Information on the Loyalists


Among American colonists at the outbreak of the Revolution, a number adhered to the political cause with which they had been affiliated and never wavered in their beliefs in and loyalty to Great Britain and its King. At the end of the war they would find their lands forfeited and having to face a new start in strange surroundings.

In “Philip Skene of Skenesborough” by Doris Begor Morton, it is slated “the story of the Loyalists of the American Revolution had never been justly or sympathetically told. While our libraries are full of biographies of our founding fathers, the life stories of those same founders who espoused the British side of that conflict of 1775 have been left a great blank”. Published in 1959, the account of Philip Skene filled part of that void. Now with the passage of forty-three years, “Divided Loyalties, How The American Revolution Came To New York” by Richard M. Ketchum depicts in detail both sides to the American Revolution in New York, both sides, just as dedicated, equally certain of their beliefs. Especially for Loyalists, it is worth asking whether a quick death may not have been preferable for some of those individuals who were forced to endure what amounted to a slow death in poverty and exile, deprived of what they regarded as their country, the land they loved.

In regard to Philip Skene, the same attributes of steadfastness and perseverance that made him persist in his efforts to establish his colony at the head of Lake Champlain (now known as Whitehall, New York) from the year 1759 to the period of the American Revolution dictated his adherence to the political cause with which he had been affiliated and he never wavered in his belief in and loyalty to Great Britain and its King.

Skene became acquainted early with the territory around Skenesborough. He knew the value of its land and its trees. His close association with General Jeffrey Amherst disclosed the General’s idea that some bulwark settled by disbanded soldiers should be established between the old enemies, the French in Canada and the English at Albany.

In the year 1759 Skene began to settle Skenesborough. Through executive ability and foresight he obtained over 56,000 acres of land and settled a large number of tenants on it. His fair terms, tact, and aid during the lean years brought him respect and loyalty. On October 22, 1779, however, during the American Revolution, the State of New York took this sizable piece of property. By an Act of Attainder, the state confiscated the Skene property; and declared Philip and his son Andrew outlaws. The state declared them as adherents to the enemies of the State.

Philip and Andrew Skene should not have lost their land. On November 30, 1782, the Articles of Peace between Great Britain and the United States, signed in Paris, declared that no more confiscations of land should be made and that provision for the restoration of estates of real British subjects should be made. In January of 1784 Congress ratified the articles. Philip and Andrew did not live in America after the Declaration of Independence, and therefore should have been considered real British subjects. In 1785 they requested the restoration of their lands but to no avail.

According to the Book of Forfeitures containing the record of confiscated lands in this area, the state sold 35,000 acres of Skene’s land for about 20,729 Pounds. Not all his acreage is listed. The Skene’s lost a rich estate that gave them a large annual income and received nothing for the land so unjustly wrested from them.

With the news of the confiscation of his lands authenticated, Philip began a long and exhaustive campaign, not for reimbursement but for compensation for loss of income and actual property expended for the use of the British army. Other men in like positions and even lower in rank had received their pay with rations, forage, bat money and other sums.

An extraordinary one-man letter-writing campaign occupied Skene’s time. Over the years he asked for affidavits, thanked those who gave information, urged correction of misinformation, and sought every scrap of aid he could find. The final result became a memorial to the King through the proper channels asking for his back salary as Lieutenant Governor of Ticonderoga and Crown Point and payment for items of sustenance he had furnished the British army. He held this memorial until proof became secured that the lands at Skenesborough could not be saved for him.

Finally convinced that he had lost everything in America and could not return, he appealed to the commissioners who heard Loyalist cases. They decided that Philip Skene because of his great losses in America, his great services to the government, and his large family, should have an allowance amounting at least to half pay of a colonel. From October 10, 1784, he received an annuity of 180 Pounds. This annuity and sums collected from several other accounts enabled him to live independently for the rest of his life.

Personal integrity became an outstanding trait that ruled Philip’s life. He kept his oral and written promises, performing his duty in all things and expecting others to do the same. His belief in the integrity of others led in a large measure, to the British defeat in the Battle at Bennington.

Citizens of Whitehall can be grateful to Philip Skene – soldier, builder, proprietor, farmer – for carving out a settlement at the head of Lake Champlain, which some consider the birthplace of the United States Navy.

To this day, it is not known as to how the settlement received the name Whitehall during the early days of the republic. Is it possible that the naming of the settlement became a decision made by early governing officials as a memorial to the memory of one who could not return to his home and land he loved?

....above information contributed by Bill Glidden