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UBC Theses and Dissertations

John Vardill: a loyalist’s progress Wigely, Steven Graham


This thesis is a study of a loyalist of the American Revolution named John Vardill. A native of New York who went to England in 1774, he was an Anglican clergyman, a pamphleteer, a professor at King's College (New York), and a spy for the British. The purpose of the thesis is: 1. to tell his story, and 2. to argue that his loyalism was a perfectly reasonable consequence of his environment and experiences. The text begins with an Introduction (Chapter I) which places Vardill in colonial and English society, and justifies studying one who was neither among the very powerful nor the very weak. It then proceeds to a consideration of the circumstances and substance of his claim for compensation from the British government after the war (Chapter II). Following the organization of the claim, the subsequent Chapters fill in the details, and remark upon the roots of loyalty. These Chapters begin with his birth and education (Chapter III), showing that becoming a tutor and prospective clergyman at King's College was an easy path to follow. Chapter IV considers the episcopal debate of 1768 to 1770, which initiates Vardill into Anglican-Presbyterian warfare, and defines for him a religious-political position. Chapter V inspects his writings of 1772 against Dr. John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey, and against the Tea Act opposition of 1773, both of which strengthen his incipient loyalism before his departure for England for ordination. Chapter VI has him in England, where he becomes Involved with the government's ministers through promoting a charter for King's College, and advocating the establishment of an American episcopate. With the battle of Lexington, his visit becomes an exile, and he continues employment with government (Chapter VII) as a writer, adviser, and spy, in which capacity he performs one of the espionage "coups"of the war. After Saratoga and his assistance with preparation for the Carlisle Peace Commission of 1778j his usefulness wanes; after writing some pieces against the Yorkshire movement in England in 1780, he disappears. Chapter VIII therefore picks up where Chapter II left off, and regards the judgement of his claim. This Chapter continues to Vardill's death in l8ll. The conclusion (Chapter IX) reviews the thesis, and states the argument that loyalism was not unusual for Vardill, and hence was not unusual for his loyal contemporaries.The conclusion rejects the notion that men like Vardill were at "odds" with their times, and argues instead that, perfectly in tune with their times, they became involved in an argument which they lost; and that therefore it is only hindsight which makes them out to be narrowminded or unperceptive. Speculating on that premise, it is found that Vardill perceived some of the problems of post-revolutionary America.

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