- Media Center
- Library Overview
- Library User Information
- Collections Overview
- Library Catalog
- Programs & Services
- Research Resources
- Collections Online
- Rights & Reproductions
- Donations and Support
- Projects & Partnerships
- Library News & Updates
- At MdHS
- In the Classroom
- Adult Education
- MD History Q&A
- Plan a Visit
- Support MdHS
A Maryland Loyalist
A MARYLAND LOYALIST
In the preface to the " Loyalists of America," by Sabine, he
says: " Of the reasons which influenced, of the hopes and fears
which agitated, and of the miseries and rewards which awaited the
Loyalists, or as they were called in the politics of the times the
Tories, of the American Revolution, but little is known. The
reason is obvious. Men who, like the Loyalists, separate themselves
from their friends and kindred, who are driven from their
homes, who surrender the hopes and expectations of life, and who
become outlaws, wanderers and exiles,—such men leave few
memorials behind them."
What was true fifty years ago, still holds good as far as the
Loyalists are concerned; but there is not the same harsh judgment
meted out to them in these later days, and people have learned to
know that there were some among even the hated Tories, who
were acting from principles as well grounded and as steadily
followed as were those of the Patriots.
A few scattered letters, a few extracts from newspapers of the
times and official records may throw some light, on the ideas and
actions of the men of the past, and it is hoped that in these pages,
we may be able to show how one man, who was in the beginning
an earnest patriot, ended his days as an exile.
Robert Alexander was a lawyer in Baltimore, and in common
with nearly all of his profession, in Maryland, was from the
beginning of the troubles which ended in the breaking out of the
Revolution a steady and unwavering supporter of the rights of the
Colonists, on the ground of their being entitled to those rights by
the Constitution and Laws of Great Britain.
He appears in 1766, as one of the Sons of Liberty, an association
formed for the protection of American liberty and for compelling
the officers throughout the State to transact business without the
use of stamped paper,—in which they were entirely successful—
for in March 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed by Parliament.
A few years later or in 1769, we find him a member of the
Association formed to prevent the importation and use of goods
from Great Britain, and still later a member of all Associations
and Committees for the purpose of resisting the encroachments of
the Crown and Parliament.
When the news of the Boston Port Bill reached Maryland, it
was proposed that a Convention composed of Delegates from all the
Counties should meet in Annapolis, and decide on the course to
be adopted by the Colony. Robert Alexander was a Delegate to
this Convention, which among other things advised the meeting of
a Congress composed of Deputies from all the Colonies, and
appointed Deputies from Maryland to meet those from the other
Colonies and agree with them on some plan for the common defense
of their rights.
After the adjournment of the Congress, another Convention met
to hear the report oftheir Deputies, and of this and the succeeding
Conventions Robert Alexander was a member. The Convention
acquired more and more power, until it became the real Government
of the Colony, although the old forms of Government were
retained for more than two years from the time of holding the first
In July, 1775, a Committee of Safety was organized, to sit
permanently and with very great powers and authority, although
subordinate to the Convention.
This Committee was composed of sixteen members, of whom
eight were from the Eastern and eight from the Western Shore.
Robert Alexander was one of the members from the Western
Shore, and continued to serve as one of this Committee—whose
members were sometimes changed but never increased—until the
end of the year, when he was chosen by the Convention a Deputy
to the Congress then sitting in Philadelphia.
His correspondence while a member of the Congress, shows him
to have been an intelligent and industrious member, serving on
many important Committees and always attentive to everything
connected with the carrying on of the war.
The subject of Independence began to be much discussed in and
outside of Congress, towards the end of 1775, and the Convention
of Maryland drew up a series of instructions for its Deputies.
These Instructions were that they were to use their best efforts
for a reconciliation with Great Britain, " taking care to secure the
Colonies against the exercise of the right assumed by Parliament
to tax them and to alter and change their charters, constitutions
and internal policy without their consent," but that in no event
were they to agree to, or unite in any treaty or confederation,
which was likely to result in Independence, without the advice
and consent of the Convention.
They were also to join the other Colonies in all military operations
for the common defense.
When these instructions were received, Robert Alexander
wrote from Philadelphia under date of 30th January, 1776 :
" The instructions of the Convention are come to hand but are
not yet laid before the Congress. I am much pleased with them.
They entirely coincide with my Judgement and that line of conduct
which I had determined to pursue. The Farmer, and some others
to whom in confidence they were shown, say they breathe that
Spirit which ought to govern all public Bodies—Firmness tempered
" The Farmer" who is alluded to in this letter, was John
Dickinson of Pennsylvania, who wrote a series of letters in 1767
in which he based the remedy for the wrongs of the Colonies on
a " cultivation of a spirit of conciliation on both sides." These
letters were signed " A Farmer in Pennsylvania" and first
appeared in the Pennsylvania Chroniole. Mr. Dickinson was a
member of the Congress of Delegates from the Colonies which
met in New York in 1764, and was soon recognized as a leader
in the defense of the rights of his country; a position which he
held unchallenged until the Declaration of Independence, which he
opposed, and after which he " sank from the position of leader
which he had had for twelve years, to that of a martyr to his
Towards the end of February Robert Alexander wrote again
from Philadelphia : " I send a printed copy of Lord North's conciliatory
act." " The last clause of this more than Diabolical list
enables the King to appoint Commission to grant pardons and
receive the submission of any province. County, Town or District.
I shall make no comments on this act: it is only a further step in
that system of Tyranny, hitherto pursued by that [so in the
original] who under the influence of a Scotch Junto now disgraces
the British Throne. What measures Congress may pursue in
consequence of this I know not, but with me every idea of
Reconciliation is precluded by the conduct of Great Britain and
the only alternative absolute Slavery or Independence. The latter
I have often reprobated both in public and private, but am now
almost convinced the measure is right and can be justified by
necessity." " Though my private business requires my presence
in Maryland, I shall not leave this City until a sufiicient number
of my brethren arrive." He did not leave Philadelphia for some
time, or until the beginning of June and it seems that his course
in Congress was acceptable to the members of the Convention of
Maryland, for when it met in May, Robert Alexander was again
chosen as one of the Deputies to the Congress.
The Convention met in Annapolis on the 21st June and Mr.
Alexander was not present, although it was known that he had
returned from Philadelphia, and was then in or near Baltimore.
A letter was written to him requesting his attendance, to which he
answered on the 25th June: " Had my health permitted, I should
have been at Annapolis the first of the meeting, but the wound in
my ankle hitherto and still continues to disable me. Since last
Sunday week I have not been out of my house, and it is with
difficulty and great pain, I can even walk from one room to another.
In this situation I trust my absence will be thought excusable, for
credit me, Sir, when I assure you that duty to my constituents and
inclination both prompt me to join in the councils of my country,
and more especially at this very interesting period."
The Convention adjourned on the 6th July and up to that time
Mr. Alexander had not made his appearance; but still his
colleagues do not seem to have seen any reason for supposing
that there was any change in him, for on the last day of the
Session, when they again chose Deputies to represent Maryland
in the Congress, Robert Alexander was again chosen to sit until
the next Convention should take action and chose new Deputies.
He never took his seat in Congress nor do we ever again find
his name among those with whom he had been acting so earnestly
It would seem that there was some cause of dissatisfaction with
him, for on the 8th July, the Council of Safety wrote to him that
they were " much at a loss in respect to the contracts made by
you in Baltimore—they have written to you several times to
transmit them but have never had the pleasure to receive them or
a line from you on the subject. There is a real necessity for their
being lodged here as some of the Artificers do not comply with
their contracts and we are subject to two inconveniences: the
ignorance of the real contract and the want of power to enforce it."
There was a long delay in sending in these papers, but they
were received at last, and on the 16th September the Council of
Safety wrote to Robert Alexander : " Your letter of 26 ulto., with
the money and account enclosed we have received and are obliged
to you for your care and trouble in liquidating them."
Before this letter was received by the Council of Safety there
were many rumors about the loyalty of Robert Alexander, and
among other things it was said that he had used reprehensible
expressions in a speech made to the people at the close of the polls
for Delegates from Baltimore to the Provincial Convention,
We hear no more of him for a year, or when the British fleet,
with the army of Sir Wm. Howe on board, appeared in the Elk
River. Mr. Alexander had a considerable estate in Cecil County
at the Head of Elk, and his house was on a part now covered by
the town of Elkton.
Sir Wm. Howe landed without opposition, and marched
leisurely towards Philadelphia, doing little damage in Cecil
County, where the British had many friends.
Lord Howe with the fleet sailed on the 8 th September, and
several persons, including Robert Alexander, sailed with him. Of
these, Mr. Alexander was the most conspicuous in every way, and
the one who in consequence bore the most of the obloquy thrown
upon those who, whatever their motives may have been, forsook
the cause of the Colonies and joined their fortunes to those of the
King and Parliament.
There were many rumors in regard to Mr. Alexander, and on
the 30th September, Wm. Lux of Baltimore wrote to the Governor,
Thomas Johnson, that "we are told R. Alexander is
coming down here under a guard," but at that time he was still
on board one of the vessels of Lord Howe's fleet. Indeed on the
5th November General Smallwood wrote that " Robert Alexander
is still on the Fleet," as though there were some who did not
think he had left Maryland not to return.
In the Stevens MSS. there is a letter from Joshua Johnson then
in Europe, to his brother Thomas—Governor of Maryland—in
which he says : we have news that " Sir William Howe landed in
the Elk without opposition and has taken up his quarters at Bob
Alexander's where Genl. Washington dined two days before."
For nearly a year he followed the fortunes of the English,
vainly hoping that the struggle might end and he be permitted to
return to his home and family, but his hopes were not realized,
and it must have been sorrowfully that he wrote to Thomas
Johnson, the Governor of Maryland, on the 22d June, 1778, from
the Brig Pomona off Reedy Island, Delaware Bay:
" Sir, the Intimacy that once subsisted between us will, I expect,
justify the Liberty I now take in addressing you a line, tho' the
subject respects myself alone. I am exceedingly anxious to return
to my Country from motives which your feelings will readily
suggest, but prudence forbids me to take this step without some
assurance of my personal safety. You well know my sentiments
and conduct in the public aifairs of America, and appealing to
him who is the Searcher of All Hearts, I can with Truth affirm,
I still retain the same opinion. The favour, I have at present to
ask is that of a Letter informing me of the Terms on which
persons in my situation may return;—should this be inconsistent
with the public Character you fill, I think there are some Gent,
of my acquaintance to whom if they were made known, they
would be communicated to me—if they are such as are not inconsistent
with the feelings of a man of Honor, I shall most readily
embrace them, and return immediately to my Country, my Family
and Friends. At present I am bound to New York where I
have some business entirely of a private nature, to settle with Mr.
Chamier. I propose to return from thence in a Flag of Truce
should you write me—may I request to be informed, if it would
be improper to bring with me in the Flag some articles for my
Family of which they must be greatly in want.
" I am with respect Your most ob*' Servant
" ROBBBT ALEXANDEE."
It may be that hope had died out, and at last he was convinced
that there was but one solution of the question, and that was that
the Colonies were Free and Independent States and would so
remain. The Treaty with France had been concluded, and
Philadelphia had been evacuated by the British, when that letter
was written; so no doubt he had made up his mind that it was
better for him to accept the fact of Independence and Separation,
than to be an exile from home and friends with no career open to
him, no bright future to look forward to as his reward for work
well done, and no hope that he might again take his place in the
world among his friends and associates.
But he was not to return to his home, but for the future was to
follow the British Army, and in 1780, his property was confiscated
with that of others who adhered to the cause of the
King. Two-thirds of his estate in Cecil County and one-half of
his slaves were confiscated and sold, realizing about £6,000.
He made no other application for permission to return home,
but wrote from New York asking permission to send some
necessary articles to Mrs. Alexander and his children, by a flag
of truce, should one be authorized.
He left New York in 1783, when it was evacuated by the
British and went to England where he was appointed Agent for
the Maryland Loyalists. In 1788 he joined with others in an
address to the King thanking him " for his most gracious and
effectual recommendations of their claims to the just and generous
consideration of Parliament."
Of his life after this we know nothing. He died in London,
and although the prospect of his early life was so brilliant, his
latter days were spent far from home and friends, and like others
of whom Sabine wrote, their " papers are scattered and lost, and
their very names pass from human recollection."