Casualties of War

The Loyalists’ impact on the Turks & Caicos Islands.

By Dr. Charlene Kozy

Casualties of war usually are counted as members of the military. In the War for American Independence, the casualty count included civilians that did not agree with the Revolution.
The Revolution was a minority movement. One-third of the population at the time were neutral, more than one-third were rebellious and probably fewer than one-third remained loyal to Great Britain, their Mother Country. These were the Loyalists. Just as refugees today are fleeing protracted wars in the Middle East and seeking asylum elsewhere, the Loyalist exodus had profound, lasting effects on Canada, the Bahamas and other islands in the West Indies, including the Turks & Caicos.

Among the mistreatment of Loyalists was the indignity of being “run out of town” on a rail.

Choosing sides
Historians estimate that 80,000 supporters of British rule were driven out or fled from the Thirteen Colonies during and after the War of Independence. Many Loyalists were subjected to brutal and humiliating treatment such as tarring and feathering and riding astride rails. Others were imprisoned and some were hanged. Their property was taken and they were sent into exile. Although the Peace Treaty of 1783 that ended the war stated that confiscated Loyalist property was to be restored, it did not happen.
Georgia was the last of the original Thirteen Colonies to be established. Unlike the northern colonies founded more than a century earlier, allegiance to Britain was strong in Georgia where the inhabitants were quite dependent on the Crown for frontier protection. Many were relatively new immigrants or first- or second-generation settlers. Their reluctance to join the Revolution is understandable, as was the dread of what it might bring. James Habersham, a prominent Georgian, wrote to a friend in London in 1775 accurately predicting the state of affairs yet to come to Georgia. He wrote:

“I would not choose to live here any longer than we are in a state of proper subordination and under the protection of Great Britain. However, I do wish that a permanent line of government was drawn and pursued by the mother and her children . . . otherwise I cannot think of the event but with horror and grief.
Father against son, and son against father, and the nearest relations and friends combating with each other! I may say the truth, cutting each other’s throats.”

Habersham left Georgia shortly after writing the letter. His three sons became active in the Revolutionary cause.
It is difficult to determine the number of Loyalist refugees that left Georgia. At war’s end, American General Anthony Wayne estimated 6,000 were waiting for transportation to Canada and other territories promised by the British. When concern heightened about the large number of Loyalists moving to Canada it was recommended that lands in the Bahamas be offered to the Loyalists because the climate there was more similar to that of the southern colonies. Lieutenant John Wilson, acting engineer, was ordered to the Bahamas (including the Caicos Islands) to perform a general survey. He verified the availability of lands and the capability of the soil for extensive agricultural development. Between 1783 and 1785 the population was increased in the Islands by 6,000 to 7,000 inhabitants of both races (one-fourth being slaves). Most came from North and South Carolina and Georgia. A subsequent royal proclamation stated intentions to purchase lands in the Bahamas from the proprietors and gave instruction on how to issue those lands.

Whither goest thou?
A study of the Alexander Wylly family illustrates the tragedies of war. Alexander, with his brother Richard and sister Hester, emigrated from Ireland to Georgia in 1750, only 18 years after it was founded. Alexander, a planter, served as Speaker of the House for several years. He and Susanna Crook, his wife, had three children: Alexander Campbell, William and Susanna. When war broke out Alexander was a moderate and lost his position as Speaker. Soon, he took a strong stand for the Crown, but brother Richard, a lawyer, joined the Patriots. Both of Alexander’s sons were students at Oxford, England when the war started. They returned to Georgia to become captains in Thomas Brown’s King’s Rangers, asserting their undaunted loyalty to the British. The family, thus divided by the war, would never reunite. Alexander moved to East Florida and died soon after.
Alexander’s widow, Susanna Crook Wylly, her daughter and sons joined the Loyalist exodus from Georgia and the Carolinas to the Bahamas. This Loyalist ‘invasion” of the Bahamas inevitably led to political and social clashes with the long-established “old” British residents there.Typical of most refugees, they tended to settle in groups with common economic, family and geographic ties to their past. A missionary observed that the “Conchs” (the established inhabitants) were “poor, almost illiterate, unchurched, and given to drinking and swearing” while the Loyalists were “the gentry . . . who employ their leisure hours in reading the works of Mandeville, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume,” and were brought up in the North American school of modern politics. Consequently, the two different cultures were in conflict.

More intolerance

Loyalist ruins still stand at Wade’s Green, North Caicos.

William Wylly defined the major point of disagreement between the Loyalists and the government: “It is only reasonable that the Loyalists be admitted to a share in the Legislature.” The Board of American Loyalists was organized in July, 1784. Their stated purpose was “to prepare and maintain the Rights and Liberties for which they had left their home and possessions . . . ” The British Bahamians were not yet ready for these “extremists” who wanted to change centuries of quasi-legal government. A disputed election in 1784 climaxed the friction. The Provost Marshall declared six old inhabitants elected, even though Loyalist candidates had received the majority of the votes. Following circulation of a paper protesting the action of the Assembly, the Speaker ordered it burned publically outside the Courtroom door. In 1787, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, the last Royal Governor of Virginia, was appointed Governor of the Bahamas. The Loyalists had become the stronger party but Dunmore followed the policy of his predecessor and would not dissolve the disputed Assembly and have new elections. The “Long Parliament” lasted eight more years until the end of Dunmore’s administration.
Governor Dunmore, an experienced politician, found a worthy adversary in William Wylly. Twenty-five years his junior, a lawyer, and captain in the Georgia King’s Rangers, William established his presence not as a ruffian soldier, but as a man with positive political ideas and capable statesmanship. He stated in his book, A Short Account of the Bahamas, “newcomers [to the Bahamas] who were accustomed to upright administration of law were galled by that perversion of public justice.”
Wylly began his running fight against Dunmore, the Assembly and the courts by describing the Assembly as “composed of destitute, bankrupt, and habitual drunkards of lowest description . . . four planters, not a merchant, nor a lawyer, or any man of respectable property.” His attack on the governor was equally bold. He called Dunmore “obstinate and violent by nature . . . with a capacity below mediocrity, little cultivated by education, ignorant of the constitution of England . . . the lordly Despot of a petty Clan . . . and the immorality of his private life less reprehensible than the defects of his public character.” Specifically, Wylly accused Dunmore of fathering a child by a woman married to one of the Searchers of Customs.
Dunmore struck back at Wylly by having him arrested on a charge of having called the Chief Justice “a damn’d liar.” Wylly’s version was that the Chief Justice warned him more than once to support the government more loyally. The trial was a farce and the case dismissed on the grounds of conflict of evidence.
Wylly’s finest hour was his anti-slavery stand in 1816. By then, he was the Attorney General of the Bahamas challenging the authority of master over slave. The case involved a Negro woman named Sue. She was brought to Nassau in 1809 by her master with a male Negro slave named Sandy and a child that had been born to them in Georgia. The master attempted to take Sue, Sandy and the child back to Georgia. Evidently, Sue did not want to return and Wylly ruled that she could not be taken. He refused to appear before a Committee of the House to explain his ruling and was arrested and imprisoned, then released by order of the Chief Justice.
The Assembly, asserting its claim to superiority over the Courts, declared the action of the Court unconstitutional. A public meeting supported the action of the Assembly. At a later meeting, the vindictive Assembly voted not to grant salaries to William Wylly or to the Justice of the General Court from the beginning of the dispute or for future services. This case was of such prominence that it became known as “the Wylly Affair.”
During this period, economic prosperity and expansion assuaged political friction with the long-staple “sea island” cotton produced on island plantations becoming more profitable each year. All three of Alexander and Susannah Crook Wylly’s children (William, Alexander Campbell and Susannah) received 200-acre land grants on North Caicos. There is no irrefutable evidence they exercised these grants; however, on October 17, 1791, Alexander Campbell along with John Ferguson, John Lorimer and John Bell were appointed Justices of the Peace, the only authority authorized to provide legal services such as marriages, wills, etc. for the Loyalist residents of the Caicos Islands. By a lengthy Act in 1799, the Turks & Caicos Islands were granted seats in the Assembly at Nassau. These Loyalists were undaunted in their zeal for right, as they viewed it, and perhaps at another place or time they might have been counted among the great men of history.

In 1776, after losing his position as Speaker and fearing being “tarr’d and feathered” due to his loyalty to the Crown, Alexander fled to East Florida (which was held by the British but was not a colony). He eventually returned to Savannah and died there in 1781, his death probably “hasten’d by the troubles.” His widow lost their land by confiscation. Records of the sales of confiscated lands show heavy losses for the Wylly family: A house and lot in Savannah that belonged to both William and Alexander Wylly sold to Jacob Reed; a lot in Savannah that belonged to William Wylly sold to Thomas Washington; 1,000 acres that belonged to Alexander C. Wylly sold to the son of James Habersham and another 150 acres of land sold to Mordecai Sheftall.
Alexander Campbell Wylly and family eventually returned to Georgia and settled on St. Simon’s Island where he was buried. Militancy seems to have run in the family. During the American Civil War, in an ironic twist of fate, his four grandsons took a rebel stand and fought for the Confederacy rather than remaing “loyal” to the United States. Three of them obtained the rank of Captain and all suffered wounds during the war.
Susannah Wylly married John Anderson, a Loyalist from Savannah. They tried to return to the continent but a chilly reception caused them to go back to New Providence where their tombstones in the Cemetery at the old Church of St. Matthew in Nassau tell us John was buried in 1838 and Susannah in 1845.
William Wylly, the most prominent member of the family, married twice: Miss Matthews first and Miss Tyson second. He moved to St. Vincent, probably following his old friend Thomas Brown, who relocated there from the Caicos Islands, and in 1822 became the Chief Justice. He died three years later.

Bailey, Thomas A., and David Kennedy, 1983. The American Pageant—A History of the Republic.

Coakley, Robert W., and Stetson Conn, 1975. The War of the American Revolution.

Center of Military History. United States Army. Washington, D.C.

Kozy, Charlene, 1982. “A History of the Georgia Loyalists and the Plantation Period in the Turks and Caicos Islands.” Dissertation, Middle Tennessee State University.

Peters, Thelma Peterson, 1960. “The American Loyalists and the Plantation Period in the Bahama Islands.” Dissertation, University of Florida.

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