Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Shannon E. Duffy


During the American Revolution, Loyalists, or “Tories” as Patriots called them, included prominent Pennsylvania political and religious leaders as well as many less affluent individuals from the state’s Quaker and German pacifist communities. A large number of “neutrals” also struggled with increasing difficulty to remain uninvolved in the conflict. Religion, ethnicity, economic status, and local concerns influenced decisions to back the rebellion, remain loyal to Great Britain, or stay neutral. Many initially supported Patriot resistance against Parliamentary taxation but gradually shifted their allegiance after protests turned into war and formal independence.

[caption id="attachment_22272" align="alignright" width="201"]Portrait of Joseph Galloway Loyalist Joseph Galloway, speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, was a member of the Continental Congress but could not accept independence and became a leader of the Loyalists. (New York Public Library)[/caption]

Historians estimate that 15 to 20 percent of white colonial men actively aided the British in their attempts to suppress the Revolution. Over the course of the war, about 30,000 colonials bore arms for Britain. Many prominent Pennsylvania leaders ultimately sided with the Crown, including former Philadelphia mayor William Allen (1704-80), Pennsylvania Assembly Speaker Joseph Galloway (1731-1803), and Anglican Rector of Christ Church Jacob Duché (1737-1798), who had given the blessing for the first Continental Congress. Former New Jersey Assembly Speaker Cortlandt Skinner (1727-99) became a British brigadier general, commanding the Loyalist “New Jersey Volunteers.” New Jersey Governor William Franklin (1731-1813), son of Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), helped establish a Board of Associated Loyalists, coordinating Loyalist guerilla attacks throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Three thousand Philadelphia Loyalists left the city with the army of General William Howe (1729-1814) at the end of the British occupation in 1778. Continentwide, by the war’s end, 60,000 to 80,000 colonials chose exile rather than remain under the new American governments.

Many enslaved African Americans gave their support to the Loyalist side, while others fought for the Patriots. When offered freedom in exchange for war service, around 20,000 slaves escaped to the British lines. Although most were from the southern colonies, at least sixty-seven came from the Philadelphia area. Personal liberty was an obvious motive, but there is also evidence that some slaves were actively cheering for a British victory. On December 14, 1775, the Evening Post alleged a Philadelphia slave had threatened a white woman, “Stay you d----d white bitch ’till Lord Dunmore and his black regiment come, and then we will see who is to take the wall.”

Ethnicity and religion often guided citizens’ political allegiance in the Philadelphia region. Many Quaker and German pacifists tended toward neutrality or Loyalism (as did the Anglicans), while Baptists and Presbyterians were more likely to lean Patriot. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) forbade military service and any aid to violent rebellion; while many Friends had initially supported the resistance movement, they pulled away as colonial protests grew more violent. Many Quakers believed that to keep their faith they must not pay war taxes, pay fines in lieu of military service, swear oaths of allegiance, or aid military efforts in any manner. By 1775, Monthly Meetings throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware removed members from their rolls for overt support of the rebellion. After the Declaration of Independence, when the new state governments demanded loyalty oaths and tax payments, the Quakers’ situation became worse. A small group, the “Free Quakers” who supported the rebellion, splintered from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to form their own congregation, gathering in private homes before they built a meetinghouse in 1783.

“Peace Germans”

Members of Amish, Brethren (Dunker), Mennonite, Moravian, and Schwenkfelder congregations had similar problems. On the eve of the Revolution, about 10,000 members of these German pacifist sects called Pennsylvania home. These “Peace Germans” believed that God alone possessed the right to overthrow a legal government, which rendered them unable to swear loyalty to any revolutionary government—until final victory proved God’s will. Like the Quakers, the Peace Germans were disappointed because the state’s new government abandoned the policy of religious toleration that had drawn them to Pennsylvania. The Schwenkfelder Petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly (October 1777), signed by approximately 1,500 people from various German pacifist denominations, reminded the Assembly that “the only reason for our journey” to America was to “become partakers of the benefits of the just and well-known religious freedom as well as civil rights in Pennsylvania.” As far as can be determined, most of the Peace Germans were truly neutral, as opposed to politically committed to a British victory.

The shift in allegiance toward the British side was often gradual. Many future Loyalists, including prominent Pennsylvania leaders, supported some aspects of the Patriot resistance until escalating turbulence and the Patriots’ path toward independence led them to withdraw their support. As Royal Governor of New Jersey, William Franklin refused to let the Royal Charlotte unload stamped paper in 1765, on the premise that he could not guarantee the cargo’s safety; he later joined celebrations when the Stamp Act was repealed. One of two Quakers later hanged for treason, John Roberts (1721-78), signed a resolution condemning the 1774 Boston Port Act as “unconstitutional; oppressive to the inhabitants of that town; dangerous to the liberties of the British Colonies.” Joseph Galloway took a seat in 1775 at the First Continental Congress, but later led the civilian government during the British occupation of Philadelphia.

For many Philadelphians, the outbreak of warfare decided them; for others, the Declaration of Independence was a step they were not prepared to take. After July 4, 1776, many Loyalists pointed to the Declaration as proof Patriot leaders had been deceptive in their true aims. Galloway said the Declaration of Independence confirmed his longstanding suspicions: the radicals “had deceived the people from the beginning ... and that notwithstanding all their solemn professions to the contrary, they ever had independence in their view.”

[caption id="attachment_22271" align="alignright" width="172"]An engraving showing colonists preparing to tar and feather a Loyalist. This engraving by Elkanah Tisdale in 1795 shows colonists preparing to tar and feather a Loyalist seated on the ground as another Loyalist hangs from a gallows with a rope around his waist. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

For those who sought to remain aloof from the struggle, neutrality and noninvolvement became more difficult after 1776.The disastrous Mid-Atlantic campaign resulted in substantial recruits for the British that increased Patriot paranoia, leading to harsh anti-Loyalist laws. On the eve of the Battle of Trenton, the British reported that 4,836 colonists of New Jersey had taken oaths of allegiance. George Washington (1732-99) wrote: “The conduct of the Jerseys has been most infamous; instead of turning out to defend their country and affording aid to our Army, they are making their submissions as fast as they can” (December 18,1776). By the Revolutionary War’s midpoint, more New Jersey men were serving among the ranks of the British army than in the Continental forces. In response, state legislatures (including Pennsylvania’s), passed laws that required oaths of allegiance, or “test oaths,” to the new governments. Those who refused to swear (whether from political or religious scruples) were deemed “nonjurers,” subject to substantial fines and deprived of the right to vote, hold office, serve on juries, sue for debts, transfer real estate, or even hold some occupations. While few pacifists were imprisoned, the confiscations and fines ruined many families financially.

Occupation of Philadelphia

Rebel reprisals in Pennsylvania were harshest immediately before and after Philadelphia’s nine-month occupation in 1777-78. On the eve of the British attack on the revolutionary capital, fear that spies and collaborators would aid the British led Pennsylvania’s legislature, on the advice of Congress, to arrest forty-one Philadelphians judged “disaffected to the American cause.” Of these, twenty-two Quakers were banished to the frontier town of Winchester, Virginia, where they remained for eight months until repeated petitions and complaints brought about their release. Two died before their discharge in April 1778.

After Howe’s forces occupied Philadelphia on September 23, 1777, many formerly neutral and apolitical Philadelphia residents socialized openly with British officers, while area farmers supplied provisions to British and Hessian armies. Patriot anger reached a crescendo after the British staged the Meschianza, an elaborate pageant to honor General Howe before his departure for London. The combination regatta, jousting tournament, and formal dinner cost over £3,000 pounds, and feted the elite women of Philadelphia, some from known Loyalist families and others who had previously claimed neutrality.

The end of the British occupation unleashed another wave of popular fury at such “Tory” collaborators, as the Pennsylvania government arrested 638 Philadelphians on suspicion of treason. More than one hundred people lost their property. Two of the arrested, Quakers John Roberts and Abraham Carlisle (?-1778), were charged with collaborating with the British and hanged. Carlisle had been a British gatekeeper, issuing passes out of the city; Roberts allegedly acted as a guide for the British raiding parties in the nearby countryside. While the two men had trials, unlike the Winchester exiles, the evidence against Roberts in particular seemed flimsy, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania received numerous appeals for clemency. Regardless, both men were executed on November 4, 1778. More than four thousand Philadelphians attended the burial march.

Following the 1778 British military reversals (particularly Saratoga and the evacuation of Philadelphia), many mid-Atlantic Loyalists castigated the British for their mild prosecution of the war and advocated a much harsher line. While the British military made no real systematic attempt to organize the Loyalists into regiments until the Southern campaign, Loyalist guerilla fighters wreaked havoc in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Loyalist militia conducted nighttime raids, burning farms and houses and kidnapping Patriot leaders. William Franklin’s Associated Loyalists worked as an autonomous military organization with the design of “annoying the sea coasts of the revolted provinces and distressing their trade.” In some areas, the collapse of civil society led to banditry by militias of both sides, especially in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey and along the New York-New Jersey border.

[caption id="attachment_22270" align="alignright" width="300"]A cartoon showing three Natives Americans, representing America murdering six Loyalists. This cartoon published in London in 1783 depicts six Loyalists being murdered by Native Americans (representing America). Four Loyalists are being hung, one is about to be scalped, and the last, appealing to Fate, is about to be killed by the man wielding an axe. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The end of the war stunned many Loyalists, who still expected a British victory, as did the terms of peace treaty that followed. The 1783 Treaty of Paris made few provisions to protect Loyalists or return their property. Its Article 5 promised only that “Congress shall earnestly recommend” the restitution of confiscated properties. State governments (not Congress) had conducted most confiscations, and the Articles of Confederation granted the national government little power to compel state compliance. Legal proscriptions against the Loyalists took years to repeal. The Test Laws were first challenged in the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1784, and finally repealed two years later. In many places, Loyalists attempting to return to their communities experienced popular animosity. A mass meeting of Easton, Pennsylvania, residents protested the return of Loyalists who fought with the Indians, accusing them of having wet “their hands in the blood of our unprotected countrymen.” In New Jersey, returning Loyalists were attacked with tar and feathers. Some German pacifists continued to feel unwelcome years after the war’s conclusion. During the 1780s and 1790s, several Bucks County Mennonite congregations left to establish new communities in Ontario, Canada. While most states (including Pennsylvania) repealed anti-Loyalist laws before 1788, Pennsylvania’s “Black List” of individuals subject to arrest or confiscation was still in circulation as late as 1802. Such signs of continuing resentment toward both Loyalists and neutrals indicate that the divisions created by the Revolution persisted long after the peace.

Shannon E. Duffy received a B.A. from Emory University, an M.A. from the University of New Orleans, and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. Currently a Senior Lecturer in Early American History at Texas State University, her manuscript The Twin Occupations of Revolutionary Philadelphia explores the psychological effects of the British occupation of Philadelphia under General William Howe, as well as the American reoccupation of the city eight months later under the command of General Benedict Arnold.

Revolutionary Crisis (American Revolution)

The Stamp Act of 1765, the first direct tax ever imposed by the British government on colonial Americans, inadvertently provoked a ten-year clash of wills between Britain and the colonies that led to the American Revolutionary War. During this Revolutionary Crisis period (1765-75), colonists resisted imperial taxes and other Parliamentary innovations with protests and with boycotts of British goods, called nonimportation agreements. Many Philadelphians initially proved more reluctant to join the protests than colonists to the north and south. However, with much of the trade of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of New York flowing through the city’s port, Philadelphia became a central focus for enforcing nonimportation. Ultimately, popular anger over British “encroachments” forced a realignment of power in the town and province and brought Philadelphia-area merchants and consumers into greater support for the resistance movement.

[caption id="attachment_17877" align="alignright" width="300"]Masthead of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, October 31, 1765 This masthead for the October 31, 1765, Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, objecting to the tax about to take effect under the Stamp Act of 1765, depicts a skull-and-crossbones parody of the official stamp required by the act. The publisher, William Bradford, announces that he is suspending publication because he can't afford the tax, calling the skull-and-crossbones icon “An emblem of the effects of the STAMP - O! the fatal Stamp,” and describing the times as “Dreadful, Dismal, Doleful, Dolorous, and Dollar-less.” (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Britain’s Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765, to offset the huge debt amassed during the recent Seven Years’ War (1754-63). The British government intended the Stamp Act to defray the cost of “defending, protecting, and securing” the “British colonies and plantations in America.” The terms of the act required colonials to purchase special paper from designated commissioners for a wide variety of legal and business transactions, varying from court pleadings and wills to newspapers and gaming cards. Contracts written on other than stamped paper were null and void, and counterfeiting the stamps was deemed a capital offense.

The British government seriously underestimated the anger this law would provoke. Colonial “Patriots” argued that cooperation with the law, which imposed taxation without American representation in Parliament, was akin to accepting economic slavery. Major riots occurred in Boston and New York City. Colonial legislatures and newspapers issued strongly worded protests. A German-language press in Germantown encouraged readers to resist the unerträglichen (“unbearable”) Stamp Act. Everywhere, angry mobs targeted royal officials; the Constitutional Courant (Woodbridge, New Jersey) called American-born men who would cooperate with such an act the  “vipers of human kind,” and the “worst of parricides.” In October 1765, nine of the thirteen colonies sent representatives to a Stamp Act Congress in New York City to draft a unified protest.

In comparison with other colonial cities, Philadelphia’s initial response to the crisis was mild. While other colonial assemblies took a leading role in organizing the resistance, Pennsylvania’s assembly, dominated by the “Quaker” Party of Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) and Joseph Galloway (1731-1803), remained caught up in a struggle to wrest the colony from the Penn family. Franklin, serving in London at the time as colonial agent, so misjudged colonial response that he recommended a trusted colleague, John Hughes (1711-72), for the post of Pennsylvania stamp act distributor.

Philadelphia’s Muted Protests

Franklin’s popularity among the mechanics and artisans muted Philadelphia’s protests, but both he and Hughes were castigated for their apparent support of the unpopular measure. On the night of September 16, 1765, a large mob gathered at the State House to target individuals associated with the act, including Franklin, Hughes, and Galloway. Franklin’s wife, Deborah Read Franklin, (1708-74) reported to her husband that the crowd was dissuaded from attacking the Franklin home by an association of over 800 men formed “for the Preservation of the Peace of the City,” who convinced the protesters to disperse. Once the stamps themselves arrived on October 5, another huge crowd corralled stamp distributor Hughes and made him swear not to execute the act or permit the stamps to be unloaded.

Pennsylvania’s rival Proprietary Party also tried to use the controversy to politically weaken Franklin, blaming him for not trying to halt the legislation. Franklin’s supporters countered that no American could have successfully held off the Stamp Act, given its broad Parliamentary support. One broadside signed by “A Freeman of Pennsylvania” claimed: “Mr. Franklin, or any other American...might as easily have stopped the tide of Delaware, at New Castle, with his Finger, as prevented the Bill passing into a Law.”

[caption id="attachment_17879" align="alignright" width="300"]A 1781 London print shows the Earl of Mansfield, seated, and the Earl of Sandwich keeping watch over the British lion, who is asleep in a cradle surrounded by four barking dogs labeled “Holland,” “America” (urinating on a paper labeled “Tea Act”), “France,” and “Spain”. In this 1781 London print, the Earl of Mansfield, shown seated, and the Earl of Sandwich keep watch over the British lion, which is asleep in a cradle surrounded by four barking dogs labeled “Holland,” “America” (urinating on a paper labeled “Tea Act”), “France,” and “Spain.” (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Amidst the riots, congresses, petitions, and threats, the most potent form of protest was a new type of resistance action: colonial boycotts of British goods. Called “nonimportation agreements” (when merchants signed them) and “nonconsumption agreements” (when citizens signed them), these agreements were the first large-scale boycotts in history. Made possible by colonial Americans’ growing importance as British consumers, they were promoted through colonial newspapers and broadsides that encouraged readers to show patriotic resistance to the unjust acts.

Philadelphia’s merchants pledged cooperation with nonimportation, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Philadelphia docks tried to unload all ships by November 1, 1765, the date when the Stamp Act would go into effect, accordingly preserving “October 31” on their forms as an unloading date for several weeks—if a ship had begun to be unloaded by Halloween, it was “grandfathered” under the pre-act terms. As late as December, ship-owners still received port authorities’ go-ahead to clear ships, under the fiction that the stamps were somehow inaccessible. Even Philadelphia’s vermin reportedly assisted the resistance effort, as one newspaper gleefully reported: “a Quantity of the Stamp Paper, on board the Sardoine Man of War, has been gnawed to pieces by the Rats!”

The Stamp Act Fails

The 1765 Stamp Act proved an abysmal failure. Mobs ultimately forced all the stamp distributors to resign. Not one of the thirteen colonies collected a shilling from the tax, and the boycott worsened England’s already-depressed economy. The act was repealed within a year. When news of the repeal reached Philadelphia on May 19, 1766, large crowds drank to the health of King George III (1738-1820).

In May 1767, the British Parliament again tried to tax the American colonies, prompting a second round of protests and nonimportation agreements. Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend (1725-67) proposed duties to exploit what he perceived to be an apparent flaw in the Patriots’ argument. While the Patriots denied Parliament’s right to tax, they acknowledged Parliament’s right to regulate colonial trade. Accordingly, the Townshend Acts placed import duties on five categories of imported items: paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.

While response to the Stamp Act had been immediate and spontaneous, resistance to the Townshend Duties was not. Philadelphia’s merchant community remained divided, both because many of the wealthier merchants wished to try to obtain repeal of the duties quietly, through their contacts with English merchant houses, and also because merchants trading primarily in manufactured British goods (“dry goods” merchants) stood to be much more heavily affected by the terms of the boycott than those houses trading primarily with the West Indies, in “wet goods.”

As segments of the Philadelphia merchants’ community resisted calls for an intercolonial nonimportation agreement, political power in Philadelphia began to shift to the mechanic and artisan community, who were more heavily in favor of the ban. By the summer of 1770, Philadelphia radicals, working with the artisans and mechanics, were a new force in Philadelphia politics. Nonimportation appealed to Philadelphia mechanics from the start, as they also had economic motive to support the boycott, which reduced competition from imported British manufactured goods and hence aided domestic manufactures.

“Letters From a Farmer”

The protest movement also found a powerful advocate in John Dickinson (1732-1808), a Philadelphia lawyer connected to Pennsylvania’s Proprietary Party. Dickinson’s Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, which ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle from December 1767 to February 1768, attacked the taxes on both constitutional and economic grounds. Dickinson argued that if such taxes were accepted meekly, worse would follow, endangering the very notion of private property.

By May of 1768, Boston and New York had agreed upon an intercolonial nonimportation agreement. Anti-British sentiment grew with the garrisoning of troops in Boston and the dissolving of the Massachusetts legislature. A majority of Philadelphia merchants finally adopted nonimportation on March 10, 1769. However, Patriot enforcement methods (including threats of violence to persons or establishments) alienated many of the Quaker elite, and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting discouraged Quakers from supporting nonimportation, dividing the city’s leadership.

On April 12, 1770, Parliament repealed all of the Townshend Duties save the one on tea, which was retained to make a point about Parliament’s right to tax the colonies. By the fall of 1770, Philadelphia’s radical leaders were trying frantically to hold nonimportation together. In late September, the Philadelphia merchants ended the boycott for all products other than tea, and by December, the intercolonial boycott was defunct.

Anglo-American relations calmed somewhat in the next few years, until May 1773, when Parliament renewed the taxation controversy by passing the Tea Act. This law lowered the existing tax on tea in an effort to convince Americans to switch from smuggled foreign tea, and also granted agents of the East India Company exclusive rights to sell tea in the colonies. Patriots reacted strongly both to this perceived effort to trick Americans into paying a hidden tax and to the precedent established by granting such a monopoly to a small group of merchants. One broadside called on the “industrious and respectable Body of TRADESMEN and MECHANICS of Pennsylvania” to fight to defend the “dear-earned Fruits of our Labour” from a “Set of luxurious, abandoned and piratical Hirelings” who would ruin not only colonial merchants, but also the mechanics and artisans if such monopolistic grants spread to other items of trade.

Morality of Luxury Items

[caption id="attachment_17878" align="alignright" width="236"]A cartoon that shows the old courthouse in Philadelphia during the 1764 election. In this cartoon, which depicts the old courthouse of Philadelphia during the election of October 1, 1764, people discuss the candidates in the foreground as men wait to enter the courthouse and cast their votes. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As tension over the Tea Act grew, colonial protests increasingly stressed moral arguments as well as economic ones, presenting British imported goods as dangerous luxury items that were corrupting American morals and health. One writer in Chester, Pennsylvania, noted the manifest virtue that American merchants were showing in resisting the “Pandora’s box” of danger that the tea ships represented, despite the profits that they could have made from the trade. “A Sermon on Tea,” printed in Lancaster, went so far as to depict tea as an evil in itself, blaming “the tea-table” for encouraging female gossip and malevolent rumors, extravagance, sexual promiscuity, and physical infirmities. A mass town meeting October 16 determined that anyone helping tea ships unload their goods into Philadelphia was “an enemy to his country,” and demanded the resignation of the tea consignees. Once the tea itself showed up in late November aboard the Polly, the ship’s captain was quickly persuaded by threats of fire, tar, and feathering to sail back to London without attempting to unload the cargo.

After the colonies received word of the Coercive Acts, passed by Parliament in response to the “Boston Tea Party” of December 16, 1773, nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements became truly continental. A large meeting of the “freeholders and freemen of the city and county of Philadelphia” declared the Boston Port Bill unconstitutional and resolved to support Bostonians “as suffering in the common cause of America.” Berks County, Pennsylvania, was one of many communities across America to begin collecting relief supplies to aid the people of Boston. The first Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in September 1774 with twelve of the thirteen colonies represented, set up an association to oversee boycott of all British products. A total prohibition on imports began in December, and an export embargo was to start in September 1775 if necessary. The association called for every community to set up elected committees in order to enforce its terms, giving them sweeping authority to inspect commercial records and properties and to publicize violators. Nonimportation and nonconsumption remained major strategies for the American protest movement until the outbreak of war in April 1775 moved the quarrel to a different level.

Shannon E. Duffy received her B.A. from Emory University, her M.A. from the University of New Orleans, and her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She is a Senior Lecturer in Early American History at Texas State University. Her manuscript in progress, The Twin Occupations of Revolutionary Philadelphia, explores the psychological effects of the British occupation of Philadelphia under General William Howe, as well as the American reoccupation of the city eight months later under the command of General Benedict Arnold.

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