Patriots, Loyalists, and Neutrals

As Britain continued to attempt control over the colonies through taxes and regulations, calls for independence grew across the 13 Colonies. The colonists who favored independence from Great Britain were called Patriots. Those who wished to remain tied to Great Britain as Colonies were called Loyalists. Americans who embraced both beliefs and could not 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. Choosing a side could be dangerous depending on where you lived.

Patriots were mostly supported in the New England colonies, while Loyalists were more likely to be found 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.

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 and jobs in the government. Loyalists believed in peaceful reconciliation but were met with insults and mistrust because they did not believe in the Patriots’ cause. 

Most Patriots resisted enlisting African Americans to the cause, but the British had no such compunctions. The Dunmore Proclamation of 1775, named for the 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. Tens of thousands more would follow from Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas. Historians have pointed out that the policy was in fact the first widespread emancipation of the enslaved in American history.

Colonists who believed that both Patriots and Loyalists had valid points or could not decide who they should side with were called Neutrals. Neutral colonists did not participate in the protests or the eventual battles during the revolution. Neutrals came from different jobs and classes. Many colonists took a neutral stance for religious or moral reasons.