The Benefits of Banishment: The Lasting Influence of Loyalist Merchant Networks on the Early American Republic

Eight years after his eviction from Boston, loyalist merchant David Greene and his Antigua-based partner were planning future business enterprises: “the earlier we form good Connections the better.” By his death in 1812, Greene had returned to Boston and developed a flourishing import business with associates in Britain and the Caribbean. He served as a consul for two European nations and headed Boston’s most prominent bank. He helped relatives secure consular positions in other states and the Caribbean. Like the Greenes, multiple former New England loyalists later developed mercantile powerhouses in the United States or served the national interest abroad. The Jefferson administration’s consul in London, George William Erving, was part of a banished loyalist family. By 1805, he was defending American shipping rights in British courts. The later-life successes of loyalists were not merely from prewar family wealth or connections. The geographic upheaval of exile created social and financial opportunities. This alternative loyalist experience is invisible in most US scholarship, which generally portrays exiles as dispersed, debt-ridden victims of circumstance. This paper demonstrates that many exiles overcame the shock of expulsion and productively passed the war. Inadvertently aided by forced movement around the Atlantic and socialization in loyalist enclaves they formed new trade and correspondence networks. After the war, some returned to the United States while maintaining influential connections across the Atlantic. Merchant returnees were the perfect liaisons for postwar Anglo-American trade agreements. They formed mutually beneficial alliances with the American government. By following several merchant loyalists through the war and into the early nineteenth century, I demonstrate that loyalists impacted the early republic’s diplomatic and financial development much more than scholars have noted. Exiles’ wartime activities made that influence possible.