Loyalists vs. Patriots

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12232

Choosing sides for a ball game is up to the captain, and isn't an earth-shattering decision. However, choosing sides in a war is up to you and can be fatal! Study the opposing sides in the Revolution!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Loyalists vs. Patriots sounds like a Super Bowl lineup, but it refers to people who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Who were the loyalists loyal to, anyway?

Did you know not all Americans were in favor of independence during the Revolutionary War?

Some historians estimate as many as 20% of American colonists remained loyal to the British throughout the Revolutionary War. Those who sided with the British were called "loyalists," while those in favor of American independence were called "patriots." To learn more about each of these opposing groups, read the facts below:

British old infantry uniforms

Image from "Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army" from Gale & Polden in London, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.


  • There are many reasons why some colonists decided to remain loyal to Great Britain:
    • At the time, Great Britain was the most powerful country in the world. Many colonists took pride in being British.
    • Being the most powerful country in the world, Great Britain had the strongest army and navy. Many colonists felt it was unlikely the small, new nation could defeat the British military.
    • Fighting against the British was considered treason. The punishment for treason, or betraying one’s country, was torture or death. Many feared what would happen to their families if the Americans lost the war.
  • Most Quakers, a religious group that opposed physical violence, were considered loyalists since they were unwilling to fight.
  • About 50,000 enslaved African-Americans were considered loyalists. They fled from slavery to join the British army because the British promised them freedom if they fought for their side.
  • At the beginning of the war, the British hoped loyalists would rally their fellows Americans and convince them to stop the conflict.
  • Some loyalists fought in the British Army. During the latter half of the war, the British focused fighting almost entirely in the South because there was such a large loyalist population in southern states.
  • Some loyalists also acted as spies for the British. They would pretend to side with the patriots to get information and take that information back to British officers.
  • The patriots referred to loyalists as “Tories.”
  • Loyalists were often harassed by the patriots and had their property taken from them. Some loyalists were even tarred and feathered, which was a process where a person was covered in hot tar and feathers. Those who were tarred and feathered were forced to parade through the streets and were made fun of.
  • It is estimated about 80,000 loyalists left America at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Wealthy loyalists went to live in England and other loyalists established colonies in present-day Canada.

Stand Your Ground

Image by Don Troiana from The National Guard on flickr is in the public domain.


  • Initially, few Americans wanted to separate from Great Britain. They just wanted the British to hear why they were upset and allow them some representation in Parliament (the British government). When the British began fighting on American soil, it became clear they were unwilling to negotiate with the colonies. So, the Continental Congress (the American government) declared independence from Great Britain. Those who supported the move for independence were called "patriots."
  • Some patriots fought in the Continental Army, which was led by George Washington.
  • Many patriots did not fight in the Continental Army, but fought for local militias. Local militias were civilian armies that would fight when the British invaded their region. Militias did not wear official uniforms and did not use common fighting tactics. They would hide behind trees and bridges to shoot at the British, and would often lead their attacks by surprise. Many important battles of the Revolutionary War were fought by local militias, including Lexington and Concord and King’s Mountain.
  • George Washington relied on certain patriots to form an elaborate spy network. Often patriot women were involved in Washington’s spy ring. They would house British officers at their inns and serve them in restaurants. The military men did not believe women were capable of understanding talk of war, so they would speak openly around them about their battle plans. The women would report what they overheard to Continental officers.
  • The patriots often used propaganda to get other colonists to join their cause. They would print misleading ads in newspapers that made the things the British were doing appear much worse than they actually were.
  • Most patriots were found in northern states, particularly New York and Virginia.

As you can see, there was a deep hatred between many loyalists and patriots. At the same time, this disagreement could be very emotional, and it divided families and friends. After reading over the different descriptions, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • Do you think it was right for the patriots to harass and attack loyalists, who were their fellow Americans?
  • How could this disagreement divide families and friends?

When you have finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to review what you have learned about the loyalists and the patriots.

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