March 10, 2011 Stories of American Loyalists Following American Independence is Subject of Book and Discussion

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

On Nov. 25, 1783, the last British troops pulled out of New York City, bringing the American Revolution to an end. Patriots celebrated their departure and the confirmation of U.S. independence. But for tens of thousands of American loyalists, the British evacuation spelled worry, not jubilation.

The loyalists’ experience is the subject of a new book by Maya Jasanoff, called “Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World” (Knopf, 2011). Jasanoff will discuss and sign her new book on Thursday, March 24, at noon in the Mumford Room, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond program is sponsored by the Center for the Book. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

What would happen to the loyalists in the new United States? Would they and their families be safe? Facing grave doubts about their futures, some 60,000 loyalists – one in 40 members of the American population – decided to leave their homes and become refugees elsewhere in the British Empire. They sailed for Britain, Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas; some ventured as far as Sierra Leone and India. Wherever they went, the voyage out of America was a fresh beginning, and it carried them into a dynamic, if uncertain, new world.

Through painstaking archival research and vivid storytelling, award-winning historian Jasanoff re-creates the journeys of ordinary individuals whose lives were overturned by extraordinary events. She tells of such refugees as Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who spent nearly 30 years as a migrant, searching for a home in Britain, Jamaica and Canada. David George, a black preacher born into slavery, found freedom and faith in the British Empire, and eventually led his followers to seek a new Jerusalem in Sierra Leone.

Mohawk leader Joseph Brant resettled his people under British protection in Ontario, while the adventurer William Augustus Bowles tried to shape a loyalist state in Florida among members of the Creek tribe. For all these people and more, it was the British Empire – not the United States – that held the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet as they dispersed across the empire, the loyalists also carried things from their former homes, spurring an enduring American influence on the wider British world.

Jasanoff was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and Yale and is currently an associate professor of history at Harvard University. Her first book, “Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750–1850,” was awarded the 2005 Duff Cooper Prize and was a book of the year selection in numerous publications, including The Economist, The Guardian and The Sunday Times of London. She has recently been a fellow of the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center, the New York Public Library and the American Council of Learned Societies and has contributed essays to the London Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books.

Jasanoff’s book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The Books & Beyond Book Club is available at Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to “stimulate public interest in books and reading,” the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress ( has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.


PR 11-053
ISSN 0731-3527