What does iconic patriot John Adams — a chief advocate for American independence and second president of the new nation he helped create — have to do with the “Loyalists,” who stuck to their allegiance to the British crown when the shooting began?
For starters, the big Adams family residence preserved at Adams National Historical Park in Quincy was built by a Loyalist family who fled America in fear during the Revolutionary War and sold their property to the Adamses afterward.
The Loyalists, also called Tories, will have their story told on Saturday when the Adams park hosts a program titled “Liberty or Loyalty?” that features Loyalist reenactors, the creator of the “Tory Trail” (a parallel to the Freedom Trail), and the author of a new book (”Defiant Brides”) about two women from Loyalist families who married patriot generals.
While widely depicted as enemy collaborators, Loyalists were often ordinary Americans who suffered for their beliefs, losing their homes, livelihood, and even family, according to historians who want to set the record straight.
Tom Tringale, a member of McAlpin’s Corps of Loyal American Volunteers, a Revolutionary War reenactment group on the British side that will camp out at the park, goes even further.
“I want to get people to give the Loyalists a hug,” said Tringale, 28, a Quincy resident who been a historical reenactor from childhood. “Americans are in denial about the Loyalists.”
From the point of view of the status quo, the pro-British Tories were “loyal” to their government while the patriots were treasonous “rebels,” he noted.
“So we were the good guys,” Tringale said. “What we are going to do is talk about how the Loyalists were forced from their homes in Boston.” Loyalists formed military units such as McAlpin’s Corps, who served as guides to British General John Burgoyne in Canada and upstate New York.
“The public is honestly in denial,” Tringale said. “They see the Loyalists as traitors. . . . These people were not like Thomas Hutchinson,’’ the colony’s wealthy governor in the early 1770s, he said. “These were simple farmers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, who thought it was safer to be with the king. Our intention is to get the Loyalists a fair shake in American history.”
Success can be measured by how many visitors want to give Loyalists that “hug.”
Tringale’s group will be joined by a half-dozen members of His Majesty’s 63d Regiment of Foot, a reenactment group portraying British regulars. The “campout” will illustrate two kinds of shelter, the redcoats’ hand-sewn tents and the “brush shelters” used on campaigns.
The big house at the Adams park in Quincy, called Peacefield by the family, was built in 1731 by Leonard Vassall, said Karen Yourell, a park supervisor. When the Vassall family left for England, their property was confiscated. While it was later returned to them following agreements between England and the new nation, prominent Tories like the Vassalls were not about to return to rebel territory, and they sold their house to Adams when he was representing the fledgling country in England.
Quincy resident Norma Jane Langford, who created “The Tory Trail” so tourists could visit places where Loyalists lived, said the house’s original owner made a fortune operating sugar plantations in Jamaica. The Vassalls bought land in what was then part of Braintree, and built a farm that served as a “summer cottage,” she said, while their primary residence was a townhouse in Boston. “They were very staunch Loyalists.”
When British forces left Boston during the war, the Tories left with them, most going to Canada, a few back to England, abandoning property and wealth for a poor welcome abroad.
“They were refugees running out of money,” Langford said. “Even though they might have positions of responsibility and respectability in America, in England they were treated like scum. . . . Many were employed as judges, tax collectors, in the military, so they suffered losses. They did not get paid.”
When they made damage claims for their losses suffered through loyalty to the crown, the British government said that the money would end up going to the rebels because of family ties.
Those ties were even stronger, and more conflicted, for the families depicted by award-winning author Nancy Rubin Stuart in “Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women Who Married Political Radicals.”
Lucy Flucker, the daughter of an upper-class Boston family, married “poor bookbinder radical patriot Henry Knox. Her parents were horrified,” Stuart said.
The young couple fled the British military occupation of Boston, and Lucy would never see her parents again. Knox proved to be a Revolutionary War hero and a “key strategist” heavily relied on by General George Washington. But Flucker’s parents fled to England, and the age’s poor communications made reconciliation difficult.
Already a celebrated hero for the crucial role he played in American victories, Benedict Arnold met and wooed the glamorous Peggy Shippen in Philadelphia. Her aristocratic parents thought she could do better than marry an older man partially crippled by war wounds, but the notoriously willful Shippen got her way.
History has long blamed her for corrupting Arnold. But Stuart said that while Shippen was aware of her husband’s intention, it’s more likely that the egotistical Arnold — who was twice her age — made his own plans.
Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@ gmail.com.