"...we have little else to do this Winter but to purge the Land of such Villains, which I think almost as necessary as the keeping up Standing Armies."
While the siege of Boston continued to the northward, events were brewing in the environs of New York City. Although Tryon's retreat to the HMS Halifax had removed the immediate threat of British action, there yet remained a more subtle, home-grown challenge to Congressional authority: the Loyalists. Of all the areas in the Northeast, New York City and Long Island contained what was probably the largest and most active community of Loyalists. Following the British Army's seizure of the city in the late summer/early autumn of 1776, New York and Long Island would become the great center of Loyalist activity in America. As Isaac Sears' letter shows in this latest installment of the Letters from the Front series, there were many antecedents to this later blooming of Loyalist affection.
Sears was a Massachusetts man by birth, moving to New York after losing his ship during the French and Indian War. He quickly established himself as a member of the merchant elite and was involved in the Revolutionary cause from an early period, organizing protests against the Stamp Act and being active in the Sons of Liberty. In April 1775, Loyalist authorities attempted to arrest Sears for his inflammatory activities, but he escaped. As the letter below shows, he did not stay away for long, leading an infamous raid that was condemned by Congressional authorities, but nevertheless served to check Loyalist activity in the area. His commentary provides important insights into the extremes to which some Revolutionary leaders were willing to go in securing their gains from early 1775. As with many of the other letters in the collection, Sears' zeal for the service was tempered by concerns for his fortunes in civilian life, seen in his references to potential lost income on tea and his frustration at not being appointed to high rank in the new American Navy. Sears went on to be active in the privateering trade for much of the war and returned to New York City after the British evacuation.