Liberty’s Exiles: Tracking Those Who Defected from Revolutionary America


mayajpg-bf735ee630f8c43b.jpgTonight at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff captivated a black tie audience with her research and writing on early loyalists to Britain living in the American colonies who abandoned their home after the Revolution.  She said that one in forty colonists decided to escape what they believed to be the chaos and disaster of the earliest days of the new nation.

She shared a number of great stories about these pro-George IIl colonists establishing new colonies outside the American states in places ranging from Canada to as far as Sierra Leone.

Book-prize-medal_sm.gifI haven’t read it yet — but Jasanoff’s book, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World won the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize, awarded to the best history book profiling America’s founding era.

Hopefully, Jasanoff’s talk was video recorded — and if so will post here later in an update. 

As I listened to her speak last night, I pondered whether the ‘brave thinkers‘ and ‘brave doers’ in early America were on one hand the overwhelming number of colonists who rebelled and built a new country — not only the Hamiltons, Franklins, Jeffersons and Madisons — but also  those on the other side of the ledger who felt the colonies were getting on the wrong track and should resist separation from England. 

It seems to me, though not politically correct, that a case can be made that those loyalists who rejected the sweep of independence and revolution, departing America, were those swimming against the tide — brave in their own way at that time.

The George Washington Book Prize is administered jointly by Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience (of which I am an advisory board member), the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Mt. Vernon.  Washington College’s Mitchell Reiss — former director of policy planning at the Department of State and a listed foreign policy/national security adviser to the Romney campaign — co-chaired the evening, with Adam Goodheart, director of the Starr Center and a historian himself having written the acclaimed 1861: The Civil War Awakening, pulling most of the event and book review process together.

Some of those in attendance last night included Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito; Vanity Fair‘s Maureen Orth (mom of the cool Luke Russert); Helene Cooper of the New York Times and author of The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood; Scott Simon of National Public Radio and his wife Caroline; Atlantic Media Company CEO Justin Smith and Jeannie Smith; World Food Program USA Chairman Hunter Biden and Kathleen Biden; former State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley and his wife Col. Paula Kougeas (USAF ret); 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning Politico cartoonist Matthew Wuerker; National Journal chief correspondent Michael Hirsh; Atlantic Senior Editor Garance Franke-Ruta; Al Jazeera Washington Bureau Chief Abderrahim Foukara; Center for Democracy in the Americas President Sarah Stephens; former Ambassador to the OAS Hattie Babbitt; former US Under Secretary of State and US Ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering; historian Richard Beeman — himself a Washington Book Prize recipient for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, among others. 

The other two finalists in the competition were Benjamin Irvin for Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors and John Fea for Was America Founded As A Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

In any case, some books that you might find of interest. . .

— Steve Clemons


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