A Loyalist or a Patriot?

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By Rei Battcher aka Pandora

Courtesy of Bristol Historical and Preservation Society


September 28, 2020|


Greetings History Kids and all others interested in the exploration of Bristol’s history! Since we celebrated our Nation’s 244th birthday just a couple of months ago on July 4, 2020, I thought I’d tell you the tale of two Bristolians who lived during the period of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). 

THE LOYALIST: The first Bristolian I want to tell you about was Hezekiah Usher (1726-1802), a Loyalist. Loyalists wanted the American colonies to remain a part of Great Britain and were loyal to King George III. Hezekiah was the son of the Reverend John Usher of St. Michael’s Church. (At that time, St. Michael’s was part of the Church of England, and later, after the Revolutionary War, it became the Episcopal Church.) He lived with his family in a fine house at the southeast corner of Hope and State Streets, where the Citizens Bank is today. Hezekiah openly supported remaining loyal to the British crown. He had many friends and all of his friends, neighbors, and local townspeople knew his position. Many of them may have, in fact, agreed with him but perhaps were not so vocal about it. 

British Flag

THE PATRIOT: The other Bristolian I want to tell you about was the Reverend John Burt (1716-1775), a Patriot. Patriots wanted the American colonies to break away from Great Britain and start a new nation. Parson Burt, as he was referred to, was a minister of the Congregational Church. The Patriots were tired of the taxes and restrictions on American trade imposed by the British Parliament. The Reverend Burt lived with his wife and children in a house on Franklin Street, just east of the corner of Hope and Franklin Streets. He openly agitated for the separation from Great Britain and the Crown. In fact, he was known to have expressed this opinion during his Sunday sermons. He also had many friends, neighbors, and local townspeople who no doubt agreed with him. They again were probably not too vocal about it because to do so would have been considered treason (a capital offense). The British Government would then have seized their houses and property and they could have been hung or shot. 

American Flag 1776

The Patriots were angry because the American colonies had no representation in Parliament (the English government) and taxes were being imposed on many goods exported to the colonies, like glass, playing cards, and tea. In fact playing cards still come with a tax stamp on the box!

Bicycle Playing Cards with Tax Stamp

The American colonies were not allowed to manufacture anything. All raw materials were shipped to England and finished products were sent back and heavily taxed.

Actually, it was dangerous to openly support either the Loyalist or Patriot cause. Several wealthy men in Bristol who were Loyalists left Bristol in fear for their lives at the start of the Revolutionary War. These Loyalists included Isaac Royal who owned Mount Hope Farm, Mr. Borland who owned a farm at Bristol Narrows, and William Vassal who owned a large estate on Poppasquash. In fact, Mr. Vassal, a wealthy Bostonian who had financially helped the local poor, was pelted with stones as he left his estate on Poppasquash on his way back to Boston.

It was equally dangerous for the Patriot faction as English ships and soldiers were stationed in Newport and British spies were everywhere. It was rumored that the schoolmaster in Warren was a spy for the British! When the British raided Bristol on Saturday, October 7, 1775, and the Reverend Burt, the Patriot, heard the sound of the cannonading, he thought the British were coming to arrest him! He fled out of his house into a nearby corn field where he died of fright!

When he did not show up the next morning for the Congregational Church service, a group of parishioners went looking for him and found him in the corn field just yards from his house.

On May 25, 1778, 500 British and Hessian troops, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, marched into Bristol after raiding the town of Warren. As they marched through Bristol, the troops burned selected homes and buildings in the center of town, most of which were housing local militia troops. The wives and children of several families in downtown Bristol were sent to the house of Hezekiah Usher where it was assumed they would be safe because he was a Loyalist.

Hezekiah Usher thought it would be a kind gesture to offer the soon-to-be-passing British troops a libation (drink, or beverage), and so he took his punch bowl out to the street where it was kicked out of his arms. His reply was, “But I’m a friend of the King!” The response was, “Then you are just the man we are looking for!” and he was taken prisoner. The women and children who had taken refuge in his house were brought out and the house was set a-flame.

Hezekiah Usher was taken with about 30 other men to Newport where he was put under house arrest. The others were put out on a prison ship in Newport Harbor. After a day or two, the British officers determined that Hezekiah Usher was, in fact, a Loyalist and they let him go home to Bristol. They asked him to escort Mr. Joseph Reynolds, an elderly man, back to Bristol. Hezekiah Usher returned to the site where his house had stood to discover a smouldering hole in the ground. Yet, this did not alter his steadfast belief and loyalty to Great Britain and the King. In fact, he never stopped praying for a reconciliation with Great Britain ’til his dying day. Now that’s what I call LOYALTY!

Now I may be a dog, but if you ask me, the two major mistakes the British made were burning the house of Hezekiah Usher, the Loyalist, and St. Michael’s (an English church) which stood on the northwest corner of Hope and Church Street, and is where the present and fourth St. Michael’s Church building has stood since 1861.


What side of the American Revolution do you suppose you would have been on? This question requires a great deal of thought and involves consideration of things like your social status (wealthy, upper-middle class, lower-middle class), what kind of work your father would have done (land owner, merchant, farmer, laborer, government magistrate), and whether you are willing to fight for the side you choose? If the British burned the church you attended or you house, how would this influence your decision?

Historical Fact: Did you know that during the Revolutionary War, Loyalists called the Patriots, “Rebels”, and Patriots called Loyalists,”Tories”?

An American Patriot in 1776

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