Skip to main content

1783 Two Hundred Years Ago

April 2024
1min read

No one can tell exactly how many colonists were loyal to the throne: “Loyalist” was a term that embraced those who actively supported the British cause, those driven from their homes to seek protection behind British lines, and those merely scorned as “Sunshine Patriots.” Tory property had been seized and distributed or sold as early as 1776. By 1782 all the states had passed acts of confiscation. “With malice toward none” was an idea whose time had not vet come.

By the time it was all over, some one hundred thousand Loyalists had fled the country; about half of them to Canada. The last group left New York on April 27, 1783, their exile hastened by the imminent departure of the British army. On April 15 Congress had ratified the text of the provisional peace treaty signed in Paris.

Almost five hundred families sailed in eighteen ships on a bright day. Their goal was Nova Scotia (“Canada” then was two provinces, Nova Scotia and Quebec) and the port town called Shelburne. The government in England had allotted land—five hundred acres per family—and tools: picks, shovels, axes, and muskets. Their work was cut out for them in yet another new world, but they were ready. “As soon as we had set up a kind of tent,” wrote the Reverend Jonathan Beecher, “we knelt down, my wife and I and my two boys, and kissed the dear ground and thanked God that the flag of England floated there…”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate