American Realities

Jonathan Boucher and the Pre-Revolutionary Crisis

In Divided Loyalties on September 16, 2009 at 10:42 am

boucherWe are so accustomed to thinking of the American Revolution as a natural and righteous event that we find it difficult to comprehend its Loyalist opponents. By presenting a sympathetic picture of one of the most articulate Loyalists, this essay trys to draw us into the problem of doing justice to both sides in the Revolution. We begin with Jonathan BoucherÕs early life in England, his career as a minister in Virginia and Maryland, and his hostility to the Revolutionary movement. After we watch Boucher depart for England with his American wife, the essay leads us to consider the elements of temperament and ideology that separated Tories such as Jonathan Boucher from the patriots.


On May 4, 1775, George Washington boarded a ferry at Alexandria, Virginia, to cross the Potomac River. The Battles of Lexington and Concord had been fought two weeks before, and he was now on his way to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. As his boat crossed the river, Washington spied an old friend, the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, on board another ferry. The people on Boucher’s boat gave Washington three cheers, and he, in turn, beckoned them to stop so that he could come aboard and shake their hands. According to Boucher, “Everybody seemed to be on fire, either with rum, or patriotism, or both.”

As Boucher greeted Washington, he was afire with neither rum nor patriotism. Instead, he was worried about the events that threatened to divide Britain and America. In a “few disturbed moments of conversation” he warned Washington that the troubles between England and America would surely lead to civil war and colonial independence. Washington tried to reassure Boucher, telling him that his fears were groundless and that if Boucher “ever heard of him joining in any such measures … [he] had his leave to set him down for everything wicked.”


On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Nonresistance

In Divided Loyalties on September 16, 2009 at 4:15 am
[Jonathan Boucher (1738-1804) was born in Cumberland, England. At the age of twenty-one he went to Port Royal, Virginia, as tutor to a gentleman’s sons. He later took orders in the Episcopal ministry and, in addition, conducted a school of thirty boys. Among his pupils was John Parke Custis, George Washington’s stepson. This connection with George Washington was important to Boucher’s material success in the colonies.
Always a firm supporter of established authority, Boucher used his pulpit to combat the forces of revolution that began to sweep the country after 1764. His opposition to popular discontent led to threats on his life, and his last sermons in America were preached while loaded pistols lay on the pulpit. Finally, in fear of his life, he left for England in September, 1775. In 1797 he published thirteen of the discourses he had preached in America under the title, A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution. The following extract includes the bulk of the twelfth discourse, which was preached in answer to a sermon on the same text and subjects delivered by the Reverend Mr. Duche in Philadelphia in 1775. Boucher’s remarks may be considered as fairly representative of the conservative Loyalist position toward revolution and authority in the America of 1775. They can also be considered representative of the views of statists on constitutional issues in any era.]

Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. (Galatians 5:1).

. . . I entreat your indulgence, whilst, without too nicely scrutinizing the propriety of deducing from a text a doctrine which it clearly does not suggest, I once more adopt a plan already chalked out for me, and deliver to you what occurs to me as proper for a Christian audience to attend to on the subject of Liberty….

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In Divided Loyalties on September 15, 2009 at 7:18 pm

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