Loyalists in Revolutionary New York — video transcript

Transcript of PhD candidate Christopher Minty's filmed talk about loyalists in  New York during the American Revolution.

I'm Chris Minty from the University of Stirling. I'm working at the National Library of Scotland on my PhD thesis which is on Loyalists in New York during the Revolutionary era.

Loyalists were the colonists from America that maintained allegiance to King George III and the British Parliament during the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783.

Loyalists were in all 13 colonies during the American Revolutionary War, but a greater proportion of them were centred around New York and its environs.

In the Library there's a wide collection of books that are relevant to my PhD. For example, we've got this recent book by Maya Jasanoff on what's known as 'the loyalist diaspora'. These individuals were the loyalists that chose to leave the United States after the Revolution ended because they wouldn't succumb to American rule.

We've also got another recent book focusing this time on New York City by Ruma Chopra. This is another recent book where loyalists describe the Revolution as 'unnatural'. They couldn't understand why the patriots were going to war.

There's also a selection of older texts relating to the rare books and manuscripts divisions here at the National Library.

We've got a first edition of 'Common Sense' written by Thomas Paine in 1776. This text has been described by many as one of the real reasons for convincing people to go towards independence.

And from that there was a response one month later by Charles Inglis, an Irish, Scots-born loyalist who was an Anglican minister. He'd been in the colonies for over 10-15 years and he released a sort of rebuttal to everything that Thomas Paine had written.

There was a pamphlet war from 1774 to the start of the Revolution in which would-be patriots and would-be loyalists argued about the tyrannical nature of the British Parliament and the reasons or the benefits for staying part of the British Empire.

Inglis was one of these pamphleteers. He wrote a series of pamphlets along with a number of other Anglican ministers who were all friends. They all knew each other. They sent pamphlets to and fro up until the Revolution began. And even into the Revolution as we see with Inglis' rebuttal to Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense'.

The loyalist pamphlets that were released — they all read one another's to make sure they were factually correct and grammatically correct and nearly every single pamphlet went to the president of King's College which is now Columbia University. This was a man called Myles Cooper.

Myles Cooper arrived in the colonies in the early 1760s and was Vice-President of King's College. The President at the time thought he was too young to assume the position, but he proved him wrong.

And when the President died, Cooper became the head of King's College. It was a very prominent college.

It was one college that was founded in the 1750s that was sort of based around Anglicanism, so it was a tightly-knit community of Anglicans.

It wasn't only attended by Anglicans. There were other denominations there as well, but Cooper, being an Anglican and having an Anglican sort of surrounding, he was given nearly all the pamphlets to read and to edit. Because of that he became known throughout New York as the most hated loyalist. All of these pamphlets became associated with him.

Curator Dora Petherbridge: Did he fear for his life? Were people out to get him?

Chris Minty: I wouldn't say people were out to get him, but in certain situations it wouldn't have been pleasant. If he was to go to sort of a radical tavern he would be castigated and ostracised.

DP: As the tensions escalated what happened to him, what did he do?

CM: Cooper, because of his position as president of King's College and one of the leading Anglicans in New York, if not the colonies, decided to leave. He thought it would be best for his safety and the safety of his friends if he was to get out of New York. And he did.

He left New York in 1775 not long after the revolution started. So he obviously realised that things were swiftly going to go sour. He decided to get out for the sake of his sanity and his friends as well.

DP: But he corresponded with people who stayed on and kind of got reports of what was happening.

CM: Cooper arrived back in England and settled in London for a period of time before he went to his former university at Oxford. Because he'd left his friends, Charles Inglis was one of them, in New York, he wanted to keep up-to-date with events and with King's College, an institution he loved dearly, that he corresponded with him frequently.

It was nearly month by month and then you get numerous instances and letters written days apart. You get letters in which there's a p.s. and then they just add a little section before they make the ship that takes it back.

DP: So there's an urgency to their correspondence.

CM: Definitely. Cooper wants to know what's going on in New York and if anything's happening to Kings College. Because when Washington and the patriots assumed control of New York, King's College was converted into a hospital and a number of the books and apparatus were damaged or moved.

There's a series of letters in which a number of individuals writing to Cooper all at different times and different places. They describe how bad it is and how tragic it is what's happened to the college and they want him to come back to restore it to its former glory.

DP: So we've got some of the letters between Cooper and Inglis in the Library. What's it been like reading and transcribing those? Is there quite a lot of emotional content to them?

CM: These letters are great. These are all letters to Myles Cooper. We don't have letters from Myles Cooper, but from that you can actually track the correspondence of what's going between the two individuals.

For example, they describe events during the Revolution as it goes pretty much month by month, and events involving numerous generals and numerous politicians.

They offer little comments on what they think is seemingly insignificant but turn out to be of huge importance. There's little comments regarding other individuals, the cities, the poverty, the military. It's all sort of ingrained within their words.

Even though they're writing in a very formal language which his something to always remember when you're reading these letters. This wouldn't have been how they spoke. They wrote in a more formal tone but the personality of each individual always come out.

And in nearly every letter there's something relating to Cooper coming back. It's almost as if you're reading his letters to Inglis and to other loyalists that he's saying 'I want to come back', but he never could because they were constantly advising him that he shouldn't come back. And a lot of the times the reasons were because King's College was in too much of a state that they didn't want him to see it that way.

There's a letter in late 1776 from Charles Inglis to Myles Cooper and in this letter he passes a comment. It's only in a single paragraph. It's about Benjamin Franklin travelling to France to secure their intervention in the Revolutionary War. And in it he describes it as a small insignificant detail that the British will easily be able to deal with.

Franklin will be going off and he remarks that Admiral Howe should just cut him off and that will be that. But of course Franklin made it to France and secured French intervention, which was a major factor in determining the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

The fact that Inglis comments on this gives you sort of an insight into how news travelled about. It was sort of hearsay. Little bits of information was passed just by word of mouth. It would have been published in the newspapers, but it would have taken days. Cooper wouldn't have received these newspapers, so Inglis just offers comments and then he describes in a few interesting phrases what he thinks about Franklin's mission.

Cooper and Inglis kept up their relationship through their correspondence, but when Cooper moved up to Edinburgh his correspondence sort of dies away.

Inglis (who had also left the United States) eventually returns to the colonies, moves to Canada and sets up a very prominent rectory there. Their correspondence dies away.

It wouldn't have been laziness or lack of friendship. It would have probably just been that time got away from them and they never really got to rekindle the friendship and the bonds they shared before Cooper left [New York] in 1775.

We're standing at St Patrick's Church in the Cowgate in Edinburgh. Myles Cooper came here in Christmas 1777 and stayed here for the remainder of his life.

Not that much is known about his time in Edinburgh, but it was known that he was happy here and he corresponded with Anglican ministers throughout the United Kingdom and the United States until his death in May 1785. He is buried in Edniburgh, at Old Restalrig Church in an unmarked grave.

 

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