The Loyalist Claims Commission Records
I) The Memorial
II) The Schedule of Claims
A Note on Currency
The British government faced a dilemma in how to support Loyalist refugees before the War of American Independence began. Upon their arrival in Britain from the mid 1770s, Loyalists fleeing mob harassment in the colonies sought government assistance. In the winter of 1775, a number of New England refugees submitted applications for aid to Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Dartmouth and the Lords of the Treasury oversaw the financial support of Loyalists during the war. By 1779, however, this arrangement – designed as a temporary war-time measure – became untenable. With the British withdrawal from Philadelphia and the shift of military operations to the South, thousands of refugees from the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies streamed into British cities. Finally, with peace negotiations ongoing between the United Kingdom and the United States in 1782 and 1783, Parliament acknowledged the need for a commission to oversee compensation for the financial losses of Loyalist refugees, both in Britain and in Canada.
The Loyalist Claims Commission was created by an act of Parliament in July 1783. With the loss of the colonies all but inevitable, the commission sought to provide compensation and financial support for Loyalist refugees. The deadline for a claim to be submitted to the commissioners under the terms of this act was 25 March 1784. This posed a significant problem for the commissioners, who were swamped with claims. Five months after the deadline the commission had managed to complete work on 142 of the 2,063 claims submitted. Moreover, a wave of Loyalists arrived following the evacuations of Charleston and New York and could not present their claims before they were due. Parliament therefore passed a second compensation act that extended the deadline to submit a claim to 1 May 1786. This new act also authorized the commission to send an envoy to the United States to enquire about Loyalist debts and to collect information pertinent to ongoing claims (status of confiscated property, the accuracy of values submitted to the commission, etc.). The commission sent John Ansty on a two-year tour of the United States. He collected information about outstanding debts owed to Loyalists in America and details about state confiscation of Loyalist property. Ansty also interviewed witnesses regarding active claims. The LCC issued its final report to Parliament in 1790. The number of Loyalists who submitted a claim to the commission numbered 3,225. These claimants petitioned Parliament for £8,216,126 in restitution. The commissioners deemed 2,291 claims worthy of compensation totaling £3,033,091.(See Mary Beth Norton’s The British-Americans for a detailed summary of the LCC).
For more information on the establishment of the Loyalist Claims Commission see John Eardley Wilmot’s Historical View of the Commission for Enquiring into the Losses, Services, and Claims of the American Loyalists (London, 1815). The source is available here.
The Loyalist Claims Commission Records
The Loyalist Claims Commission produced the largest collection of government sources on American Loyalism. The commission’s records are housed principally the Audit Office Papers (AO) at the British National Archives and are divided into two series, AO12 & AO13. The first series, AO 12, is the official record of the LCC in 146 volumes composed between 1776 and 1831. The majority of the records in the series were created while the commission was in session between 1783 and 1788. Volumes consist of collated copies of original material submitted to the commissioners. Sources found within AO 12 include loyalist memorials, evidence given by both witnesses attesting to the validity of loyalist claims and character references in support of individual claimants, and commission notes of the hearings held before the commission in either London or Halifax, Nova Scotia. The second series, AO 13, is not currently featured on the Maryland Loyalism Project. It does, however, contain information relevant to the project that may feature on the site in the future, including original documents collected under the aegis of the Claims Commission, as well as other sources including correspondence and loyalist pension submissions. It also includes Maryland claims not included in AO/12.
The Maryland Loyalist Project makes available dozens of memorials, or testimonials, submitted to the Loyalist Claims Commission by loyalist refugees seeking financial restitution from Parliament after the Treaty of Paris established American independence in 1783. Currently, the LCC records here on the Maryland Loyalism Project are not a complete record of Marylanders in the commission records. Included on the site are the compiled “Evidence” volumes dealing exclusively with the colony of Maryland. We hope to add more LCC content in the future. Please see the Recent Updates page for information regarding new sources as they become available.
The majority of the memorials on the MLP are divided into three distinct sections: the claimant’s memorial, the schedule of losses, and evidence.
I) The Memorial: The memorial, or the Loyalist’s testimony, is a narrative crafted by the claimant in order to demonstrate the validity of economic losses accrued in the colonies as a result of their fidelity to the British cause. It is the first section of each claim after the loyalist has been sworn in by the commissioners. Since parliamentary compensation was based upon active loyalty during the war, each claimant used the opportunity of the memorial to prove that they had suffered as a result of their decision to support the Crown. Many memorials include dramatic embellishments as claimants would often emphasize themes of personal suffering, humiliation, and violence in order to increase the chances that they would receive a favorable hearing from the commission. Rev. John Paterson, for example, told the commission that he was jailed for providing intelligence to the invading British Army upon their landing on the Eastern Shore in 1777. While in prison “his Wife and Family were insulted and his Property destroyed.” Such details served two functions, to convince the commission of the sincerity of claimant’s commitment to the British cause, and to appeal to the commissioners’ empathy, all in the hope of securing the best possible outcome for their case.
II) The Schedule of Claims: A schedule of losses is found in each of the loyalist claims and is a list of lost property and/or revenue accrued in America as a result of the claimant’s decision to remain loyal to the Crown. The schedule was the most important section of the claim for both the claimant seeking restitution and the parliamentary commissioners charged with establishing the value of successful claims. The lists of lost property and revenue often included items such as:
Enslaved People: Eighteenth-century Maryland was a slave society, in which the majority of the state’s Black population was deprived of their humanity through enslavement. The economy, though shifting to wheat cultivation in the west, was dependent on tobacco exports to Europe. The profitability of this labor-intensive crop led to the expansion of slavery during the century and the attendant development of a racialized cast system. As was the case throughout the southern colonies, this system in Maryland rested on piecemeal penal legislation, known as the slave code, that had accrued over the decades.
As many of the Maryland refugees hailed from wealthy backgrounds (merchants, office holders, planters, etc.), enslaved people were frequently included in lists of lost “property” in the claim schedules. Often, the Maryland legislature seized enslaved people on loyalist estates at the time that the property was confiscated. The enslaved would then be sold at public auction. This was a terrifying moment for those forced to mount the auction block, as it often meant that communities were forcibly dissolved, and families ripped apart. With the exception of the memorial of James Chalmers, no Maryland refugee in the volumes published on this site listed the names of enslaved people claimed as property in their schedule of claims. Approximately 594 women and men, young and old, are listed in the schedule of claims for white Maryland loyalists.
Real Estate/Land Assets: Real estate was a major asset included in the schedule of claims submitted by most Maryland loyalists. Physical property included in this category include domestic, proprietary, and commercial holdings. Most of the losses included in Henry Hartford’s memorial, for example, were properties held on the manorial estates that he inherited as the Lord Proprietor of the colony. Similarly, the partners of the Principio Company, an iron works founded in Cecil County in 1719 and greatly expanded in the decades leading to the Revolution, listed commercial assets including forges and timberland in their schedule. Other loyalists claimed losses on a smaller scale including individual homes and barns
Household and Commercial Objects: The claims, like wills and other probate records, are a fascinating window into the material culture of eighteenth-century households. The Rev. John Boucher for example claimed restitution for “Plate linnen and furniture” as well as for his personal library, which he valued at £500. Nicholas Andres claimed the tools of his farming trade among his losses including, “Waggon Ploughs, Harrows, and other Farming Utens.”
Office Holding: Loyalists who had enjoyed salaries or commission from political or clerical appointments in Maryland claimed compensation from the LCC for these losses. Ministers of the Church of England, five of whom are represented in the Maryland Loyalist Project (Rev. Jonathan Boucher, Rev. Bennet Allen, Rev. William Edmiston, Rev. David Love, Rev. Charles Mongan, Rev. John Patterson), made up an influential minority of Loyalist refugees in London. Despite early efforts to secure religious toleration in the colony, namely the Toleration Act of 1649, the Protestant Revolution of the 1690s set the scene for the eventual disenfranchisement of Catholics and the establishment of the Church of England as the official church of Maryland in 1702. With establishment, the Anglican Church became an extension of the imperial state in the colony. Its ministers operated under the authority of the Bishop of London and were supported by tax revenues from their assigned parishes. Clergy claimed thes loss of this revenue in their depositions to the LCC. For example, Rev. Bennet Allen, the Rector of the large All Saints Parish encompassing large swathes of today’s Frederick and Washington counties, listed the “Loss of his Parish consisting in the Year 1774 of 7819 Taxables [amounting to] £938.5.8 Sterling per Annum”. The Anglican clergy’s close ties to London and their ideological commitment to a Church headed by the monarch, explains why many ministers remained loyal during the conflict.
Government officials also claimed losses resulting from the termination of their titles of office. Robert Eden, the last Royal Governor of the colony claimed the medium annual salary of his governorship at £1,400. He also listed the loss of fee revenue owed him through his office, including those attached to marriage licenses and chancery fees, to be over £1,200. The records of the LCC offer a glimpse into how patronage functioned in the late colonial period immediately before the apparatus of the imperial state was swept aside by the coming of the revolution.
Moieties / Joint Ownership: Moieties or moiety titles appear frequently in the schedule of claims for Loyalist merchants, particularly those based in Baltimore or Annapolis. A Moiety title is a term denoting a share of ownership and liability in a property or other asset, such as a ship. Because waterfront property was at a premium in the bustling tobacco ports of the Chesapeake, wharfs and warehouses were commonly subdivided and owned by merchant partnerships. For this reason, moiety titles appear in the losses of Loyalist merchants. Following his refusal to read the Declaration of Independence aloud publicly to an assembled crowd in Baltimore, the High Sheriff of Baltimore County and merchant, Robert Christie was forced to flee the colony without settling his affairs. Among the property listed in claim he included the following: “One moiety of two Lots with Wharf and Buildings thereon sold at public Sale for £2985, Curry […]” Apart from debts owed him but never collected, this was the single most valuable asset claimed in his schedule – indicating the high value of corporate investments in the Chesapeake tobacco trade.
A Note on Currency: Though most Loyalists listed their lost property and revenue in British pounds, some claimants recorded their losses in American currencies, notably the Maryland dollar which the colony adopted in 1767. Values listed in American or Maryland Dollars are often labeled “currency” in the records. The LCC often approximated the values of losses recorded in this manner because ascertaining relative worth in British Pound Sterling was difficult and values fluctuated over time. Relying on John J. McCusker’s work in Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600-1775 (1978), Geoffrey Palmer listed the average rate of exchange between Maryland currency and Pound Sterling in 1775: £100 (British Sterling) = 156.68 Maryland Dollars. On at least one occasion the commission applied the Maryland Legislature’s conversion rate, established in order to combat specie depreciation at the height of the War for American Independence, when tabulating losses. According to the “Act to Make the Bills of Credit Issued by Congress […] a Legal Tender in all Cases” local currency was valued at 66 2/3 percent for sterling. Anthony Stewart, in his claim before the LCC, made reference to this law in his schedule of claims. Stewart listed his company’s losses in both dollars and pounds and claimed his conversion rate was based upon a “Law passed in Maryland in the year 1777 making paper Dollars a legal Tender for all Debts whether due in Sterling or Currency at the rate of 4/6 Sterling Per Dollars”. In other claims, including the memorial submitted by the unfortunate tax collector Zachariah Hood, the ratio of exchange between dollars and pounds was 2 to 1. (See Kathryn L. Behrens, Paper Money in Maryland in Learn More)
As government compensation came in the form of British pounds sterling, the majority of Maryland claimants listed their losses in this currency. That said, it is sometimes not immediately clear whether each Loyalist has listed their losses in sterling. There are several ways to ascertain if the Loyalist has listed their losses in British pounds. First, the commission either identified the amount as “sterling” or they included the pound symbol (£) before the value listed, or in the column headings of the schedule of claims. The commissioners would periodically use the pound sign when listing a value in Maryland dollars, though they would indicate as much by listing the word “currency” after the value. Second, the amount is written as a sequence of three values separated by commas, periods, or double commas. In this way, the majority of the monetary sums listed in the LCC records look different to the decimal values (100 cents to one dollar or 100 pence to one pound) with which users of this site are accustomed. British currency in the eighteenth-century was divided principally into three values: pounds, shillings and pence. Most of the figures featured in the LCC records follow the formula below:
12 pence (d) to a shilling (s) and 20 shillings to a pound (£)
Values are generally expressed as £.s.d., or else l.s.d.. So when the failed merchant Gilbert Buchannan submitted his claim of nearly £52,000 to the skeptical LCC, he listed the exact value of his claim as £51,832,,12[s],,10½[p]. Unsurprisingly his claim was disallowed for want of proof. If an item is listed with two numbers separated by commas or a period, it is likely the case that the value is in pounds and shillings. You may also find reference to other monetary denominations including guineas (21 shillings), crowns (5 shillings), halfpence and farthings (one quarter of a penny). These denominations, however, usually appear either in the text of the memorial or in the testimony of witnesses and not in the schedule of claims.
Finally, users may see references to hogsheads (of abbreviated to “Hhd.” in the records) of tobacco. A hogshead was a standardized barrel size (length 48 inches, 30 inches in diameter) that was used in the shipping of Chesapeake tobacco. Given the lack of specie in circulation, tobacco became a common medium of exchange. Taxes, for example, were often paid in hogshead of tobacco and not currency. Loyalist refugees often claimed compensation for tobacco that they had either produced themselves or owed them in the form of uncollected debt.
III) Evidence: The final section of each claim listed witnesses or character references attesting to the loyalty of the claimant and/or the validity of their schedule of losses. Often refugees living in London while the commission was in session agreed to serve as witnesses for one another and often attended commission hearings. Rev. Jonathan Boucher, for example, served as a witness in the case of James Brookes. Brookes, in-turn, served as a witness for Boucher. Other sources found in the evidence section include letters of support from American residents or British military Personnel, and documents attesting to the validity of a claim (property deeds, certificates of military service, etc.).
Beyond loyalist memorials, the Maryland Loyalism Project also makes available the Decision Volumes compiled by the Claims Commission. These volumes, including AO 12/60, list the total amount of claimed by each memorialist and the amount actually allowed by the Claims Commission.