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Jacobitism in America?



If you read about the history of the British Isles during the 17th and 18th century, you will inevitably come into contact with the Jacobites.


These brave men were the followers of King Jacobus (James II) and sought many different things. In England, they sought the restoration of the Old Religion, the triumph of the rights of the crown over parliament, and the return of Merry England. In Scotland, they not only fought for the Old Religion and way of life, but for the preservation of the last royal family native to the British Isles in the face of foreign families who sought the crown. Finally, in Ireland, they fought to defend their religion from heretical sects and to preserve their culture and people from the foreign invaders that sought to erase it.


The Jacobite movement is often thought to be only relegated to the British Isles, however there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest otherwise. What might be most surprising to many is the Jacobites' existence in America. After all, is America not the nation of the free anti-monarchicals? The Jacobite struggle extended to the lands these kingdoms had across the sea in America. The story of the American Jacobites has often been overlooked but it can be just as interesting as that of their British counterparts. Among many other examples, it shows the rich history of monarchy in our country, standing in complete defiance to the republican mythos prevalent today.


One of the earliest examples of Jacobite influence in America was King James II’s appointment of a Catholic to become Governor of New York. Thomas Dongan served as New York’s 5th Colonial Governor from 1683 to 1688. A Devout Catholic, Dongan granted protections to American Catholics which led to the flourishing of Pre-Reformation English Catholic practices in his colony.


Another famous Jacobite of this time was Edmund Andros, the Governor of New England. Firmly loyal to James II, he set out to make the New English Puritans submit to the crown by enforcing King James’ will on the colony, this led to centralization of the colonies as the Dominion of New England. These Jacobite governments in America lasted until the Protestant Revolution in 1688 when King James was usurped by William of Orange, the Protestant Stadtholder of the Netherlands. The only colonies that truly welcomed the revolution were the New England Colonies with their large Protestant populations, meanwhile colonies like New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Carolina silently disapproved, probably out of fear of retribution. Maryland however openly proclaimed support for King James, which lead to the first Jacobite uprising spilling into the American colonies.


The American Catholic Jacobites were led by Benedict Calvert and Henry Darnall, while the Protestant Williamites were led by John Coode and Nehemiah Blakiston. Ultimately the Jacobites were defeated and the Catholics of Maryland had to live under a regime that did not reflect them. Jacobite activity in the American Colonies remained underground throughout the 1714 and 1719 uprisings led by the son of James II, King James III. It is worth noting that some Jacobites did play a role in Post Stuart America. For example, the Colony of Georgia was founded in 1732 by James Edward Oglethorpe. He and his family were of Jacobite sympathies and he was named in honor of King James II and his son.


Jacobite activity would remain dormant in America until after the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. Led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Son of James III and Grandson of James II), it was launched against the Hanoverian Dynasty, who had inherited the British Throne in 1714 from William of Orange and his successors. Despite having the upper hand at the beginning, the uprising ultimately failed which led to many finding refuge abroad. This led to many Jacobites moving to America and settling in areas like New York and North Carolina. These Jacobites would go on to play a noticeable role in Colonial American Society. Many of them interestingly pledged loyalty to King George III, who they saw as a Defender of Catholicism and a Jacobite Sympathizer. However, there was a faction of the remaining Jacobites in America which had very different plans in mind, which would become apparent in the American Revolution.


Many Tories, the Traditionalist faction in mainstream Anglosphere politics, in the Continental Congress pondered the idea of crowning Prince Charles Edward Stuart as King of America if the nation were to become independent. Something to remember is that the idea of a republic had not yet fully developed in the American conscience. Ever since the colonies were founded, the American people were seen as one of Crown’s most loyal subjects, even after the Hanoverian Succession. However some have noted that you could find a notable Jacobite sentiment, most especially amongst English Recusants in Maryland and Scottish Highlanders in the Carolinas respectively. You could find some Jacobites within the Continental Army, most prominently General Hugh Mercer. Mercer was a surgeon in Prince Charles’ Army who fled to America following the conclusion of the 1745 uprising. Even after the Revolutionary War there were many in what would become the Federalists who proposed making the United States a Kingdom, with many different candidates considered. A letter was sent to Prince Charles (Now King Charles III), who was in Rome, relaying the offer. He said he would accept the Crown of America if France and Spain promised to support him. A Coronation for King Charles in Philadelphia, New York, or Baltimore was a real possibility as Catholic Prelates from France, Spain, or the Papal States could have been brought over with the help of his brother Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart.


Several intellectuals at the time also noted that an underlying reason for why Americans’ respect for the ruling Hanoverian family was because of the fact they were Germans who had no connection to the English speaking world. This is what Dr. Samuel Johnson was referring to when he told General James Oglethorpe (Former Governor and Founder of the Georgia Colony) that King George III had a 'want of inherent right'. Unfortunately for both the American Tories and King Charles, Spain and France were not fully involved in the War of Independence yet. It did not help that the Jacobite movement itself was not united, this is because of the previously mentioned fact that many Jacobites had sworn loyalty to King George III.


As Dr. Samuel Johnson previously pointed out, King George did not want to be seen as a mere constitutional monarchy and wanted to overturn many of the reforms that were implemented after the 1688 Protestant Revolution. He also had a favorable view towards Catholics, unlike his two predecessors, and worked to bring them back into British Society. The willingness of former Jacobites to swear loyalty to King George was aided by the works of Bishop George Hay, the Vicar Apostolic of the Lowlands District in Scotland. Bishop Hay, a former member of Prince Charles’ army, wrote extensively about the flaws of the American and French Revolutions using Jacobite Ideology in favor of King George. As a result, coupled with the many amnesties King George implemented, many Jacobites went on to join in the armies loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution. One of these former Jacobites was the famed Allan Maclean, who defended Quebec City from the Revolutionaries in 1775. All of these different factors led to the American Jacobites/Tories being disunited, paving the way for the American Whigs’ ascendency in government that allowed them to declare independence as the United States of America. Despite these countless setbacks, a second attempt to invite King Charles was made in 1782. A lawyer from New York, two brothers from Pennsylvania, and a gentleman from Maryland all sailed across the Atlantic to Florence to offer King Charles the American Crown. He refused the offer as he knew it was too late to make any formal claim.


After the American Revolution and the death of Charles III, most Jacobites had abandoned any attempts to restore the Stuarts and were incorporated into what we now know as the Federalist Party. The only remnants of interest in Jacobitism possibly existed within the American Clergy as Charles’ brother, Henry Benedict Stuart (Better known as King Henry IX or Cardinal York) was a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. There certainly was a relationship between the American Clergy and the King-Cardinal because of his Ecclesiastical Grants in America and his patronage and connections with the English and Scottish Seminaries in Rome (which is where American seminarians would go to study) where he was recognized as King of Great Britain. One could come to the rational conclusion that the American Clergy (like their English and Scottish brethren) naturally recognized him as King due to his Stuart lineage and Catholic faith. However whatever remaining interest that was left in Jacobitism in America completely disappeared after 1807 when King Henry/Cardinal York passed away. It has only existed as a niche idea in some very small Catholic circles. The followers of King Jacobus, especially on this side of the Atlantic, are long gone now. However, believe it or not, there are still ways we see their influence today. One notable example is the architectural works of famed architect and avowed American monarchist Ralph Adams Cram. His Neo Gothic style of buildings that could be found in countless cities and towns across the country are the physical expression of the Catholic and Monarchical America he dreamed of. A tiny glimpse of how different things could have been.



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