Revolutionary War – Patriot or Loyalist?

Was your Revolutionary War Ancestor a Patriot or Loyalist?

Up until now it has been my opinion that most men of fighting age during the Revolutionary War took one side or the other. Of course I would have presumed that there might be a few exceptions, but I’m talking about the masses here.

Well to my amazement I came across a posting on the New Jersey rootsweb mail list, of a message that was posted by a very nice lady in Delaware regarding this subject. OK – so you are thinking “What does this have to do with Upstate New York Genealogy”?

Well if it is true, and I suspect that there will likely be a broad variance of opinions by many historians, then it will be something for Upstate New York researchers as well as historians and genealogists everywhere.

The best way to present this is to show you my correspondence with the original writer. (She has kindly given me permission to do so.)

[from] unyg
[to] Delaware Dolores,

Reading the New Jersey mail list I just came across a posting of your reply to a another person about revolutionary war ancestors and read with amazement the following statement:

Even if “able bodied,” only about one man in eight was actually a Patriot soldier in 1776, at the highpoint of the War — then only half that percentage in the War’s later years. These are estimates made in The Beards’ New Basic History of the United States.

I would like your permission to use that quote in a Blog on my website and perhaps to toss it out to the Rev War and some other mail lists.

It just about floored me! I just presumed (not a good thing to do) that ALL men of fighting age either served on one side or the other.

I have always used this thought when researching a rev war era family. If the Beard’s statement proves correct, and I am of no opinion either way, then I think it will help family history researchers of all stripe.

Thank you for posting it, I must purchase a copy of Beard’s, can’t believe I don’t have one already.


Delaware Dolores responds:

I have the 1960 version of the book. It sounds as if the 1944 version would be just as good, for the Revolutionary War years. The 1944 book (without the New in the title) is by Charles and Mary Beard. Then the son, William (Ph.D.) added to his parents’ research, particularly by portraying the 1944-60 time period.

I was paraphrasing below, but the basic facts come from page 121. On page 117, it tells of how “hundreds of militiamen insisted on quitting as soon as their terms of service were over, no matter how grave the danger to the American cause and despite the pleas of their officers.”

This reality caused Gen. Washington to repeatedly beg the Congress to fund a regular Army, until they finally agreed to grant extra pay to officers and long-term soldiers in the final years of the War. It seems that a movie I’ve seen shows how delayed this support was.

To be fair, the Beards’ “one in 8″ estimates refer to numbers serving at a given time, rather than the bottom-line totals who at least served one brief term.

I live west of Dover Del. but am from South Jersey. I’m on a committee planning a 2-day Revolutionary War-focused event in Greenwich NJ, for Sept. 27 and 28. I belong to one Revo. List already, and believe I posted that same info on there.

Why not just add me to the general Blog? I’d then like to get on all known Revo-focused lists with an announcement about Sept. 27 and 28 — not only as a festival to possibly attend, but conceivably participate in, via reenactments, drama, dance, music, or artisan demo/sales.

Dolores may be reached at:


So let’s toss this out to readers of the Upstate New York Genealogy Blog.

What is your opinion? Are we searching for military records in Patriot and Loyalist collections everywhere with only a slim margin of success?

Do you have any opinions on the Beards’ historical writings? Are they reliable? Did they have an agenda to warp history? I have no idea or opinion, but I would love to hear what you readers think.

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6 Responses to “Revolutionary War – Patriot or Loyalist?”

  • Ruth K:

    Here is a copy of a message sent to my friend.

    Hello Diane,
    I have attached this message from Dick Hillenbrand from the Upstate New York Genealogy Blog to, perhaps, help shed some light on the subject.

    The question is whether all the able bodied men in US, NYS or otherwise, at the time of the Revolution, volunteered for the War effort; one side or the other. Sounds like that may not be the case.

    If you have any sources or can locate sources that would help answer this question,please let me know.

    Ruth Kuchinad

  • Seashell402000:

    flower12Just because a man didn’t serve any military duty during the Revolutionary War doesn’t mean he wasn’t a Patriot either. According to the DAR any man or woman who, served as a sailor, or a solider or civil officer in one of the several Colonies or States, or in the United Colony of States or as a recognized patriot, or rendered material aid thereto are considered Patriots.
    I personally have an ancestor who returned to his farm after a Tory instigated Indian raid, to try to salvage his crop and was captured by the Tory’s and held prisoner for several weeks while the Tory’s harvested his crops for themselves and then they released him and because of this incarceration he is considered a Patriot. He also had 3 sons who served military duty, each under different commands.
    There were also men who didn’t serve but sent someone in their place to serve. Wheather they are considered Patriots I am not sure of. Sending someone in your place doesn’t seem quite like providing material aid to me. I still wouldn’t call these men loyalist, maybe just practical.

  • unyg:

    Thaks Ruth,

    Please let us know.


  • gloria waldron hukle:

    I read with interest “Revolutionary War-Patriot or Loyalist?”. I plan to place copies of this blog out with educators and librarians at events in conjunction with my l7th century novel- MANHATTAN SEEDS OF THE BIG APPLE. I’ve been invited to speak to 400 students, teachers, librarians at a multiple Library/School event April 22nd and 23 in Eastern PA. The students 7th and 8th grade study Colonial History.
    I think it interesting that these patriots or loyalists were many times grandsons and even great grandsons of our earliest settlers. A couple of mine were Reuben and Thomas Roblee, a father and son who had settled in the early l700s at the great nine partners tract, Dutchess County, New York. Eventually a branch of the family moved to Washington Co. and Warren Co. New York where they met and married into the Waldron family. I’m an llth generation Waldron, a native of New York State, and direct descendent of Resolved Waldron of l7th century New Amsterdam.
    While we watch present day politics and the mega crowds of young people gathering-something that hasn’t happened for decades, I am put in mind of the spirit of our Colonials. The time is right to acquaint our youth with how it all began, not just with the American Revolution, but the decades and decades of life prior to l776.
    Anyone interested in attending book events in April in PA. at the Western Pocono Community Library or the Pleasant Valley School district can contact the Library Director, Carol Kern.
    Thank you, Dolores, for sharing this good piece of information.
    Gloria Waldron Hukle
    My email is:

  • J. L. Bell:

    Many men served in their local militias for only a short time during the Revolutionary War, in an emergency or when drafted. The number who enlisted in the Continental Army or Loyalist forces for an extended period was relatively small.

    As in most wars, most of the fighting was done by young men without settled families and responsibilities. Middle-aged men with children, farms or businesses, and other responsibilities were far less likely to join the army for long stretches, for obvious reasons, but were still required to participate in local militia drills and expected to muster in emergencies.

    U.S. military records from the Revolutionary War are probably more spotty than those from any other war. Even in the early 1800s Congress realized that it would be impossible to identify Revolutionary veterans from documents, and asked pension applicants to write out their recollections as proof instead.

    One interesting group of men are those who served on both sides at different times in the war!

  • unyg:

    J. L. Bell, Thank you for this excellent information. Your Revolutionary War website and books are most helpful also.


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