Dishonoured Americans: Loyalist Manhood and Political Death in Revolutionary North America

PhD Dissertation. Download a copy.

Abstract:

Tarandfeather

“The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering.“ (1774)

This dissertation offers a new reading of the loyalist experience by drawing on the insights and methodologies of cultural history and the anthropological study of honour, as well as the history of masculinity, to contextualize the class and gender-based concerns embedded in patriot and loyalist written records. American revolutionaries attacked loyalist men using deeply gendered language and symbols, and succeeded in dishonouring loyalism in general, while also driving individual loyalists from their communities. Male loyalists relied on the same culture of honour to rationalize their experiences, justify their continued allegiance to the Crown, and transform injuries intended as marks of shame into badges of honour.

This dissertation adds to the historiography of the loyalists, and to the wider study of eighteenth century masculinity and honour, by revealing that while the American Revolution was a deadly conflict, at the local level patriots often destroyed a loyalist’s public existence and honour rather than kill him outright. Despite differences of political ideology, loyalists and patriots shared a common culture of manhood which made insults and humiliations exceedingly powerful. The combination of legal punishments and social ostracism is referred to in this dissertation as political death, an original theory which describes the process and consequences of the loss of citizenship, the negation of patriarchal power and privileges, financial ruin, and the cultural dishonour of white loyalist gentlemen and their families. Using the themes of household patriarchy, public and printed insults, captivity, and vengeance, this study explains how the benchmarks of manhood were systematically stripped from loyalists, and how the patriots formed their own masculine ideals in contrast to the dishonoured loyalists. This dissertation also reveals the importance of honour in the loyalists’ self-perception, their official claims on the British government for compensation, and their political rebirth in Canada as they attempted to restore their privileged status with Britain’s help. Loyalist honour has been described by American historians as being submissive and deferential, but this dissertation argues that it was in fact as assertive and demanding as the patriot concepts of manhood formed in the American Revolution.

Key Words: American Revolution, Loyalists, honour, dishonour, gender, gentility, manhood, masculinity, culture, Revolutionary War, prisoners of war, insults, revenge, Pre-Confederation Canada.

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