Davy Crockett represented Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District from 1827 to 1831 and from 1833 to 1835. His unconventional frontier antics as well as principled opposition to Andrew Jackson’s Cherokee removal policy doomed his political career. Steve “Extra Crispy” Cohen now holds the seat and seems to aspire to the Crockett mantle with respect to both the antics and the appeals to high principle.
As chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Cohen grandiosely promises both moral regeneration for the nation and economic justice for American blacks through an “appropriate” reparations scheme that a bunch of experts apparently will work out later. It must have pained him that few reports of the first day of reparations hearings even mentioned Cohen by name, and when they did only noted his call for the room to “settle down.”
If Congressman Cohen and the 34 other co-sponsors of HR 40 can be believed and the reparations conversation is open-ended, perhaps they consider making eligible for restitution the descendants of another class of historical victims whose grievances incurred at this nation’s founding have been ignored for too long – Loyalists.
The proportion of Americans who remained outwardly faithful to King and Country during the Revolution is now estimated to have been in the neighborhood of 20%, with many more in the colonies sitting on the fence. It is generally held by historians that 60,000 Loyalists, including 8,000 free blacks, chose to leave after the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
It is often observed that the American Revolution was a civil war as much as a war to eject a colonial power. Some Loyalists took up arms in collaboration with the British. Local grudges were not infrequently settled by both sides under the color of political differences over independence.
From tarring and feathering to looting and burning of homes, and the official measures taken by individual colonies following the Declaration of Independence, Loyalists suffered at the hands of those Americans in revolt. For example, Connecticut passed stringent laws authorizing imprisonment of Loyalists. Some were confined underground in an old copper mine shaft called New-Gate, in East Granby. Almost every jail in the colony is believed to have held some political prisoners – and the reputation of prisons in Connecticut that Tories were sent from Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey for imprisonment all throughout the war. Meanwhile, New York was notorious for confiscations, and began seizing Loyalist property before the state even ratified its constitution.
The imprisonments, confiscations, and British and Canadian records of émigrés provide rich documentation for tracking down descendants of victimized Loyalists who might be eligible for restitution under any future Loyalist Reparations Program. For example, the New York Public Library has recently digitized a manuscript list of loyalists against whom judgments were given under the Confiscation Act, which covers the period from 1780-1783, and court records in the state continue to record disputes over seized loyalist property long after the war ended. In fact, Alexander Hamilton’s law practice handled many of these disputes.
The time has come for Loyalist reparations. Public policy during and immediately following the Revolution created a distinct class of victims, and we certainly have the ability to identify their descendants for both an official apology and recompense. If not now, then when?
In the spirit of full disclosure, I shall be soon inaugurating a GoFundMe page in support of exploring a lawsuit to establish title to the property of a distant Loyalist ancestor, Honesty Nuttall, who owned a tract of land, tavern, and smithy on what was the Post Road to Boston and now encompasses parts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Contributions will be welcome.
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