Synopses & Reviews
On November 25, 1783, the last British troops pulled out of New York City, bringing the American Revolution to an end. Patriots celebrated their departure and the confirmation of U.S. independence. But for tens of thousands of American loyalists, the British evacuation spelled worry, not jubilation. What would happen to them in the new United States? Would they and their families be safe? Facing grave doubts about their futures, some sixty thousand loyalists — one in forty members of the American population — decided to leave their homes and become refugees elsewhere in the British Empire. They sailed for Britain, for Canada, for Jamaica, and for the Bahamas; some ventured as far as Sierra Leone and India. Wherever they went, the voyage out of America was a fresh beginning, and it carried them into a dynamic if uncertain new world.
A groundbreaking history of the revolutionary era, Liberty's Exiles tells the story of this remarkable global diaspora. Through painstaking archival research and vivid storytelling, award-winning historian Maya Jasanoff re-creates the journeys of ordinary individuals whose lives were overturned by extraordinary events. She tells of refugees like Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who spent nearly thirty years as a migrant, searching for a home in Britain, Jamaica, and Canada. And of David George, a black preacher born into slavery, who found freedom and faith in the British Empire, and eventually led his followers to seek a new Jerusalem in Sierra Leone. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant resettled his people under British protection in Ontario, while the adventurer William Augustus Bowles tried to shape a loyalist Creek state in Florida. For all these people and more, it was the British Empire — not the United States — that held the promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Yet as they dispersed across the empire, the loyalists also carried things from their former homes, revealing an enduring American influence on the wider British world.
Ambitious, original, and personality-filled, Liberty's Exiles is at once an intimate narrative history and a provocative new analysis — a book that explores an unknown dimension of America's founding to illuminate the meanings of liberty itself.
"Spirited and engaging...[Jasanoff] has turned her remarkable historical talents to the experiences of the tens of thousands of loyalists who felt compelled to leave the North American colonies that became the United States...One of the strengths of her deeply researched book is the extent to which she was able to recover the stories of some of these loyalist refugees." The New York Review of Books
"A masterful account of the dispersal of the loyalists...Jasanoff’s notable achievement is to engage the reader’s interest, and sympathies, in the travails of the Revolution’s losers. It will be thoroughly rewarding, even for the reader already familiar with the fates of the winners." The Boston Globe
"Ambitious, empathetic and sometimes lyrical...Liberty's Exiles just claims to be the 'first global history of the loyalist diaspora'...Jasanoff skillfully threads the stories of individual loyalists through her narrative as she beautifully describes, one by one, the often inhospitable places they went." The Washington Post
"[There are] many revelations in this very well-researched and fluently written book...Jasanoff has written [the loyalists] a fitting tribute." The Daily Beast
About the Author
Maya Jasanoff was educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Yale, and is currently an associate professor of history at Harvard University. Her first book, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850, was awarded the 2005 Duff Cooper Prize and was a book of the year selection in numerous publications including the Economist, the Guardian, and the Sunday Times (London). She has recently been a fellow of the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the American Council of Learned Societies and has contributed essays to the London Review of Books, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Review of Books.