Review Corner: “Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist”

23 Sep

Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist. Carol Berkin. Columbia University Press. New York. 1974. ISBN 0-231-03851-8. Bibliography. Index. Notes. Abbreviations. Pp.  xv. 200.

Reviewed By Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

            Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist written by Dr. Carol Berkin is a book that dives into the struggles and triumphs of Jonathan Sewall during the Revolutionary Era. Professor Berkin received her doctorate from Columbia University where she won the Bancroft Dissertation Award. She is currently the Deputy Chair of the Department of History at the Graduate Center at Baruch College, New York.

            This book is based on Berkin’s dissertation which focuses on Jonathan Sewall struggle of acceptance between his fellow Colonials and career opportunities within the British Empire. The main theme is to depict an individual cost of loyalty during Revolutionary America. It also illustrates the complexities of an individual declaring oneself neutral in a time of political turmoil and insecurity.

            Berkin’s begins the book with Sewall family history about their contribution to Colonial America (Chapter 1). The author analyzes six generation of Sewall’s contribution to the Massachusetts Colony and the family’s loyalty to the British Crown (Chaps 2-3). Jonathan Sewall never grasps the severity on the issue of independence that was discussed in Colonial America. Jonathan Sewall was neutral in this chaotic time but decided to do his job for the British Empire which he was viewed by the Colonist a Loyalist (Chaps 4-6).

            The book focuses on the notion of Jonathan Sewall defense of the British system over the radical and untested Patriot’s system (Chapter 7).  Berkin discusses when the British regulars arrive Jonathan Sewall moved up the chain of command and in turn he was seen as the enemy by John Adams. Even with the Boston Massacre (1771) Jonathan Sewell never pushed for Independence but called upon the masses to remain loyal to the British system (Chapter 8). The author analyzes that Jonathan Sewall was the right man for the job but the wrong man for Revolutionary America. The Boston Tea Party incident and the Siege of Boston made Jonathan Sewall life hard in efficiently running the Massachusetts courts (Chapter 9). Berkin points that the madness of the masses in revolting against the British system caused Jonathan Swell and his family to flee to England.

            Finally, this book expands on Jonathan Sewall exile in London and his denial of the American Independence (Chapter 10). The author points out the failure of Jonathan Sewall to conceptualize the chain of events that caused his physical, emotional, and psychological decline (Chaps 11-13). At the tail end of the American Revolutionary Jonathan Sewall becomes desperate in trying to plead with the British to make peace with the Colonist. Berkin points out that Sewall’s loyalty vanished by wars end as the drive for his family reputation and survival became his major priority (Chapter 14).

Berkin’s book contains an extensive cited material along with a comprehensive end notes section. The sources contain in the bibliography section were widespread from multitudes of primary documents, letters, articles, journals, and diaries to secondary source materials along with a decent index section. This is useful in aiding historians to conduct further research on the Loyalist in Colonial America. The author displayed excellent dedication to objectivity by gathering sources from Canadian and American archives in order to filter out discrepancies in the source materials. The book contains an abbreviation section which the reader would find helpful in deciphering which sources were cited by the author.

            The strength of this book concisely portrayed Jonathan Sewall life as a common man embroiled in extraordinary circumstances. Berkin successfully presented Jonathan Sewall in her thesis as an individual trapped between the old British order of business and the emergence of an independent America.  I do recommend Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist for American historians and enthusiast in general.



2 Responses to “Review Corner: “Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist””

  1. History of the Ancient World September 23, 2012 at 15:10 #

    Thank you so much for visiting & following my blog. Pleasure to meet you. You have a great blog.

    • simonsundarajkeun September 24, 2012 at 11:37 #

      You are welcome and Thank you for the follow. You have a great blog too. 🙂

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