Fighting For the King in America's First Civil War

by Thomas B. Allen

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Who Were the Tories?

Supporting royal rule, they called themselves Loyalists.

Fighting for the King

The many regiments of the Tory Army

The First Exiles

Hundred of Boston Tories flee to Canada in 1776.

Timeline of a Civil War

Chronicling a Fight Between Americans

Punishing the Tories

When the shooting war ended and negotiators began working on a treaty, Tories in both England and America wondered what would be their fate. Loyalist lobbyists in London had been working throughout the war to have Loyalist efforts in the war recognized by the Crown. They expected that they—and their fellow Loyalists in America—would be recognized a serious issue in the negotiations. But, when the treaty was announced, Loyalists learned that an article in the Treaty of Paris made them only the beneficiaries of a worthless clause that called upon Congress “to recommend it to the legislatures of the respective States, to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights and properties, which have been confiscated.”

Benjamin West’s painting of the negotiators of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War: John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, secretary of the American delegation. Because the British delegation refused to pose, the painting was not finished.

As all the negotiators—particularly the Americans—well knew, there was no national American government, and each state could do whatever its legislature wanted to do, regardless of the treaty. And what the states had already done was decide to punish Tories in ways that ranged from threatening them with execution to seizing their property. Benjamin Franklin, one of the negotiators, was the father of the last royal governor of New Jersey, William Franklin. Ben Franklin made his grandson—illegitimate son of an illegitimate son—the the secretary of the American delegation. Both Franklins had to know that New Jersey’s Rebel government had, like all other states, long since passed laws confiscating Tory property.

But. like the negotiators on both sides, Franklin wanted the war to end and a treaty to be written and signed. So no negotiator had any reason to delay the treaty by fighting for an article guaranteeing to fair treatment for Loyalists. Instead, they agreed to the cynical article that passed the issue to the states.

Long before the treaty, Congress recommended that the states confiscate Tories’ property. Typically, the properties were sold and the states pocketed the money.

States passed laws to ferret out and punish Tories. Suspected Tories, for instance, were given “test oaths”—declarations in which an oath-taker promised not to aid the enemy, swore loyalty to the Patriots, and denounced the Crown. Those who took the oath sometimes received certificates for safety from arrest. In some states, anyone who failed to take the oath faced imprisonment, confiscation of property, banishment, and even death. Officers of the Continental Army had to declare their loyalty to the United States and, in a solemn oath, renounce George III, his heirs, and anyone who aided the King. Major General Benedict Arnold was one of the officers who placed his hand upon a Bible and swore the oath,

Tories who refused to take the oath did not even have the right of foreigners before the court. He had no way to collect debts and could not be the executor of an estate. Lawyers and doctors who did not take the oath lost the right to practice. Nine states passed acts exiling prominent Tories, five states disenfranchised all Tories, and most states expelled them from all offices and levied double or treble taxes on them.

Anti-Tory Laws Passed during the Revolutionary War*


Disfranchised and deprive of office all members of the general assembly, civil and military officers. Later extended this to freemen and all persons over twenty-one; denied the right to be an executor or guardian. 1777: could be charged with treason or misprision of treason and could be subject to prosecution for previous acts of disloyalty to the state.

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Oct. 10, 1776.

Members of the general assembly, civil and military officers. freemen.

Deprived of office.

May 8 (?), 1777.

All persons over 21 years.

Shall hold no office.

Oct. 11, 1777.

All persons who wish to hold offices or vote,


May 12, 1777.

Those charged with treason or misprision of treason.

Subject to prosecution for previous acts of disloyalty to the state.

May 18, 1779.

(See “Public Records of Conn.,” Vol. II, p. 279.)



Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal


Every male person above 16

Disarmed, unable to hold office, ministers and school masters lose salaries — also governors of Harvard College.

circa Jan. 1778.

Persons suspected of being inimical (except Mandamus Councillors who accepted office, and all who since April 19, 1775, have joined the enemy or enlisted men for, etc.).

Committed to jail (costs to be paid out of the estate of person). Within 40 days sent to British territory.
Death penalty if return.

circa Jan. 1778.

Members of General Assembly, civil and military officers, attorneys at law.

Not allowed to practice.

circa June 1778.

Every military officer under the commanding officer of regiment.


circa April, 1778, addition to act of Jan., 1778.

Every military officer under the commanding officer of regiment.

(Forty day’s limit; “as soon as conveniently may be.”)


New Hampshire

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Nov. 8, 1777

Civil and Military officers, barristers and attorneys at law

Suspended from office

March 14, 1778 (an addition to above act). (Time limit extended.) (Affirmation instead of oath allowed.)



  New Jersey

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Sept. 19, 1776.

All civil and military officers.


June 5, 1777 (an oath giving chance for reconciliation).

Persons “who have been seduced from their allegiance,” but “since become sensible of their error.”

Forfeit personal estate. Not allowed to transfer real estate.

Oct. 6, 1777.

Counsellors, proctors, solicitors, attorneys, jurymen, public teachers and instructors.

£5 - £20 fine.

Oct. 1, 1778 (a provision for those who have scruples against the oath).

  Not specifically stated


New York

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Dec. 27, 1776 (res. of a convention).

Inhabitants of Westchester county.

Treated as open enemies.

March 13, 1780 (an act to relieve certain persons of Westchester).



June 30, 1778.

All persons of neutral and equivocal characters who have influence sufficient to do mischief.

Removed to any place within the enemy’s lines. Names recorded. Those failing to appear on summons guilty of misprision of treason. Lands double taxed.

March 26, 1781.

All public officers and electors.

Disfranchisement or incapacity to hold office.

April 11, 1782.

Suitors in the courts of the State.

Incapacity to sue.



compiled a “Black List” of more than five hundred Tories who were judged to have aided Britain and were attainted of high treason.

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

June 13, 1777.

Male, white inhabitants above 18 years.
Travelers (except Delegates for Congress, prisoners of war, officers, soldiers, merchants and mariners).

Unable to hold office, serve on jury, sue for debts, elect or be elected, buy, sell or transfer lands or tenements.

October 12, 1777 (supplements above law).

Every inhabitant above 16 years who travels out of Philadelphia or the county in which he resides.
Persons suspected of being unfriendly.

Committed to jail without bail.

Jailed (costs levied on his goods).

April 1, 1778.

All persons over 18 (provision made for prisoners of war, unable to take the oath). Delegates to Congress (had been exempt) now included.

Same as in Act of June 13, 1777; disabled to sue, etc., or be guardian or administrator of any estate, cannot receive legacy or deed of gift or make will, and shall pay double tax. (All trustees, provosts, rectors, professors, masters, tutors, etc., merchants, traders, sergeants-at-law, councillors-at-law, barristers, advocates, attorneys, solicitors, proctors, clerks or notary, apothecary or druggist, physician or surgeon) shall be incapacitated and upon prosecution may be fined £500 (half to go to the estate and half to the prosecutor), (persons summoned and refusing) committed to jail for 3 months or pay £10. Disarmed; if by force, pay double the value of the arms.

Dec. 5, 1778 (supplement above) (a new oath).

The law, modified in April and October 1779, essentially renewed the earlier law.

All present and future officers of Pennsylvania. Persons who have neglected previous oath.

Not elect or be elected or serve on juries (other penalties removed) except non-jurors paying double tax.

Rhode Island

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

June, 1776.

All male inhabitants above 16 years, who are suspected of being inimical.

May be summoned to give reason.
Arms and ammunition seized (state to pay for arms).

July 18, 1776.

Male person aged 21.

Cannot petition to set aside judgment or stay execution.
Suit, action, bill, or plaint dismissed.
Not vote in town meeting.

Sept., 1776.


Cannot hold office, civil or military.


Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

May 18, 1778.

Every male white person 21 years old.
(Officers and soldiers in pay of U.S. excepted.)

Unable to hold office, civil or military.
Unable to serve on jury.

June 26, 1778.

Inhabitants of the state that have levied war against it (except some 46 proscribed persons).

Estates confiscated. (Those who took oath were denied franchise and right to hold office.)
(Incapacity removed Jan. 27, 1790.)


Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Before Dec. 3, 1777.

(Additional clauses not concerning the oath.)

Every free male above 18 years of age (except Quakers, Mennonites or Dunkers, who only declare). (Soldiers and officers excepted.) Refugees to the state. (Imprisoned.)

Pay treble tax in all public and county assessments during life. (Tax to follow the property.) Cannot sue. Fined, if acting as a merchant (without oath). Not to practice law, physics or surgery or apothecary, nor preach or teach or hold office or vote.

Between Mar. 17 and Apr. 22, 1778
(Supplements above law.)



Between July 22 and Aug. 15, 1779.


(Treble tax suspended until Nov. 10.)

Nov. 8, 1779.


(Treble tax suspended to Dec. 30.)

June 12, 1780.


Treble tax to be collected on absentees.



Persons returning from abroad, take oath, not pay tax.

Between Nov. 5, 1781, and Jan. 22, 1782.


(Treble tax suspended and disability to sue for debts, practice physic, or carry on merchandise removed).



Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

May, 1777.

All free-born males above age of 16 (except imported servants). Persons coming from any of the other States.

Disarmed (but must attend muster). Incapable of holding office, serving on jury, suing for debts, buying lands. Travelers committed to jail.

May, 1783 (repeals the part subjecting Quakers and Mennonites to penalties).



May, 1779.

Every person by law required to give assurance of fidelity. Governor and Privy Council.


May, 1779 (providing for those who have scruples against oaths).



Oct., 1780.

Persons in the counties of Henry, Bedford, Pittsylvania, Botetourt, Montgomery and Washington who have taken oath to Great Britain since 1776 and who have not added any overt act criminal by law.

Prosecuted if taken (pardoned if they take the oath).

North Carolina

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Nov. 22, 1776 (an opportunity to recant).

All who by taking arms against United States, or adhering to, comforting or abetting the enemy. Persons using disrespectful words about United States or of this State. Does not extend to persons now in open enmity.

Incapable of bringing any suit in any court. Cannot be sued, plead or make defence, prosecute indictment, purchase or transfer lands, tenements, etc. Same to be forfeited to State.

Jan., 1777.

Members of Council of State.


South Carolina

Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

April 6, 1776 (oath of office).

All persons not having commissions, who, by the laws of Great Britain, have hitherto taken oaths of office, State officers, President, Privy Councillors.

Loss of office.

March 28, 1778 (repeals old law).

Commander-in-chief and members of Privy Council.


Oct. 17, 1778.

Members of Senate and House of Representatives.


March 28, 1778.

Every free male above certain age.


Oct. 9, 1778 (enlarges the time for taking oath of March 28, 1778).


Must sell or dispose of estate and depart. Death if they refuse to leave or return.

Feb. 17, 1779 (extension of time).




Date of Laws

Affected Persons

Penalty of Refusal

Aug. 20, 1781.

Those who took oath to the British, but have since shown loyalty to the United States

Regarded as guilty of “certain high crimes and misdemeanors.” (Banished, if they later take sides with the British.)

** Adapted From Claude Halstead Van Tyne, The Loyalists in the American Revolution. New York: Macmillan, 1902.