In 1649, forty years before the poor of Ireland would spill their blood for the sake of two competing kings, their more radical counterparts in England were attempting to seize and cultivate common land, in order that they could distribute the produce among the ordinary people. Such radical ideas, and the profound changes they inaugurated were not, of course, simply a reaction to uniquely English events, but reflected fundamental social, economic and political changes occurring within European society in general.
Increasingly, political struggles within society became more closely identified with the particular social and economic interests of different groups, even to the extent of overriding traditional allegiances. Thus, in America the “Scotch-Irish”, largely Ulster Presbyterian in origin, threw themselves wholeheartedly into the republican camp – an ironic situation when viewed from today’s perspective – believing that an independent American Republic was eminently more desirable for their social and economic wellbeing than continued control and interference by the British Government.
However, the growing economic and political power of these new republicans proved threatening to other sections of American society, who stayed decidedly Loyalist, including many Catholic Jacobites from the Highlands of Scotland, who had fought the House of Hanover in the 1745 rebellion and remembered the defeat of 1715, but who became staunch Loyalists because of the generous treatment they received in America from their former adversaries. Various “cultural minorities”, fearful of an increase in the power of the majority, often sought British help or protection – New Rochelle, for example, the only place where the French Calvinists still spoke French, was an area of substantial Huguenot Loyalism.
As the American Revolution gained momentum, the Indian peoples made some attempt at neutrality, but generally they favoured the British Government. They had no enthusiasm for the westward-pushing, uncontrollable colonial settlers who coveted their lands, and believed that the British, rather than the Americans, would be the most likely to seek restraints over this movement. Nothing highlights this allegiance better than the careers of the prominent Loyalists who emerged from among the Mohawk people, such as John Deserontyon, Aaron Hill and Joseph Brant, who commanded the Iroquois nations with great skill on the British side during the Revolutionary War. Even today Chief Earl Hill of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Nation, whom I met with Ed Kenny of the Ulster Accordian Band in Canada, still professes that his people “were proud of their status and designation as United Empire Loyalists”.
A delegation from the Mohawk nation came to Ulster in 1990 to attend the tercentenary celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne. During their visit they were no doubt made aware of the divisions which still run deep within Irish society as a consequence of that battle. This division must have seemed quite unnecessary to them, for in their own communities – in which Orange Lodges sit alongside self-help workshops – Protestants and Catholics are fully integrated and work together as Mohawks. It is surely high time that the communities in Ulster began that same process of integration, so that a new generation might finally escape the burden which our past history has for too long imposed upon us. As Chief Dan George has reminded us: “What wonders are children expecting while we hand them our problems? What hopes do we nourish in them while we are leading them into despair?”
I thought of the Loyalists when I stood at the memorial in Philadelphia to the unknown British Soldier of the Revolutionary War, which I was shown by my friend Paul Loane. For as many as one in three Americans had remained Loyal to George III. But in 1783 Britain finally signed a treaty with its rebellious American colonists, abandoning tens of thousands of people who were still deeply attached to the British crown. To the 12,000 refugees who had fled from the Rebels to make a new home in the swamps of Florida it was a disaster. As it was, too, for the 20,000 Black slaves who had rebelled against their masters to fight for the King. From the Southern ports of Charleston and Savannah alone, fearing dreadful reprisals, more than 20,000 loyalists, slaves and soldiers were evacuated by the Royal Navy. In New York City, originally Iroquois Mohawk territory and the heartland of Loyalism, 30,000 people fled for new lives to the Maritimes and Nova Scotia, while 2,500 travelled to Quebec and the Bahamas. This was the largest civilian evacuation in American history. There they created their “own imperial answer to the United States” and a “Loyal America in contrast to the republican America they had fled”. It became known as Canada, which in Iroquois Kannata means Village or Settlement.
In 1872 Lord Dufferin of Clandeboye became the third Governor General of Canada, bolstering imperial ties in the early years of the Dominion, and in 1884 he reached the pinnacle of his diplomatic career as eighth Viceroy of India. His statue, with a Canadian Trapper on one side and an Indian Sepoy on the other, sits in the grounds of the City Hall Belfast. I used to look out at it from my office as Lord Mayor of Belfast and latterly from the High Sheriff’s office. My friend, Lady Lindy Guinness, the last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, is very proud of her ancestry from him. I have visited her often to speak of matters historical, and it was at her home many years ago I first met Van Morrison, Robert Kee and her then Chef Stephen Jeffers… She is descended, of course, from the ancient Cruthin kings and queens of Iveagh and the ancient British kings and queens of Albion, that country of perfidious renown.
In Africa, Loyalist exiles also established what was meant to be a utopian settlement, built by 1,000 Black slaves who had escaped to Canada, but who wished to built a new life in the land of ther ancestors. Partly organised and funded by Abolitionists, the new settlement of Freetown, however, eventually became yet another British Colony, Sierra Leone, run by white men for their own benefit, its history stained by endless riots and rebellions. Yet Freetown’s story was more than a chronicle of broken promises and false hopes. For the people who settled there achieved a greater degree of freedom than they could have had or probably still have in the United States of America. In a sense the American Loyalists were victors after all.
To be continued
Ed: On American Loyalists, see FRANCE AND AMERICA – AND IRELAND, Wednesday, March 1. 2006, and the notes to
British Revolution, by Dr Ian Adamson OBE, Saturday, May 15. 2010.
On Dr Adamson’s Mohawk connections, see Postscript, by Cllr Dr Ian Adamson, Wednesday, June 2. 2010
On the First Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and on Lindy Dufferin (nee Guinness), see Clandeboye on television, Thursday, June 9. 2011.
To be continued