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Researching Ancestors who were Loyalists in the Revolutionary War: Historical Background

This guide describes the primary resources for patrons interested in researching possible Loyalist ancestors. Guide by Susan Kriete.

Capsule Overview


  • Passage of the troops to Long Island, NYPL Digital Collections ID 808579Historians currently estimate that 15 to 20% of  the colonists were Loyalists.


  • New York City and Long Island had the highest concentration of Loyalists, many of them refugees from other states. 


  • Over the course of the Revolution some 50,000 Loyalist men served as soldiers and militia in the British army.


  • Encouraged by proclamations in 1775 and 1779 offering freedom to slaves who fought for the British, a significant number of African Americans (20,000 is a frequent estimate)  joined the British Army. 


  • In her book Liberty's Exiles: American loyalists in the revolutionary world, Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff estimates that 60,000 Loyalists left America after the British defeat, including some 8000 free blacks. Most of the loyalists went to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Quebec. Some went to Britain. Southerners headed for the Caribbean or East Florida, where they could continue to hold their slaves. 


  • Approximately 2,000 free blacks, dissatisfied with their opportunities in Nova Scotia, demanded and received transportation by the British government to Sierra Leone, where they became the founding generation of the African colony that was established there by British abolitionists.

Resources for further research

Resources at NYPL:

NYPL holds an extensive collection of materials relating to Loyalists in New York and elsewhere. To locate these, try browsing our online catalog with the following subject headings:

For more detailed information on specific titles, see the Print Resources page of this Guide.

NYPL also provides access to over 800 databases of scholarly and popular journals, which can be sorted by topic, including:

Online resources:

There are also numerous websites devoted to the topic of American loyalists, including the following:

For additional information about digital resources, see the Online Resources page of this Guide.

Image credits

Passage of the troops to Long Island. NYPL Digital Collections ID: 808579