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The Thomas Swords Family

A Perspective on The Loyalists Of The American Revolution

by Polly Hoppin


The Irish Nest 1
The Farmer in New York 4
Roots of Loyalism 8
Clash--Civil War 12
The Farmer Beseiged 19
Exile: The Nova Scotia Experience 28
Mary Seeks her Due 36
Return and Acceptance 42
Finis 45
Appendix 48
Footnotes 50
Bibliography 57


Acres of tilled fields stretched beyond a large sandstone house and blanketed the villagers' simple dwellings dotting the outskirts. Crumbling stone walls severed the land, separating croft from croft and landowner from peasant. A familiar figure, paying a visit from the nearby barracks, made his way up the road. Old Richard, senior member of the Swords family, was in conversation with one of his neighbors. "I am considering improving the drainage in the South field next year. Information from England indicates that this is a most successful technique." The British army officer strolled into the Swords house. "To your ranks men," he bellowed, seeing Thomas, age five and seven year old Richard Jr. strutting about the hall, imitating the troops of which they had heard so much talk. The Lieutenant continued around to the front of the house, where he joined Old Richard's parlay. Thomas and Richard, watched by their elder sister, made their way to a stream trickling behind the house. The neighbors' children, clad in homespun grey shirts and trousers, were floating small wooden boats in the icy water. Thomas and Richard joined them. 1

This was Maryborough, Ireland, of 1742. 2  Old Richard's prestige as honest landowner had gained him the respect of the community. The townspeople knew that young Richard, as the eldest male, would inherit his father's land and maintain the family's fine social position. His sister would most probably marry a respectable gentleman from Ireland or perhaps England. So had family history dictated. The future of Thomas, however, was less certain.

In his seventeenth year, Thomas quitted his birthplace following a serious argument with his father, and enlisted as a marine in the British navy. For some years not a word of communication passed between son and family. Wounded in 1755, Swords was sent to Haslar hospital near Portsmouth, England. A Major Savage, recognizing Thomas perhaps from Maryborough, invited him to join the British 55th Regiment of Foot, then on orders for America. 3   England foresaw the need, wrote General Barrington of the War Office, to strengthen British and Colonial forces in preparation for the French and Indian War. 4   Thomas readily accepted, promising to return to Ireland to be reconciled with his father before departing. As Savage's "orderly sergeant" Swords embarked for North America in 1756.

At twenty-one, Thomas arrived in New York intending to support the colonies as a dedicated citizen of Great Britain. For ten years neither colonist nor English inhabitant would even toy with the idea of America's independence. Yet by 1776, Thomas and his family would be classified with 35,000 other New Yorkers as "dangerous to the well-being of the country," as "bloody traitors" and as "God-damn Tories." 5

Thomas Swords joined farmers, clergymen, professional men, landlords and merchantmen in declaring it morally wrong to overthrow one's government, and better for America to remain a part of England. Few generalizations can be made as to what prompted an individual to support the King's cause. Personal situations dictated that one family remain Loyal while their neighbors joined the rebels. The story of Thomas Swords in America, compiled from information hitherto retained in private files, will describe the motives and ensuing experiences of one family, typifying the Loyalist role during the American Revolution.


During most of the French and Indian war, Thomas labored for Great Britain in her effort to eliminate the threat of French control in North America. 6   Politically, the colonies were part of England, and Thomas was intensely loyal to his government. The fact of America's geographical separateness, however, presaged conflict for Swords as he grew in his attachment to the wild land and its people.

Following the battle of Ticonderoga, in which he was severely wounded, Thomas was promoted to lieutenant. His son James Swords subsequently wrote that "after the reduction of Canada, he was honoured with several commands particularly at Fort George. 7   His correspondence with Lord Jeffrey Amherst, dated the 17th of October, 1763, exemplifies his concern for the well-being of the regiment. 8   At the beginning of the American Revolution, he was asked several times to lead colonial forces. His intimacy with General Schuyler, patriot officer, manifests the respect and affection he commanded among friend and future foe alike.

Local notables frequently entertained the handsome young British soldiers quartered near their townships. It was probably at one such gathering that Thomas met Mary Morrell, then a nineteen year old native of Albany, New York. Of Dutch Colony stock, Mary was strong-willed and outspoken. Courage and perserverance characterized her personality. Feminists did not frequent America in the 1700's, and Mary hardly advocated womens' rights per se. Yet the confidence and ability with which she tackled difficult situations, a capacity then associated only with gallant males, certainly set her apart from the bevy of flag-sewing seamstresses of the 1770's. In 1762, Thomas Swords and Mary Morrell were married. 9

Three years later, when sons Richard III and Thomas Jr. were toddlers of three and one years old 10 , Lieutenant Swords accompanied his regiment on its return to Ireland. King George III gave him permission to return to North America for twelve months. At the end of a year, should he decide to remain in the colonies, he was to ask a General Gansell to dispose of his Commission. Or he could return to his regiment in Ireland, retaining the rank and pay of a Lieutenant. On "Monday next," in May of 1765, Thomas set sail once again for America. 11   He must have known at this point that he was destined to make his home there. His infant son James, born while Thomas was "many leagues at sea," waited with his mother and brothers on the opposite coast.

At the conclusion of the Seven Years War, the British Government reflected on the merits of keeping thousands of war weary soldiers in ranks in Ireland, England or America. They decided that the cost of supporting the troops would be a wasted sum, and so encouraged the resignations of their soldiers. As incentive they promised 2000 acres of wild land in America, and half salary, to each man who gave his notice. c   This was probably the primary factor in Thomas' decision in 1766 to dispose of his commission.

Why Thomas did not build on the 2000 acres alloted him is not clear from the documents available. In her later claims, Mary Swords expresses uncertainty as to whether the land was actually granted. 13   A land deed dated October 3, 1766, verifies that Thomas purchased a lease for 151 acres near Saratoga, New York, from a Henry Bleeker, and "was subject to the perpetual rent of forty Pounds annually. 14

Thomas Swords proceeded to build a fine farm near the banks of the Hudson. Reverend Henry Monroe later testified that "Mr. Swords had a very good House better than common for that part of the Country...There were about 12 Acres of Meadow, 20 Acres of Corn Land, and other cleared Land to the amount altogether to about Fifty Acres--". 15   The Swordses raised beef cattle, tanning hides in a pit behind the house, and selling surplus animals to travelling drovers. To capitalize on the abundance of timber, Thomas built a small pearl ash works, which yielded soda ash, a principal ingredient in the process of tanning leather. 16   Apparently there was enough lumber left over to draw a profit when shipped to Albany and rafted down the Hudson to New York City, despite the cost of transportation. 17

Sometime after 1768 Thomas bought the land allotment of a brother officer, paying 500 Pounds for 2000 acres in Ulster County. Mary writes that her husband was "in considerable expense on surveying and fees" of 1500 acres of land in Charlotte County, 18 purchased jointly in 1774 by Thomas and an acquaintance.

Swords and his partner Robert Henry, a "worthy and rich" man, delivered wheat and supplies to nearby inhabitants and took responsibility for shipping their lumber to New York. 19 Mary wrote that a quantity of spars and masts on its way to the City in 1775, was confiscated by the rebels and used for patriot fortifications there. 20 The Swordses often offered temporary lodging to colonists heading Westward in the early 70's. "Here he dwelt in considerable state, tilling his fields, dispensing far and wide the hospitality proverbial among his countrymen, and assisting in many ways the neighbors less favored by fortune. Until a quite recent period, many old residents of that region could be found to speak gratefully of his many deeds of generosity and thoughtfulness." 21


Immigrants like the Swordses from Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and even Germany, as well as native colonists considered themselves Americans. Nine tenths of the population was rural. Starvation was unknown, as agriculture became the main resource of the colonies. Trade and manufacture began to gain momentum, and sailing ships were built. Distilling molasses into New England rum became a favorite source of income and pleasure. Local crafts such as printing, glass blowing and clock making were practiced in the more populous towns. 22

As the colonies developed, the inhabitants dwelt less often on their British heritage. Increasingly America's interests and capabilities diverged from those of the mother country. In the 1750's, colonists did not yet resent England's domination over them. Yet Britain herself realized that 3000 miles of stormy Atlantic separating mother country from her colonies would tend to push them apart. Further she desired to retain America as a source of raw materials and a market for manufactured goods. She saw prosperity in America progressing independently and all too rapidly. To strengthen her control, and later to pay off her war debts, England introduced a new program of severe taxes and legislation after 1763. 23

In an attempt to limit settlement of the colonies to the east of the Alleghenies, thereby avoiding conflict with the French, the King issued the Proclamation of 1763, portending the more oppressive acts which were to follow. Before 1764, policies of British mercantilism, though severe on paper, were seldom enforced and were therefore ignored by the colonists. Yet, with the issuance of the Sugar Act, America was forced to obey the tyrannical demands of the mother country. For the first time the colonists felt decidedly handled by pompous men in shiny boots thousands of miles away. The purpose of the Stamp Act was to provide enough funds to cover one third of Britain's defense costs. If Americans were not represented in Parliament because it was physically impossible, the colonists argued, England did not have the right to tax them. Riots, pamphlets and the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 followed the act. The Townshend Duties and Tea Act further enraged Americans. In response to the latter, the Revolutionary group the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Indians, boarded tea ships lying in Boston harbor and dumped their cargo into the ocean. Britain retaliated with the series of Coercive or Intolerable acts which reduced Massachusetts to the status of a Crown colony. 24

Americans did not yet advocate independence, however. 25   They simply demanded a redress of the grievous British acts which had caused them such distress. Nearly all colonists disapproved of British policy. At this point only the most ardent British supporters were labeled Loyalists when they refused to object to the Intolerable acts.

Several historians maintain that the Boston Tea Party marked the first major separation of the Tories (Loyalists) from the Whigs (rebels). 26   Just as many patriots as subsequent Tories were upset with the barbaric behavior of the Sons of Liberty. 27   It is true that the philosophies of a reasonable number of Americans compelled them to back the British side from December 1773. They took the Loyalist position, however, not because they approved of British policy but rather because of their concern over the radical behavior of the Bostonians. 28   Yet their denunciation of such patriot action was often interpreted as outright support for Great Britain.

It wasn't until the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776, that the Loyalist faction finally extricated itself from that of the Whigs. 28a   Most Tories had been adamant in their disapproval of British policy. They felt, however, that the best way to reestablish a working relationship with the mother country was to insist on peaceful negotiation as the method of redress of grievances. 29   The Whigs, on the other hand, maintained that only ultimate separation would guarantee proper treatment of America.

Today it is easy to applaud the revolutionaries. We can safely say that independence was the right goal to strive for. Yet at the time, brambles covered both roads, and the right path of action was not clearly marked. It is possible, in fact, judging from North's repeal of the Townshend duties, 30   that America could have persuaded Britain to comply with her demands without war. But once independence was declared, there was no longer room for difference of opinion in America. 31   The momentous step had been taken, and anyone disagreeing with the revolutionary point of view would be persecuted.

The beliefs of Thomas Swords somewhat followed the pattern described above. He desperately tried to remain neutral from the first hint of strife between Loyalists and Whigs, refraining from denouncing either British or rebel actions. He did once mention that the Stamp Act had caused him considerable inconvenience. 32   But his son James wrote that "his dwelling formed a complete exhibit of the true hospitality of his native country...Many portions of the patriotic army in their march northward in 1775-1776 were abundantly refreshed there and received shelter from the peltings of the storm and the damps of the night." 33   Thomas and his family were content on their farm, and there seemed no reason for him to support one side or the other.

At the start of the revolution, as we have seen, Thomas refused to command colonial troops. 34   It was at this Point that he officially labeled himself a Loyalist. His sense of honor did not allow him to violate the oath which he had taken upon enlisting in the British army, though he loved the land "in which he lived and for which he had bled." 35   He had come to America to serve for the King, under the King, and for the benefit of a part of the King's country: America. He owed his present prosperity to England. Hostile Parliamentary acts had not directly affected him. From what we know of his strong conscience and kindly personality, we can surmise that he refused to take an oath of allegiance to America, and would have advocated peace through negotiation rather than through revolution.


The Continental Association, comprising representatives of twelve of the thirteen colonies, tackled the responsibility of boycotting British goods. Refusal to support the Association indicated Loyalism to England and warranted name publishing and threats. Yet the power behind such persecution stemmed from a group of revolutionaries who in New York did not even represent the majority. 36

Some who later became Loyalists did support the Association. Not a few colonists, particularly New York farmers only mildly affected by strict British trade policies, fought to remain neutral. To avoid punishment, they too pledged to back the Association. For another group, desire for temperance in British policy outweighed the disapproval they felt of Whig tactics. They also took the pledge. Thus many "took no part at all but kept out of the way as much as possible. 37

By August 3, 1?75, the New York machinery to enforce the Association's convictions had begun to turn efficiently. Individual cases had been judged and had established precedent by which the Provincial Congress was to act. 38   The local committee spied on suspicious townspeople, investigated private papers, 39  and reported to the county committee, which kept a general lookout for more blatant offenders. When convinced that a particular citizen was friendly to the British cause, they took him into custody. If a Loyalist's objection to his arrest seemed particularly valid, or the evidence conflicting, the case would be reviewed by a general committee on Tories. The Provincial and Continental Congresses, forming the top of the council pyramid, heard several "very dangerous or difficult" cases, and presided over unified state action. 40   Besides failure to adhere to the beliefs of the Association and their implications, a citizen could be arrested who had guided or recruited for the British army, who had aided Loyalist refugees, who had sipped the boycotted East India Company tea, or who spoken poorly of the revolutionaries. 41

A statement by the New York Provincial Congress in May 1776 declaring the royal government dissolved prompted the gathering of a Constitutional Convention at White Plains. Because of the prevalent Loyalist sentiment about the colony, members were hesitant to encourage more severe persecution of Tories. Their leniency famous within several days, the Convention was pelted with Loyalist petitions, some signers promising to take the oath of allegiance, others requesting release or permission to see their families, or freedom to move to safety behind the British lines. Demands for stricter measures against Tories interrupted the deluge of Loyalist demands. Finally the Convention defined treason as "making war against the state, and adhering to or aiding the King or other enemies. 42   The punishment for such an offense was death. Eventually the Convention established three committees, each formed after the abolition of the previous. The bodies of five, seven and ten, respectively, were responsible for hearing all of the Loyalist cases brought before them. They were overwhelmed with work. 42

Action of the Committees of Safety was supplemented by that of 16cal mobs. In several villages, Loyalists were required to illuminate their houses with candles in each window, following a rebel victory. 43   The historian Van Tyne reports that a man was accosted for naming his dog Tory and thereby implying that the life of a Loyalist was no better than that of a mutt. 44   The Boston Gazette of September 9, 1776, printed a Continental Association statement which referred to a particular Loyalist. "We do hereby give notice to the public that he may be treated with all that neglect and contempt which is so justly his due for his incorrigible enmity to the rights of American liberty." Few Whigs approved of their fellow revolutionaries' behavior. Yet Loyalist denunciation of such witch hunt tactics became a reason for arrest.

Tarring and feathering of Loyalists proved a pastime for many townspeople.

"The following is a recipe for an effectual Operation. 'First strip a Person naked, then heat the Tar until it is thin, and pour it upon the naked Flesh, or rub it over with a Tar Brush, quantum sufficit. After which, sprinkle decently upon the Tar whilst it is yet warm, as many Feathers as will stick to it. Then hold a lighted Candle to the Feathers, and try to set it all on Fire; if it will burn so much the better..." 45

Loyalists were also subject to rail riding. A sharp board was balanced between two pairs of shoulders, and the Tory made to straddle it. The two bearers then jolted the rail up and down, causing the victim to bounce brutally. A pathway down the main street was always cleared, so that crowds on either side could jeer at the miserable procession. 46

In addition to the cruelties of mob action, Loyalists often faced imprisonment. Since neither the rebels nor the Tories were prepared to handle prisoners, dire suffering on both sides was inevitable. 47   New York Loyalists were often deported to Connecticut, where more extensive facilities housed "obnoxious" 48   Tories from all over the Eastern seaboard.

The Simsbury Copper Mines, described by Thomas Anburey as the "Catacomb of Loyalty," 49   represent the extent to which rebel brutality was carried. Prisoners were lowered by windlass through a tiny hole, which served as the light and air source of the miles of cells forty feet below ground. Beyond the six foot level, the sun's dismal glow disappeared altogether. Inmates were then obliged to splash about in knee deep water infested with tiny biting worms. At daybreak the prisoners were hoisted to the surface and directed to their place of work, often dragging chains behind them. Dysentery, scurvy and festering wounds claimed so many lives that inmates often attempted escape, aware that death awaited those that failed, rather than endure their sentence. From 1773 until the destructive fire in 1782, and again from i786 to as late as 1827, prisoners were tortured in the Simsbury mines. 50   Men were incarcerated in the "living tomb" for holding beliefs which twenty years before had been accepted by all Americans.

The Loyalists engaged in their fair share of rebel harassment. Numerous bands of mischevious Tories es roamed the country-side annoying and inconveniencing the revolutionaries. Rarely the plots were carried too far, and a citizen was badly injured or killed. Fictitious stories of terrible Tory plans reached the ears of all patriots. Under the Hickey conspiracy 51   it was rumored that Loyalists would murder Washington's staff-officers, blow up the gunpowder storage buildings, and capture New York city upon the British arrival. However harmless such heresay was, it gave the contest strong overtones of civil war.

In May 1776, Thomas Swords was taken prisoner. 52   His refusal to command colonial troops had defined him as dangerous to the revolutionary cause. He remained in jail in Albany, in the same cell as Mr. Cuyler, the mayor of the city, and a William Pemberton who testified "That the said Pemberton knows the said Swords to have been a great suffrer; and at very great Expense during the whole time of his Confinement." 53   Pemberton added that he and Thomas had been removed to Hartford, Conn. on July 12, 1776, thence to New London and "several other places and at last to a country town called Preston." 54   In light of his mild offenses Thomas was very naturally upset at his imprisonment. On November 13, he "earnestly implored Governor Trumbull," 55   "As I have not heard from Albany since I had the pleasure of seeing you...I must acquaint you that my mind is much Distressed--not only on Account of my Present Disagreeable Situation, but also on Account of my Tender and Numerous Famaly which I have not seen for near Eight Months. Nor do I know what situation they are in... Duty and love calls me to them...if I can be permitted to go and see them [I] shall Return Upon the Faith of a Man of Honor, According to the Rules that may be Perscribed, if not Futher Enlarged by the Albany Committee.... I am short of Cloathing for the Ensuing Season and Several other Necessaries..." 56

On November 15th, the Governor and Council of Safety voted to allow Pemberton, Swords and a third prisoner to return to Albany, under the supervision of two members of the committee of Preston. 57 Apparently they were obliged to cover the expenses of the committeemen as well as those of their own, "besides paying them Three dollars per Day for their Trouble in attending us" 58   The Albany county committee permitted Thomas to proceed on parole to his farm in Saratoga, whereas Pemberton was forced to return to Preston, all the while defraying the expenses of his two guards.

Thomas Swords' experience was atypical. His eight months in prison were not particularly tortuous, as far as we know. The Connecticut government responded immediately to his November letter pleading parole. Finally he, an established Loyalist, was allowed to roam free during the revolution. We can only assume that his sincere effort to remain completely neutral, his willingness to house patriotic armies, and the intimacy of his friendship with men such as Schuyler, gained him the sympathy of men brutally hostile to most other Tories. Honest law-abiding citizens who had committed "crimes" scarcely more serious than Thomas', were subject to threats, rough-handling, persecution, imprisonment and, not infrequently, death.


While Thomas paced the hard dirt of the prison floors, Mary Swords managed a farm situated miles away from even the neighbors' houses and in an area where one third of the military activity of the revolution eventually took place. 59   It was James, then aged twelve, who on July 27 alerted the British garrison at Fort Edward to the brutal Tomahawk murder of Jane McCrea, 60 the fiancée of a Loyalist Lieutenant. A romantic plan for a rendezvous between the two lovers ended in tragedy, when a tribe of desperately angry Indians captured and murdered the innocent girl. 61

The Indians were understandably irrational and rash. Standing by while the privacy of their domain was shattered by fast-multiplying Americans, they could comprehend neither the political issues nor the tactics at hand. The majority joined the Loyalist faction, prompted by assurances that an undisturbed countryside would be restored with an English victory. 62   Surrounded by such terror, Mary remained alone in the house, balancing two small children on her knee, while Thomas, James, and two female servants stood by.

On August 30th, 1841, Thomas' nephew Joseph Dudley Webb posted his regular midsummer letter to his cousin James Swords. Joseph's nephew George had apparently picked up a yellowed book entitled The Campaign of General Burgoyne, imprinted solely for Parliament members involved in an investigation of the disgraceful surrender at Saratoga. An image entitled "Encampment of Swords' house near Stillwater" was among the Plates. An engraved plan of the Swords dwelling and grounds and of Freeman's farm, where the battle of September 20th actually took place, was also included. 63   Unfortunately no copies of these original pamphlets are known to exist. Joseph's letter confirms Mary's testimony that the Swords farm played an active role in the Battle of Saratoga, deemed by historians as the "turning point in the war." Even in 1841, Webb was intriged with his uncle's generation from an historical point of view. Without her husband's support, Mary Swords was a first-hand witness to the momentous event.

The Campaign of 1777 proposed a three-pronged rendezvous at Saratoga. Burgoyne's troops, moving southward from Canada, would meet with Sir William Howe's faction on their way northward from New York City. General Barry St. Leger, proceeding from Oswego on Lake Ontario, was to join them. The king and Cabinet, who overwhelmingly approved Burgoynes strategy, were certain that it would succeed. The impeccable discipline of the British troops, and abundant Loyalist support, should easily conquer the poorly-equipped and disorganized patriot recruits.

Success at Fort Ticonderoga imbued Burgoyne's ranks with cocky confidence. The hero had "opened the gateway to the Hudson, destroyed the American fleet on Lake Champlain, captured great quantities of supplies and taken many prisoners...." 64   But General Schuyler, felling trees across the army's path and destroying bridges and crops, delayed Burgoyne's progress towards Fort Edward considerably. Upon his arrival, the British commander found only Indians, who had frightened off both allies and rebels. Provisioning the army became Burgoyne's primary concern. To seek supplies he sent an expedition of 800 men to Bennington, Vermont, to capture a large store of staples intended for the rebels. Countryside residents were alerted, and crushed Burgoyne's ranks on August 16th. Nearly all of the 800, mostly Germans, and four bronze cannon were lost.

Meanwhile St. Leger's Oswego force, made up primarily of Loyalists, had suffered a serious defeat at Oriskany, also in August. Still there was no news from Howe who had, it turned out, believing that Burgoyne was well supported by Tories, moved to attack Philadelphia. On September 13th, 1777, Burgoyne crossed the Hudson at Saratoga, confident that Howe would arrive within a few days.

Burgoyne's campaign through the Hudson Valley had given the Tories of the region a chance to show their loyalty. Miany were jubilant over the predicted success of the plan. As the British commander approached Albany, hundreds of enthusiastic Loyalists had greeted him. The Tryon Committee of Safety wrote, "More than half of our inhabitants resolved not to lift up arms in the defense of this country." 65   Tories demonstrated their loyalty in ways other than enlistment throughout the revolution. Staten Island raised 5OO Pounds to express their sentiment. New York City gave 2000 Pounds. The Quakers donated clothing. For seven years wagons, oxen, horses and farm products were contributed. Further the Loyalists served as armed police and British spies. Historian Alexander Flick wrote, "In New York, Great Britain certainly had no reason to complain of the lack of helpful activity from the Loyalists. Their blood and treasure were freely sacrificed on the altar of imperial patriotism. 66   Yet in his articles of capitulation, Burgoyne fails to even mention the outstanding efforts of his Loyalist supporters. 67

Upon Thomas' arrest, patriot neighbors became suspicious of the Swords family. Rumored to be part of a sort of Undergrourd Railroad which afforded asylum to Loyalists fleeing to Canada, Mary's house was under constant surveillance. 68   One August evening footsteps alerted Mary to the presence of persons prowling about the farm. Armed with two pistols and a sword, she remained stationed near the door for the entire night, determined to prevent anyone from entering the house. 69   One month later a stranger knocked at her window. His costume was that of a British soldier. She calmly complied with his demand for supplies with which to sustain Burgoyne's troops, and must have sent Thomas and James with "Two Yoke Oxen, a Cart, Forage and nine head of cattle" to the'British camp. 70   Later she essayed to convince local militia members to join Burgoyne's ranks. Mary's sons bore letters posted in Canada to Colonel Mann of Stillwater "at great risk and expense." 71

By September 17th, Burgoyne's army had taken up headquarters at the Swords farm. 72   On the morning of the 19th he deployed his army in three groups, hoping to enclose the rebel troops by pincer strategy. At 12:3O in the afternoon, however, an American detachment met the advance guard of Burgoyne's army in the clearing of Freeman's farm, six miles north of Swords' dwelling. For three hours the fighting raged. Dusk found Burgoyne's army badly crippled but in possession of the field of battle. The British commander entrenched his men at Freeman's for three weeks. When by October 7th Howe and the Oswego force had still not arrived, Burgoyne, desperate for provisions, decided to risk all in a second battle. Two days of ferocious warfare culminated in the British retreat to Saratoga, where he was soon surrounded by 20,000 rebels. Badly depleted in numbers and without reinforcement from the South, Burgoyne's army surrendered on October 17, 1777.

"No sooner was the Fate of General Burgoyne's Army known than every Friend to Government was obliged to take refuge in the Woods." 73 Soon after, Thomas arrived in Albany, following his release from the Preston prison. His parole permitted him to return to his family. Concerned about their future, he wrote to General Horatio Gates, requesting permission to go to Canada, where "by the Probability of getting the Arrears of Pay due to him, and to the low Prices of the Necessaries of Life he may be able to support his numerous family which otherwise must become a public Charge from his utter inability of procuring for himself or them the common Necessaries of Life." 74   His request was denied but a "flag" guaranteeing safe passage to New York City granted. Deciding that he and his family should seek refuge behind the British lines, Thomas probably returned to Saratoga immediately. It is unclear whether or not he was with Mary when, "upon the Retreat of the Rebels in July, she was by them compelled to quit her Habitation, leaving everything but her wearing apparel behind her..." 75 Several days later Mary's furniture was destroyed and significant damage done to the house by a group of Indians affiliated with the British army. Neighbors apparently stripped the Swords buildings of loose boards intending to strengthen their own abodes against expected violence. When his house was vandalized by the British army, a Mr. Newle took possession of the Swords farm. 76   Thomas and Mary continued on their way to New York City, "flag" in hand. The steady flow of Loyalists filtering into British-held New York City throughout the Revolution swelled after Burgoyne's failure. Families from all over the colony sought the physical protection of the English troops. Disillusioned by British as well as rebel behavior, many set out for the city in hopes of finding security among neighbors and townspeople of similar political views. As soon as they crossed the British lines, the Loyalists' previously despondent attitudes changed. No longer anxious about their safety, the refugees' lives adopted a less frantic pace. "Rivington's Gazette," the primary Loyalist publication during the revolution, alerted the community to musical productions, various displays, lectures and group political meetings. The Theatre Royal often cancelled its performances because its Tory actors were on duty. 77   The refugees knew little about the military progression of the war, excepting the Whig setbacks which Rivington published faithfully and promptly. "The great crowd of Loyalists now within the British lines almost enjoyed that winter." 78

The wave of confidence which permeated the City remained unchallenged. From their secure dwellings, Tories had sent notes to the King congratulating him on English military superiority. Governor Tryon had thanked the Loyalists for their "Zealous attachment to our happy constitution and (for) obedience to sovereignty of the British empire," 79   as if England had recently emerged victorious.

However content the refugees may have appeared, bitter overtones accompanied life in New York City. Each inhabitant knew that he could not go beyond a certain barrier three miles away without facing angry rebels. Within the city boundaries and controlled by strict British regulation, the refugees felt intolerably confined. The Georgian mansions which had once graced the streets had been replaced with barracks. The lush parks which had studded the city were now unkempt. People of Dutch and German stock, the sick, the aged and the Tories were the only inhabitants who remained, 80 their numbers now augmented by thousands of Loyalist refugees.

New York City as a Loyalist stronghold became a very real menace to the revolutionary cause. Suggestion that General George Washington destroy the city was prompted by comments such as Nathaniel Greene's "Two-thirds of the property of the city of New York and the suburbs belong to the Tories." 81   "That cursed town from first to last has been ruinous to the common cause," 82   wrote another. Whether the Great Fire of 1776 was started by Whigs of such sentiments, by Loyalists, or by accident is not clear. By no matter whose hand, the city smoldered in charred ruins by late September.

Upon their arrival in New York Thomas and James, then thirteen and twelve, were apprenticed to James Robertson, renowned printer of Tory propaganda. His elder brother Alexander, unable to use his legs, had been in jail in Albany when approaching British troops set fire to the building. Alexander was abandoned. Crawling on his knees he had made his way to the garden, where he lay face down in a freshly dug pit, and chewed on cabbage leaves to avoid being suffocated. Three days later he had been found, blistered and exhausted. Regarding his condition the rebels had simply transferred him to a jail in New York City. 83   Howe was later able to unlock the cells of several accessible prisons. Presumably Alexander was freed thus.

Though their dwelling and personal belongings were destroyed, the Swordses all survived New York's second major fire. Ill from the "effects of his imprisonment," 84   Captain Swords passed away on January 16, 1779. Had he lived to witness the end of the Revolution, Thomas would have enjoyed the esteem and affection of the community, which he so richly deserved. Hester, aged eight, and six year old Mary understood that he had gone to join his toddler son John who had died in l778. 85

Following Thomas' death the Swordses moved to Bergen Neck, New Jersey. "One morning in the latter end of March" Mary and her family were violently plundered by the rebels. An American officer had forced open the bolted wooden door of the dwelling and had stripped the family of their furniture, food and clothing. When Mary pleaded that they leave her daughters their homespun shirts, the soldiers threatened her life. A small Negro boy living with the family as a servant was "much kicked and abused." Smashing glass and woodwork with a tree branch, the officer had suddenly come across Richard III's British army coat. According to Mary he became livid and twice more threatened to murder her. A Mrs. Philips arrived soon and, draping the children and mother in borrowed clothes, led them down the road to the security of Mrs. Brown's house. There the three remained until Mary could "secure a (dwelling) in New York once again." 86   The Swordses had learned that it was unsafe to attempt to lead a harmless and undisturbed life among citizens of opposite political sentiment.


Sir Guy Carleton had taken responsibility for protecting and resettling Loyalist refugees in New York City. Within several months of their arrival Tory families came to him desiring to leave the town. Carleton knew well the game of American warfare. The British War Minister had heard too many times that Carleton despised him, or Sir Guy would have been honored with the command of the army subsequently entrusted to Burgoyne. 87   Carleton sensed that provocation of the rebels was dangerous. Instead, therefore, of encouraging anti-Whig sentiment, he denounced it. It was he who disbanded the "Board of Directors of Associated Loyalists," responsible for avenging Whig guerilla action. And it was he who recognized that the deportation of the Loyalists to Canada could only tone down rebel wrath. He wrote to the President of the Provincial Congress: "the Loyalists conceive the Safety of their lives depends on my removing them...I should show indifference to the feelings of humanity as well as to the honour and interest of the nation whom I serve to leave any that are desirous quit the country a prey to the violence they conceive so much the cause to apprehend." 88   His formal recommendation was that the "Tory resort" be dispersed.

In April of 1780 twenty-six New Yorkers, among them Alexander Robertson, commenced search for the ideal Loyalist refugee township. Sir Andrew Hammond made a timely presentation of research he had done on Port Roseway, Nova Scotia. He described the harbor as one of the most "capital" ports in America. Its location afforded it easy access to European vessels bound for the Bay of Fundy and rendered it an ideal over-night stopping place for voyagers on their way to Northern Nova Scotia from America. Acres of wild timberland and proximity to the main shipping routes promised success in lumber trade at Port Roseway. Conditions for fur trade, farming and fishing were the best in the province, Hammond asserted. 89

The twenty-six of the "Association" had captured the enthusiasm of 224 New Yorkers by December 14, 1782. Backed by Sir Guy Carleton the group strove for an April 1st departure. The ensuing proceedings were efficient. Carleton first recommended organization. Alexander Robertson was elected captain of seventeen Tories responsible for settling all disputes which might arise. Next the Association instructed the King to procure a tract of land near Port Roseway, if there was not enough land to supply all the signers of the Association. It declared that fishing and fowling within certain limits would be permissible for residents only. Further the settler would have to cultivate his lands before selling them, thus avoiding the quick sale for substantial profits. Messrs. Pynchon and Bole, sent to Port Roseway to survey the infant township, exposed Governor Parr's Whig tendencies, and warned the Association not to permit anyone to dictate its procedure. At a meeting in Halifax, Sir Andrew Shape Hammond accepted the Association's demands and granted it a patent for the city. Governor Parr, however, declined to give his approval.

As the day of departure drew near, the Port Roseway Loyalists' attitudes became tentative. 90   Instead of secure land grants, they clutched indefinite licenses of occupation. They had detected Pynchon's hesitancy as he described their new home. Words such as blank and stark had been employed. Harassed by their fellow countrymen, the Association members were about to leave their homes, the foundation of their happiness, as well as their sorrow. Not a soul knew if he would ever return.

On April 27, 1783, the Association addressed Sir Guy Carleton, humbly thanking him for his infallible support during the Revolution. Their sincerity was touching. "If we didn't feel that the interest and happiness of the country was connected with its union with the parent state, we would not mind risking everything dear to us to accomplish independence." 91   That afternoon the crews of thirteen square-rigged ships, several sloops and schooners, and two ships of war hoisted sail and pushed the helm hard to the right, pointing twenty one bows towards the mouth of New York harbor. Alexander and James Robertson and their two young apprentices, Thomas and James Swords, were aboard. 92

Resentment and anger were allowed to fester in the close atmosphere of shipboard life. Why, after their dedication to their mother country, had the Loyalists been forded to quit their homeland? As the familiar New York coastline slipped further and further away, bitterness overcame the company. The English, rather than the Whigs, were the objects of their complaints. Loyalists had been unrealistically confident in Britain's ability to emerge the victor. England had toyed with the Loyalists as a bronco with a four year old rider. Refusing to recognize their own lack of organization, Great Britain had accused the Tories of laziness in supporting the King's cause. Particularly the Port Roseway Loyalists had suffered, and had sacrificed possessions and lives for the mother country. England had, in their eyes, shirked responsibility of displaying military excellence throughout the war. The Loyalists had been roughly handled in New York City, and were now being deported to unfamiliar wilds, as if they were nuisances to the British government and army. Men, women and children aboard condemned as inexcusable what they interpreted as British selfishness and apathy. 93

The seas were rough, the accommodations cramped, as Cape Cod crept slowly past the Association Loyalists. As the reality of Port Roseway approached, they clung to utopian images of Nova Scotia all the more desperately. "Under a Sov'reign whose mild sway," they sang, "we shall flourish and be free, while the land from which we fled shall be oppress'd with Tyranny." 94

Dark dense forests and stark rocks welcomed the anxious refugees. On May 4th, 1783, the first settler stepped foot on the black sand of Fort Roseway harbor. The ships were to return four more times, to bring a total of 3,000 dissatisfied Loyalists to the town. One of the newly arrived New Yorkers wrote from Saint John: "I climbed to the top of Chipman Hill and watched the sails disappearing in the distance and such a feeling of loneliness came over me that, although I had not shed a single tear all through the war, I sat down on the damp moss with my baby in my lap and cried." 95

By July lst, 1783, the Association followers had felled trees for trade purposes, begun houses on assigned town lots, each large enough for the dwelling and a garden, and had planted crops. The rapid development and apparent prosperity of the inhabitants were good signs. Hopes were high for the success of the town.

Disregarding the implications of the patent for a self-governed city, granted to the Association in Halifax, Governor Parr presented the inhabitants with his own ideas of how a new settlement should be run. A small circle in Halifax, closed to Loyalist representatives, kept close tabs on all citizens and demanded adherence to petty rules. To manifest the power of his control over the village, Parr renamed Port Roseway Shelburne. A letter published in the Boston Gazette, on September 22, 1783 refers to the Shelburne refugees as "The most miserable set of beings that it is possible to conceive of. 96   And in 1784, "all our golden promises are vanished in smoke. We were taught to believe this place was not barren and foggy...but we find it ten times worse. We have nothing but his Majesty's rotten pork and unbaked flour to subsist on...It is the most inhospitable climate that ever a mortal foot set foot on." 96   Life in Shelburne among all pro-British Tories was almost as miserable, reports Anne Skelton, as had been life in America. 97

Refugees continued to emigrate to Shelburne until about 1789. They were guaranteed provisions for one year from the date of departure from New York, or until "the instructions for granting lands could be carried out." 98   Perhaps England was aware of the Loyalists' hostile feeling towards her and wished to ease such sentiment. In any case, the British government sent clothing: trousers and Indian blankets for coats, hats and shoes. Planks, bricks and nails, the Loyalists pleaded, were essential to the construction of dwellings. Great Britain shipped them within a week of receiving the request. Although the demand for tools was deemed extravagant by the authorities, enough axes, hoes, spades and plows arrived on July 26 to give one of each to every two families. Pick axes, sickles and whip and crosscuts were doled out to every four households. Grindstones furnished by the British ground corn into flour. Several guns produced enough pigeon and wild fowl to keep the community well-fed, Further, seeds were supplied for crop planting season. In November 1788 one cow was given to every two families and a bull to each neighborhood. 99   As a result, if a Shelburne resident could avoid the emotional and political tension in the town, his toil would prove prosperous and satisfying.

Thomas Jr. and James Swords, losing the security of the immediate family when they were only thirteen and twelve, turned to each other in search of the intimacy found in a parent-child relationship. They were not separated from each other for any one year of their lives. "Untiring industry and perseverance" wrote Trinity Church, "and general intelligence soon won for them the respect and confidence of the community." 100

Little is known of the Swords' life in Shelburne. The two brothers assisted the Robertsons in the publishing of "The Royal American Gazette," which appeared weekly from 1783 to 1786. Printed in New York during the Revolution, publication was halted and then resumed September 8th "or there abouts." 101   Local advertising and foreign news printed from other newspapers were featured. 101   The various weekly journals which appeared simultaneously in Shelburne usually pursued different directions in order to avoid competition. All aspects of available national and local news were thus presented to the townspeople.

The establishment of "The Port Roseway Gazetteer and the Shelburne Advertiser," printed by Thomas Jr. and James Swords with James Robertson, Jr. heralded the commencement of the magnificent career which lay ahead for the young brothers. In concert the Gazette and the Gazetteer provided "means of spontaneous rebuttal in the petty but bitter dissensions which flourished in the new settlement of Shelburne." 102 v Per se the Swords paper omitted news, local or foreign, and instead included "descriptive essays, letters of opinion, tales and verse." 103   Printed in the same office as the Gazette, type set for certain sections was often the same in both papers.

Shelburne boasted yet another publication: the Nova Scotia Packet and General Advertiser," which focused on events of local interest such as shipping reports, advertisements and weather predictions. 104   Many influential British merchants predicted the eventual development of Shelburne into a British-American metropolis which would then merit its three newspapers.

Yet by the early 1790's Shelburne had collapsed. Trade had utterly failed. The town apparently attracted an unusual number of "undesirables" and "incompetents." In a few II years most of the houses were abandoned and crumbled with decay. "Hundreds of cellars with their stone walls and granite partitions were everywhere to be seen like uncovered monuments of the dead." The sentinel chimneys marked large black scars on the ground where gatherings had taken place a few years before. The scene "spoke of a generation that had passed away forever without the aid of an inscription, [and] told a tale of sorrow and of sadness that overpowered the heart. 105

Circumstance, as in the Swords case, had caused some 80,000 to 100,000 Loyalists to flee to Canada, Nova Scotia, England, Bermuda, and the West Indies. Eight of thirteen states had actually banished Tories from America, forbidding them to return upon pain of death. Forty ships bearing displaced Loyalists to Canada had been shipwrecked. For the majority, adjusting to life in exile had been difficult. Though relieved from constant tormenting by the Whigs, refugees had faced abuse by British officials and, over all, homesickness for the land they had quit. By the mid 1790's many had made the decision to return to America. "Although your Memorialists differ from their fellow citizens in political opinions, they still have and ever shall retain a natural affection for the country where they have passed their happiest days and have their dearest connections." 106


The Swords family, meanwhile, had been unable to evade further suffering. Mary's son Richard, a gallant ensign of the Loyal American Troops, was wounded in January of 1781 at Stoney Point. He died soon afterwards. Richard had demonstrated unusual promise and was as well loved as he was respected. His death was a terrific blow to Mary, to whom the boy had represented a second Thomas.

The Peace of Paris declared the United States independent, established the country's boundaries, and finalized the fate of the Loyalists. England, concerned with her national appearance, was hesitant to recognize the "traitors" as friends. America felt a natural animosity towards the Loyalists. The fifth and sixth articles of the treaty illustrate the uncertainty of both nations. Congress was to "earnestly recommend to the Legislatures of the respective states" 107   that the Loyalist be permitted a year in which to purchase, if he wished, his confiscated property and to regain his status as a law-abiding citizen. Article six asked that further cruelties and persecution cease. The articles were, evidently, dead letters. Many Americans still associated the Loyalists with the bitterness of the Revolution. Treatment of the remaining Tories had mellowed some-what, yet a recommendation to pardon particularly the more prominent Loyalists was scoffed. The issue of the Articles may even have reminded moderate Whigs of the behavior that had been expected of them in recent years and prompted renewed hostilities.

A citizen who labeled himself a Loyalist had to have been adamantly committed to his beliefs. He knew that maintaining his position would entail suffering. He presumably accepted that he would be expected to aid the cause by offering supplies and lodging to troops, or by volunteering for the army. For all their willingness to sacrifice content lives for the well-being of the mother country, the Loyalists very naturally desired encouragement, thanks or praise. Had Britain commended the Loyalists on their conduct during the Revolution, for example, many fewer enraged Tories than did would have stormed to London demanding compensation for their losses. The only tangible way to avenge themselves seemed to be to seek Great Britain's money.

Until 1788 a deprived Loyalist was obliged to travel to London to present his claim. An abundance of time, funds and determination was necessary to complete the trans-Atlantic crossing. In most cases the Claims Commissioners could not hear a case for at least three months after the submission of a summary statement. Life in London, expensive, alien and lonely, was a miserable ordeal. By 1788 the large volume of American claimants arriving to plead compensation forced the government to set up offices in New York, Shelburne and Ottawa, Canada. 108

Mary Swords' resentment of England grew with her continued residency in New York City. Several times denied payment for the supplies she had given to Burgoyne, Mary's bitterness developed into anger. The Treaty of Paris only substantiated her hunch that Britain would disown the Loyalists and America shun them. In late summer of 1783, Mary set sail for London accompanied by daughters Mary, ten, and Hester, twelve.

During the eight week voyage, she reflected on her losses. She had not been obligated to support the King's cause. She could have easily pledged allegiance to the colonies while in fact remaining loyal to England. Mary, however, had opted to assert her Loyalty, sacrificing a strong relationship with the community and a peaceful daily routine for her King. Her house was plundered twice and reoccupied by a neighbor, and her lands had been confiscated. Her son's-baggage had been lost when he was taken prisoner at Stoney Point in 1779, and Mary obliged to pay for its replacement. Two years later Richard had died while gallantly fighting for England. Mary had suffered terrifically during Thomas' imprisonment, and attributed his death to the rebels' harsh treatment of him at Albany and at Preston. Finally, her sons Thomas and James had severed their maternal ties when they fled to Shelburne at the ages of thirteen and twelve. Regret overcame Mary Swords.

Upon her arrival in London, Mary, among hundreds of other claimants, submitted a summary of her case. Within several weeks the Board of Claims Commissioners reviewed her plea. Presenting testimony of a Mr. Foster, assistant Commissary to Burgoyne's army, that "her husband had a good house," supported by Mr. Cuyler and Col. Kingston, Mary Swords left little room in her claim for discrepancy. The Board, declaring, "no further attendance required," granted her a pension of forty Pounds annually. 109 Mary was not yet satisfied. If she could obtain compensation for the farm, certainly she would be able to collect on the supplies which she presented to Burgoyne, or on the timber stolen from her husband by the rebels. An interview with each claimant ordinarily followed their submission of the preliminary summary. Loyalist's epithets dubbed the process the "inquisition," implying the rigidity of the Claims Board. 111   Strict policy probably scared off a substantial number from even presenting their claims. He who even toyed with the idea of stating an inflated price as the value of his loss was dissuaded by his fellow Loyalists. To dare to lie, they declared, was to commit oneself to prison. In judging each case the commissioners tried to determine what had been lost specifically as a result of a claimant's Loyalist status. They eventually rejected claims for damage done by British troops, for loss of escaped slaves, for setbacks in trade because of the Revolution and for debts owed Americans. The Board refused to reimburse the Loyalists for confiscated property bought after the start of the war.(note 111) Commissioners were not known for erring on the lenient side, 112   and a Tory rarely received one half of the figure he had cited. For three years Mary submitted convincing petition after convincing petition in an effort to augment her compensation. Yet her pleas lacked official documentation. 113   She was told to return in several years with witnesses and certificates supporting her claims. Exhausted and disillusioned, Mary and her daughters embarked for Nova Scotia in May of 1786. Once settled in Shelburne, Mary wrote to the Commissioners asking them to "pardon my leave of Absence" and to forward the pension which they had granted her. 114

Somewhat rejuvenated in spirit, Mary Swords set out for London in 1788 intending once and for all to obtain the compensation she knew was due her. One hand rested on little Mary's shoulder while the other clutched the testimonies of several neighbors. This time, she felt certain, the commissioners would have no choice but to grant her all that she demanded.

Ezekial Ensign was a rear neighbor and friend of the Swords family. His account declared that after the capture of Burgoyne in 1777, he had received a letter from the Albany prisoner Thomas Swords. Thomas had asked him to remove "a number of Hides" from a "tanpitt" behind his house. Ensign had found nothing. He "really believed the American Army took them as well as the best part of Furniture left in the house of Mr. Swords, as [he] overheard one of the officers say he had taken a Backgammon Table out of it--" 115   Pat M. Davitt swore to the Loyalty of Thomas Swords. 116   In addition Mary presented Mrs. Phillip's 117   and Mrs. Brown's 118   statements recounting the unfortunate incident at Bergen Neck, New Jersey. Mrs. Swords' personal petition concluded, "I can truely say I don't believe there is one person come from the continent of America that has been a greater suffrer than myself. 119

Recalling miserable events must have upset Ezekial Ensign, Pat Davit, Elizabeth Phillips and Mary Brown. They might have spared themselves the anxiety. Mary Swords might just as well have remained in Shelburne rather than embarking on a major journey. Despite the proof of land, baggage, furniture and personal property loss, the Board of Claims Commissioners granted her only 43 Pounds covering the forage, oxen, cart and cattle which Mary had presented to General Burgoyne. 120   Mary returned to Shelburne in 1789, discouraged and angry.

An undated document from an unidentified lands committee must have comforted Mary at some point. The bill expresses the committee's regret that Mary's losses could not be compensated considering her husband's respected and unflinching Loyalty. His Majesty's instructions, the bill explained, prevented the committee from granting more than 1200 acres to a family, no matter what the foundation for the claim. "All the circumstances of the Petitioner's case considered," they continued, "the committee humbly recommends that a warrent of servey may issue in favor of the Widow Swords and her five children for six thousand two hundred acres of land in the Township of Chapham." 121


In 1787, Thomas Jr. and James Swords turned their backs on the ghost town which had been their home for four years. They looked forward to their arrival in New York with trepidation, uncertain as to what their reception would be. As the square rigged ship nosed into the wharf at New York City, the usual welcoming crowd fixed curious eyes on the voyagers. Thomas and James took the hands of a few childhood acquaintances. Within one year the Swords printing firm on Pearl street was flourishing. In time "T. & J. Swords, printers" was stamped on the first page of most materials published at the time by the churches of the United States. It was in their small shop where the "literate of the city" gathered. Intelligent and impeccably honest, the brothers had gained the "confidence of the community. 122

The experiences of Thomas Jr. and James Swords are exemplars of those of most returning Loyalist refugees. Thomas and James were only children during the Revolution, and so avoided playing an active role in the King's cause. Upon their arrival, neighbors greeted them as would any community welcoming a new family. Whig reaction was thus subjective and spontaneous. Mary, on the other hand, had been the wife of a British officer. She had supported the British troops during the battle of Saratoga, and had allowed her sons to move to Nova Scotia under the care of people of strong Loyalist sentiment. Her treatment during the war at Bergen Neck, New Jersey was brutal. Yet her principled personality probably led her to treat and speak of the Whigs with contempt. We can only surmise that had she returned permanently to New York in the 1780's, she would have been confronted with hostility unfamiliar to James and Thomas Jr. To a certain extent the punishment after the war fit the crime committed during the war.

In general terms, those who had been banished from the state were abused upon their return. Those who had fled the country and then reentered were obliged to start life anew. If they earnestly participated in American life from an American point of view, their efforts were usually encouraged and applauded rather than denounced. Loyalists who had never quitted the Colonies and who had never actively expressed their anti-Whig sentiments during the Revolution were accepted as full-fledged Whigs by 1785.

Innocent Loyalists, however, were inevitably mistreated. Taking such a risk was a major hazard of the position. Wall Kill, en route to his parents' home in New York, was captured, shaved, tarred and feathered and ordered to wear a hog yoke and cow bell around his neck. 123   In 1782, the New York legislature passed a bill voiding all debts due to Loyalists, 124   and generally implied that returning Tories were not to be tolerated. As the years meandered by, however, such prejudice gradually disappeared. Connecticut and New Jersey even staged a "Come Back Tories" campaign, believing that their presence would strengthen the states' economy. 125


Mary Swords had done all she could to retain America's colonial status. Having expressed her convictions, she would now support America in all of its future endeavors. The Colonies had always been and would always remain her home. In 1795 she took the Oath of Allegiance to the new United States of America, severing her Loyalist ties once and for all.

image of 25 June 1795 oath of allegiance record (SEE site aministrator's note )

Three years later, yellow fever swept through New York City, causing 431 of 522 deaths in the month of October alone. Mary Swords was among the victims.

The printing firm of "T. & J. Swords" continued to prosper. As far as we know, neither Thomas nor James, neither Hester nor Mary paid further price for their parents' political sentiments. With Mary's death the pen describing the Swords family as American Tories is laid down. As the pages on her generation conclude, so closes the chapter on Loyalists to the British crown. Two centuries later, their story would be gradually pieced together by Swords descendants. Their courage would be esteemed, their suffering understood. Today we respect their convictions in the context of the political strife which bred them. In the 1770's, the Loyalists were denied the right to express their opinions. In the 1970's we praise the existence of differing view points.

The annals of American History encourage one-sided interpretation of past events. Historians try to judge objectively material to which they have access. Yet the available accounts tend to describe an issue from a single point of view. The American Revolution for example, has been analyzed in multiple ways. But because we are America, because, we were the victor, and because the outcome of the war was eventually to our benefit, original sources depict the revolutionary experience. Historical reports are compiled from the Adams papers or the General Schuyler papers, and disregard Sir Guy Carleton's journals and letters. The British were ashamed of the Loyalists while the Colonists resented them. As a result, the primary Loyalist source materials remain in Canada. Americans of this century regard the Tories as self-interested reactionaries who supported unfair British policies and who turned against the Colonies simply because of the threat America posed to England.

To better serve the past, one sided accounts must be balanced with material which represents the opposing position. In the case of the Revolution, further enquiry into the experiences and dilemmas of the Loyalists is essential. The piecing together of stories of families such as the Swordses, illuminates the American Revolution from a new and significant perspective.


The papers on which this work was based were passed down through the Swords family to my great-grandfather Charles R. Swords. In the late 1950's his widow, nee Florence Jacquelin (Gargie), after whom I was named, tackled the task of reading, cataloguing, and summarizing numerous documents relating to all of Old Richard's descendants. At her death in 1967, Gargie had completed five chapters of biographical information on the Swords family.

My great uncle Gerard Steddeford Swords, who subsequently inherited the papers, recalls searching with his mother for the Swords farm in Saratoga, New York. After driving up and down a parkway along the Hudson several times, he and Gargie spotted a tiny road fitting the shape of the squiggle on the map beside them. Casting off her high heels, Gargie, then in her eighties, set out over crumbling stone walls in her stocking feet. Three hours later, she and Gerry rejoiced over a bramble-covered depression in the ground, which they believed to be the ancient Swords cellar hole.

Since Gargie's death, Gerry has added the Van Wyck and Public Record Office papers to the collection. Over Christmas vacation I spent three days in New Haven, Connecticut, reviewing with him the contents of the Swords file, and selecting material relevant to Thomas particularly. Through correspondence with Halifax and Shelburne, Nova Scotia, I received information depicting the Loyalist experience in exile, and several particulars relating to Thomas and James Swords.

Much more remains to be done. Gerry and I hope to visit Preston, Connecticut and Albany, New York. Original issues of Thomas and James' "Gazetteer and General Advertiser" await us when we brave the overnight ferry to Halifax. A second trip to London and Ireland will undoubtedly reveal further leads. Gerry plans to spend the first five years of his retirement continuing where his mother left off in piecing together the stories of Thomas, his brother and sister and their nineteenth century descendants. For the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Swords, additional intensive work on the subject will have to be postponed for the moment.

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Polly Hoppin and Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County
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