- The Consequences of Loyalism: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Calhoon ed. by Rebecca Brannon and Joseph S. Moore
In recent years, books and essays about loyalism and loyalty have proliferated among scholars of the Revolutionary era. As the editors of this edition rightly point out, none of the recent excellent work on political allegiance during the founding would have been possible without the ground-breaking scholarship of Robert M. Calhoon, and this collection is a fitting tribute to both his work on loyalism and his efforts to highlight moderation in early American history. The essays by sixteen scholars from a variety of perspectives demonstrate not only the continuing vibrancy and breadth of loyalist studies but also some of its possibilities for understanding the Revolution and early U.S. history more broadly.
In a chapter chronicling the lives of loyalists in the post-war settlement of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, Bonnie Huskins echoes the historian Edward Gray in reminding the reader that "Loyalist identity is best understood from a 'microhistorical perspective,'" which can encompass its "multiple, contested, and contradictory meanings" (104).1 The microhistorical approach employed by many of the authors is one of the great strengths of the volume, as various chapters present the reader with well-researched, deeply drawn and multi-faceted studies of individuals and communities of loyalists that could not be accomplished at a more macro level. Ranging from Christopher Minty's exhaustively quantitative investigation of nearly 10,000 identified loyalists from Revolutionary New York State to Sally Hadden's painstaking reconstruction of the legal careers of lawyers who fought for loyalist land claims after the war, these studies use smaller-scale, in-depth analysis to revise and even refute earlier claims on the nature of loyalism and the lasting repercussions of [End Page 552] political allegiance. Even essays that attempt larger-scale studies, such as Brett Palfreyman's analysis of those who refused to sign loyalty oaths in post-Revolutionary Pennsylvania and Ruma Chopra's interpretation of the goals of the white loyalist refugee population in post-war Nova Scotia, start from an assumption that there was no typical loyalist, but rather a diverse group of people with diverse and often intensely personal reasons for siding with the king. The result of all of this attention to individual narratives is a deeply satisfying complexity—the Revolutionary past stripped of nationalist interpretations and presented in all of its contradictory, ambiguous, nuanced glory.
Another valuable contribution of The Consequences of Loyalism is the application of new methodologies to the study of loyalty during the American Revolution. Kacy Tillman and Eileen Ka-May Cheng bring to bear the techniques of literary analysis on manuscripts left by loyalist women in the Delaware Valley and histories written by the patriot David Ramsay and the loyalist Alexander Hewatt. While Tillman's work demonstrates the ambiguous and shifting nature of loyalist ideology from a female perspective, Cheng's close reading provides striking evidence of how elements of that ideology—with all of its contradictions and uncertainties—were co-opted and incorporated into the nationalist histories propagated in the decades after 1783. Another thought provoking essay that breaks with typical historical practice is Catherine M. A. Cottreau-Robins's study of slave communities among white loyalist communities in Nova Scotia. Cottreau-Robins combines documentary history with archeological and landscape evidence to re-construct plantation life in the colony, providing a perspective rarely mentioned in typical histories of loyalist diaspora.
Some attempts to bring new techniques to bear are less successful than others. Christopher Sparshott's casting of occupied New York City as a refugee camp promises a new framework to put front and center the "fluid, contingent, and ultimately unpredictable wartime identity" of loyalist refugees (64). However, the analysis, which relies heavily on loyalist petitions and British army records, too often flattens the individual experiences of civilians to fit into categories that risk mimicking those that the British army imposed during the war. Later in the volume...