.13 New York subsequently proved to be the most politically divided state in the northern and mid-Atlantic regions. It also faced a rival British authority in occupied New York City that offered support to displaced loyalist colonists. The actions taken by revolutionary [End Page 68] state institutions in New York were harder to legitimate and forced revolutionaries to rely on more tangible markers of their authority. Far from weakening revolutionary government, though, the emergence of widespread loyalism encouraged stronger political authority and strengthened the hand of opponents of Parliament. As a result, in no other state did refugees have so much influence in sharpening debates within the revolutionary movement.14 Unfortunately, those refugees themselves left precious few accounts of how they understood authority. As a result, any attempt to describe their experiences must rely on suppositions drawn from their evident hardships. A top-down, institutional approach to the crisis, however, exposes the contingent and unintended consequences of the revolutionary conflict.15 By examining the institutional creation of refugee relief, the discord that it sowed within the revolutionary regime, and that regime’s subsequent abandonment of the refugees as the war drew to a close, it becomes possible to appreciate the emergence of political authority in one of the revolution’s most contested spaces.

These discussions are instructive in two respects. First, the stories of New York’s refugees call into question certain assumptions about government during the American Revolution. Conventional wisdom suggests that revolutionary political authority was weak and ineffective, even at the state level.16 The transference of power from colonial institutions [End Page 69] to the new states was far from smooth, and a growing body of scholarship now emphasizes the chaotic and disjointed nature of political authority in revolutionary America and the sense of disorientation that it engendered.17 Where refugees are considered, scholars argue that familial and neighborly communities were forced to pick up the slack in the face of government neglect. Refugees, “when looking for relief . . . found little support from their government and army. These institutions simply demanded more sacrifice.”18 Large swaths of territory became “virtual wastelands” where governmental mechanisms were nonexistent and civilians on both sides suffered torture, arson, and murder.19 Weakness defines our understanding of political power at this moment in American history.

But the experience of New York’s refugees illuminates a story of significant government presence in the lives of revolutionary Americans. The tentative legitimacy of the revolutionary regime—won in the debates over parliamentary authority from 1765 to 1776—could not have lasted into and through wartime unless that regime was also capable of handling the challenges of governance. Our Whiggish tendency to obsessively focus on the Constitutional Convention and political authority at the national level distorts the strength of political authority at the state and local levels. If, as has been argued by Max M. Edling, Eliga H. Gould, and Steve Pincus, the establishment of the American Republic was envisaged as a solution to the weakness of colonial governance, it behooves us to remember both that a consolidated national government was just one of many potential outcomes of the revolution and that the strengthening of political authority at the local level had already occurred in the midst of the war with Britain.20 [End Page 70]

Second, the manner in which refugees were treated suggests an alternative way of thinking about the relationship between refugees and state authorities. Refugee crises are frequently understood in the context of failed states and the inability of governments to protect their people. As recent studies of both black and white loyalists have revealed, Britain’s failure to effectively support the displaced damaged the crown’s legitimacy and made the suppression of the rebellion more difficult—even if the loyalist exodus ultimately strengthened imperial authority in the British Atlantic world.21 Contemporary conflicts in the modern world likewise reveal how refugee populations can be exploited, mobilized, and recruited in ways that contribute to political instability.22

New York’s refugee crisis took place in the context of an incipient state—not a failed one—and, therefore, asks historians to consider the role of refugees in strengthening rather than weakening political authority.23 However much the refugees tested the capacities of New York’s revolutionary government(s), the refugee crisis also benefited the revolution by placing in the hands of government a dependent population that could be controlled and mobilized to achieve state ends. The revolutionaries’ triumph depended upon a careful marshaling of resources and people outside the areas of temporary British occupation.24 By supporting the dispossessed and [End Page 71] ensuring that this population contributed to the military and financial costs of the war, revolutionaries in New York folded the refugees into their wider quest for political authority. Far from being a marginal presence in New York, refugees were a critical part of the story of power and authority in revolutionary America.


The evacuation that began in late August 1776 was not America’s first refugee crisis.25 Since Metacom’s War (1675–78), colonial governments had frequently stepped in to support the displaced when the funds raised through Elizabethan-era Poor Laws proved inadequate to the task.26 Little distinction was made between the government’s responsibility for refugees and the broader requirement of supporting the poor. Indeed, what to modern minds are distinct categories of “poor” and “refugee” were frequently intertwined in the colonial period despite the temporary nature of refugee status and even the relative wealth of many refugees. Those displaced were often defined as unsettled poor and were provided for out of the same compulsory taxes that supported the preexisting settled poor.27 There was an administrative and conceptual overlap between poverty and displacement that made state care for refugees not entirely unusual by 1776.28 [End Page 72]

What made New York’s crisis different was the changing political resonance of public relief in the later eighteenth century. In the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, economic depression hit urban centers hard as thousands lost jobs dependent on military contracts. New levels of poverty affected vulnerable populations as New York and Philadelphia experienced “the most serious economic derangement in their histories.”29 Public relief became a political battleground as the factions of New York’s highly divided political landscape sought to present themselves as guardians of the colony’s economic vitality and the material well-being of the electorate.30 They could not very well do otherwise since the broad franchise in the colony—two-thirds of adult males had the vote—prompted elites to search for political rhetoric that would appeal to a broad audience of mechanics and tradesmen. The success of the De Lanceys in the 1768 and 1769 elections owed much to their ability to draw a distinction between their own supposed altruism and the seemingly self-interested actions of the Livingstons and their supporters in the legal profession.31 In this way, public relief became a key metric by which elites judged their right to govern.

As tensions with the metropole deepened in the 1770s, defenders of colonial liberty turned to relief as a means of expressing their adherence to such virtuous principles. Expressing their horror at the actions taken by Parliament against Boston, the New York Committee of Correspondence asserted in August 1774, “Every motive of policy & Humanity shou’d excite us to contribute with a liberal Hand, to [Boston’s] immediate redress.”32 When it came to displacement, New York’s delegates to Congress would later be told both that “common Humanity” compelled that governmental [End Page 73] body to support those in need and that refugees could trust the revolutionary state to make some “future Provision for them.”33 The extent to which this rhetoric became reality soon became contingent upon the course of the Revolutionary War. It was, nevertheless, vital that revolutionary institutions claiming to act in the name of the people took on the responsibility of protecting those displaced from New York.34

The dispossession of New York citizens was a political problem that could not be ignored. People who were forced from their homes chided both sides for their failure to offer adequate protection.35 Although protection did not necessarily imply relief—citizens could be protected without financial assistance—ignoring widespread dispossession could have serious consequences for the authority of revolutionary institutions. George Clinton, who was elected New York’s governor in 1777, perceived that disaffection among refugees posed more significant consequences than the alienation of the refugees themselves. Refugees often took the law into their own hands to address their sufferings. In the no-man’s-land just outside New York City, revolutionaries “stiling [sic] themselves Refugees” plundered and evicted inhabitants indiscriminately, declaring that they had “a right to make reprisals” for the losses they had experienced at the hands of the loyalists. Otherwise-zealous patriot families were forced to flee to the British for “protection,” and the inhabitants of Suffolk County, while professing their loyalty to the revolutionary cause, threatened to take up arms against the “Subjects of the United States” unless something was done. As General William Heath observed, “the wanton spirit of plundering which now prevails, will make more recruits for the enemy, than all their recruiting officers put together.”36 [End Page 74]

The presence of the British in New York City made public relief essential. The crown was a viable competitor for colonial allegiances, and there is a striking similarity in the motives that animated both governments. British commander Sir Henry Clinton echoed revolutionary calls to protect refugees and declared that “Humanity and good policy” required supporting the displaced. To that end, the British restructured the relief system in early 1778 and, though inhibited by a narrow tax base within the damaged city, energetically tapped other resources to fund the relief, including charging rental fees on properties, levying licensing fees and fines, and holding musical concerts “For the Benefit of . . . distressed Refugee Families.” George Germain, the colonial secretary, ordered that relief for the refugees was “the first object” to which abandoned “Lands and Tenements [would] be applied.”37 The £103,779 N.Y. distributed to the city’s poor from 1778 to 1780 certainly outdid revolutionary per capita welfare spending, although the costs of food and housing in New York City as compared to rural New York must be considered.38 There was a prevailing standard of refugee care that transcended the political divide as each side attempted to shore up its particular claims to allegiance and political authority.

But if the government’s responsibilities for refugees were well defined, what constituted the legal government of New York was anything but clear. Since May 1775—when the colonial assembly ceased to meet—New York’s government had consisted of a parallel and extralegal legislature called the Provincial Congress/Convention. Though elected by popular vote in May 1775, the convention struggled to assert itself. Both conservatives and radicals were frustrated by the institution, and there was little social or geographic coherence among the delegates, many of whom were unsure of their legal standing and were nervous about the legitimacy of the processes by which they had been elected.39 Delegates such as John Jay worried that New York did not have a government worthy of a name, and because the Convention [End Page 75] of the People—as it was termed after July 1776—moved frequently (often under duress), operated out of taverns and temporary accommodations, and regularly met without a quorum, it lacked effective authority.40

The weakness of the convention was starkly illustrated by residents’ reactions to orders for the evacuation of New York. As early as June 1776, the legislature had discussed with George Washington measures that would prevent valuable livestock from falling into the hands of the British in the event of their landing in New York. Washington, already overstretched by the Continental Congress’s desire to protect such an important city, demurred, committing only to the removal of supplies that could be purchased and used by his army. As the danger neared, however, Washington became increasingly committed to denying the British access not only to valuable livestock but to people as well. On August 17, a committee was established to ensure the removal of women, children, and the infirm from the city. This committee soon oversaw the removal of the city’s poorhouse occupants, loading them onto wagons that trundled up Broadway and into Westchester County.41 With Washington’s defeat at the battle of Long Island on August 27, these efforts expanded to include all of the inhabitants of New York City and Long Island, potentially encompassing some fifty thousand individuals.42

In the communities ordered to leave, however, there was a reluctance to commit to a “general removal.” Many people were unwilling to act because it was unclear whether they had been granted official sanction to evacuate; those leaving too early risked abandoning homes and properties, while a failure to remove could be interpreted as noncommitment to the cause. As a result, a mass exodus did not initially materialize, leaving the convention bewildered by the attitudes of its citizenry. John Sloss Hobart explained to his colleagues that “to quit their pleasant habitations and throw themselves, with their tender connections, upon the charity of an unknown world, was a degree of apathy to which they [the refugees] had not yet arrived.”43

Local state institutions, however, were already in the process of preparing citizens for displacement. When the First Continental Congress had decided on the nonimportation of British goods in late 1774, the eleventh article of the Continental Association had stipulated the formation of committees in every township and county to ensure compliance. Sometimes self-appointed and sometimes elected, these committees soon formed the backbone of the [End Page 76] revolutionary movement. Initially required to enforce the association, by 1776 the committees were interrogating suspected loyalists, keeping public order, levying taxes, confiscating property, purchasing arms and ammunition, passing laws, regulating social mores such as gambling and cockfighting, controlling movement, fixing prices on staples, negotiating with Indigenous peoples, and administering and deploying the militia. They were, in short, the revolutionary government. The committees established uncontested authority in the areas of New York controlled by the revolutionaries.44

Unlike political authority in the old imperial system, revolutionary committees’ power was neither indirect nor fragmented. Each county had a central committee of dozens of individuals supported by district committees—as many as five or six per county—that ensured local compliance. Where possible, they borrowed practices from the colonial regime and sought to maintain authoritative positions such as that of county sheriff.45 But the committees also wrenched government from its traditional moorings to enforce increased demands on inhabitants in terms of political attitudes, taxation, and obedience. The intimacy and immediacy of revolutionary government was a radical departure from the limited scope of power in the imperial system.

The effectiveness of refugee care depended on the strength of revolutionary institutions at the local level.46 The committees were quick to respond to the refugee crisis because they had already secured the power and responsibility for controlling movement within the revolutionary state. Worried about the activities of loyalist agents and fearful of the spread of contagious diseases, county committees had clamped down on free movement in the earliest stages of the rebellion.47 Indeed, the ability to travel at will was one of the first liberties to fall victim to committee rule—long before the committees asserted the right to interfere with private property. Some New York committees, Albany’s being the most obvious example, appointed subcommittees to monitor every visitor and to issue travel passes to trusted individuals, a system that became standardized throughout New York toward the end of 1776.48 [End Page 77]

But the human capital that could be mobilized by the committees was also instrumental in their effectiveness. It was the local committees that vouched for refugees, organized their transportation, protected their movements, and found them temporary housing. The committees consisted of residents who knew their neighbors and who shared the hardships and dangers of local conditions. In Connecticut alone, we know the names of more than one hundred and fifty individuals who assisted the displaced, and the Connecticut committees found much of their time occupied during the crucial fall of 1776 with making arrangements to receive the large volume of incoming people.49 The committees in New York were equally active. Men such as Elias Pelletreau looked not to the distant legislature but to their local committees for sanction and for permission to evacuate. In response to petitions from Pelletreau and several other militia officers, the local committee in Southampton quickly granted permission to the petitioners to evacuate across Long Island Sound.

A willingness to pay for public relief also helped build revolutionary authority. The convention of New York decided on August 29 that they would “pay the expense of removing” the “women, children, and slaves, and as much of their live stock and grain” as possible to the mainland, correctly assuming that the refugees’ human property would be as beneficial to the British as other chattel.50 Evidence suggests that the refugees were often housed together, with twenty or more people being taken care of by a single activist and the convention defraying the cost. For example, on August 26, 1776, John Talman received £200 N.Y., granted by the convention, to defray the cost of transporting poor families from the city to his property at Flushing; the families were removed again when the decision was made to abandon Long Island. The committees of safety in various parts of New York received eight shillings per week for each refugee they assisted and were still drawing this money the following May and probably for some time thereafter. In fact, one James Morgan received money from the state legislature for looking after two refugees as late as December 1783.51 The convention appointed former almshouse manager Samuel Dodge to oversee the housing of refugees as “Commissioner for the Refugee Poor.”52 Dodge [End Page 78] auctioned the refugees off to the lowest bidder and appointed overseers and commissioners to ensure state oversight of the local relief efforts. He was still recording costs for the housing of war refugees as late as April 1785.53

Funding the exodus in the face of the British invasion was the critical problem. One bill paid by the convention in August 1776 suggests that the cost, on average, of moving refugees from New York City was around £1 N.Y. for each individual. The exact sums spent on the refugees are difficult to ascertain with precision, however, and wild fluctuations in the value of New York currency also make such figures unreliable.54 Many New York accounts survive as copies made by the state auditor Peter Curtenius after he took over the role in 1782, but audits made by his predecessor, Auditor-General Comfort Sands, for the key period from 1776 to 1782 do not. The records that do survive were damaged in 1911 and do not distinguish between sums outlaid for the former inhabitants of the almshouses and those for the benefit of people who required support as a direct result of the war. The records provide only a snapshot of the state’s wartime expenditures. What we can say with certainty, however, is that, in the surviving accounts, the state liquidated claims totaling more than £10,000 N.Y. related to the refugees, in addition to a total of £6,146.9.3 N.Y. to transport the Long Islanders and their property to Connecticut.55

As a percentage of New York’s wartime expenditures, refugee spending was trivial, but it represented a significant expansion of an existing welfare budget that already topped £5,000 N.Y. per annum in 1775.56 The convention subsequently allowed each local committee to draw on up to £500 N.Y. in additional state funds to help the destitute. The committees in Westchester County were extremely active and set aside considerable sums to transport people and their effects from the front lines to more secure locations farther up the Hudson River.57 The committees dealing with John [End Page 79] Burgoyne’s advance on Albany in July 1777—part of a failed British effort to cut New England off from the rest of the colonies—were also quite busy, appointing a twelve-man subcommittee to “appraise and value all the crops and buildings in the district” so that individuals might be compensated in the event of losses.58 These costs were directly related to the welfare of refugees, and large amounts were also spent on calling up the militia to protect the exodus. Although the military priorities of the state were clear, New York, by ordering the removal of the civilian population and paying for their evacuation, had far exceeded the previous colonial practice of reacting to displacement once it had occurred.

Revolutionary institutions, however, had to do more than exceed previous colonial practices; they had to formulate a new political system. In other words, as committees, the state legislature, and Congress groped their way toward an evacuation and resettlement policy, they were forced to confront much more divisive questions about political authority. Which of these new institutions could most effectively secure the obedience of the people was a question not yet resolved. If the evacuation of New York in 1776 had demonstrated a remarkable degree of financial largesse and cooperation between the various layers of government, the years from 1777 to 1781 were marked by tension within the revolutionary movement. The displaced were at the forefront of this tension because their resettlement involved the most controversial aspect of New York’s revolutionary politics: the confiscation and forfeiture of loyalist property. How and at whose expense the refugees were to be resettled would help define who held political authority in New York.

The new nation was only three weeks old when the confiscation of loyalist property began. In late July 1776, in response to the seizure of rebel property by the Royal Navy, the Continental Congress declared that the property of those found assisting the crown was liable to confiscation.59 Over the next eight months, the legal status of loyalists began to deteriorate as extralegal confiscations became more and more frequent. With two major pieces of legislation, New York became home to some of the most aggressive property confiscation policies in revolutionary America. In March 1777, the convention asserted its authority over local confiscations by appointing salaried commissioners, up to nine per county, who were charged with seizing loyalist property and selling it at public auctions. That initiative was [End Page 80] followed in October 1779 by the Forfeiture Act, which sequestered the property of New Yorkers loyal to the crown.60

Although many revolutionaries accepted the temporary use of loyalist property as necessary, the formal confiscation of that property split the movement along ideological lines. For populist leaders such as Dirck Brinckerhoff and Jacobus Swartwout, the security of the revolution demanded the confiscation of loyalist property to generate political authority and popular support.61 Like revolutionary regimes in Commonwealth and post-1688 England, these leaders leveraged their control over public relief to advance the interests of certain groups, shore up wavering support, and reward faithful clients, with varying degrees of adherence to legal principles.62 Local committees in New York were the institutions most responsible for the confiscation of loyalist property and the implementation of legal restrictions on opponents of the revolution.

For elite revolutionaries such as Jay, Robert Livingston, Gouverneur Morris, and Egbert and Robert Benson, however, the use of extralegal measures to divest people of their property—and therefore their rights and liberties—was deeply troubling. Egbert Benson, who drafted most of the legislature’s important bills, opposed confiscating property on the grounds that it would weaken property rights and called the committee system illegal and a “subversion of the constitution.”63 Benson and his supporters won a major victory in April 1777 with the creation of a new state constitution, which put into place high property qualifications for office holding, lacked a secret ballot and a bill of rights, and never went to the people for ratification.64 Drawing a line under the “Anarchy” of committee rule, as Jay put it, revolutionaries in the convention were keen to take hold of state political authority and limit the role of the committees.65 Presented as a fait [End Page 81] accompli, the new state constitution met little resistance from the committees, who were, in the summer of 1777, too preoccupied with Burgoyne’s invasion from Canada to engage in a constitutional debate.

For almost three years, however, Benson and his allies struggled to control the convention, where they were opposed in the lower house (the assembly) by a number of new members who had cut their political teeth in the local committees.66 In many cases, the wealthy and landed elite could ill afford to risk public wrath by openly opposing forfeitures. The establishment of commissioners of sequestration and the 1779 Forfeiture Act were efforts to control a process that had too much popular support to be openly challenged. In addition, the relationship between the legislature and the local committees was not always smooth. Theoretically, the institutions of the revolution subordinated themselves within a clear hierarchy, at the apex of which was the Continental Congress. In practice, however, political authority was based on consent. Just as the Continental Congress could decide on a course of action but could not command the state legislatures to act, the state legislatures could ask but not demand that the local committees enact their directives. Both Congress and the state legislature confronted the ever-present specter of losing consent at the local level.67

Building consent was also part of the logic that made refugees the primary beneficiaries of these forfeitures. From the beginning, the commissioners of sequestration were specifically charged with assisting refugees and prioritizing their claims to abandoned property. The commissioners in Dutchess County—the primary refuge for the displaced people of lower New York—were ordered “to lease out the Lands & Tenements of all such persons as already have gone or hereafter shall go unto & join the Enemies of the State under moderate rent from year to year to persons friendly to the cause of America.” The directive went on to note that refugees “driven from their habitations by the Enemy should be preferred by the Commissioners to others who have not that claim to the favour of the public.” In response, the commissioners assured legislators that they had “put numbers of well-affected Refugees, Inhabitants of this State, into the possession of lands and tenements deserted by the former disaffected proprietors.”68

Provisions for refugees became part of the wider conflict within New York over who should rule at home. The commissioners of sequestration [End Page 82] tended to adhere to a populist interpretation of property. In Westchester County, so zealous were the commissioners in seizing land and chattels that Israel Putnam felt it necessary to lodge a complaint with the assembly over their actions.69 A similar populism held sway, to a lesser extent, in Dutchess County. Here the commissioners operated in an environment of immense social complexity. The county was populated by a number of substantial landowners, but the central part was home to many freeholders who resented the power of the landed elite and who spearheaded the radical factions within the committees. The county’s surviving records provide exemplary insight into the types of political and economic interactions that existed between revolutionaries and those over whom they claimed authority. The commissioners here included conservative landowners such as Anthony Hoffman, but they also counted among their number middling professionals and farmers—men such as Ephraim Paine, Isaac Sheldon, Henry Livingston, and Dr. Theodore Van Wyck, some of whom would go on to become prominent Anti-Federalists and Democratic-Republicans— who were less than sympathetic to elite visions of the revolution.70

Public relief was a battleground on which radical Whigs fought to establish a moral “Patriot economy,” in which those who supported the revolution were to be insulated from high prices and shortages while those opposed to the revolution were socially and economically excommunicated. The most famous of these Whig-supported measures was price-fixing, in which extralegal committees set prices on most staples and levied fines and punishments on those who sold at higher rates or withheld goods in the hopes of affecting their market value. Similarly, the resale of loyalist property was used to extend political and commercial protections to refugees and counteract the potential for disaffection. Refugees signed their names to purchases of forfeited properties at auctions organized by local commissioners, who extended credit to the cash-poor in order to encourage them to invest in the success of the movement. In some cases, commissioners advanced 100 percent of the value of forfeited property—including land, livestock, utensils, and slaves—as credit to the purchasers. In Dutchess County, at least one hundred people found themselves indebted to the committee of sequestration in early 1779 for purchases of everything from sundry goods to enslaved people. At least one of those individuals took on debts totaling more than £3,000 N.Y. The provision of credit to purchasers was replicated across the state. Auction books from Albany County reveal in excess of four hundred sales to more than two hundred individuals from 1777 to 1779. In Tryon County, the sale of more than three thousand items [End Page 83] raised £13,205.2.3 N.Y. from May to December 1777, while four surviving account books from Ulster County document the sale of property worth more than £16,000 N.Y. In Westchester County, specially appointed commissioners of forfeiture sold dozens of confiscated farms from 1784 to 1788, but the vast majority of transactions were for movable rather than real property.71

The sale of thousands of individual items united the interests of thousands of ordinary people with the survival of the regime. In an engaging study, Howard Pashman has drawn upon these records to show that aggressive property confiscation had the paradoxical effect of stabilizing revolutionary government in New York and giving the new legal order both authority and popular support.72 What the revolutionaries achieved was an interest-driven connection between their government and the displaced. It is revealing that Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut believed that trade between his state and British-occupied Long Island threatened to disconnect people from their allegiance to the revolution and was “the most dangerous Intercourse perhaps that has ever yet been devised by our Enemies.”73 So long as New Yorkers could access material resources through the state’s representatives, public support for the revolutionaries was much easier to generate.

Similar thinking governed the leasing of loyalist properties. Cut loose from their connections and sources of credit, few refugees had the funds necessary to purchase forfeited properties. The commissioners responded by offering refugees first claim to leases on abandoned properties. Leasing [End Page 84] was already a common form of habitation in the Hudson Valley, and it presented itself as an obvious solution to the lack of housing for the displaced. Remarkably, however, the rents on these properties were kept artificially low. In Albany County, for example, some farms were being leased for as little as £8 or £10 N.Y. per annum, perhaps a quarter of the prewar value of the lease, with total rents secured by the district committee in 1778 totaling just £319 N.Y.74 Given the inflation of property values elsewhere in the state as assessors sought new revenue streams to fund the war, such undervaluing is noteworthy.

But the commissioners’ policy of leasing abandoned farms was as divisive as the sale of forfeited property. Conservatives such as Egbert Benson’s brother Robert railed against leasing properties to “notorious Tenants” and lamented the latter’s having “no kind of Interest in . . . Improvements.”75 If the revenue that the sale of property brought to the state could soften concerns about confiscation, artificially low leases had no such associated benefits.76 Conservatives in the legislature fought to prevent widespread leasing and, in 1780, succeeded in passing a law banning the subsequent leasing of forfeited property. But the commissioners seem to have paid little heed to this restriction, and leasing continued for the rest of the war.77 The fact was that leasing provided the commissioners with a means of securing localized revenue streams. Unlike profits from selling property, rents were retained locally and put back into funds for the militia or further assistance for the displaced.78 The authority of the committee system was ultimately sustained by its crucial function in leasing properties to the displaced, even to the extent of ignoring laws passed by the legislature. The Westchester committee of sequestration was collecting £1,372 N.Y. in annual rents by early 1784, while central Dutchess County issued twenty-eight leases in the spring of 1782 and thirty-eight in 1783. Samuel Dodge even suggested that refugees might sublease the lands they could not farm, as “it would save much to the State.”79 It is revealing that, in 1780, Governor Clinton complained that much of the money due to the state from the sale of forfeited properties [End Page 85] had also not been remitted to the treasury.80 In order to resist the actions of conservatives in the legislature, revolutionaries at the lowest level used provisions for refugees to sustain local authority within the revolution.

That disagreements about the sale and lease of loyalist property did not become a wider social or class conflict is suggestive of the nature of political authority in New York. Since these ideological battles concerned property— upon which the social structure of the state rested—confiscations had the potential to radicalize the revolution. Unlike in revolutionary France, however, no one social class was identified as an enemy to the revolution, and the diversity of social origins within the revolutionary movement meant that there was no single interest group that triumphed at the expense of others. Both wealthy elites and small tenants supported property confiscation as a means of bringing people to the revolution, thus broadening areas of political agreement. The commissioners offered properties first to refugees and, in the case of the large estates of the Hudson Valley, to existing tenants in ways that built relationships with more marginal New Yorkers. But when refugees and tenants were unwilling or unable to make purchases, the commissioners were happy to sell to wealthier landowners, revolutionary elites, and property speculators. The commissioners were not in the business of social revolution, and the extension of credit and the sale of goods tended to follow established social patterns.81 The guiding principles of property redistribution seem not to have been wealth, class, or behavior but the question of how sales could enhance the regime’s political authority. On such pragmatic grounds are successful political institutions created.


Who were the refugees that benefited from these provisions? Though there was no such thing as a typical refugee, some commonalities existed. With the exception of the occupants of the almshouses, most were not disadvantaged or marginalized dependents of the state prior to the war. Rather, refugees tended to experience the conflict as a temporary displacement, and they frequently remained in family groups. Elias Pelletreau, for example, was a silversmith and carried on his trade in Connecticut with the support of his two sons. Nathaniel Barnes, from Amagansett, New York, had been a mariner before the revolution and became a privateer captain based out of Rhode Island. Obadiah Hudson—father of seven surviving children—was a tanner who owned a large property at Mattituck, New York. These were people with [End Page 86] the skills or movable property to sustain themselves in their exile.82 Some were relatively wealthy and returned to important and successful careers after the war. For example, John Sloss Hobart, a Yale-educated lawyer who fled Huntington, Long Island, for Sharon, Connecticut, was an active participant in the assembly and the leading spokesman for refugees before serving as a New York Supreme Court judge and a federal judge for the New York District Court.83 The fact that many refugees could—even in the direst circumstances—rely on some measure of self-support benefited the regime and limited the extent of public relief within the patriot economy.

That was fortunate, because the revolutionary state did not intend to be a welfare state in the modern sense. Refugees were provided housing and temporary relief, but the burden of long-term security remained on the individuals, regardless of their material ability to reestablish their businesses.84 From the beginning, measures were sought to ensure that the exodus was “least burthensome to the good people of this State.” To receive support, refugees were required to present certificates of status that could be broadly interpreted to deny relief when it suited New York’s political or financial interests.85

Financial considerations could not be ignored. As the war dragged on, the monetary constraints on the state tightened even as the political authority of revolutionary institutions—particularly the convention— increased.86 Military defeat, economic collapse, inflation, and food shortages, especially in the period from 1778 to 1780, hit the state, and refugees in particular, very hard.87 Already operating on a limited tax base, local committees lacked the mechanisms to raise large sums of money for relief. Committeeman Thomas Palmer complained that distressed families were draining the district committees in Dutchess County of funds. He was desperate to have the money reimbursed by the state treasury but could not convince legislators to hear his case.88 For its part, the state legislature was also struggling and, in 1778, appealed to the Continental Congress to cover the refugee bill. The assembly asked Gouverneur Morris, a member of Congress from New York, to draft a letter to inquire whether the state could charge the refugees’ expenses to Congress, something that Congress categorically refused to accept.89 [End Page 87]

Nevertheless, the near-collapse of revolutionary institutions under the weight of protracted warfare actually benefited the cause of revolution by encouraging more rigorous assertions of political authority—especially among the state’s elites. The Benson brothers had fought a rearguard action against local committees and their allies in the legislature throughout 1778 and 1779. By 1780, however, it was the centralized authority of the legislature that increasingly won out. With a much smaller tax base vis-à-vis the assembly, the committees could not raise the funds necessary to confront the legislature on an equal footing. The willingness of the assembly and Governor Clinton to respond to popular pressure and enact bills for the confiscation of loyalist property against their better judgment also made the committee system increasingly less powerful.90 The institutionalization of property confiscation had the major benefit that it reduced the potential for the state’s citizens to take the law into their own hands and demonstrated that the regime could be trusted to address the horrors that New Yorkers had endured at the hands of the British military and its allies.

Public relief, however, became less reliable. From 1778 on, provisions for refugees were raised only through short-term acts of expediency. In the winter of 1778, for example, the legislature passed a law providing £3,000 N.Y. to refugees from Tryon, Albany, Orange, and Ulster Counties. Those assisted included 625 people from Tryon and Orange Counties who had fled to Albany and its surroundings.91 Following Haudenosaunee raids on the frontier in 1778, laws were passed increasing the taxes levied on newly purchased properties to enable the continued funding of relief.92 Given the demand and the depreciation of currency, the legislature was forced to find inventive ways of paying out relief. Assistance was paid in flour or in depreciating Continental dollars at a very poor rate of exchange in order to cut costs. James Clinton, the governor’s brother, made use of Continental stores reserved for the army to assist civilians after the Cherry Valley raids in the summer of 1778.93 Donations from other states were also accepted. South Carolina donated $2,319 S.C.—not much more than £350 N.Y.—toward the assistance of the refugees at Kingston in 1778.94 The amounts raised were rarely enough. [End Page 88]

People suffered. Helen Brasher, the wife of a prominent New York City activist and delegate to the Provincial Congress, fled to Hackensack before moving to Paramus, New Jersey, where she shared a home with twenty-four other people. Her husband stated that his family members were like “birds of passage perched on a tree full of thorns, not knowing what course to take to arrive at some fixed abode.” Lacking long-term relief, refugees sank their meager capital into providing for their families and paying rent. Prices for the most basic essentials were extraordinarily high, and a host of commentators reported the steady growth of poverty in New York.95 When Joseph Lloyd, a refugee from Long Island, took his own life in June 1780, his friends arranged for the publication and distribution of their minister’s sermon on the occasion in order to highlight their plight and generate recognition of their shared sense of suffering. As the sermon lamented, “Mr. Lloyd, who was left of God to commit the crime of suicide, was in an exile state. . . . The distresses of the times and his own sufferings, preyed much upon his spirits.”96

Many refugees submitted petitions and memorials to the governments of New York and Connecticut outlining the suffering they had experienced. These documents make for sad reading. In 1778, a refugee from New York City petitioned the assembly to be allowed to return to the city given that his “attachment to the American cause . . . on principle of her Cause Being Just” had led to the “total stop and ruin of his business.”97 Officers wearing Continental uniforms robbed other refugees of their meager possessions. Joseph Blackwell from New York City complained to authorities in Connecticut that he had “managed no Trade since his residence in this State, nor had it in his power to acquire by business the means of subsistence,” and he was, as a result, eking out a living by renting a farm on which he kept a horse and a cow. Blackwell—“an unfortunate refugee”—requested exemption from taxes, highway work, and military duties to which he was subject in Connecticut. One frequent complaint was the repayment of debts. The depreciation of currency meant that refugees who had been creditors before their displacement were repaid in lower-value paper currency and forced to live with “none of the Conveniences of life.” Jonathan Havens, a Long Island refugee, complained that he had become “very Needy” and his nine children were “allmost naked” as a result.98 [End Page 89]

These petitions’ pathos aside, however, they do suggest that something significant was occurring: the New York Assembly was becoming an institution to which the public could appeal for redress. The governing power to which petitions were directed helped signify the location of sovereignty in the eighteenth century.99 In sending their petitions to the legislature, New Yorkers were proclaiming their acceptance of its authority. If the extent of public relief declined after 1777 with financial problems and internal discord, the political authority of the state legislature was on the rise.

With the consent of the people in hand, New York’s revolutionaries began to limit access to relief. Lists of those supported by the commissioners were divided into those able to work and those who could not, with instructions declaring that “no Part of it [the relief ] be given to any Person who can by any Means subsist without it.” At the same time, the state also became increasingly reluctant to support those who could not contribute to the war effort. Recognizing that it was unsustainable to have “numberless Families . . . dispossessed of their Farms . . . maintained by that half of the State which has escaped Desolation,” the revolutionaries sought to prioritize useful citizens over those they deemed less productive.100 Shockingly, poorer refugees suffered when they were removed from properties to make way for other families. On one occasion, Theodore Van Wyck recommended both that one Mr. Inglish, “a poor man,” be evicted from his farm because he “has not wherewithal to work the Said farm” and that the property go to a more capable refugee.101 The commissioners distinguished between genuine refugees and opportunists. Squatters—a particular problem, as many local residents took advantage of abandonment to extend their holdings—and other “undeserving” inhabitants such as Inglish were removed in order to house “legitimate” refugees. One James Baker was evicted from a property when it was revealed that he had left Long Island in spring 1776 and could not, therefore, be considered as having been forced out by crown troops.102 The new regime, for all of its rhetoric regarding consent, also made decisions that assumed the people’s subordination to the government.

Given the abiding fear of dependence in republican ideology, it is striking the extent to which refugees were treated as best suited the interests of [End Page 90] government.103 Interactions with refugees were often determined by how support would affect the ongoing war effort. Protection of the frontiers, for example, was meant to prevent abandonment of “the most fertile Parts of the Country.” Petitions from Tryon County in 1780 suggest that extra efforts were made to safeguard crops and prevent any further “burden upon the public.”104 Permission to enter American lines was often granted on the basis of whether refugees were bringing sufficient stock with them. Such stock would not only support the refugees but could be purchased for the benefit of the war effort. John Davis, deputy quartermaster to George Washington, argued for allowing refugees to leave Long Island as late as 1781 because they “have a very Considerable Quantity of Merchandize on hand; all of which that may be Suitable for the Publick they are willing to let them have.” Davis seems to have allowed refugees to enter American lines only when they permitted some of their effects to be sold for the benefit of the army and the wider public.105 The right of the revolutionaries to levy contributions from the refugees spoke volumes regarding the refugees’ subordination to their government.

Levying financial contributions from the refugees took a more sanctioned form through taxation. Though happy to provide necessaries for the “destitute and helpless,” Connecticut, like New York, did not believe that it could afford to maintain the refugee population indefinitely. Efforts were made to ensure that the Long Islanders were able to remove as much of their stock as possible, not only to prevent their dependence on the state but also so that they would be in a position to pay taxes. This policy outraged many of the refugees, who, as resident aliens, were not represented in the legislature of Connecticut. In April 1777, when the New York Constitution came into effect, 170 refugee voters petitioned for the right to representation. New York’s assembly simply refused, and the refugees were taxed without representation for the remainder of the war, albeit with breaks given to those under the most duress.106 [End Page 91]

The refugees were also seen as militarily useful. Just as the refugee communities in New York City proved to be fertile recruiting grounds for loyalist regiments, so too did the Continental army benefit from New York’s dispossessed citizens. Though it is difficult to track enlisted refugees, all five regiments of the New York Line contained displaced men, with the highest concentration in the Third and Fourth New York Lines. As many as 222 men from New York City and Long Island served as officers during the war, more than 90 percent of them in the Continental regiments, a disproportionate commitment to the cause based on the number of refugees. As early as October 1776, Hobart requested that New York State transport all able-bodied men from there to the mainland to form “a regiment of . . . refugees.” Hobart’s plan for a separate regiment was not adopted, but New York’s refugees were recruited in large numbers.107

New York State was not alone in harnessing refugees for political ends. Writing from Crown Point to John Hancock in 1776, General John Sullivan used his forces to “afford an opportunity to our frontier Inhabitants to Remove with their Effects” as part of a larger argument in favor of increasing congressional support for the much-neglected Northern Army in the aftermath of the invasion of Canada. States such as New Hampshire and Pennsylvania also used the protection of refugee populations to leverage support and cement authority. Congressional delegates from New Hampshire used the displacement of people as an argument for increased local authority unencumbered by congressional oversight.108 In Pennsylvania, acts of violence committed by squatters in the Wyoming Valley against refugees returning to their habitations prompted Joseph Reed’s government in 1780 to authorize the use of military force on the frontiers to protect returning refugees.109 In each case, such protections were fundamentally about asserting the authority of civilian and military institutions over both territory and people.


The strength of New York’s political authority is best exemplified by what happened as the war drew to a close. In the aftermath of Yorktown, refugees again became a major concern as revolutionary authorities began to [End Page 92] plan for the reoccupation of New York City and Long Island. John Morin Scott, New York’s secretary of state, argued that any plans would have to include provisions for “the immediate Return of the Refugees . . . to their former places of Abode.” But Scott feared that Long Island and Westchester were “in a State of Nature [where]. . . . every Man of course doeth that which serves good in his own Eyes” and argued that the return of the refugees would have to be carefully managed. Plans were even made to imprison prominent loyalists so that the returning refugees would not be tempted to punish those who had occupied their homes.110

But the state also had no desire to sacrifice the welfare of its citizens on the altar of loyalist safety. British forces evacuated Westchester County on May 13, 1783, and over the following days, returning refugees violently evicted the loyalist occupiers. Unsurprisingly, the regime moved to coopt this violence. Commissioners from Westchester County, who already had a notorious reputation for anti-loyalist activities, happily ejected loyalist families from their homes, which were then used to house refugees.111 In this effort, the state’s governor largely supported them. George Clinton was adamant that the restoration of property to British subjects as outlined in article 5 of the Treaty of Paris did not apply to American-born loyalists. Therefore, New York’s authorities believed that they had a right to most of the loyalist-occupied housing stock. An executive order issued soon after the British evacuation of the city in November 1783 permitted magistrates to lease housing stock to returning refugees. The Trespass Act of March 1783 also permitted citizens to sue those who had occupied their homes and was one of the most odious of the anti-loyalist measures passed from 1782 to 1785.112 With regard to the use of loyalist property, at least, New York had categorically asserted its authority.

Unfortunately for the refugees, the state’s interest in shoring up allegiance did not long outlast the withdrawal of British forces. In the absence of a competing state power (the British) and with the volatile nature of political authority in New York increasingly contained within the assembly, the plight of the refugees could be ignored. Those refugees who had escaped to Connecticut or upper New York with significant stock were the most fortunate. Elias Pelletreau was one of those. The government of Connecticut permitted his sons to return to Southampton in 1779 to remove more effects. Pelletreau came home to Southampton in late 1782 and, having [End Page 93] retained most of his possessions, reestablished his reputation as one of the finest silversmiths in the mid-Atlantic states.113

Most refugees, by contrast, returned to find their habitations in disrepair or ruin. Worse, many of the returning refugees were forced to contribute to a £100,000 N.Y. tax fund raised in areas occupied by the British to compensate other parts of the state for their sacrifices during the war. Having been supported by the regime, the refugees were now required to pay their dues. Even those who had purchased confiscated properties were not immune. In Dutchess County, many such purchasers lost their land when they failed to make payments throughout the 1780s.114 Though some refugees made use of the anti-loyalist measures to recoup their losses, most did not. Thus, Obadiah Hudson and his seven children suffered significant financial losses during the war, and in 1788, Hudson was forced to mortgage his property in Mattituck. He was not alone. Many formerly wealthy proprietors had to borrow against their properties and lost everything.115 Some of the returning refugees were accommodated in New York poorhouses, but, as had been the case with relief throughout the war, this was only a temporary measure.116

Public relief became more precarious in general with the end of the war. By disestablishing the Anglican Church in 1784—a response to Anglican support for the loyalist cause and the continued place of the king as head of that church—the new government weakened the already fragile system of charitable relief.117 In a bitter irony, if the exigencies of war had demanded support for the displaced, the exigencies of peace were far less pressing. Alexander Hamilton and other future Federalists opposed the Trespass Act on the grounds that a secure peace with Britain was essential and that the new nation would be defined by how it treated its enemies. In Rutgers v. Waddington (1784), Hamilton argued that the Trespass Act violated the Treaty of Paris. The resulting verdict—which favored Hamilton’s interpretation—not only established Congress’s legal authority over the states and helped advance the concept of judicial review but also limited the ability of refugees to claim redress through the new legal order.118 The refugees were left to rebuild their lives without the support that had exemplified the period when the outcome of the war was uncertain. [End Page 94]

The refugee experience is, nevertheless, instructive. The evacuation of New York challenged revolutionary governments at all levels and tested whether the regime was capable of fulfilling basic governmental responsibilities for the displaced. The refugees could have severely damaged New York’s ability to fight the war. Transitory movement disrupted the structured order of rule, made it difficult to regulate economic and demographic forces, and created poverty and distress. Robert Livingston, one of the leading conservative voices in the state, reported that popular discontent with the regime had been caused, in part, by the financial burdens of supporting the refugees.119 Popular commitment to the ideals and ideologies of the revolution could only take the movement so far. Revolutionary institutions also had to prove their capacity for effective governance, and they largely did so. The revolutionary regime significantly expanded upon colonial-era requirements of supporting the displaced—not only assisting with their movement but exerting real political control over the population as it fled to the interior.

Of course, revolutionary governments were not always crowned with success. Their political authority was not always secure. Max Weber famously theorized that “state officials seek to construct and preserve monopolies over both material and symbolic force,” but at no point did New York institutions hold a monopoly on legitimate violence.120 Nevertheless, we should also remember that few (if any) regimes in history have met Weber’s lofty standard.121 Within the context of the war, the effectiveness of those revolutionary institutions operating across a multilevel political regime—with various elements providing force, financial support, and legal justification for their authority—was no small achievement.

The refugees’ experience of revolutionary institutions changed dramatically over the course of their seven-year displacement. In 1776, largesse was the order of the day as efforts were made to build obedience and stabilize republican government. The revolutionaries frequently secured political authority not by operating above society but by becoming part of the nexus of interests and factions that had defined political authority in colonial America.122 For revolutionary sympathizers—particularly those ejected from their homes—the purchase of goods, the rental of property, and the [End Page 95] provision of relief were all political actions, involving a tangible connection with political authorities. The banality of such everyday interactions should not blind us to their deeper resonances in the formation of political authority.

Increasingly, however, revolutionary institutions at the state level demanded obedience and enforced consent over a highly vulnerable population. Ironically, the near collapse of the revolutionary regime under the combined weight of financial instability, loyalist sympathies, and popular discontent centered political authority where it could be exercised most effectively. The result was state institutions that built their authority on the human and material capital of refugees and then subsequently abandoned them as the threat of British victory declined. The failure of the state assembly to properly aid the refugees at the end of the war was less an indication of its weaknesses than an expression of the new strength of its authority. The consistent achievement of New York’s revolutionary institutions was to broaden the reach of government and refine a more structured political authority than had, until that point, existed in either the colony or the state.

Like their loyalist counterparts, the revolutionary refugees of New York played an important role in the reimagining of political authority. The British state extended its authority in the Atlantic world as it harnessed the human and material capital of the loyalists.123 In a similar fashion, it was patriot refugees who expanded revolutionary authority in New York. For all the support offered to the displaced, revolutionary institutions in New York also established the right to move, tax, recruit, and then ignore the refugees. Neglected by historians, New York’s refugees were within the parameters of the revolutionary state and are part of the story of how political authority was developed, maintained, and renewed during the revolution. The case of the refugees exposes the ambiguous and contingent consequences of revolutionary success. It shows how the revolution depended as much on the exercise of authority as it did on the rhetoric of liberty. Given the much-discussed weaknesses of the postwar governments, it is easy to forget that political authority was far stronger and less forgiving in 1783 than it had been in 1775. [End Page 96]

Matthew P. Dziennik

Matthew P. Dziennik is an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy.

The author expresses heartfelt gratitude to the anonymous readers for the William and Mary Quarterly and the people who commented on the many drafts of this article. Special thanks go to Dan Clinkman, Frank Cogliano, Chris Florio, Patrick Griffin, Rod McCaslin, Sarah McCaslin, John McCusker, Chris Minty, Simon Newman, and Peter Onuf, as well as Nina Nazionale and Ted O’Reilly at the New-York Historical Society and the author’s former colleagues at the New School.


1. Committee of Southampton minutes, Aug. 31, 1776, folder 35, box 1, Pelletreau Family Papers, ARC.142, Brooklyn Historical Society, N.Y.; Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New York (Albany, N.Y., 1842), 1: 593–94.

2. Of the city’s twenty-five thousand inhabitants, five thousand returned to their homes during the British occupation. See Ira Rosenwaike, Population History of New York City (Syracuse, N.Y., 1972), 14–15; Philip Ranlet, The New York Loyalists (Lanham, Md., 2002), 68–70. For a lower figure of eleven thousand refugees, see Bernard Mason, The Road to Independence: The Revolutionary Movement in New York, 1773–1777 (Lexington, Ky., 1967), 78–79.

3. Deeds—Elias Pelletreau, 1747–1776, folder 2, box 1, Pelletreau Family Papers; Marvin D. Schwartz, “The Life of Elias Pelletreau,” in Elias Pelletreau: Long Island Silversmith and His Sources of Design (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1959), [6–9].

4. State of New York to Elias Pelletreau, Sept. 16, 1776, folder 35, box 1, Pelletreau Family Papers.

5. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 600 (quotation); State of New York to Pelletreau, Sept. 16, 1776, folder 35, box 1, Pelletreau Family Papers. All values in this essay have been converted to New York currency. The exchange rate for pounds sterling to N.Y. currency during the war fluctuated around the legal par of exchange of £100 sterling to £177 N.Y. Pelletreau received £24.12.6 N.Y., giving him approximately £13.18.0 sterling. It is not known how much of his transportation costs this money covered, but Pelletreau’s great-grandson calculated that a silver tankard made in 1772 that cost £21.5.6 N.Y. was worth 141 days’ labor for an apprentice; see Frederic Gregory Mather, The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut (Albany, N.Y., 1913), 155. The value of N.Y. currency dropped significantly against pounds sterling between early 1778 and mid-1780; see “Appendix B: Rates of Exchange—The Relationships of the Currencies of the Continental Colonies to Great Britain and to Each Other, 1649–1775,” and “Appendix C: Currency in the United States during the American Revolutionary War and the Early National Period,” in John J. McCusker, How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Commodity Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States, 2d ed. (Worcester, Mass., 2001), 61–70, 71–88.

6. For these institutions, see Agnes Hunt, The Provincial Committees of Safety of the American Revolution (1904; repr., New York, 1968); Edward Countryman, “Consolidating Power in Revolutionary America: The Case of New York, 1775–1783,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6, no. 4 (Spring 1976): 645–77; T. H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York, 2010), 160–77; Richard Alan Ryerson, The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765–1776 (1978; repr., Philadelphia, 2012).

7. The only study of the patriot refugee population remains Mather, Refugees of 1776.

8. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 2: 346.

9. For definitions of authority and legitimacy, see Michael Huemer, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (New York, 2013), 3–19, 101–36. For definitions of legitimacy in this era, see John Phillip Reid, The Authority to Legislate, vol. 3 of Constitutional History of the American Revolution (Madison, Wis., 1991), 144–49; Mlada Bukovansky, Legitimacy and Power Politics: The American and French Revolutions in International Political Culture (Princeton, N.J., 2002), 2. When revolutionaries spoke of authority, they struggled to conceive of it without legitimacy. Because unchecked power tended to be arbitrary and corrupt, constitutional discussions often fixated on what made the exercise of power lawful. Though revolutionaries railed loudly against elements of Britain’s authority to legislate, they recognized both the importance of a lawful political authority and—prior to 1776—its location within the imperial system. See Richard L. Bushman, King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985), 88–132; Brendan McConville, The King’s Three Faces: The Rise and Fall of Royal America, 1688–1776 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2006), esp. 249–312; Eric Nelson, The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding (Cambridge, Mass., 2014), 29–65.

10. Patrick Griffin, introduction to Between Sovereignty and Anarchy: The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era, ed. Griffin et al. (Charlottesville, Va., 2015), 1–20, esp. 5 (quotation), 15–17; John Smolenski, “The Ordering of Authority in the Colonial Americas,” in New World Orders: Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas, ed. Smolenski and Thomas J. Humphrey (Philadelphia, 2005), 1–20, esp. 3. Peter S. Onuf also argues that authority depended on the ability to deploy force and that constitutional precedents often mattered little if state authorities lacked the ability to enforce jurisdictional claims; see Onuf, “State-Making in Revolutionary America: Independent Vermont as a Case Study,” Journal of American History 67, no. 4 (March 1981): 797–815, esp. 814. See also John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1990), 176.

11. Barbara Clark Smith, The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America (New York, 2010). For the weaknesses of the old imperial system, see Jack P. Greene, “The American Revolution,” American Historical Review 105, no. 1 (February 2000): 93–102. For the historiographical tensions invoked by questions of violence and coercive authority in revolutionary America, see Nancy Isenberg, “Review Essay: The Empire Has No Clothes,” Journal of the Early Republic 32, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 261–77.

12. Jack N. Rakove, “‘How Else Could It End?’: Bernard Bailyn and the Problem of Authority in Early America,” in The Transformation of Early American History: Society, Authority, and Ideology, ed. James A. Henretta, Michael Kammen, and Stanley N. Katz (New York, 1991), 51–69. See also Carl Lotus Becker, The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760–1776 (1909; repr., Madison, Wis., 1968), 22; Gordon S. Wood, “The Problem of Sovereignty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 68, no. 4 (October 2011): 573–77; Justin du Rivage, Revolution against Empire: Taxes, Politics, and the Origins of American Independence (New Haven, Conn., 2017), esp. 147–77.

13. For diversity in New York politics, see Patricia U. Bonomi, A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York (New York, 1971); Milton M. Klein, The Politics of Diversity: Essays in the History of Colonial New York (Port Washington, N.Y., 1974).

14. New York was not the only state to offer support to the displaced. Large areas of the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiers were depopulated by the war, and Britain’s southern strategy created thousands of refugees in Georgia and the Carolinas. See Harry M. Ward, Between the Lines: Banditti of the American Revolution (Westport, Conn., 2002), 169–239. Most states enacted scattershot policies that were deemed appropriate to their circumstances. For refugees in Virginia, see Preston Family Papers, Mss1 P9267, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond; Richard Barksdale Harwell, ed., The Committees of Safety of Westmoreland and Fincastle: Proceedings of the County Committees, 1774–1776 (Richmond, Va., 1956), 114. For Pennsylvania, see Samuel Hazard, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, 1st ser. (Philadelphia, 1853), 5: 479; George Edward Reed, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, 4th ser. (Harrisburg, Pa., 1900), 3: 822.

15. For the importance of studying political structures from an institutional perspective, see Calvin Jillson and Rick K. Wilson, Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774–1789 (Stanford, Calif., 1994); Richard R. John, “Governmental Institutions as Agents of Change: American Political Development in the Early Republic, 1787–1835,” Studies in American Political Development 11, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 347–80; Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek, The Search for American Political Development (Cambridge, 2004).

16. Examples of scholarly works that suggest that revolutionary political authority was weak include E. Wayne Carp, To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1984); Michael A. McDonnell, The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2007); Benjamin H. Irvin, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors (New York, 2011); Anthony M. Joseph, From Liberty to Liberality: The Transformation of the Pennsylvania Legislature, 1776–1820 (Lanham, Md., 2012); George William Van Cleve, We Have Not a Government: The Articles of Confederation and the Road to the Constitution (Chicago, 2017). For a useful counterargument, see Don Higginbotham, “War and State Formation in Revolutionary America,” in Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World, ed. Eliga H. Gould and Peter S. Onuf (Baltimore, 2005), 54–71.

17. For an older, relatively uncomplicated story of the transfer of power, see Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1969); Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765–1776 (New York, 1972). For an emphasis on chaotic disorder, see Patrick Griffin, American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier (New York, 2007); Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (New York, 2008); Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804 (New York, 2016).

18. Judith L. Van Buskirk, Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York (Philadelphia, 2002), 3–6 (quotation, 3), 22–23, 35–36.

19. Ward, Between the Lines, ix (quotation); Sung Bok Kim, “The Limits of Politicization in the American Revolution: The Experience of Westchester County, New York,” Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (December 1993): 868–89.

20. Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State (Oxford, 2008); Eliga H. Gould, Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Cambridge, Mass., 2012); Steve Pincus, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government (New Haven, Conn., 2016). See also William J. Novak, “The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,” American Historical Review 113, no. 3 (June 2008): 752–72.

21. Keith Mason, “The American Loyalist Diaspora and the Reconfiguration of the British Atlantic World,” in Gould and Onuf, Empire and Nation, 239–59; Cassandra Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty (Boston, 2006); Ruma Chopra, Unnatural Rebellion: Loyalists in New York City during the Revolution (Charlottesville, Va., 2011), 180–84; Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York, 2011); Allan Blackstock and Frank O’Gorman, eds., Loyalism and the Formation of the British World, 1775–1914 (Woodbridge, U.K., 2014). Recent studies of displacement during the American Civil War have likewise emphasized the role of refugees in shifting the parameters of the conflict and undermining the legitimacy of the Confederacy. See Yael A. Sternhell, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South (Cambridge, Mass., 2012); David Silkenat, Driven from Home: North Carolina’s Civil War Refugee Crisis (Athens, Ga., 2016).

22. For the problems raised by the exploitation of refugee suffering, see Stephen John Stedman and Fred Tanner, eds., Refugee Manipulation: War, Politics, and the Abuse of Human Suffering (Washington, D.C., 2003); Sarah Kenyon Lischer, Dangerous Sanctuaries: Refugee Camps, Civil War, and the Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid (Ithaca, N.Y., 2005); Robert Muggah, ed., No Refuge: The Crisis of Refugee Militarization in Africa (London, 2006); Boaz Atzili, “State Weakness and ‘Vacuum of Power’ in Lebanon,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 33, no. 8 (2010): 757–82; Mike Lebson, “Why Refugees Rebel: Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Refugee Militarization,” International Migration 51, no. 5 (October 2013): 133–48.

23. The use of refugees to strengthen state authority was far from unheard-of in Britain, where both Jewish and Huguenot refugees were mobilized to work for imperial ends. See Dana Rabin, “The Jew Bill of 1753: Masculinity, Virility, and the Nation,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 39, no. 2 (Winter 2006): 157–71; Matthew Glozier and David Onnekink, eds., War, Religion and Service: Huguenot Soldiering, 1685–1713 (Aldershot, U.K., 2007).

24. For revolutionaries’ success in controlling people and territory, see David Ammerman, In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774 (Charlottesville, Va., 1974); Jerrilyn Greene Marston, King and Congress: The Transfer of Political Legitimacy, 1774–1776 (Princeton, N.J., 1987); Mark V. Kwasny, Washington’s Partisan War, 1775–1783 (Kent, Ohio, 1996); Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775–1783 (Norman, Okla., 2008), esp. 263–82; Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of Empire (New Haven, Conn., 2013), 10–11.

25. The first refugee crises in colonial America occurred among Indigenous peoples; see Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (New York, 2005), 35–37.

26. For settler refugees in early conflicts, see William L. Ramsey, The Yamasee War: A Study of Culture, Economy, and Conflict in the Colonial South (Lincoln, Neb., 2008), 113–14; Daniel R. Mandell, King Philip’s War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty (Baltimore, 2010), 99–102; James D. Rice, Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (Oxford, 2012), 184–85. For government responsibilities, see Walter I. Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America, 6th ed. (New York, 1999), 20–21; Nian-Sheng Huang, “Financing Poor Relief in Colonial Boston,” Massachusetts Historical Review 8 (2006): 72–103, esp. 77–79.

27. Douglas Lamar Jones, “The Strolling Poor: Transiency in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts,” Journal of Social History 8, no. 3 (Spring 1975): 28–54; Huang, Massachusetts Historical Review 8: 77–79. For the mechanisms of relief, see David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston, 1971), 25–29; Michael B. Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York, 1986), 10, 14, 19–20. Through the warning system, it was provincial rather than town funds that provided for the displaced; see Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger, Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston (Philadelphia, 2014), 15.

28. There was no clear definition of what “refugees” were in the eighteenth century, and contemporary discourse ascribed both positive and negative characteristics to them. Nevertheless, refugees were not subject to exclusionary discourses that emphasized their unbridgeable distance from mainstream identities. As a result, institutions in colonial America did not think of refugees as entirely different from people who were temporarily forced to seek public relief. See Kit Candlin, “The Expansion of the Idea of the Refugee in the Early-Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World,” Slavery and Abolition 30, no. 4 (December 2009): 521–44.

29. Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution, abridged ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 155.

30. For the divisiveness of New York politics, see Edward Countryman, A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1790 (Baltimore, 1981); Joseph S. Tiedemann, Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763–1776 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1997); Richard M. Ketchum, Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York (New York, 2002). For the importance of commerce and consumer culture in New York, see Cathy Matson, Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York (Baltimore, 1998), 121–214; Thomas Truxes, Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York (New Haven, Conn., 2008), 188–99; Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York (Philadelphia, 2009).

31. Roger Champagne, “Family Politics versus Constitutional Principles: The New York Assembly Elections of 1768 and 1769,” WMQ 20, no. 1 (January 1963): 57–79. For De Lancey faction criticisms of Livingston selfishness, see “To the Printer,” New-York Journal; or, the General Advertiser, Dec. 21, 1769, [1]; see also The Examiner, No. II, Addressed to the Freeholders and Freemen, of the City of New-York ([New York, 1769]), 2.

32. Minutes of the Committee of Correspondence, Aug. 9, 1774, folder 8, box 10, New York City Miscellaneous Manuscripts, New-York Historical Society (NYHS).

33. George Clinton to delegates James Duane, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Francis Lewis, and William Lloyd, Feb. 9, 1779, Papers of the Continental Congress, RG 360, New York State Papers, microform publication 247, roll 81, vol. 2, pp. 155–58, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C. (“Humanity,” 157); George Clinton to James Clinton, Feb. 15, 1779, in Hugh Hastings, ed., The Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795—1801–1804 (Albany, N.Y., 1900), 4: 568 (“Provision”); Petitioners of the “Northern parts of the County of Dutchess and Southern Parts of the Manor of Livingston” to George Clinton, Aug. 15, 1778, ibid., 3: 684–86.

34. For revolutionary concepts of protection and allegiance, see Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (Washington, D.C., 1921), 1: 20, 52; Harry Alonso Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams (New York, 1908), 4: 281; Joseph S. Tiedemann, “Patriots by Default: Queens County, New York, and the British Army, 1776–1783,” WMQ 43, no. 1 (January 1986): 35–63.

35. John Sloss Hobart to George Clinton, Oct. 17, 1776, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 1: 382; Alexander McDougall to Clinton, Dec. 15, 1778, ibid., 4: 383–87.

36. George Clinton to Justice Hobart, July 24, 1779, ibid., 5: 158–59 (“stiling,” 5: 158); William Heath to George Washington, Aug. 30, 1779, ibid., 5: 244 (“right”); Heath to Clinton, Mar. 17, 1781, ibid., 6: 704–5 (“protection,” “wanton,” 6: 705); “Inhabitants of Southold and Shelter Island” to Clinton, Sept. 21, 1781, ibid., 7: 343–46 (“Subjects,” 7: 346). See also Timothy Pickering to Thomas McKean, Aug. 12, 1781, Papers of the Continental Congress, RG 360, Papers of the Quartermaster’s Department, microform publication 247, roll 199, pp. 75–77, NARA. For marauding refugee groups, who were known in Westchester County as “Skinners,” see Ward, Between the Lines, 17–32.

37. Sir Henry Clinton to George Germain, July 28, 1778, Henry Clinton Papers, vol. 255, William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, Mich., quoted in Chopra, Unnatural Rebellion, 181 (“Humanity”); “Theatre: (By Permission),” [New York] Royal Gazette, Apr. 27, 1782, [3] (“Benefit”); George Germain to James Robertson, Sept. 3, 1779, folder 17, box 67, Henry Clinton Papers, William L. Clements Library (“first”).

38. Milton M. Klein and Ronald W. Howard, eds., The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780–1783 (Cooperstown, N.Y., 1983), 164–65; Chopra, Unnatural Rebellion, 77, 136, 141, 155. For British efforts in New York, see Donald Johnson, “Ambiguous Allegiances: Urban Loyalties during the American Revolution,” Journal of American History 104, no. 3 (December 2017): 610–31; Christopher F. Minty, “‘Of One Hart and One Mind’: Local Institutions and Allegiance during the American Revolution,” Early American Studies 15, no. 1 (Winter 2017): 99–132.

39. William Duer to John Williams, May 2, 1776, folder 19, box 1, John Williams Papers, New York State Archives, Albany, N.Y.; Daniel J. Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664–1830 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2005), 149–50.

40. Countryman, People in Revolution, 143–69, 166; Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire, 150.

41. Most of those accommodated in the New York City almshouses suffered from major disabilities or infirmities or were orphans; see Rothman, Discovery of the Asylum, 38–39.

42. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 590–91.

43. Ibid., 1: 671 (quotations).

44. No New York county was completely without loyalist sentiment, and even in areas such as Dutchess County, where revolutionaries outnumbered loyalists two to one, armed loyalists were still capable of shutting down committee meetings as late as mid-1776; see Countryman, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6: 652.

45. Peter Force, ed., American Archives, Fourth Series. . . . (Washington, D.C., 1840), 3: 151.

46. For local institutions’ centrality in most people’s experiences of the revolution, see Jessica Choppin Roney, Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia (Baltimore, 2014); Emma Hart, “City Government and the State in Eighteenth-Century South Carolina,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 50, no. 2 (Winter 2017): 195–211; Minty, Early American Studies 15: 99–132.

47. Chopra, Unnatural Rebellion, 138.

48. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 706. For a case study of the effects of revolutionary governance on personal liberty, see James P. Myers Jr., “Homeland Security in the Pennsylvania Backcountry, 1777–1778: The Example of the Reverend Mr. Daniel Batwelle, SPG,” Pennsylvania History 78, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 247–71.

49. Mather, Refugees of 1776, 168–69, 190.

50. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 600.

51. Calendar of Historical Manuscripts relating to the War of the Revolution in the Office of the Secretary of State (Albany, N.Y., 1868), 1: 463; Convention to Hanover committee, May 1777, State of New York to James Morgan, June 26, 1784, and Convention to Robert North, Aug. 27, 1776, all in folder 1, box 12, New York City Miscellaneous Manuscripts.

52. State of New York to Samuel Dodge, July 25, 1786, folder 1, box 12, New York City Miscellaneous Manuscripts (quotation). The extent of the administrative and conceptual overlap is revealed by the fact that Dodge was interchangeably referred to as “Commissioner for the Poor” and “Commissioner for the Refugee Poor.”

53. State of New York to Dodge, July 25, 1786, folder 1, box 12, New York City Miscellaneous Manuscripts.

54. The value of paper currency fell from one-eighth the value of specie in 1776 to one-fortieth by 1779. See Staughton Lynd, “Who Should Rule at Home? Dutchess County, New York, in the American Revolution,” WMQ 18, no. 3 (July 1961): 330–59, esp. 344–45.

55. Though many of the records related to the payment of troops survive in the New York State Comptroller’s Office accounts, the 1911 damage to the records of the county committees and committees of sequestration makes quantitative analysis of the refugee crisis particularly difficult; see New York State Comptroller’s Office Revolutionary War Accounts and Claims, New York State Archives.

56. Mather, Refugees of 1776, 190, 730–874. Support of the Long Island refugees alone cost the state 87 percent of the colony of New York’s total prerevolutionary budget; see James Duane’s draft of a report on the state and condition of the province of New York [1774], pp. 95–100, folder 28, box 10, New York City Miscellaneous Manuscripts. For relief funding prior to 1776, see Raymond A. Mohl, “Poverty in Early America, a Reappraisal: The Case of Eighteenth-Century New York City,” New York History 50, no. 1 (January 1969): 4–27.

57. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 811, 916.

58. Committee resolves, July 25, 1777, folder 7, box 8, Williams Papers (quotation); Committee accounts, Jonathan Lawrence folder, box 5, New York State Revolutionary War collection, NYHS; State of New York to John Thomas, Feb. 23, 1777, folder 8, box 13, New York City Miscellaneous Manuscripts.

59. Peter Force, ed., American Archives: Fifth Series. . . . (Washington, D.C., 1848), 1: 1590; Harry B. Yoshpe, The Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of the State of New York (New York, 1939). See also committee seizures in Maryly B. Penrose, [ed.], Mohawk Valley in the Revolution: Committee of Safety Papers and Genealogical Compendium (Franklin Park, N.J., 1978), 72–74.

60. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 861, 907; Frederick Gregory Mather, ed., New York in the Revolution as Colony and State: Supplement (New York, 1901), 242–44.

61. Countryman, People in Revolution, 245–48.

62. John A. Shedd, “Legalism over Revolution: The Parliamentary Committee for Indemnity and Property Confiscation Disputes, 1647–1655,” Historical Journal 43, no. 4 (December 2000): 1093–107; Julian Hoppit, “Compulsion, Compensation and Property Rights in Britain, 1688–1833,” Past and Present, no. 210 (February 2011): 93–128. Confiscation would also be applied in France; see Rafe Blaufarb, The Great Demarcation: The French Revolution and the Invention of Modern Property (New York, 2016).

63. Egbert Benson to John Jay, July 6, 1779, in Henry P. Johnston, ed., The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay (New York, 1890), 1: 213 (quotation); Thomas J. Humphrey, Land and Liberty: Hudson Valley Riots in the Age of Revolution (DeKalb, Ill., 2004), 90–91. See also Countryman, People in Revolution, 206.

64. Stefan Bielinski, Abraham Yates, Jr., and the New Political Order in Revolutionary New York (Albany, N.Y., 1975), 35–36; Marc W. Kruman, Between Authority and Liberty: State Constitution Making in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1997), 18–21.

65. John Jay to Alexander MacDougall, Apr. 11, 1776, in Richard B. Morris et al., eds., John Jay: Unpublished Papers (New York, 1975), 1: 254, quoted in Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire, 155.

66. Though lacking numbers in the assembly, conservatives held important positions on the Council of Safety (which operated as the executive for the first year that the constitution was in effect) and on the Council of Revision (the legal body with supervisory powers over new laws made in the legislature). See Countryman, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6: 666.

67. Hulseboch, Constituting Empire, 151; Countryman, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6: 659. For examples of tension, see Jared Sparks, ed., Correspondence of the American Revolution (Boston, 1853), 2: 485; Penrose, Mohawk Valley in the Revolution, 64–66.

68. “Memorial of the . . . Committee of Sequestration for the State of New York,” n.d., Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection, NYHS.

69. Alexander Clarence Flick, Loyalism in New York during the American Revolution (New York, 1901), 140–41.

70. Mather, New York in the Revolution, 244; Edwin Brockholst Livingston, The Livingstons of Livingston Manor. . . . (New York, 1910), 230–32, 253, 512–14.

71. Smith, Freedoms We Lost, 113 (quotation), 119, 134–82; Minutes of the Albany Committee to Regulate Prices, 1779, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, N.Y. New York conservatives resisted these measures. Egbert Benson called price-fixing “futile and absurd,” a view shared by Gouverneur Morris and the landholding Livingston interest. See Benson to Jay, July 6, 1779, in Johnston, Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, 1: 213 (“futile”); George Clinton to Horatio Gates, Mar. 4, 1778, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 2: 841; Jeremiah Wadsworth to Clinton, Nov. 20, 1778, ibid., 4: 302–3; Countryman, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6: 660–62. For the extension of credit and purchase of property, see “An Abstract of all Purchasers of Confiscated Property,” August 1784–October 1785, Commissioners of Forfeitures folder, box 5, New York State Revolutionary War collection; Committee of Sequestration accounts, November 1777–May 1779, Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection. For refugee purchases and debts, see Account book for George Palmer, 1777–78, box 2, Revolutionary War Miscellaneous Collection, NYHS; Account of cash received, various dates, Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 5, New York State Revolutionary War collection; Commissioners of Forfeiture Proceedings, 1784–1786, Westchester County Archives, Elmsford, N.Y.; Mather, New York in the Revolution, 250.

72. Howard Pashman, Building a Revolutionary State: The Legal Transformation of New York, 1776–1783 (Chicago, 2018), esp. 60–85.

73. Jonathan Trumbull to George Clinton, Apr. 27, 1781, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 6: 803–4 (quotation, 6: 803); Gloriana Stevenson to Clinton, Apr. 9, 1778, ibid., 3: 152–53. Connecticut enacted laws banning travel to Long Island to prevent this “illicit Trade,” with exemptions for “friendly refugee[s]”; see “An Act more effectually to prevent illicit Trade,” [Connecticut] Norwich Packet, Mar. 30, 1778, [4].

74. These values are compiled from Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 5, New York State Revolutionary War collection. The £319 N.Y. raised by Albany County through leasing represented just 3 percent of the district’s total revenue for that year.

75. Robert Benson to Henry Livingston, Aug. 3, 1780 (quotations), and Livingston to Theodore Van Wyck, Mar. 31, 1780, both in Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection.

76. The sale of property in Tryon County alone totaled £28,565 N.Y.; see Mather, New York in the Revolution, 250.

77. Leases were still being offered to refugees as late as 1782; see List of leases, 1782– 1783, Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection.

78. Mather, New York in the Revolution, 242.

79. Samuel Dodge to Theodore Van Wyck and Henry Livingston, June 26, 1781 (quotation), and list of leases, 1782–1783, both in Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection. These values are compiled from Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 5, New York State Revolutionary War collection.

80. George Clinton to Egbert Benson, July 25, 1780, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 6: 56.

81. An Abstract of all Purchasers of Confiscated Property, August 1784–October 1785, Commissioners of Forfeitures folder, box 5, New York State Revolutionary War collection; Committee of Sequestration accounts, November 1777–May 1779, Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection. Studies of property redistribution tend to doubt that the sale of loyalist property altered social structures in the short term. See Yoshpe, Disposition of Loyalist Estates, 7, 57, 113–19; Humphrey, Land and Liberty, 137.

82. Mather, Refugees of 1776, 262–63, 419–20, 500–502.

83. Mary Voyse, John Sloss Hobart—Forgotten Patriot ([Huntington, N.Y.], 1959).

84. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 2: 470.

85. Ibid., 1: 630 (quotation), 2: 346.

86. Daniel J. Hulsebosch notes that it was the assembly that ultimately “inherited the lion’s share of legitimate authority”; Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire, 9.

87. Barbara Clark Smith, “Food Rioters and the American Revolution,” WMQ 51, no. 1 (January 1994): 3–38.

88. “In Aid of the Distressed Families,” Jan. 20, 1778, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 2: 686.

89. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 881; Philip Cortlandt to George Clinton, May 9, 1778, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 3: 288; William Turnbull to Clinton, May 10, 1778, ibid., 3: 289.

90. John P. Kaminski, George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the New Republic (Madison, Wis., 1993), 78–80.

91. Benjamin Depuy to George Clinton, Apr. 1, 1779, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 4: 683–84; George Clinton to James Clinton, Apr. 11, 1779, ibid., 4: 711–12; “List of Sufferers in Tryon County,” ibid., 4: 721–23; “A List of Sufferers in Canajoharie District, Entitled to State Relief,” ibid., 4: 786–88; “Gerrit Groesbech’s Vouchers for the Distribution of £250 Among the Frontier Sufferers as Received by Him from Major Lush,” ibid., 5: 62–63.

92. Tax receipt of Malcolm McEwan, Aug. 11, 1778, Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection.

93. James Clinton to George Clinton, Jan. 31, 1779, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 4: 529.

94. Thomas McKean to George Clinton, Aug. 25, 1781, ibid., 7: 251–52.

95. Abraham Brasher to Elias Boudinot, Aug. 27, 1781, Pintard Papers, folder 15, box 8, NYHS, quoted in Van Buskirk, Generous Enemies, 36–37 (quotation, 37); Helen Kort- right Brasher Narrative, 1928, Ms. 2958.1194, NYHS.

96. Nathan Perkins, A Sermon Occasioned by the Unhappy Death of Mr. Lloyd; a Refugee from Long-Island and Published at the Request of His Friends (Hartford, Conn., 1780), 8.

97. Mather, Refugees of 1776, 202 (quotations), 960–61.

98. “Appendix E: Transactions of the Governor, Council of Safety and General Assembly of Connecticut. . . . ,” in Mather, Refugees of 1776, 892 (“managed”), 902 (“none”), 888.

99. Hannah Weiss Muller, Subjects and Sovereign: Bonds of Belonging in the Eighteenth-Century British Empire (Oxford, 2017), 16–44.

100. George Clinton to Stephen Lush, Apr. 17, 1779, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 4: 732 (“Part”); Clinton to Francis Lightfoot Lee, Jan. 10, 1778, ibid., 2: 668 (“numberless”); “A List of Sufferers in Canajoharie District, Entitled to State Relief,” ibid., 4: 786–88.

101. Theodore Van Wyck to Henry Livingston, Feb. 29, 1780, Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection.

102. Theodore Van Wyck to Henry Livingston, June 30, 1779, Mar. 6, 1780, and Mar. 20, 1780, Van Wyck to James Cox, Jan. 26, 1779, all in Commissioners of Sequestration folder, box 2, Dutchess County Collection.

103. The extent of refugee relief suggests that republican thought was capable of sidelining concerns about dependence and corruption in favor of a wartime focus on subordinating citizens to the authority of government; see Robert Sparling, “Political Corruption and the Concept of Dependence in Republican Thought,” Political Theory 41, no. 4 (August 2013): 618–47.

104. George Clinton to George Washington, Apr. 22, 1778, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 3: 205–6 (“fertile,” 3: 206); “Petition from Tryon County for Relief,” ibid., 6: 277–78 (“burden,” 6: 277); Clinton to Lee, Jan. 10, 1778, ibid., 2: 667–69.

105. John Davis to George Clinton, May 29, 1781, ibid., 6: 915 (“Considerable”); John Grenell to Davis, Aug. 14, 1781, ibid., 7: 198.

106. Charles J. Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 1636–1776 (Hartford, Conn., 1890), 15: 522 (quotation); Henry Onderdonk Jr., Revolutionary Incidents of Suffolk and King’s Counties. . . . (New York, 1849), 70; Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, from October 1776 to February 1778. . . . (Hartford, Conn., 1894), 254, 412; Mather, Refugees of 1776, 697–700, 713, 879, 894, 899.

107. Journals of the Provincial Congress, 1: 671 (quotation), 788; F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, D.C., 1893); Mather, Refugees of 1776, 92; “Appendix A: A Partial List of Patriot Civilian and Military Refugees from New York and Long Island,” in Hamilton Fish, New York State: The Battleground of the Revolutionary War (New York, 1976), 245–48.

108. John Sullivan to John Hancock, July 20, 1776, Papers of the Continental Congress, RG 360, Letters from General Officers, microform publication 247, roll 178, vol. 2, pp. 15–18 (quotation, 15), NARA; Force, American Archives: Fourth Series, 2: 725.

109. Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania. . . . (Harrisburg, Pa., 1851), 7: 289; W[illia]m H. Egle, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, 2d ser. (Harrisburg, Pa., 1890), vol. 18, pt. 1, 645–46. For the Wyoming violence, see Paul B. Moyer, Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier (Ithaca, N.Y., 2007).

110. John Morin Scott to George Clinton, Apr. 4, 1783, in Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, 8: 132–34 (“immediate,” 8: 133); Scott to Clinton, Apr. 19, 1783, ibid., 8: 147–53 (“State,” 8: 149).

111. Martha De Lancey to James Duane, Aug. 5, 1783, ibid., 8: 233–34; George Clinton to Marinus Willet and John Lasher, Nov. 27, 1783, ibid., 8: 317–18.

112. Daniel J. Hulsebosch, “A Discrete and Cosmopolitan Minority: The Loyalists, the Atlantic World, and the Origins of Judicial Review,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 81, no. 3 (June 2006): 825–66.

113. Mather, Refugees of 1776, 501, 881.

114. Lynd, WMQ 18: 357.

115. Mather, Refugees of 1776, 193.

116. Ibid., 194; John G. Staudt, “Suffolk County,” in The Other New York: The American Revolution beyond New York City, 1763–1787, ed. Joseph S. Tiedemann and Eugene R. Fingerhut (Albany, N.Y., 2005), 60–81, esp. 72–73.

117. Mohl, Poverty in Early America, a Reappraisal, 53–57.

118. Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 2004), 197–201; Peter Charles Hoffer, Rutgers v. Waddington: Alexander Hamilton, the End of the War for Independence, and the Origins of Judicial Review (Lawrence, Kans., 2016).

119. Lynd, WMQ 18: 337–38.

120. Kimberly J. Morgan and Ann Shola Orloff, introduction to The Many Hands of the State: Theorizing Political Authority and Social Control, ed. Morgan and Orloff (Cambridge, 2017), 1–32 (quotation, 4). Force was frequently employed by a host of state and non-state actors during and after the revolution. Since violence had proved effective in 1776, its legitimacy among non-state actors actually increased following the Revolutionary War; see Kenneth Owen, “Violence and the Limits of the Political Community in Revolutionary Pennsylvania,” in Griffin et al., Between Sovereignty and Anarchy, 165–86.

121. Philip Abrams, “Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State (1977),” Journal of Historical Sociology 1, no. 1 (March 1988): 58–89, esp. 60.

122. Bernard Bailyn, The Origins of American Politics (New York, 1968), 128–29; Rakove, “‘How Else Could It End?,’” 57–63.

123. Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles.

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