Cooling by Degrees: Reintegration of Loyalists in North Carolina, 1776-1790

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Histories of Loyalists during the American Revolution frequently end with the Loyalists exiled to Great Britain, Canada, or some other British possession. While many Loyalists did indeed become refugees, it is statistically impossible that they all evacuated their homes at the end of the war. Indeed, the Revolution was a civil war, and in a civil war the defeated frequently reside on the same soil as the victors after the fighting ceases. This was surely the case in the American Civil War in 1865, and so it was in 1783 after the American Revolution. The War for American Independence, however, had no formal period of reconstruction that attempted to reassimilate the vanquished. Focusing solely on North Carolina, this paper seeks to discover what became of Loyalists who did not depart the state as well as those who wished to return after the war ended, and how North Carolina dealt with the issue of Loyalist reintegration. Shortly following the beginning of the war, the General Assembly began to pass legislation requiring Oaths of Allegiance in order to determine an individual's loyalty. These first laws also included grants of amnesty for previous acts of loyalism. Reintegration, therefore, was a process that began in 1776. In the years between 1776 and 1790, the state legislature passed several laws seeking to punish Loyalists, most commonly through the Confiscation Acts, as well as those that granted leniency to the disaffected. An examination of the laws passed between 1776 and 1790 uncovers the state's attempts at both Loyalist punishment and reassimilation. Simultaneously, prominent North Carolinians worked on behalf of the Loyalists, arguing on the basis of legal precedent and from a desire to comply with the 1783 Treaty of Paris. These men recognized that the reputation of the United States could suffer internationally if the nation did not work to live up to the ideals under which it began the war. Finally, the implementation of the laws in the Superior and County Courts as well as the petitions submitted to the General Assembly in the years following the war suggest that the state acknowledged Loyalist reassimilation, allowed former inimical citizens to live peaceably in the state, and no longer actively pursued punishments for loyalism. From 1776 to 1790, attitudes gradually softened towards reintegration, especially in the seven years following the 1783 Treaty of Paris.



North Carolina, American Revolution, Loyalists