Loyalists: The Wrong Side of American Independence - HIST6086

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
Combined Autumn and Spring Terms 6 60 (30) Ben Marsh checkmark-circle


This special subject addresses the loyalists during the American Revolutionary era, who for a host of reasons remained wedded to king and empire, and sought to resist the tide of movement towards US independence using any means at their disposal – ideological, economic, spiritual, physical, and emotional. The loyalists, identified with the interests of the British Crown, were among the great losers during the Revolutionary War and at independence. Estimates of between 60,000-80,000 departed the U.S. at the end of the war, repatriating in clusters throughout the British Empire. Celebrated and long-studied in Canada, the American loyalists, have been vulnerable to "the condescension of posterity": for many decades vilified in nationalistic American narratives of the Founding Era, and absentmindedly overlooked in British imperial histories that looked to the Second Empire. They were a diverse lot, mobilised by diverse interests – including within their number thousands of Indians and slaves as well as wealthy whites, Anglicans, women, soldiers, ethnic minorities, and others who had benefited from royal patronage or who disparaged the Patriot movement. The subject's topicality resonates far beyond the academy, as shown by recent developments (e.g. Scottish and Quebecois referenda, Brexit and changing sentiments on Europe, and globally prominent issues of migration and refugee integration). We treat the culture of royalism and loyalty on the eve of the Revolution, the experiences and arguments of loyalists during the Revolution (including their military history and the battles for hearts and minds), the diasporic communities of loyalists who moved to the British Isles, Sierra Leone, Nova Scotia and elsewhere, and try also to contextualise perhaps as many as half a million loyalists who remained in or returned to the U.S. after the American Revolution, who faced the prospect of an awkward reintegration.

Besides working chronologically through these themes and issues, students taking this special subject will also develop skills, work in, and be assessed in palaeography and primary source analysis (consulting the Loyalist Claims), and digital humanities (pursuing the digital mapping of loyalists).


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 60
Private study hours: 540
Total study hours: 600

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Essay 1 3,500 words 12%
Biographic Exercise 2,000 words 6%
Essay 2 3,500 words 12%
Digital Mapping Exercise 6%
Seminar Participation 4%

Examination 2 x 2 hours 60%

Reassessment methods:
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

David Ramsay, History of the American Revolution (Philadelphia, 1789);
Jeremy Belknap, History of New-Hampshire (2 vols: Boston, 1791);
George Bancroft, History of the United States of America (New York, 1888);
Leslie F. Upton, The Loyal Whig: William Smith of New York and Quebec (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969);
Neil MacKinnon, This Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalist Experience in Nova Scotia, 1783-1791 (Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 1986);
Theodore C. Holmes, Loyalists to Canada: The 1783 Settlement of Quakers and Others at Passamaquoddy (Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1992);
Norman Knowles, Inventing the Loyalists:The Ontario Loyalist Tradition and the Creation of a Usable Past (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997)
Mary Beth Norton, The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774-1789 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972);
Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the slaves, and the American Revolution (New York: Ecco, 2006);
Cassandra Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty (Boston: Beacon, 2006);
Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles: how the loss of America made the British Empire (London: Harper Press, 2011);
Jerry Bannister and Liam Riordan, eds., The Loyal Atlantic: Remaking the British Atlantic in the Revolutionary Era (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012)
William H. Nelson, The American Tory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961);
Paul H. Smith, Loyalists and Redcoats: A Study in British Revolutionary Policy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964);
Wallace Brown, The King's Friends: The Composition and Motives of the American Loyalist Claimants (Providence: Brown University Press, 1965);
Calhoon, Robert M., The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760-1781 (New York: H.B. Jovanovich, 1973);
Robert M. Calhoon, Timothy M. Barnes, and George A. Rawlyk, eds. Loyalists and Community in North America (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Understand and critically assess the origins, evolution, and legacy of the American Revolution.
2 Assess the relative importance of ideological, military, economic, and cultural variables in inclining historical populations towards loyalism or radicalism.
3 Critically analyse how the experiences of the losing side of the Revolution compared and contrasted with their "Patriot" counterparts.
4 Critically evaluate how race, class, and gender affected the prevalence and character of loyalism in different regions of North America.
5 Undertake original research using primary sources from the National Archives.
6 Develop a systematic understanding of the impact of diasporic loyalists on communities around the British Empire (including Canada, Africa, and the British Isles).

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Develop their critical capacities in approaching a range of textual and non-written evidence, and their ability to process and formulate this evidence into a sophisticated and cogent argument (to be assessed through essays and written examination).
2 Develop their ability to participate successfully in sophisticated debate, weighing evidence to change their own position or to persuade others, to be fostered in the seminar environment.
3 Demonstrate an understanding of the complex interrelationship of factors which cause political allegiances to develop, and evaluate the significance of these.
4 Evaluate the merits of scholars' arguments on the basis of analysis of their use of source material and logical deduction.


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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