Southern Patriots & Loyalists in the Revolutionary War: Not a Battle of Good vs. Evil, but a Civil War Grasping a Cause to Justify Violence

We as a nation tend to picture confrontation as a battle between the forces of good and evil, white and black, righteous and immoral, virtuous and corrupt – enlightenment and the dark side. Whenever the word patriotism is mentioned, Americans immediately identify with and embrace the former. And if one were to question, or doubt such pure and logical thought of a patriotic just cause, then that person or idea would be subject to a contemptible and easily grasped response of ‘un-Americanism.’

Loyalists or Patriots fleeing violence

However, as is taught from grade school on, there are two sides to every story. A gray area needs to be explored, justifying a conclusion that forges the foundation of a true opinion, and not merely a reaction which ignores the facts; facts that can be messy and take time to comprehend. Universally accepted by Americans is the glorification of southern patriots during the American Revolution War who were aligned with the forces of good; as opposed to the southern loyalists who were associated with the forces of evil. Many romantic stories, including early TV and movies, depicted the renowned patriot, Francis Marion, better known as the Swamp Fox, outwitting the British and their demonic supporters – southern loyalists. Horrendous atrocities were inflicted by these maniacal legions against those trying to achieve freedom to live their lives without oppression; the patriot, who banned together in the name of liberty for all. Such readily grasped stereotypes made it easy for Hollywood to sell theater seats, however history counters such simplistic reasoning.

Battle of King’s Mountain between Loyalists and Patriots, Oct. 7, 1780

And here’s the gray area. Southern patriots were aligned with the slave holding aristocracy. They were leery of immigrants who arrived in droves and took land and employment from those who were already here. They objected to the English government’s plan to people the southern frontier with these ‘different’ people – immigrants. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the north, the south was already seething with violent retributions by both established colonials and an influx of new blood from Europe. The region from southern Virginia to Florida was ripe for civil war. And the American Revolutionary War provided the back drop for an explosion of violence –  all in the name of liberty claimed by both sides

Robert Scott Davis wrote an excellent article which he posted on line on May 3, 2013: The March of the ‘Scopholites’. The article is worth a full reading. Within, he presents both sides of the conflict, Whig and Tory. It lays bare fallacies rampant with common, excepted thought and throughout populist movies like “The Patriot”; Mel Gibson’s purist, ‘red-blooded’ American character who is fiendishly persecuted by Tory and British forces, driving him to embrace the patriot cause and charge into battle – the nation’s banner fluttering its defiance, its rod grasped in firm hands. Embraced by Divine righteousness, he slays all who oppose mankind’s God-given right to freedoms. Only problem with this elaborate portrayal is that those who carried the banner of righteousness (the patriot) mostly supported the forces of slavery and anti-immigration; far removed from the moral purity we, as a nation, lavished upon the southern patriot. And, as history confirms, it was often the patriot who unleashed violent hostilities upon the Tory prior to reprimands by loyalists in retaliation.

Patriot comes from the Latin patriota, meaning fellow countrymen; a term readily grasped by colonists wishing to differentiate between those of established residence in America over more recently arrived immigrants. The word Whigs (who preferred the term patriot) came from the 1600’s meaning country bumkin. Loyalists were labeled Tories; the Irish word for pursued and bandit. The southern loyalists, or Tories, residing in the frontiers were also referred to as Scopholites from scoffelite; it plays on the word scrofula which was a skin disease known as the “King’s evil” which could be cured by a monarch’s touch.

Mr. Davis amply wrote that South Carolina, under English rule, paid cash bounties to settlers from Europe and offered the best frontier lands for exclusive townships created for Scotch –Irish, French, and German families. Such colonies owed everything to the colonial status quo [government under a Royal Governor] and risked losing a great deal to unfettered American democracy. They included the immigrant poor, ethnically distinct, and the predominantly white non-slave holding Waxhaw settlement in the Catawba Valley on the borders between North and South Carolina. Those Scots and Irish “Blackjack” settlements found itself, as historian Peter Moore wrote “suspect, excluded, and vulnerable” to neighboring patriots who “crushed dissent and heightened fear and hatred of difference.” Hardly the picture painted by Mel Gibson’s heroic character portrayal.

For those same reasons of fear of prejudiced retribution, the German immigrants of the region, along with the Scots-Irish, remained predominantly loyalists. Within this community of loyalists were also Quakers, “New light Baptists”, Welsh Baptists, Moravian, Native Americans, and former slaves; anyone considered different from the pro-slavery movement that dominated patriotism and a rising ‘democratic’ America.

After 250 years, these inherently fearful and hateful ideas embraced by both sides of the conflict that helped fuel a civil war in the name of freedom, ideas passionately expressed by many “liberty boys” of the south, run current in present day white supremacy organizations. It enjoys a renewed resurgence of bigotry towards minorities and immigrants in a more acceptable political atmosphere. An atmosphere condoned by the extreme right populous movement that continues to expand its tentacles throughout America, hiding behind a passionate, though ignorant, understanding of patriotism.

A paradox exists in America. One in which we find white supremacist views and their justification in embracing patriotism repugnant, yet we glorify the southern patriots of the American Revolutionary War who shared many of the same distorted morals towards minorities and immigrants expressed by present day neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Perhaps the best explanation is that when it comes to history, we find ourselves subject to hypocrisy through a natural outgrowth of ignorance. And with more popular movies like “The Patriot”, that ‘ain’t about to change anytime soon’.

Link to Robert Davis’ article:  http://www.southerncampaign.org/2013/05/03/the-march-of-the-scopholites

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