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The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies
This article on Loyalist families is presented in 8 parts. Click below to skip to:

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Those Left Behind
Part 3 - A Variety of Hardships
Part 4 - The Women Join Their Husbands
Part 5 - Services of the Women
Part 6 - Problems in Camp
Part 7 - Widows & Orphans
Part 8 - A New Life

Female Ancestors
Refugees & Others, Part 3 of 8

A Variety of Hardships

Women in all theaters of the war helped the British forces in a clandestine manner, often suffering imprisonment for their services.

In the North, Robert ROBINSON, a soldier in the 1st Battalion, King's Royal Regiment of New York, left his family behind in Johnstown, Tryon County, but they were hardly inactive. He would later write:

...the Rebels plundered his House &c. out of which they turned his wife and three Children and took up his wife and had her in Custody some time on Suspicion of her Conveying Intelligence to the Royal Army and Harbouring Spyes &c &c as there were two Loyalists taken up at his Said House, who were accused for Said Crimes.10

Some women had been victims of previous conflicts but were involved anew, such as Sarrah McGINN of up-state New York:

That your petitioner, Widow of Captain McGINN who was killed last War; under the Command of the late Sir Willm. JOHNSON Bart. near Lake George, and who has a Son (Being her only Son now living) Lieutenant in the Six Nation Departmt. that was wounded in the Knee in this unnatural Rebelion, & his having a helpless Family renders him unable to give her any assistance she is aged & very infirm & The Rebels have destroyed, plunder'd and taken almost all her property; because they alledged (and not without reason) that she was tampering with the Indians in favour of Government.

That she was Confin'd at Fort Eaton and at different times brought before their Committies strictly examined about Indian matters and as often got clear (but with difficult) of the Committies resentment.

That when our Forces were before Fort Stanwix, your petitioner made her escape to it, with her family, except a Son, who she was oblidged to leave to their mercy; who was out of his Sences, and bound in Chains (as he had been for several years) and sometime afterwards was burned alive in said situation.11

In contrast to the extreme hardships encountered above, a more typical upstate New York family was that of Mary SWORDS. Her husband had served in the French and Indian war as a lieutenant in the 55th Regiment of Foot, afterwards settling on a farm and Potash works in Saratoga.

He was quickly apprehended at the beginning of the war and sent to jail in Albany, and later Connecticut, as a dangerous person. On the advance of Burgoyne's army towards Albany in 1777, Rebel troops and Indians in the British service plundered the farm of all its furniture, leaving Mary only her clothing.

Even in this distressed situation, she managed to supply the British Army with forage and nine head of cattle. Her and her family were turned out of their homes after Burgoyne's surrender and forced to remove within the British lines at New York.

Her son would later go on to become a subaltern in the Loyal American Regiment, fighting at Stony Point in 1779 and under Brig. General Benedict ARNOLD in Virginia in 1781, where he would die from wounds sustained in action.12

Life was no less difficult for Loyalist families in the Middle Atlantic States. In all the towns and villages throughout this area was a network of "safe-houses" where Loyalists and British Soldiers on the run could find safety and a hot meal, while they made their way from Rebel prisons in the hopes of reaching New York safely.

One British sergeant of the 47th Regiment of Foot who escaped in 1781 noted no less than 65 households that assisted him in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania alone. The same summer twenty five Convention Soldiers came in through Pennsylvania in a body safe to New York City.

One of the women who was assisting in this work was Ann NEVIL of Sussex County, New Jersey. She told her story to the British in 1779:

That Petitioner being always loyally Inclined to Exert herself Respects Attending his Majesty King Georges Intrests or Subjects--last December went from Sussex County to New York as Pilot with part of General BURGOINs Men some time was Suspected by the Rebels to be the most Notorious Malafacter Imaginable.

That Petitioner returned to her place of Residence was Informed of the Rebels Malignant Intention they made a Close Scrutiny for her she made her Escape from place to place for Sanctuary at last being Apprehended by them & Committed to Sussex Goal where there were Several other loyal men in Co. with her Confined in Irons &c.

That Petitioner last April was Enlarged out of her Confinement by the Contrivance of her fellow Sufferers being then two Months in Goal & Violently disordered with an Intermitting Fever it Remained when Redeem'd was obliged to Expose herself to the Inclemency of the Weather in the fields for her better Safety Suffering bitterly by her disorder in a most deplorable Condition not able to Assist herself.13

Her case was confirmed by Lieut. Colonel Joseph BARTON of the New Jersey Volunteers, also of Sussex County, and she was allowed provisions as other refugees were.14

While Ann NEVIL was most probably a member of the lower class, all levels of wealth and social standing were represented in aiding the Crown's cause. Students of the Loyalists may be aware of the exploits of Brigadier General Cortland SKINNER of the New Jersey Volunteers, but few are aware of his wife's.

In support of this woman, Major General William TRYON wrote:

I do Certify that Mrs. Elizabeth SKINNER, did keep up a secret correspondence with her husband, General SKINNER, while he was obliged to remain with me on board a ship in New-York harbor, & Sandy hook & conveyed the most material intelligence of the designs, & conduct of the Enemy, that we received.

That I heard she was very ill treated by the Rebell party, & compell'd to leave her residence at Amboy, and suffered many hardships before the arrival of the Kings troops in the Jerseys.15

One of the terrible worries suffered by many Loyalists was that their actions would cause punishment, harm, or worse upon their families at home. In an age when protection for a family was most often found in the father with a loaded musket, the absence of that weighed heavily on the minds of many.

John STUART, a West Jersey Loyalist, spent the early part of the war ferrying in recruits for the Provincial Corps and Rebel deserters into the British lines. He was eventually taken prisoner (six times, actually), and suffered terrible news upon his release to New York:

That on your Memorialists being obliged to leave his family they were exposed to every ill usage, his wife so much that she suddenly dropped dead at her door when a party came to seize on his Effects which notwithstanding the shocking spectacle before them they immediately did and left his three small Children without any support, who were afterwards put out to Servitude and your Memorialist after considerable difficulty and expence got them released from their Bondage and to him their only remaining Parent at New York.16

A more direct result of being an active Loyalist occurred to the family of Joseph ROBINSON. Joseph and Lilley ROBINSON were "very comfortably settled" on a considerable farm in South Carolina at the commencement of the war.

Joseph became involved in the troubles of Ninety Six District and was taken prisoner by the Rebels. He was carried to North Carolina, often threatened with summary execution. Not wishing to stick around and find out if the threats were real, he escaped into the woods to make his way home.

Figuring the way to get him back was through his wife, they immediately took her up. In Lilley's words:

...it being known that he was hiding in the Wilderness near to his House, waiting for an Opportunity to join the Friends of the British, the Rebels in 1776 carried your Petitioner away Prisoner and kept her close confined for several days, and caused it to be made known to your Petitioner's Husband that if he would return to his Plantation and remain neuter, his wife should be restored to him, and he should not be further molested, and using dreadful threats if he did not comply, upon which your Petitioner's Husband returned to his House, and your Petitioner was set at liberty-

but no sooner did the Rebels find that the Husband of your Petitioner was again within their Power than they took him away Prisoner a second Time, and burnt his House and Outhouses and entirely demolished and laid waste all his Property, and took away his Slaves and burnt all his Grain and Crop of every kind, it being soon after Harvest-

That your Petitioner was now left in a most wretched and deplorable Condition, and far from any relatives, desolate and in the midst of inveterate Enemies, and was three Nights and Days, after the Property was burnt, hiding in the thick Woods nearly perished with hunger and distracted with fear, and her two only Children then living were with your Petitioner, the Youngest being under three years of Age, and your Petitioner being also in an advanced state of Pregnancy;

in this forlorn state, and entirely pennyless your Petitioner travelled by Night, and begged her Way along, carrying her youngest child in her lap near three hundred Miles until a kind Providence happily brought her amongst the relatives of her Father in Virginia, with whom she remained until she again met her unfortunate Husband, and for a very long Time your Petitioner labour'd under the painful Idea that her Husband was murdered by the Rebels.17

10 Memorial of Robert Robinson, ca1784. Great Britain, Public Record Office, Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 80, folio 202.

11 Petition of Sarrah McGinn, undated. A.O. 13/14/138-139.

12 Memorial of Mary Swords, March 5, 1784. A.O. 13/67/284-285.

13 Petition of Ann Nevil, June, 1779. Great Britain, Public Record Office, Headquarters Papers of the British Army, PRO 30/55/2097.

14 Certificate of Joseph Barton to Colonel Roger Morris, July 7, 1779. PRO 30/55/2105..

15 Certificate of Major General William Tryon, April 7, 1784. A.O. 13/112 (part I)/59.

16 Memorial of John Stuart, April 14, 1786. A.O. 13/24/437-438

17 Joseph Robinson would eventually escape in 1778. He went on to become lieutenant colonel in the South Carolina Royalists. Petition of Lilley Robinson, October 1, 1816. PRO, War Office Class 42, Volume 62, File R8.

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                               Refugees & Others: Loyalist Families

                               Part 1 - Introduction
                               Part 2 - Those Left Behind
                               Part 4 - The Women Join Their Husbands
                               Part 5 - Services of the Women
                               Part 6 - Problems in Camp
                               Part 7 - Widows & Orphans
                               Part 8 - A New Life

                               Top of Page

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