How Many American Loyalists Left the United States?

PHILLIP RANLET
THE HISTORIAN 76.2 (2014): 278-307

In this interesting piece, the author evaluates one of the most notoriously difficult aspects of early American history: estimating the number of loyalists who left America during and after the conclusion of the American Revolution. Specifically, he challenges the recent estimates of the size of the loyalist exodus made by Maya Jasanoff, in her Liberty’s Exiles (2011). Ranlet finds a number of problems with the soundness of her estimate of 60,000. These problems include a high probability of double counting in various contemporary sources, the known over subscription of those applying for transport out of the rebelling colonies versus those who actually boarded vessels, the inclusion of those who were seeking land grants as opposed to those actually seeking to remain in Canada, the inclusion of large numbers of English but non-loyalist settlers from Florida in early estimates, as well as the inclusion of later migrants not long after the Revolution who were not involved in any loyalist activities. Ranlet makes a strong case for the inconclusiveness of Jasnoff”s estimate, where at best her figure might be regarded as an upper bound, but one that he certainly thinks well over the mark. Of particular interest for historians of ideas will be Ranlet’s critique of all statistical data coming out of the late eighteenth century, a critique which calls into question by implication the predominance of any social historical interpretation of this era. At best, social history of this time should perhaps be seen as playing a supplemental role to a primary focus on the history of ideas and documentary sources.