Loyalist Regiments





Rogers’s role in the New York campaign to create Loyalist regiments.

Rogers, born in 1731 in northeastern Massachusetts to Scotch-Irish parents, had gone from a farm in New Hampshire to fame in the French and Indian War. He became the commander of the Rogers’ Rangers, warriors who fought in the wilderness, scouting, ambushing, and introducing the British Army to guerrilla warfare. Rangers wore green jackets and moccasins, and stuck tomahawks in their belts as advertisements that Indians were not the only scalpers. After the war Rogers returned to New Hampshire but soon appeared in England, where he publicized himself in bestselling journals, got into debt, and, after a stint in debtor’s prison, returned to America in 1775.

Soon after his arrival the Committee of Safety in Philadelphia arrested and briefly jailed him. The committee released him after giving him a parole that said he “solemnly promised and engaged on the honor of a gentleman and soldier, that he would not bear arms against the American United Colonies in any manner whatsoever, during the American contest with Great Britain.” He then wrote to Washington, saying, “I love America; it is my native country and that of my family, and I intend to spend the evening of my days in it.” Washington, suspecting that Rogers was a spy, rejected his request for a permit to visit American military encampments. Rogers then slipped away, passed through American lines, and offered his services to the British Army, which commissioned him as a lieutenant colonel.

In August 1776, making his headquarters on Staten Island, Rogers began raising the Queen’s American Rangers, a Loyalist regiment of about four hundred officers and men, most of them from Westchester County and Long Island. In a printed circular he promised recruits “their proportion of all Rebel-lands,” a promise he had no authority to make. But he had discovered what would later become a standard recruitment pledge. British officials came to realize that Loyalists would more speedily take up arms if they were promised a grant of land as a reward. And, as one officer put it, land grants would “at once detach from the Rebels, the common Irish and other Europeans who make the Strength of their armys.”

Tryon, though still officially governor, was spending most of his time trying to find the five thousand armed Loyalists he had promised Howe. Tryon rallied several recruiters, including Rogers, De Lancey, Robinson, and other leading New York Loyalists. Fanning, Tryon’s faithful secretary, became a colonel in command of a battalion in Brigadier General De Lancey’s brigade.

Encounters between Patriots and Loyalists often ended swiftly and fatally. One of Rogers’s Westchester recruits, Capt. William Lounsbury, was accused by the Committee of Safety of leading a group of Tories who spiked Continental cannons in Westchester County. Rebels tracked Lounsbury down and told him to surrender. The Tories with him fled but he stood his ground. When the Patriots threatened him with bayonets, he tried to defend himself with a club and was fatally stabbed. In his pockets were found a commission signed by Rogers and a muster roll of the men he had enlisted, all of them potential targets of Rebel retribution.

By December 1776 seven hundred Rogers’ Rangers were raiding Patriot outposts in Westchester. And Colonel Fanning had a commission to raise two more Ranger battalions. Recruitment was so successful that the Committee of Safety appealed to Washington for help. “Nothing can be more alarming than the present situation of our State,” the letter said. “We are daily getting the most autheritick intelligence of bodies of men inlisted and armed, with orders to assist the enemy. We much fear that those cooperating with the enemy will seize such passes as will cut off all communication between the Army and us, and prevent your supplies. We do not trust any more of the Militia out of this County.”

Nor, certainly, could the Patriots trust the great Hudson River Valley landowners and their tenants—especially the tenants. In 1775,New York Patriots circulated a petition, called Articles of Association, supporting the actions of the Continental Congress. Robert R. Livingston, Jr., owner of an immense Hudson River estate, noted that “many of our Tenants here refused to sign … and resolved to stand by the King.” One tenant, Livingston said, vowed that if he were armed and put in a Rebel militia, “the first person he would shoot would be his captain.” In those days the tenants had hoped for British victory and postwar land-grant rewards to loyal subjects. Soon, as the war produced defeat after defeat for the Continental Army, their envisioned rewards seemed just over the horizon. Emboldened Tory tenants roamed the valley in bands. Livingston’s mother, Margaret Beekman Livingston, wrote, “Some say their number is 4000… . They … have three boxes of gun powder that has been sent to them by some as bad as themselves.”

Frederick Philipse III, who called himself “Lord of the Manor of Philipsburg,” presided over an estate that ran along the eastern bank of the Hudson River for about twenty-four miles, from the Croton River to Yonkers and much of the rest of Westchester County almost as far as south New York City. In 1776 he refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Patriot cause and rallied many of his tenants and his neighbors to the Tory side. A detachment of armed Patriots arrested him and sent him to house confinement in Connecticut. He appealed to the New York Committee of Safety, asserting that he had “done nothing (upon the Strictest Examination) Inimical to the Liberty’s of My Country.” The Patriots relented and allowed Philipse to return to his manor in Yonkers. But he broke his parole and took his wife and children to New York City. Even though his estate lay within the theoretical control of the Patriots, he continued to receive rents on some of his properties.

By the end of 1776 recruiters had sworn in about eighteen hundred Loyalist soldiers, most of them from Staten Island, Long Island, and Westchester County. Colonel Fanning later became commander of the King’s American Regiment, one of the war’s most active Loyalist units. For the chaplain of his regiment, Fanning chose the Reverend Samuel Seabury, who had been the victim of a Rebel kidnapping.

Long Island was a magnet for Loyalist families, especially those who could easily sail there from Connecticut coastal towns across from Long Island’s northern shore. Many of these displaced Loyalists clustered around Lloyd Neck or Eaton’s Neck, towns that jutted into Long Island Sound, opposite Stamford. Eaton’s Neck harbored a large Tory community that included 118 refugees from Connecticut. At first they lived “free from the tumultuous bustling world.” But their freedom gave way to martial law, and they were ordered to aid the British Army by gathering wood or moving military supplies. They endured a constantly growing feeling of exile—and fear, both of their Rebel foes and their British Army guardians.

A local civil war soon broke out between the Connecticut refugees and the “whaleboat men”—Connecticut Patriots who sailed across the Sound on raids. They struck the Loyalist communities, plundering homes and kidnapping people for ransom or to swap for prisoners taken by the British or by Loyalists conducting their own raids.

Every Loyalist family was a potential target for looting or abduction. Supposedly British soldiers, quartered on Long Island, protected them. But, as a contemporary Tory later wrote, the soldiers

Robbed, plundered, and pillaged the inhabitants of their cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry, and in short of every thing they could lay their hands upon. It was no uncommon thing of an afternoon, to see a farmer driving a flock of turkeys, geese, ducks, or dunghill fowls, and locking them up in his cellar for security during the night… . It was no uncommon thing for a farmer, his wife, and children, to sleep in one room, while his sheep were bleating in the room adjoining, his hogs grunting in the kitchen, and the cocks crowing, hens cackling, ducks quacking, and geese hissing, in the cellar. Horned cattle were for safety locked up every night in barns, stables, and outhouses. This robbing was done by people sent to America to protect loyalists against the persecution and depredations of Rebels. To complain was needless; the officers shared in the plunder.

The depredation did not go entirely unpunished. Records of De Lancey’s battalions show, for example, that two soldiers found guilty of robbery were sentenced to one thousand lashes each (remitted to five hundred by General Clinton). And two other soldiers, found guilty of robbery, murder, and rape, were hanged.

There were truly and clearly two Americas, one governed by the British military operating from New York and the other a group of colonies in rebellion but not quite governed. “The Declaration of Independence,” wrote Thomas Jones, the Loyalist historian, “… was the first act that put an end to the courts of law, to the laws of the land, and to the administration of justice under the British crown… . The revolt was now complete… . A usurped kind of Government took place; a medley of military law, convention ordinances, Congress recommendations and committee resolutions.” Every American now had a choice: to remain a subject of King George III and thus a traitor to a new regime called the United States of America or to support the rebellion and become a traitor to the Crown.

Loyalists by the thousands signed loyalty oaths administered by Tryon, who traveled to territory occupied by British troops. Few people refused to swear allegiance to the Crown. And those who chose the king had another way to show their choice; in taverns and meeting halls throughout New York City, Tryon’s recruiters signed up wealthy and well-connected young men for commissions in Loyalist regiments. For enlistments in the ranks there were many—among them farmhands, men without jobs, and ambitious sons turning away from their Rebel kin. The Loyalist recruits were issued weapons and uniforms, usually designed by their regimental commanders.

Eventually New York would send more men into Loyalist regiments than into the Continental Army. Tory Dutch farmers in New Jersey found a lucrative market in the British garrison in New York. The area closest to Manhattan, around Leonia and Englewood, contained Dutch farms whose farmers who could speak English, and this enclave became known as the English Neighborhood, a place where no Patriot could openly live. A New Jersey merchant fleet carried produce and goods to Tory New York. Vessels ranged from schooners to Dutch pettiaugers, small ships without keels; they could sail in shallows but had leeboards that could be lowered when a keel was needed.


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