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Young colonial militiamen exchange fire against British redcoats at sunrise in this painting.
Themes of the Period

Choosing sides

Choosing sides during the American Revolution

As tensions finally came to a head on the battlefields of Lexington and Concord, the people near and around the Thirteen Colonies needed to decide whether to pledge loyalty to the Patriot forces or the British. Before deciding, they needed to consider their own family’s opinions, friends’ choices, and personal political leanings. While some came to their conclusion because of strong personal beliefs, such as Peggy Shippen, others aided one side or the other to serve their self-interests or needs at the time, such as Bernardo de Galvez. Whatever their background, everyone needed to choose which side they would fight for in the American Revolution.

Stories of Choosing sides

Illustrated portrait drawing of Bernardo de Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez

An unlikely ally

Unlike the marquis de Lafayette who sympathized with the ideology of the patriots, Bernardo de Gálvez did not choose to help the American revolutionaries because he believed in their cause. He assisted the Americans because it served the interests of his king and country and weakened Britain, who was an enemy of Spain.

Illustrated portrait drawing of Peggy Shippen Arnold

Peggy Shippen Arnold

An attractive socialite who secretly helped facilitate treason

Peggy’s father Edward Shippen IV held moderate Tory sympathies but remained outwardly neutral as revolutionary fervor started to grow. Seventeen-year-old Peggy’s loyalist leanings didn’t grow until she started attending balls and parties thrown by British officers when they occupied Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1777 – 1778. In contrast to the family’s loyalist leanings, Peggy’s sister Elizabeth, married Edward Burd, an eager patriot who fought at the Battle of Long Island. 

Illustrated portrait drawing of Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown

A loyalist who endured torture and eventually exile

Thomas Brown and many backcountry settlers originally supported the British government because it provided protection against often-hostile Indigenous nations on the border. But the revolutionary governments suppressed Loyalist sentiment. The violence inflicted on Thomas Brown and others who would not support the Revolution often motivated them to fight for the Crown.

Illustrated portrait drawing of Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy

Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy

A Frenchman who mapped the Revolution

Many officers from France traveled across the Atlantic to fight for the Continental Army. Some were genuine believers in the cause of America, like the marquis de Lafayette. Others saw an opportunity to earn fame that might result in promotion in the French army. Some were simple opportunists who sought to bargain their military expertise for high pay. Du Chesnoy accompanied Lafayette when he traveled to the United States in 1777, but we do not know if he shared the marquis’s emotional enthusiasm for the American cause.

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