It’s often forgotten today, but in 1775 and 1776, most American colonists didn’t start out with the goal of gaining independence. They wanted concessions from Britain about how the colonies were run. When they didn’t get them, many moved towards declaring independence. For others, it was just too far.
“Loyalist” is a term used to describe Americans who supported the British side during the American Revolution. Some were likely fervently in support of the British policies. Otherwise were lukewarm and believed American independence was just one step too far. Some stayed in the new United States anyway. Others fled for Canada and England.
So, how do I tell if my Connecticut ancestor was loyalist?
- The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada directory: A lineage society for loyalists, the United Empire Loyalists’ Association has documented many of the loyalist who fled for Canada. Be aware: those arriving after 1783 are likely “Late Loyalists” and are economic rather than political migrants. (Some were veterans of the American Revolution!)
- A sudden relocation to Long Island: Just a boat ride across the sound, Long Island was within in the British lines for a long period during the American Revolution. For Connecticut loyalists, it was a safe place to ride out the War.
- Appearance before the General Assembly: If an ancestor was found in direct conflict with Connecticut’s laws, they may have been brought before the General Assembly. The Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution highlights several cases. You can read about more in the Public Records.
- Confiscation: Some towns did vote to confiscate the property of those believed to be Loyalist. Wallingford was a prime example. For records of those confiscations, check the town meeting minutes.
- Court records: The Connecticut State Library has an index.
- The onsite Loyalist resources of the Connecticut State Library: Review their finding aid at https://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/ld.php?content_id=46299417.