A post on Facebook about an upcoming episode of History Detectives prompted me to view some of the current episodes available via On Demand through my cable company. A segment about a 1775 almanac caught my attention. [spoiler alert] The research showed that the notations in this almanac captured the geographical fracturing of a family due to the onset of the Revolutionary War. The son was a Loyalist while the father was a Patriot. The son went to England and did not return permanently to Boston until after his father’s death, although letters showed they maintained a close relationship.
Of most interest to me were the sources that were used to trace the story. Professor Joseph J. Ellis of Mount Holyoke College, a renowned historian of Revolutionary War history, mentioned that the Revolutionary War was a civil war and divided families. He also mentioned the Suffolk Resolves that allowed newspapers to print the names of supporters of King George (or detractors of the Suffolk Resolves), with the admonition to not talk to these people.
The researcher also met with Maya Jasanoff, a Harvard professor who is an expert on Loyalists. They met in the Boston Athenaeum, which has an impressive Loyalist collection. They mentioned Lorenzo Sabine’s “The American Loyalists,” which is available in google books as an epub or pdf download.
Finally, Dr. Jasanoff mentioned the Banishment Act of the State of Massachusetts in 1778 that banished Loyalists and confiscated their property. She consistently referred to the Loyalists who were banished or left of their own choice as refugees. Thinking about exiled Loyalists in this way gives me a much better sense of what they gave up and what they may have suffered.
When doing social research, new ideas and sources can come from almost anywhere: TV programs, websites, books, podcasts, and Facebook posts. The trick is to use this new information to perform additional research on your family, utilize new resources and raise new questions.
Here is my to do list from what I learned in this program (even though the family that was the focus of the program is not related to me).
- See if the Boston Athenaeum has any records on Thomas Sumner, even though he wasn’t from Massachusetts. Even if I don’t find anything specifically on Thomas Sumner, I may find some general background information.
- Read the introduction to Thomas Sabine’s book for background information about loyalists. I searched for Thomas, but didn’t find him listed in this book.
- Get back to reading Maya Jasanoff’s book “Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World.” I have only read the first chapter
- Is there a similar banishment act in Vermont that affected Thomas? Why did he have to leave when his brother, who seemed to have similar political leanings, was able to stay? What may have Thomas’ life been like as an exile and refugee?
Where have you found unexpected information such as this that has kick-started your research, given you new insights, or raised new questions?