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March 4, 2011

Maya Jasanoff

Professor of history Maya Jasanoff discusses Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World.


Harvard Book Store is very pleased to welcome Harvard professor of history MAYA JASANOFF for her discussion of the loyalists left in exile after the American Revolution. Her new book is Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World.

On November 25, 1783, the last British troops pulled out of New York City, bringing the Revolution to an end. Patriots celebrated their departure and the confirmation of U.S. independence. But for tens of thousands of American loyalists, the British evacuation spelled worry, not jubilation. What would happen to them in the new United States? Would they and their families be safe? Facing grave doubts about their futures, some sixty thousand loyalists—one in forty members of the American population—decided to leave their homes and become refugees elsewhere in the British Empire. They sailed for Britain, for Canada, for Jamaica, and for the Bahamas; some ventured as far as Sierra Leone and India. Wherever they went, the voyage out of America was a fresh beginning, and it carried them into a dynamic if uncertain new world.

Liberty’s Exiles tells the story of this remarkable global diaspora. Through archival research and vivid storytelling, Maya Jasanoff re-creates the journeys of ordinary individuals whose lives were overturned by extraordinary events. She tells of refugees like Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who spent nearly thirty years as a migrant, searching for a home in Britain, Jamaica, and Canada. And of David George, a black preacher born into slavery, who found freedom and faith in the British Empire, and eventually led his followers to seek a new Jerusalem in Sierra Leone. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant resettled his people under British protection in Ontario, while the adventurer William Augustus Bowles tried to shape a loyalist Creek state in Florida. For all these people and more, it was the British Empire—not the United States—that held the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet as they dispersed across the empire, the loyalists also carried things from their former homes, revealing an enduring American influence on the wider British world.

"Jasanoff moves artfully from larger global issues to individual stories of people who documented the turmoil with publications, letters, and diaries.... Splendidly researched, sensibly argued and compassionately told." —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

About Author(s)

Maya Jasanoff was educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Yale, and is currently an associate professor of history at Harvard University. Her first book, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750–1850, was awarded the 2005 Duff Cooper Prize and was a book of the year selection in numerous publications including The Economist, The Guardian, and The Sunday Times (London). She has recently been a fellow of the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the American Council of Learned Societies and has contributed essays to the London Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Review of Books.