August 31, 2020, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
This dissertation traces the extent, nature, and significance of that subset of Virginia's population that remained loyal to the king and to the British Empire during and after the American Revolution. It argues that Virginia’s loyalist populations were much larger and politically active than historians of Virginia, loyalism, or the American Revolution have previously acknowledged. Both black and white loyalists, throughout the war, were organized and connected to each other through like-minded networks and communities, which not only ensured their survival during the war, but also made them dangerous adversaries of the state’s patriot majority. Understanding the extent of loyalist populations and their actions not only adds to the state’s Revolutionary narrative, but proves that Virginia’s reputation as a patriotic powerhouse is more of a myth promoted and perpetuated by Virginia Whigs than a historical reality.
As the largest, richest, and most populous colony, the Old Dominion acquired a reputation as the natural political and economic leader of the American colonies during the 1770s. Virginia Whigs sought to maintain that reputation by underplaying and, at times, completely denying the existence of loyalism in the state. Despite the best efforts of Whigs to discredit their voices and actions, Virginia loyalists navigated the American Revolution together—whether in Virginia or in exile outside of the United States. Although the Virginia Gazette newspapers failed to report or acknowledge loyalist insurrections from the Tidewater to the Backcountry, men and women loyal to the Crown were active participants in the Revolution, whether it was through military service, supplying the British Army, or refusing to accept mandates by their local revolutionary committees of safety.
This dissertation engages and expands the scholarly literature on the Revolution in Virginia, which has almost exclusively focused on the development and near-universal acceptance of the patriot cause among Virginians, regardless of class or region. Using the records of the American Loyalist Claims Commission, the Book of Negroes, state, county, and city records, plantation and business ledgers, family papers, genealogical collections, and the Virginia Gazette newspapers, over 2,000 Virginia loyalists have been located and organized into datasets to reveal their experiences, networks, and significance in the Revolution. Despite traditional narratives which support the notion that Virginia had relatively few struggles with loyalism, these digital methods reveal that loyalist communities existed in the state, served as a constant threat to local patriots, and relocated and reassembled elsewhere after the war was over.