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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 April 2013
American legends would have you believe the American Revolution was a relatively civilised affair, a unanimous uprising from the oppressed and downtrodden colonists against a tyrannical king and unrepresentative parliament. The truth, as with anything, is very different. It was more akin to a civil war; indeed, at the time it was described as such, rather than revolution, with families split asunder, neighbours turning against one another, this man a revolutionary, that man a loyalist.

This book explores the stories of those who did not 'fight for freedom', who remained loyal to King and Country and paid for it by losing everything but their lives, evacuating from America with the departing troops in fear of 'patriot' reprisals. The British government of the time offered free land grants and compensation for losses to any who chose to leave America, a fairly radical and humanitarian offer for the time, especially since it extended to those other, often-neglected participants of the Revolution, the British' Mohawk and Creek allies, and the free blacks and ex-slaves who had been offered freedom in exchange for fighting for the Crown.

The loss of the American colonies had a remarkable effect on the British Empire itself, setting it on a path of empire-building in Asia, Africa and Australia to compensate for the loss, aided in no small part by those same loyalists. They spread out in a diaspora across the British Empire, from Nova Scotia in what was then known as British North America, to Jamaica and the Bahamas, to the new black colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone, and eventually to the British Empire's newest jewel in the Crown, India. There they had a remarkable influence on the evolution of those colonies, often setting the tone for the countries we know today. They brought with them a legacy from the Revolution of protest and a desire for reform - just because they had remained loyal to the Crown did mean they did not earnestly desire and agitate for reform and for their rights as British citizens, just as had the American revolutionaries before they decided to fight for independence.

It's a fascinating story, tracing a really neglected area of history. The American Revolution was by no means unanimous; studies estimate that between a fifth and one third of all colonists at the time were loyalists, and over 60,000 fled after Yorktown and the signing of peace terms, some one fortieth of the entire population of the time. It's just a shame that it has taken so long for such a book as this to reach a mainstream, non-academic audience, to serve as an important counterpoint to all the myth that has built up around the American Revolution.
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on 2 March 2012
Put simply, this is one of the best historical texts I've read in a very long time!

Jansoff turns the spot light (one might say blow torch) on a subject that has hitherto fore been completely ignored by scholars presenting histories of the American Revolution. And it is about time! Until this book is read, no-one can appreciate the full implications of the Revolution and how it shaped the post-war, or second, British empire. These exiles of liberty endured unimaginable hardships following their expulsion from the US for simply picking the wrong side or by following their convictions. Their lot was inevitably an unhappy one, regardless of skin colour, political standing or wealth. However they showed an inner strength of will and determination not to be victims but to contribute to the alien societies in which they found themselves. In short, the second, stronger British empire was founded and sustained by these exiles (and their progenitors) in many quarters of the globe. The highlight for me was the story of reverse colonisation of black Americans and the founding of Sierra Leone - I had no idea that this was a part of history.

Janasoff tells the story of this diaspora with considerable empathy; she demonstrates her intimate knowledge of the period and of the personalities involved; and delivers a narrative that is nothing short of a tour-de-force. She evenhandedly deals with Britain's role as an Imperial power and resists the jingoistic urge of many modern American authors of the Revolutionary period - she correctly describes the conflict as a civil war, she makes clear that it was American versus American primarily, and that patriots did not in fact represent the majority view of the thirteen colonies, and did frequently resort to some pretty horrific tactics in order to push their manifesto. In short Janasoff is one of the leading new-wave US scholars to reassess the Revolution and its aftermath is a less nationalistic sense. She, and others, are now starting to seriously question, and are becoming critical of, the heretofore accepted foundational dogma of the Revolution from the US perspective and this is yielding some key insights of the period that may never have been known. Janasoff has delivered refreshing history and darn good yarn to boot. Look forward to her next major work!
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on 22 June 2011
This is an important book, which brings new perspective to both the American Revolution and the development of the British Empire. Jasanoff has an infelicitous writing style, but this is largely compensated by her intelligent analysis, her storyteller's gift and her liberal quotation of sources that provide direct access to the voices of her many characters.

"Liberty's Exiles" examines the fate of those inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies- Black and Indian as well as colonist, women as well as men - who defied the American Revolution to remain loyal to Great Britain. Jasanoff estimates that between a fifth and a third of the population remained loyalist. Many took up arms for the Crown. Afterwards, some sixty thousand fled their homes to become refugees and settlers anew in the rest of the Empire.

Jasanoff's first point is that the American Revolution was also America's first civil war. The American born protagonists were "more alike than any other enemies they faced." As in most civil wars, the contest was fought with considerable vindictiveness on both sides - George Washington was an especially unrelenting persecutor of loyalists, a revelation here that has diminished my overall view of him. When the war was done, many of the states ignored their obligations under the Treaty of Paris to reintegrate loyalists and confiscated their property and applied harsh loyalty tests. Many were driven out.

Jasanoff tracks the exodus of the loyalist diaspora both analytically and through the stories of individuals and families, such as the Robinsons, a prolific settler family under their matriarch, Beverly, David George, a freed slave, and Joseph Brant a Mohawk Indian. The stories are surprisingly modern - a form of ideological cleansing, large displacements of people, hastily assembled evacuation plans, Claims Commissions examining the right to compensation, families split up and moving to different geographies. Many refugees moved several times, such as Blacks who ended up in Freetown in Sierra Leone, or whites who first moved to East Florida only to find that the King had ceded the territory to the Spanish, or Indians who found that the white man's word was sound only as long as he was distracted by other avenues of plunder. Jasanoff dwells in detail on those who returned to Great Britain and re-settled in what is now Canada and in the exceptionally wealthy, slave-owning and disease prone Caribbean.

If the American Revolution created the context in which to begin the world again, in Paine's phrase, it also refired the British Empire. New energies were put into building an Empire in India, Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa to compensate for the loss of the Thirteen Colonies. Cornwallis died not as the disgraced architect of the loss of America but as a respected Governor-General of India. For the next 150 years the expansion of the Empire was as strong a geopolitical force as the development of the United States.

The loyalist migrants not only provided a demographic boost to Empire but also provided an "enduring framework for the principles and practices of British rule." The refugees may have remained loyal to the crown but they shared much of their former compatriots' desire for individual freedoms and rights. They thus contributed much to the evolution of the combination of liberal values and top down governance that characterized the next phase of Empire and the eventual emergence of the Dominion model in the settler-based colonies. Jasanoff traces this "spirit of 1783" and makes a convincing case for its historical importance.

Jasanoff tells a powerful story, enlivened with numerous anecdotes about individual migrants from all reaches of society and plum-puddinged with quotations from her sources. She is an intelligent writer, drawing many insights and successfully telling the larger story even as she conveys the human experience of real individuals.

However, her writing style needs work. She over-crams her prose with information, loading subordinate clauses on already over-burdened sentences. Mere full stops cannot contain her torrent: many sentences and quite a few paragraphs begin with And, For and But.. She is addicted to clichés and received expressions such as "grim satisfaction" and "stunning successes." _- I counted eight of these in just one paragraph for example. She can shift abruptly from an academic voice to the colloquial. I did find that this detracted from my pleasure in reading this otherwise excellent book.This intelligent and curious author is well capable of overcoming this weakness if she decides that it is important to do so. I look forward to her next book.
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on 13 November 2012
The great popularity of Liberty's Exiles may have as much to do with what it says, by indirect implication, about the American Revolution, as with its message about the British empire post- independence: its ostensible subject. Maya Jasanoff's tome follows the fate of the British loyalists: all those who, whether out of idealism or misplaced opportunity, joined the losing camp. Her view is that these people were not unreconstructed 'Tories' as they were described, but often held strong political convictions. Moreover, as she argues, they brought to the British empire, which found itself in need of redefinition anyway following its major defeat to American hands, a fresh breath of liberalism that has yet to be acknowledged. But, by focusing on so many of the individual loyalist lives, she also casts them implicitly as the 'good guys' - without partisanship however, this is serious academic history - with the result that the American patriots become by symmetrical action the bad guys.

Jasanoff's book is excellent at personalising its subject matter. It follows the fate of a number of loyalist exiles for which there are sufficient sources through Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Britain itself, and as far as Sierra Leone and India in a vividly related set of individual stories. It does not omit to tell the fascinating tales of the many escaped slaves who became loyalists, or of the Indian tribal leaders who joined the British camp. It also includes a fascinating piece on the loyalist refugee community in London and its battle for compensation from crown and parliament. Where it is perhaps weaker is in its argumentation, and specifically on the alleged impact of the 'spirit of 1783', i.e. the liberal values the loyalists often took with them in the rest of the empire and the authorities' supposed preparedness to accommodate them. Here the point is perhaps stated more emphatically than it is made, and the book could have benefitted from a basic before-and-after comparison, or from an even succinct examination of political thinking and interaction with the exiles at the higher echelons at home. That said, Liberty's Exiles is a stylistically attractive book and it captures its protagonists' fates to great effect. It is definitely worth reading, if anything, for the brilliant and fraught tales it tells.
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on 14 May 2012
This is an exceptional book, not for its writing style, which is painful, but for its content, which is highly-original and ground-breaking. The breadth and depth of the author's research is remarkable- it is hard to believe that so much written evidence survives from a period of such turmoil, not just for loyalist whites , but for native Indians and freed slaves as well. A researcher's tour-de-force.
This is part of the problem: the first hundred pages, which deal with the period of the Revolution itself, are VERY hard work, but once we get to the personal experiences of the loyalist refugees, the story comes to life.
Jasanoff has several messages: the "Spirit of 1783" was the basis of the future growth of the British Empire; the British learnt (eventually) from their mistakes in America, by ruling with a lighter touch and lower taxation- with the more liberal diaspora to remind them; a sense of community became more important than nationality- demonstrated by the fact that, in the 1812 war, many Americans who had emigrated to canada (for land grants.... and lower taxation!!) remained actively loyal to the Crown; and the American patriots, particularly Washington, were cruel, vindictive and guilty of war crimes (repeated in 1812), failing to re-integrate or compensate the loyalists for their losses.
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on 4 October 2011
I bought this to get a good background to the exodus of my American GGGgrandmother to Canada after the American War of Independance - The First American Civil War.

It is a brilliant and sad record of the period of the hardship of many Loyalists who were forced to leave their homes and country after backing the loosing side. The winners generally come out really badly as vindictive and grasping. Don't forget that it was the Patriots who committed the war crimes - unlike the movie versions)

Google for a comprehensive reviw by expert historians.
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on 8 May 2012
This often first-hand account of the upheaval and personal traumas suffered by thousands of American Loyalists (and their Black slaves) really brings this period of history into sharp personal focus. The author has unearthed a rich seam in numerous archives around the world to describe in a fascinating historical narrative the trials and tribulations of the dispossessed Loyalist families, as they sought refuge from the often vindictive attacks of the victorious American patriots. One example of the indifference to their plight is when the British government reneges on one of its many promises and hands over their last refuge in Florida to Spain to create even further distress and upheaval.

The personal letters of the unhappy Loyalists offers a moving insight into the separation of families and descent into poverty. The actual relationship described between many White owners and Black slaves offers an interesting contrast to preconceived notions. One letter sent back from England to two married slave couples left in America instructed them to stay where they are as 'the condition of White labourers in England' was so dire!
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on 10 March 2017
Fascinating, little known and in-depth historical account of the violent events leading up to the first Anglo-American civil war (War of Independence) and what happened to those who were dispossessed and brutally treated following secession. It also describes the first stirrings of anti-slavery sentiment in Westminster that was fiercely resisted by the Americans in the southern states. Very readable.
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on 9 September 2013
I've always wanted to know what happened just after the revolutionary war . This book certainly covers a lot of ground and is quite detailed well researched and fair.
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on 19 September 2015
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