Patriots, Loyalists, and Neutrals
As Britain attempted to tighten its control over the 13 Colonies through new taxes and regulations, calls for independence grew among the colonists. Those who favored independence from Great Britain were called Patriots. Those who wished that the Colonies remain tied to Great Britain were known as Loyalists. Americans who elected not to choose a side were called Neutrals.
Colonists had various reasons for whichever side that they chose. Farmers, for example, often chose the side that their landowner supported. Others who might be have a large debt owed to British creditors may have chosen the Patriot side in hopes that their debts would be erased.
Conversely, a merchant who had a lucrative contract with the Crown would likely support the Loyalist cause. Their income was tied to the relationship between Great Britain and the Colonies.
Choosing a side could be dangerous depending on where you lived. While there were people of all sides spread across the Colonies, the majority of people in the New England Colonies were Patriots. You were likely to find more Loyalists in the Southern Colonies.
Patriots felt that the recent British laws enacted on American Colonies were unfair and violated their rights. Some of the main grievances of the colonists were taxation without consent, quartering soldiers in citizens’ homes, and denying colonists the right to a trial.
Many Patriots lived in the New England Colonies, and were mostly from the middle and lower class. Most lived in rural areas and labored as fishermen and farmers. Patriots wanted to be free from the Crown and were willing to resort to violence if necessary. Famous patriots included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Ethan Allen.
Patrick Henry's famous Patriot speech at the Virginia Convention in 1775 summed up their beliefs when he said, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"
Loyalists, often called Tories, were loyal to the crown for several reasons. They were mostly upper class and lived in cities and wanted to keep their wealth and land. Many had valuable ties with the British or jobs in the royal government.
Loyalists believed in peaceful reconciliation but were met with insults and mistrust because they did not believe in the Patriot cause.
Most Patriots resisted enlisting African Americans to the cause, but the British had no such hesitations. The Dunmore Proclamation of 1775, named for the Royal Governor of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, promised freedom to any enslaved man that volunteered to serve the King. Within a month of the issuing the decree, as many as 800 formerly enslaved men joined the Tories from Virginia alone. Thousands more would follow from Georgia and the Carolinas.
A military unit was formed known as Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment. It was composed of formerly enslaved Loyalist men and saw service from 1775 to 1776. Historians have pointed out that the policy was in fact the first widespread emancipation of the enslaved in American history.
Colonists who chose not to pick a side were called Neutrals. Some neutrals believed that both Patriots and Loyalists had valid points. Others simply did not want to come out on the losing side. Neutral colonists did not participate in the protests or the eventual battles during the Revolution. However, as the Revolution went on over the years it got harder and harder for neutrals to avoid picking a side.
Neutrals came from across all different jobs and classes. Many colonists took a neutral stance for religious or moral reasons. Quakers, for example, believe in pacifism and considered it unethical to serve in a militia or fight for either side.