I am the world’s worst at keeping secrets. When other folks tell me bits of information that they want to keep “hush hush” I never mumble a word of it. But if there is something interesting that has to do with me I will shout it from the rooftops. Ask my poor husband. I don’t think he’s made it to a birthday or Christmas yet where I haven’t accidentally ruined one or more of his presents.
This is starting to become an issue now that I’m finishing up my final tallies for the statistical portion of my research. I’ve made so many incredible discoveries over the last few months that not only bolster my main thesis but also dispel a lot of myths we’ve all been told about Virginia during the Revolutionary Era. This can range anywhere from loyalist population size, their activities, and their identities as Virginians. It’s a dissertation after all. I want portions of this to become articles and books. I can’t ruin the element of surprise constantly. There have been multiple times I’ve pulled up my post box in Word Press and started typing away all of my big finds for the handful of people who would actually dig this information. But then I remind myself–“Stephanie. Save it for the dissertation. Those handfuls of people will actually read it and you won’t get slapped on the wrist by journals and presses.” Even if it’s just 3 people, I’ve still gotta keep some of this juicy statistical material secret for at least a conference presentation.
But can’t I just dispel one teeny tiny finding? Just one? I mean… it couldn’t hurt that much could it? Just one! Ok. Here it goes!
If you’ve ever read a book on Virginia during the Revolution chances are that loyalism is barely mentioned. And if loyalism is mentioned, it was an extremely uncomplimentary sentence. ***Insert things about traitors and yada yada here*** There’s also a good chance the author tried to take their identity as Virginians away by saying–“Ehhhh… they were all a bunch of newly immigrated Scots merchants living in Norfolk. They weren’t REALLY Virginians.”
Alright historians–I’m gonna have to stop you right there. Yes. It is true that Norfolk was a hotbed of loyalism around 1775 and 1776. So much so that Alexander Spotswood called it a “nest of Tories” in his letter to Edmund Pendleton right before the battle of Great Bridge. You should click the link to that letter because it’s incredible. Why do you think Lord Dunmore ran there rather quickly after his gunpowder magazine scandal? He knew he would be safest in the Hampton Roads area. After completing my data sets on the submitted Loyalist Claims from Virginians, sure enough, a nice big chunk of that population is in Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Princess Anne County, and Nansemond County. This isn’t quite shocking either when you consider this is where Virginia’s largest populations lived during the time period. Am I dispelling that there were a lot of loyalists in Norfolk? Nope. Am I saying that a large percentage weren’t merchants? Oh heck no. I am up to my ears in merchants. But back up to the beginning of that famous line about Virginia loyalists. They were all a bunch of newly immigrated Scots merchants. Hold that phone.
In my loyalist claims dataset, I kept columns for birth location, war location, and post-war location to track where Virginia loyalists were during the different time periods of the Revolution. Lo and behold when I put this dataset into R and ran statistics for Norfolk Loyalists and their origin of birth.
Drop the mic.
From this bar graph (thanks R) you can see that the majority of Norfolk loyalists were born in America–i.e. Virginia specifically. England comes in second place. Scotland is barely scraping by. Then you see a nice chunk of “NAs” meaning that I do not yet have enough evidence to comfortably make a definitive claim on birth locations. However, of that percentage of NAs there IS ALMOST enough evidence to move more than half of them into the America column–I’m just being academically cautious. That’s what a large part of my summer will be dedicated to–locking down birth locations for not just Norfolk, but for the rest of my loyalists. Granted, this information is based on claims only and doesn’t identify those who did not submit loyalist claims at the end of the war. However, even with my loyalists who do not submit claims, I am finding a similar pattern. That visualization will be ready soon.
But why in the world does any of this even matter? A loyalist is a loyalist, right? Should it matter where they are born? Well if you are going to call these folks, “Virginia loyalists,” locals and historians definitely think that category matters.
If you go back to Revolutionary Era sources, such as the Virginia Gazette newspapers, there is an agenda to label all local loyalists as anything but Virginians. They are described as being “newly immigrated”, “Roman Catholics”, and friends of Native Americans–all the things that colonial Virginians were not huge fans of. By labeling Norfolk loyalists as newly immigrated, locals were stripping loyalists of their Virginian identity. To some states, this might not be a big deal. However, if you’ve ever lived in Virginia at any point from 1607 to right this second you will know that there is a certain esteem and pride that goes along with being from Virginia. Virginia was the first colony. It was the richest. It was the largest. And to Virginians–and a lot of other folks–the most important. By deflecting loyalist heritage as “newly immigrated” contemporaries and historians basically give themselves a get out of jail free card for the Revolution and maintain that they were the most patriotic state/colony in the nation at the time of the war. At least for Norfolk, we can “Old Yeller” that myth.