Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Woody Holton


Between 1775 and 1784, more than 60,000 people fled the American states in order to escape the divisive civil war that tore apart communities and individual families. More than half of these people moved north to the maritime colonies of British Canada. While some of these “loyalists” were ardent supporters of the British Empire, many more found their allegiances thrust upon them due to their status as dependents.

This study examines the experience of refugee women in Nova Scotia in order to better understand not only Revolutionary-era allegiance, but also women’s important public and private roles in exile and repatriation. Although historians have portrayed loyalist women as consoling wives and daughters who dutifully submitted to men’s will, refugee women were not merely passive acceptors of their fate, nor resigned to domestic roles of support. Paying particular attention to both women’s expressions of emotion and the societal norms that governed late eighteenth-century society, this dissertation examines how loyalist women’s empathetic actions carried tremendous power in communities where loss and hardship were endemic. The widespread suffering of exile provided women the opportunity to take on important communal roles where they could both demonstrate their own fellow feeling and build the intangible networks that created new communities. Women also wielded their emotions in the home. Unhappy wives and daughters forced reluctant husbands and fathers to reconsider their families’ future as exiles, and brought many back to the United States after the war.


© 2019, G. Patrick O’Brien

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