Thomas B. Allen is a prolific historian and author whose work I have long admired in National Geographic Magazine and other publications. Allen was Associate Chief of the National Geographic Society’s Book Service from 1974 until 1981, when he left the Society to freelance as a writer and editor. His works run the gamut from World War II to Colonial America, and his book on espionage is a staple that is sold at the International Spy Museum.
Allen’s latest book, Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War, examines in great detail the pro-British colonists in North America who remained loyal to the Crown and to their kingdom during the American Revolution. While many colonists openly joined the rebellion, there are large pockets within the thirteen colonies where the residents either passively sat out the war, taking a wait and see attitude, stuck to their own business. However, many Loyalist men formed themselves into military units and actively supported the British Army, at times even fighting their friends, family, and neighbors.
Allen explores the dilemma many of the colonists faced — remain loyal to the King and be labeled as a “Tory” by the rebels, or ride out the tide. For some, the choice would prove fatal. Large elements of Philadelphia and New York City sided with the Tories and became strongholds of pro-British sentiment during the war. More than 80,000 residents departed for safer environs, many to Canada where their sentiments to Great Britain found company.
Allen has organized the book into eighteen chapters, mostly by section of the country and period during the war. He takes the reader on a vivid journey across the colonies and details the strengths and weaknesses of the Tory movement and how it ebbed and waned as British war fortunes changed, sometimes rather dramatically. The book is highly readable and the verbiage flows well. Allen has utilized a large and diverse array of primary sources, some rarely seen today. His descriptions of the importance of the Tories within the large context of the American Revolution are accurate and interesting, and his grasp of the “big picture” is noteworthy. While the focus, of course, is on the Tories, Allen’s book is a useful general overview of the Revolutionary War, with much good information on Patriots such as George Washington and Horatio Gates, and their views not only on Tories, but in the philosophy of rebelling against at the time one of the world’s greatest military and socio-economic powers.
Reading the book should spark inward thought — would you or I stay loyal to our government while peer pressure all around suggests we should join the rebellion (the popular, but extremely risky choice). Or, would we reject our family members who stayed loyal and perhaps even endanger them by our indifference?
Allen’s thought-provoking new book should provide plenty of fodder for those wargamers and history buffs who are always looking for a new angle to study a military period. There are a lot of good insights in the book that offer food for thought, and will surely spark some readers into diving deeper into the turbulent world that was North America in the late 1700s.
My major criticism is in the abject lack of maps and illustrations, both of which would have been helpful at points in the book. The reader will want to have a good period map of the colonies on hand as a reference.
Thomas B. Allen maintains a website with information on his many books, with a focus on his newest book. Have a look!
Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War
Thomas B. Allen
New York: Harper, 2010
468 pages, annotated, indexed, hard cover with dust jacket