CHESTERTOWN, MD—History, as we know, is most often told by the victors. But the vanquished have stories of their own. In a March 23 presentation at Washington College, Harvard University historian Maya Jasanoff will reveal some of these stories, tracing the experiences of Americans loyal to the British crown and their forced exodus at the end of the American Revolution.
Jasanoff's talk, "Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World," will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall, John S. Toll Science Center on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue. Sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the program is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the talk.
Released just last month by Alfred A. Knopf, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World has already been lauded far and wide as a masterpiece, upending past assumptions about the aftermath of the American Revolution.
"Losers seldom get to write history, but the American loyalists have at last got their historian with Maya Jasanoff," said historian Joseph J. Ellis, while Sean Wilentz noted that her "stunning reinterpretation … affirms her place as one of the very finest historians of the rising generation." British historian William Dalrymple agreed, calling Jasanoff "not just a very good writer, an indefatigable researcher, and a fine historian," but "also a bit of a genius."
When the British army evacuated the United States in 1783, thousands of American loyalists followed in its wake. Their numbers included wealthy white landowners, Mohawk Indians, and formerly enslaved blacks who had won their freedom aiding the British. Having cast their lot with the losing side, they fanned out from the newly-independent United States, seeking a future elsewhere in the British Empire. Some sailed to Britain itself, others to Canada, the Bahamas and the West Indies; still others journeyed even further, to India and Africa.
"This voyage into exile was a trip into the unknown..." Jasanoff writes. "For them, America seemed less 'an Assylum to the persecuted' than a potential persecutor." Yet wherever they went, Jasanoff argues, the American loyalists carried with them some startlingly "American" ideas. Transmitted around the world, these revolutionary legacies helped to redefine the British Empire.
"As revolutions ripple across the Middle East, we can't help but notice how small our world is," said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center. "Maya Jasanoff's fascinating book reminds us this isn't a completely new phenomenon. The world was a pretty small place even in 1783."
Maya Jasanoff is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, where she teaches courses on modern Britain and the British Empire. She has recently held fellowships at the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Her first book, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850 (Knopf, 2005), won the Duff Cooper Prize.
Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Based in the Custom House along the colonial waterfront, the College's C.V. Starr Center fosters the art of written history and explores our nation's past—particularly the legacy of its Founding era—in innovative ways, through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach. For more information on the Center, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.