What happened to the colonial estates of the rich, elite Loyalist families after the American Revolution? I assume they were just broken up and sold off to small farmers to appease some of the land hunger at the time.

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    An important question that was mentioned explicitly in the peace treaty, formed part of the basis for the War of 1812 and affected Anglo-American relations until perhaps the civil war. Having said that, please explain why the Wiki page isn't adequate and let us know what research you've done so far.
    – MCW
    Mar 9, 2019 at 23:03

1 Answer 1


In many (perhaps most) cases, their estates were seized by the states which had passed various forms of Confiscation Act.

The page Dispossessing Loyalists and Redistributing Property in Revolutionary New York on the website of the New York Public Library states:

"... many states passed laws allowing them to seize the property of known loyalists. So-called “confiscation laws” effectively criminalized dissent against the American Revolution. The seizure and sale of loyalist property also raised revenue for the state by redistributing property from Loyalists to the rest of the community. "

going on to note that:

"New York built one of the most robust property confiscation regimes."

To give another example, Confiscation acts in North Carolina would raise about £600,000 as the confiscated estates were resold (mostly in 1786 and 1787).

The article Confiscation of Loyalist Property in Georgia, 1782-1786, by Robert S. Lambert in The William and Mary Quarterly (Vol. 20, No. 1 (Jan., 1963), pp 80-94) records widespread confiscations of property between 1782 and 1787, netting the state some £410,000.

If you are interested in pursuing the topic in more detail, the subject of The Legislation for the Confiscation of British and Loyalist Property During the Revolutionary War was the subject of a 1937 PhD thesis by Rolfe Lyman Allen at the University of Maryland.

The issue of compensation for confiscated lands, and the prevention of future confiscations, was explicitly addressed in the 1783 Treaty of Paris where the fifth article stated:

"ARTICLE 5: It is agreed that Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects ... And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states that the estates, rights, and properties, of such last mentioned persons shall be restored to them, they refunding to any persons who may be now in possession the bona fide price"

While the sixth article required:

"ARTICLE 6: That there shall be no future Confiscations made, nor any prosecutions commenced against any Person or Persons, for or by reason of the Part which he or they may have taken in the present War ..."

(the full text of the Paris Peace Treaty can be found on the website of the Yale Law School)

Unfortunately for those whose estates had been confiscated, by and large, the states simply ignored these provisions.

On an interesting side-note, a court case on the issue of confiscations (Bayard v. Singleton) would establish the principle of judicial review in North Carolina, and eventually in the wider American legal system.

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