In addition to their importance as illustrations of American history, Mr. Sabine’s handsome volumes have a significance at the present time well worth remarking. It is within the memory of every one — a fact that comes out strongly in youthful reminiscence, mingled with the earliest lights and shadows of the past — that the dreaded name “Tory” was a true “word of fear,” “the heaviest stone that misfortune could throw at a man” — an imputation that comprised within itself whatever was most terrible in proportion as it was vague and undefined. This state of feeling, which all will recognize, succeeded to the more active and energetic opposition of two conflicting parties arrayed against each other with the peculiar bitterness of intestine strife. And now, such is the soothing influence of time — it has already in one generation been succeeded by a temper of the public mind when laborious investigations are undertaken into the history of these very Tories that affrighted our youth, and minute explorations respecting their lives and fortunes occupy our Historical Societies, and are brought out, like the present volumes, with every advantage that the publisher can bestow. There is surely a lesson to be learnt from this of peculiar importance at the present moment. Looking at the violence, the passion and the deep-seated enmity with which different sections of the country are now arrayed against each other, the most sagacious men have often glanced doubtfully on the prospect, despairing to see the day when these elements of discord could be neutralized, and their fury allayed. Time, however, is wiser than our devices, and to its healing influences may be safely left the circumstances that defy immediate action; to our children the animosities of to-day will have softened down into the feeling with which we now regard the once dreaded “Tory” of the Revolutionary War.
Mr. Sabine was led to the composition of his book by his residence in the eastern frontier of the Union, “where the graves and the children of the loyalists were around him in every direction.” On commencing his investigations, he found how little was in print on the subject, and that he must rely on his own exertions, and his untiring research has brought together a mass of information from private papers, tradition, &c., that fairly exhausts the subject.
The work commences with a preliminary historical essay, reviewing generally the state of political parties and of public opinion in the New-England, Middle, and Southern Colonies. The divisions in colonial society, and the consequent growth and separation of the two well defined parties — Whigs and Loyalists — are well discussed. A full account follows of the legislative action, and occasional acts of mob violence, which led to the emigration of a large portion of the more influential loyalists. Their fortunes in England are then traced till the close of the Government agency on their behalf. This is summed up by Mr. Sabine. “The Americans, who took the royal side as a body, fared infinitely better than the great body of the Whigs, whose services and sacrifices were quite as great, for besides the allowance of £15,500,000 in money, numbers received considerable annuities, half-pay as military officers, large grants of land, and shared with other subjects in the patronage of the crown.”
A biographical dictionary next follows, where, alphabetically arranged, are given the lives and all the particulars that can be recovered of many hundred persons who played a part more or less important on the revolutionary stage, and the work ends with fragmentary notices of men of whom no complete accounts could be recovered. Though the heads of many of the leading Colonial families, as Johnson, Pepperell, Galloway, De Lancy, Morris, Penn, Phillipse and others, were included among the emigrant loyalists, as well as others, men formerly potential at home in Church and State, it is remarkable how few of them took vigorous root in a foreign soil, or ever made efforts to conquer a new position in the land of their refuge. Conscious, probably, when too late, of the great mistake they had committed, even when (as we have every right to suppose they often were) under the guidance of the purest principles, they seem to have lived in the past, fixing a despairing gaze on the country of their affections, unable to shake off an allegiance to it, more genuine and deeply seated than any that laws could create or dis-annul. As a body, their history is a melancholy one, though fraught with instruction at the present day to all who would interpose their own convictions, however honest, to the overwhelming march of events. Mr. Sabine deserves great credit for a work that absolutely exhausts his subject and leaves scarcely any material for future gleaners in the field.
Source: Sabine, Lorenzo. Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution, with an Historical Essay. In two volumes, Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1864.