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On November 25, 1783, the last British troops pulled out of New York City, bringing the American Revolution to an end. Patriots celebrated their departure and the confirmation of U.S. independence. But for tens of thousands of American loyalists, the British evacuation spelled worry, not jubilation. What would happen to them in the new United States? Would they and their families be safe? Facing grave doubts about their futures, some sixty thousand loyalists—one in forty members of the American population—decided to leave their homes and become refugees elsewhere in the British Empire. They sailed for Britain, for Canada, for Jamaica, and for the Bahamas; some ventured as far as Sierra Leone and India. Wherever they went, the voyage out of America was a fresh beginning, and it carried them into a dynamic if uncertain new world.
A groundbreaking history of the revolutionary era, Liberty’s Exiles tells the story of this remarkable global diaspora. Through painstaking archival research and vivid storytelling, award-winning historian Maya Jasanoff re-creates the journeys of ordinary individuals whose lives were overturned by extraordinary events. She tells of refugees like Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who spent nearly thirty years as a migrant, searching for a home in Britain, Jamaica, and Canada. And of David George, a black preacher born into slavery, who found freedom and faith in the British Empire, and eventually led his followers to seek a new Jerusalem in Sierra Leone. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant resettled his people under British protection in Ontario, while the adventurer William Augustus Bowles tried to shape a loyalist Creek state in Florida. For all these people and more, it was the British Empire—not the United States—that held the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet as they dispersed across the empire, the loyalists also carried things from their former homes, revealing an enduring American influence on the wider British world.
Ambitious, original, and personality-filled, Liberty’s Exiles is at once an intimate narrative history and a provocative new analysis—a book that explores an unknown dimension of America’s founding to illuminate the meanings of liberty itself.
Winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2012 George Washington Book Prize
Jasanoff (History/Harvard Univ.; Edge of Empire: Life, Culture, and Conquest in the East 1750–1850, 2005) examines the effects of the American Revolution on those whose loyalty to the Crown compelled them to flee the new United States.
As the author writes, few expected the Revolution to succeed, but when it did, the American supporters of King George III found their property and lives in dire jeopardy—even the Anglican clergy, who had sworn fealty to George III and felt honor-bound to their oaths. Loyalists were beaten and tormented constantly. After a swift summary of the war, Jasanoff focuses on those who did not remain. Where did they go? Did they prosper? Upper-class white loyalists were inconvenienced, but many managed to find havens elsewhere. The lower classes, however, including the American Indians and African-Americans who had sided with the British, found their lives shattered and their futures bleak. Jasanoff moves artfully from larger global issues (where to resettle?) to individual stories of people who documented the turmoil with publications, letters and diaries. Some individuals stand out. Sir Guy Carleton organized a massive evacuation of up to 100,000 soldiers and civilians from U.S. coastal cities. Dr. William Johnston struggled with the many ill immigrants in Jamaica. John Clarkson was the white Moses of the emigration in 1792 of hundreds of blacks from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. Jasanoff gives just space to each of the principal destinations—Nova Scotia, the Bahamas and Jamaica, Canada and Sierra Leone. The struggles were fierce in all the locations, but the author has perhaps her kindest words for the African settlers, who, after a devastating attack from the French, succeeded in Freetown. Jasanoff's most sympathetic words go to the American Indians, who listened and trusted, and suffered horribly as a result.
Splendidly researched, sensibly argued and compassionately told.
“Spirited and engaging . . . [Jasanoff] has turned her remarkable historical talents to the experiences of the tens of thousands of loyalists who felt compelled to leave the North American colonies that became the United States. . . . One of the strengths of her deeply researched book is the extent to which she was able to recover the stories of some of these loyalist refugees.” —Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books
“A masterful account of the dispersal of the loyalists. . . . Jasanoff’s notable achievement is to engage the reader’s interest, and sympathies, in the travails of the Revolution’s losers. It will be thoroughly rewarding, even for the reader already familiar with the fates of the winners.” —The Boston Globe
“Ambitious, empathetic and sometimes lyrical...Liberty's Exiles just claims to be the 'first global history of the loyalist diaspora' . . . Jasanoff skillfully threads the stories of individual loyalists through her narrative as she beautifully describes, one by one, the often inhospitable places they went.” —The Washington Post
“[There are] many revelations in this very well-researched and fluently written book…Jasanoff has written [the loyalists] a fitting tribute.” —Andrew Roberts, The Daily Beast
“A fascinating, important and beautifully written investigation that ought to be required reading for anyone who thinks America's founding was an unambiguous instance of liberty and justice throwing off the shackles of tyranny and oppression.” —The Seattle Times
“A relatively neglected subject, now handsomely addressed by Maya Jasanoff. [Her] ability to blend structural analysis with engrossing accounts of personal experience makes Liberty’s Exiles a highly readable book as well as an informative one.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Jasanoff's book is history at its best.” —Richmond-Times Dispatch
“You have GOT to buy this book.” —DennisMansfield.com
“[A] vivid, superbly researched, and highly intelligent book . . . employ[ed] with terrific panache.” —Linda Colley, The Guardian (UK)
“Brilliant, seminal work.” —Dallas Morning News
"Smart and gracefully written . . . Liberty's Exiles tells a complex and original story of the loyalists. It is a history worth knowing.” —The Wilson Quarterly
“Jasanoff moves artfully from larger global issues to individual stories of people who documented the turmoil. . . . Splendidly researched, sensibly argued and compassionately told.” —Austin American Statesman
“Losers seldom get to write the history, but the American loyalists have at last got their historian with Maya Jasanoff. This is not just the story of their poignant and often tragic fate during the war for independence, but also the story of the loyalist diaspora, the experience of 60,000 men and women, black and white, as they spread into Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, and India. No one has told this story before, and Jasanoff tells it with uncommon style and grace.” —Joseph J. Ellis
“The days are long gone when American history was written not only by the victors but also about them. Yet we have had to wait too long for a history of the Loyalists who fought against the American Revolution, and lost. Maya Jasanoff has done more than merely rescue them from the condescension of posterity. She has made them live on the page. I can think of few books published in the past thirty years that shed more brilliant and revelatory light on the events of the revolutionary era than Liberty’s Exiles. It is more than just a work of first-class scholarship on a par with Linda Colley’s Britons. It is a deeply moving masterpiece that fulfils the historian’s most challenging ambition: to revivify past experience.” —Niall Ferguson
“Liberty's Exiles is a book which in scope and originality, global reach and research, intellectual curiosity and sheer provocative panache—upturning in its wake whole applecarts of unchallenged assumptions—can sustain comparison with Linda Colley or the young Simon Schama. The truth is that Maya Jasanoff is not just a very good writer, an indefatigable researcher and a fine historian, she is also a bit of a genius.” —William Dalrymple
“Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty's Exiles places the loyalist experience and the aftermath of the American Revolution in an entirely new light. Alongside the Spirit of 1776, Jasanoff gives us the Spirit of 1783, dedicated to remaking the mighty British Empire, and then offers a stunning reinterpretation of the Loyalists’ complicated role in that remaking. Her meticulously researched and superbly written account is historical revision at its finest, and it affirms her place as one of the very finest historians of the rising generation.” —Sean Wilentz
“A masterful account of the struggles, heartbreak, and determination that characterized specific Loyalist families and individuals. . . . [A] superb study of a little known episode in American and British history.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Jasanoff moves artfully from larger global issues to individual stories documenting the turmoil. . . . Splendidly researched, sensibly argued, and compassionately told.” —Kirkus (starred)
“[E]xhaustively researched and very well written. . . . [Jasonoff] skillfully weav[es] into her work the stories of individual loyalists, British officials, and others. She is as good at close-in, detailed narrative as she is at detached, balanced analysis of the forces at work. Liberty's Exiles—which provides, she notes, ‘the first global history of the loyalist diaspora’—belongs on the short shelf of indispensable books about the American Revolution’s losers.” —Commonweal
List of Maps ix
Cast of Characters xi
Introduction: The Spirit of 1783 5
Part I Refugees
1 Civil War 21
2 An Unsettling Peace 55
3 A New World Disorder 85
Part II Settlers
4 The Heart of Empire 113
5 A World in the Wilderness 147
6 Loyal Americas 177
Part III Subjects
7 Islands in a Storm 215
8 False Refuge 245
9 Promised Land 279
10 Empires of Liberty 313
Conclusion: Losers and Founders 343
Appendix: Measuring the Exodus 351
Posted July 4, 2012
This is fascinating global story of the Americans who did not what to be American--the loyalists from the American Revolution. Apart from Benedict Arnold, these people (and there are hundreds of thousands of them, not just a few traitors) get such little attention in U.S. history. The book shows how important they were and the diverse reasons why they sided with Britain. The style is a bit hard going at times and often dull, but the sheer interest of these peoples' experience makes it worth looking at--at least until something more accessible comes along.
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Posted March 10, 2014
A fascinating book. Lots of facts & not a quick read, but it tells a compelling story. Few of us know that about 50,000+ colonists were loyal to the British crown & were not on the side of the Revolution. Their stories of migration (sometimes multiple times & to vastly different locations & climes) make for an informative book. More might have been said of Britons' attitudes toward the "Yankees" who settled in the mother country. Highly recommend this for anyone interested in a little-known but important side of Colonial history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2011
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Posted September 9, 2013
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Posted March 22, 2011
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Posted July 16, 2011
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