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Library of Congress: The American Revolution, 1763-1783

DeLancey's Brigade: 18th Century Military
Re-enactors

Divided Loyalties

Descended from American Colonists who fled north rather than join the revolution, Canada's Tories still raise their tankards to King George

Inside a drafty Gothic church in the center of Saint John, New Brunswick, I found myself surrounded recently by dozens of costumed historical reenactors, each channeling the personality of a long-dead 18th-century Tory or Hessian. Canadian Tories are sanguine about the outcome of the Revolutionary War: the British defeat, to their way of thinking, ensured that they escaped the chaos of American democracy.

Schools teach American children that our revolutionary struggle was a popular uprising against heavy-handed taxes and self-serving imperialism. But the fight for independence was also a bloody civil war in which perhaps one out of five Americans preferred to remain a British subject.

By 1783, after the Treaty of Paris ending the war had been signed, a massive refugee exodus was under way. At a time when the total population of America was about 2.5 million, perhaps as many 40,000 Loyalists headed for the British colony of Nova Scotia.

"My own family was living in America 100 years before the Revolution even began," says Nova Scotia's John Leefe, who bivouacs with the Kings Orange Rangers, a re-created regiment of 50 historical reenactors. "Perhaps that is why I use every occasion to toast King George. Loyalists still view the United States as a dysfunctional family we just had to leave."

 
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Abstract of an article by David DeVoss, originally published in the January 2004 issue of Smithsonian. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2004. Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.
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