During my research trip to the British Library, I discovered some attorneys shared their opinions on the Revolution with authority figures in the British government—either in power or in opposition—to remain useful to the men who might control their future pensions, says Sally Haddon, Eccles Centre Visiting US Fellow in North American Studies 2015. 18th century governor Thomas Hutchinson in particular was a hub for the exiled loyalist lawyer community.
For my book project, I’m investigating lawyers who lived in 18th century Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Towards the end of the century, these individuals took a leading role in conducting the American Revolution, and also in the creation of the legal structures that became new state governments and the national government of the United States. As lawyers, they were also a bit of a closed community, speaking an arcane language filled with terms that others could not understand unless they shared the same training: words like fee tail male, executrix, intestacy, writs of attachment, or tripartite bonds were their stock in trade, plus Latin tags for every occasion. Being part of
this community of men trained in the same field held them apart from all others, as well as holding them together in a sort of invisible association.
It was the friendships within this group that first drew my attention to loyalist lawyers. I began to turn up the names of individuals who had been part of this tight-knit invisible association, but whose politics led them to part from their friends, their profession (as they knew it), and take refuge during the American Revolution. As part of the exodus of (we estimate) over 50,000 individuals from the colonies, these men have sometimes been lumped in and studied with other loyalists—but they were a breed apart. Unlike the shoemaker or blacksmith, they could not readily find work in just any old town: they needed one with a courthouse, and enough people, to sustain their legal practices.
During the period of my grant at the British Library, I was able to review the complete contents of the following manuscripts that I had previously identified as centrally important to my project on loyalists lawyers from the Thomas Hutchinson papers. In addition, I reviewed the scattered correspondence from various loyalist lawyers that I identified in the Haldimand and Liverpool Papers.
From the Hutchinson correspondence, letterbook, and diaries, I was able to glean several important pieces of information that were omitted in the edition of his diary published by his lineal descendant (from the early 20th century). Hutchinson’s diary indicates the flow of information from one loyalist in exile (Willard) about another loyalist lawyer (Blowers) who attempted to return to Boston during the Revolution after being banished by law. Hutchinson’s correspondence and diary prove that it was worthwhile to review all of his writings—he was a hub for the exiled lawyer community, though not a lawyer himself.
As for the scattered materials, I discovered that some attorneys shared their incoming correspondence (when they had any), and opinions on the Revolution, with authority figures in the British government—either in power or in opposition. This was a means for them to remain useful to the men who might control their future pensions. Some wrote to men who were veritable strangers in hope that their background as lawyers might position them well for any sort of post, whether it required legal knowledge or not. In the archives I discovered some of these individuals were extremely self-interested; others, like Joseph Galloway, tried to take a broader view of the loyalist situation while still engaging in self-promotion. He thought the peace treaty of 1783 was a complete disaster for all loyalists, and he shared his opinions with anyone who would listen.
The overwhelming conclusion is that the BAAS grant enabled me to find incredibly valuable information that can be woven in the fifth chapter of my book, and that will enrich it greatly. I also appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Eccles Centre lunchtime lecture series, and to offer a few comments about my own research while I was on site. I would welcome the opportunity to present my research on future occasions when I am in London, as a means to continue showing my support for this worthy venture.
Let me once again express my gratitude for the support this grant has given my research, and I will gratefully acknowledge it in publications that draw upon my findings.
Sally Hadden is a faculty member in the Department of History at Western Michigan University. She received her law degree and doctorate in history at Harvard University. She has written, co-written, or co-edited four books, including the Companion to American Legal History (Wiley, 2013). Her work on loyalist lawyers is part of a larger project on legal professionals in eighteenth-century America.