John Adams, the second President of the United States, once famously claimed that one-third of the colonists supported the Revolution, one-third were pro-British and one-third remained neutral. If Adams was correct, then the American colonists were not as united as history books may sometimes portray. The British also saw their colonial subjects as divided about breaking with the motherland. During the Revolutionary War, Britain assumed that the Southern colonies would aid their cause. This assumption relied on the large number of Tories, ethnicity, the presence of slavery and the benefit gained from the presence of British troops.
Whether true or not, the British assumed the southern colonies, especially South Carolina and Georgia, had a large number of Tories, the name for those remaining loyal to the King. Some governors actually informed the British that their states had secret loyalists who would join the fight against the American rebels. Governor James Wright, of Georgia, claimed the presence of a significant number of Tories in the rural areas. Relying on this information, the British Army, in 1778, altered its strategy by invading the South with 3,000 troops. This plan worked in Georgia but ultimately proved unsuccessful in South Carolina and elsewhere.
The Scottish were an ethnic group the British considered likely to aid their cause during the Revolution. As with the supposed loyalists in the backwoods of Georgia and South Carolina, the British presumed that the Scottish of North Carolina would take arms against the American forces. The theory of Scottish loyalty hinged on a religious oath many of them took to the English monarch in 1745.
Appealing to Slaves
The presence of a large number of enslaved blacks made the South fertile ground for counterrevolution, British strategists thought. African Americans, in general, wanted their freedom, regardless of which side did the granting. The British encouraged military leaders to recruit the slaves of masters supporting the Revolution. This strategy led to the enlistment of 100,000 Africans Americans from the South fighting for the British who promised them freedom.
Southerners benefited from the protection of being a member of the British Empire and many did not want to lose the privilege. During the Revolution, the British hoped these people would remain loyal. The Georgia colony represents this thinking well. When the colonies met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774 for the First Continental Congress, Georgia did not send delegates. Colonists in this frontier land remained threatened by Native American attacks. Without the presence of British troops, the odds of an attack by Native Americans increased drastically. When asked to join the Continental Congress, the colony refused to preserve its standing with the British government.
David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.