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.

Punishing the Tories

From tar-and-feathers to land grabs

Timeline of a Revolution (and a Civil War)

At Concord, Massachusetts militiamen challenge British troops—and the Tories marching with them.
National Park Service


May: Lt. Col. George Washington of the Virginia Militia leads Virginia militiamen into territory claimed by the French. His defeat of a French patrol near today’s Uniontown, Pennsylvania, is a prelude to the French and Indian War.


The French and Indian War—the North American portion of the Seven Years War—pits Great Britain against France and Indians allied with France; Spain joins France in 1762.


February: Under the treaty ending French and Indian War, Britain gets the Spanish colony of Florida and part of the French colony of Louisiana. The British form the territory into two colonies: East Florida and West Florida.

October: King George III restricts the movement of colonists by barring trade and settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.


April: The British Parliament, without consulting the colonies, imposes its first tax on them: a three-cent tax on refined sugar. The Revenue Act also increases taxes on coffee, indigo, and some wines; it also bans the importation of rum and French wine.

May: A Boston Town Meeting protests taxes that “are laid upon us in any shape without ever having a legal representation where they are laid….”

July: A fort in Newport, Rhode Island, fires on the Royal Navy warship, HMS St. John, in what is regarded as New England’s first armed resistance to Britain.


March: Parliament, wishing to pay off Britain’s massive national debt following the Seven Years War, passes the Stamp Act, which requires colonists to buy a stamp that is affixed to every piece of paper they use, including legal documents, licenses, newspapers, and playing cards.

Parliament passes the Quartering Act, which orders each colonial assembly to provide British soldiers in America with bedding, cooking utensils, firewood, beer or cider, and candles. A later amendment requires the colonial assemblies to find billeting for the soldiers.

May: In his first speech in the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry, attacking Britain’s treatment of the colonies, says, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third — .” Cries of “Treason!” interrupt him. He pauses before finishing the sentence: “...may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.” He later apologized and stated his loyalty to the king.

August: A mob protesting the Stamp Act destroys the mansion of Thomas Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts Colony.

December: Boston Sons of Liberty, once members of a secret organization, publicly call for the resignation of the Massachusetts Distributor of Stamps.


January: The New York Assembly refuses to pay the full amount of money requested by the Crown under to the Quartering Act.

March: Parliament repeals the Stamp Act.


November: Parliament passes the Townshend Acts, urged by Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend to raise revenue and tighten enforcement of customs laws. Taxes are levied on imported glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. Another law aids customs officials by authorizing blank search warrants called Writs of Assistance.


February: Massachusetts House of Representatives sends a Circular Letter, written by Samuel Adams, to the legislature of the other colonies declaring that the Townshend Acts were unconstitutional because of a lack of representation in Parliament.

October: British soldiers arrive in Boston to aid local colonial officials curb Rebels.


February: A Loyalist, confronted by an angry mob, shoots and kills a ten-year-old boy. Phillis Wheatley, already famed as a black poet, writes a memorial poem and 2,000 march in a martyr’s funeral staged by the Sons of Liberty.

March: In a confrontation with a Boston mob, British soldiers kill five people. Son of Liberty leader Paul Revere produces a sensational color print and calls the incident “The Bloody Massacre.”

Reacting to the colonists’ boycott of British goods, Parliament amends revenue laws, removing Townshend items except tea.


June: Rhode Island Patriots seize and torch the British warship Gaspee, which had run aground while in pursuit of a suspected smuggler.

November: John Adams proposes that the colonies establish a correspondence network to keep everyone informed of political activities.


March: Virginia House of Burgesses creates a Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry that will keep in touch with other colonies about “affairs of this colony … connected with those of Great Britain.” Here, as in other colonies, Loyalists—Tories, as Patriots call them—will not be on such committees.

May: Parliament passes the Tea Act, which creates a monopoly. British officials pick Tories in Boston as the exclusive merchants.

December: Patriots in Boston dump tea from ships that Sons of Liberty had kept from unloading.


March: Britain closes the port of Boston; other colonies come to the aid of Massachusetts.

July: Tories in Worcester, Massachusetts, denounce Committees of Correspondence, charging that their “dark and pernicious” actions were leading people toward “sedition, civil war, and Rebellion.”

September: The First Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia in reaction to the closing of the port of Boston and other “Intolerable Acts”: enlarging Quebec and granting religious freedom to Catholics living there; allowing royal governors to appoint all law officers and have the power to move trials to England; and a demand for expanded quartering of British troops. A delegate with Tory leanings offers an attempt at conciliation, which is rejected.

After British troops seize powder from a magazine on Boston’s outskirts, a mob surges into a Cambridge neighborhood called Tory Row. The highest-ranking officer of the colony’s royal militia flees for refuge in Boston, starting an exodus. Patriots begin leaving Boston, now a British Army garrison.

October: In the first direct action against Tories, the Congress creates a committee for publicizing anyone who violates the non-importation policies aimed at boycotting British imported goods. 

December: New Hampshire Patriots capture a fort and seize its arms.


March: Prominent Tories, fearing the rise of rebellious Patriots, ask Gen. Thomas Gates, now both royal governor and commander in chief of British forces in North America, to send a warship to Plymouth Harbor to provide an emergency exit for Loyalists.

April: Firefights at Lexington and Concord pit Massachusetts Patriots against British troops, aided by Tories. As news travels down the eastern seaboard, thousands of militiamen head for Cambridge, beginning the Continental Army.

May: Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys capture Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, acquiring cannon that will be taken to Massachusetts.

The Continental Congress, with delegates from every state but Georgia, names George Washington of Virginia as commander in chief of the Continental Army. He heads for Cambridge.

June: Patriots inflict heavy casualties on British troops in what will be known as the battle of Bunker Hill.

Patriots in Machias, Maine, in a dispute involving a Tory trader, seize a British warship.

July: The Loyal Americans Association, first major Tory militant organization, musters in Boston.

The Continental Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition, which asserts loyalty to the King. He refuses to read the petition and will proclaim that the colonists had “proceeded to open and avowed rebellion.”

 August: In a confrontation with Georgia Patriots, Thomas Brown, a Loyalist leader, is tortured and will raise a vengeful Tory guerrilla band.

November: Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, issues a proclamation promising freedom to any slave who goes over to the British. Dunmore organizes the Ethiopian Brigade of about 300 African Americans.

December: Dunmore, whose Tory force includes his Ethiopian Brigade, leads a battle against Rebel forces at Great Bridge, near Norfolk. Rebels successfully hold the city, driving off British landing parties and sending Dunmore off to in British-occupied New York City.

The Patriots’ invasion of Canada, defended by both American and Canadian Loyalists, ends in a failed attempt to capture Quebec.


January: Tom Paine’s Common Sense, a call for independence, is published and becomes a best-seller.

February: Patriots defeat a Tory force, led by Scot emigrants, at Moore’s Creek, North Carolina, in a major setback for Carolinas Tories.

March: The Continental Army, aided by artillery captured at Ticonderoga, takes control of Dorchester Heights in Boston and begins a siege of British troops.

 Gen. William Howe and his troops evacuate Boston and sail for Halifax, taking with them about 1,000 Tory civilians. (See “The First Exiles.”)

May: Sir John Johnson, Britain’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and his Tory supporters flee his New York domain, crossing into Canada.

June: Sir John Johnson raises the First Kings Royal Regiment of New York. Most recruits are Tories from the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys.

July: Congress declares independence, creating an absolute barrier between Patriots and Tories. The first regiment of New Jersey Volunteers, a major Tory military unit, is formed.

August: British drive Washington’s Continental Army from Brooklyn.

September: Nathan Hale, a Continental Army officer sent to spy on the British, is captured on Long Island by Robert Rogers, who is recruiting Tories for his Rangers. The British hang Hale.

October: Benedict Arnold’s naval maneuvers on Lake Champlain stymie pursuing British, and the Continental Army’s retreat from Canada ends. Tories aided the British along the way.

British capture New York City.

November: A small Rebel force attempts a quixotic and unsuccessful invasion of Nova Scotia, hoping to bring it into the Revolution.

December: George Washington crosses the Delaware River and attacks 1,400 Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey, capturing most. He next takes Princeton.


March: The Loyal American Regiment is raised by a leading New York Tory, Beverley Robinson.

June: Gen. John Burgoyne, with the Queen’s Loyal Rangers in the advance corps, leaves Canada and begins his two-pronged invasion of New York. His force includes Indians and Tories picked up along the way.

August: A Tory force of King’s Royal Regiment of New Yorkers and Indian allies ambushes Patriots marching to relieve besieged Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley. About 160 Patriots are killed or wounded, as are some 150 Tories.

Near Bennington, Vermont, a foraging force of Burgoyne’s Hessians, Indians, and Tories clashes with Patriot militiamen whom Hessian officers mistake for Tories. The Patriots inflict so many casualties that the Mohawk Valley invaders withdraw to Canada, robbing Burgoyne of vitally needed men.

September: The British Indian Department in New York raises Butler’s Rangers, a highly efficient raiding force made up of Tories and Indian allies.

Washington is defeated at Brandywine as British troops march on to take Philadelphia. Tories line the streets to welcome them.

Congress flees Philadelphia and reassembles in York, Pennsylvania.

October: Burgoyne surrenders to Gen. Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York; Tories in Burgoyne’s force flee to Canada, where they will join military units.

The victory convinces France to support the Patriots.

1st Battalion of Maryland Loyalists is mustered.

December: Washington’s army goes into winter quarters at Valley Forge. While Continentals starve, Tory “market people” supply British occupiers of Philadelphia.


June: British troops and a rear-guard unit of Tories evacuate Philadelphia, beginning a march to New York. Some 5,000 Tories also leave for New York aboard Royal Navy ships.

Benedict Arnold, military commandant of Philadelphia, begins his betrayal by bargaining with the British through a local Tory.

Washington’s army, well trained and better disciplined, emerges from Valley Forge and pursues the British. At Monmouth, New Jersey, the Continental Army mauls but does not defeat the British, as they march to New York.

Virginia Patriots, led by Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark, head west to take territory long held by the British. Clark will capture several British posts in the Ohio Territory (present-day Illinois and Indiana).

December: The British begin a southern campaign by taking Savannah, Georgia.


July: A British force of about 2,600 soldiers—Regulars, Hessians, and a major Tory unit, the King’s American Regiment—makes a series of terror raids along the Connecticut coast, torching and looting New Haven, Fairfield, and Norwalk.

October: A joint American-French attempt to retake Savannah ends with the French losing 635 men and the Patriots 457 while the British and Loyalist defenders saved the city at a cost of 55 lives.


May: British take Charlestown (Charleston), South Carolina; more than 3,400 Continentals and Patriot militiamen surrender. Troops under Gen. Charles Cornwallis, aided by Tory troops, head to the interior on a campaign to conquer the South.

Gen. Henry Clinton orders expansion of South Carolina Militia, under British Army Major Patrick Ferguson. As many as 5,000 men will join the militia and other Tory units in the state.

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, leading an all-Tory unit called the British Legion, runs into a Patriot force at a place called the Waxhaws on the North Carolina-South Carolina border. His men kill or wound more than 300 Patriots as their commander seems to be surrendering. Tarleton gets the reputation of a heartless killer called “Bloody Tarleton.”

June: Spanish force invades and occupies the British colony of West Florida.

July: Loyal Refugee Volunteers, a Tory guerrilla force, wards off an attack on its New Jersey blockhouse by Continental Army General Anthony Wayne.

August: British rout Gen. Horatio Gates and his army at Camden, South Carolina.

Runaway slaves, recruited by the British, fortify Yorktown and Gloucester.

September: Benedict Arnold, now in command of the crucial Hudson River fort at West Point, meets with his British case officer, Maj. John André, in a rendezvous set up by a prominent New York Tory. The plot is exposed, Arnold escapes, but André is captured.

British Army Major Patrick Ferguson, who recruits Tories of the Carolinas for his all-Tory American Volunteers, warns “OverMountain Men” that if they do not join him he will march his Tories over the mountains and torch their homes.


The Overmountain Men round up about 1,400 militiamen, track down Ferguson at King’s Mountain on the Carolinas’ border, kill him and kill, wound, or capture his 1,100 Loyalists. In the battle—turning point of the war in the South—everyone but Ferguson is an American.

Maj. André is hanged.


January: Newly commissioned a British general, Benedict Arnold leads his American Legion—1,600 Tories and Continental Army deserters he had recruited—on an amphibious invasion of Virginia. The invaders raid Richmond and occupy Portsmouth after destroying tobacco warehouses.

At Cowpens, South Carolina, Gen. Daniel Morgan leads his Patriots in a classic military tactic known as a double envelopment. They soundly defeat British forces commanded by the hated—and targeted—Tarleton, who gets away.

March: Washington sends about 3,000 men under Marquis de Lafayette to Virginia. He prevents the British from taking Richmond.

At Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, Gen. Nathanael Greene is defeated by Gen. Cornwallis but inflicts heavy casualties, continuing his strategy to wear down the British.

April: A fleet of 20 vessels carries 7,000 Loyalists from New York City to promised land in Canada.

June: Gen. Greene begins a 28-day siege of a fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina, a Loyalist stronghold held by about 550 Tory troops. As a British relief column nears, Greene withdraws.

July: British troops evacuate Savannah. Hundreds of Tories go with them. Georgia, the only colony to be conquered by the British, had reestablished royal militias, which the Patriots must disband.

September: A joint French and American army under Washington maneuvers to encircle and besiege Cornwallis, who holds Yorktown, Virginia, in anticipation of support from the Royal Navy via the York River.

A French fleet in Chesapeake Bay defeats a British fleet, preventing a Royal Navy rescue of Cornwallis.

Benedict Arnold leads a combined force of his Tory American Legion, other Tory units, and British troops on a raid on New London, and Groton Heights, Connecticut. They torch New London and massacre the defenders at Fort Griswold.

October: Cornwallis surrenders, ending the last major military engagement of the war.

Tories among Cornwallis’ troops slip away, many reaching British-occupied New York.

December: British troops, accompanied by hundreds of Tories, evacuates Charlestown (Charleston).


March: Pennsylvania militiamen massacre Delaware Indians—62 adults and 34 children—at the Moravian missionary village of Gnadenhutten, Ohio, in the belief the Christian Indians were Tories.

A mixed force of William Franklin’s Associators and Pennsylvania Tories attacks a blockhouse at Toms River, New Jersey, and torches the town. They later hang a Patriot defender, triggering events that lead to Washington’s contemplating a retaliatory hanging of a British officer. Ultimately Count de Vergennes, the French foreign minister, intervenes lest the incident affect the war-ending treaty negotiations in Paris.


February: Britain announces an end to hostilities.

September: The Treaty of Paris is signed by delegates from America, Britain, Spain, France, and the Netherlands.

November: the last British soldiers are evacuated from New York City, along with about 30,000 Tories, who join the Loyalists already in Canada.

In Benjamin West’s painting of the delegations at the Treaty of Paris, only Americans are visible: John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, secretary of the delegation. Because the British delegation refused to pose, the painting was not finished.


On January 14, 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified by Congress, officially ending the Revolutionary War. By then upwards of 100,000 Tories had left the country.