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Uncommon Sense

By Benjamin Bankhurst & Kyle Roberts · February 24, 2021

Report from a 2019 Digital Collections Fellowship recipient

digital projects 8 min read

by Benjamin Bankhurst & Kyle Roberts

September 2020 saw the launch of the Maryland Loyalism Project (MLP), a new digital archive and biographical database created through the generous funding of an OI-Lapidus Digital Collections Fellowship. The archive and database make accessible documents related to 138 women and men from the Maryland colony who remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution. After the Franco-American victory at Yorktown, the British Government recognized that the temporary measures taken by the Treasury to support American Loyalist refugees across the Empire were insufficient and that a permanent solution to the problem of resettlement was needed.  Parliament established the Loyalist Claims Commission to oversee applications for compensation and financial support filed by Loyalist exiles in Britain and Canada. Meanwhile in New York, the Commander of British Forces in America, Sir Guy Carleton, registered and arranged for the transportation of Black Loyalists who, in most cases, had emancipated themselves by making their way to British lines and supporting Crown forces throughout the conflict. The MLP makes available digitized, transcribed, and indexed volumes of these original manuscript sources held in North American and United Kingdom archives.

The project emerged out of a synchronous online course taught by the project directors Benjamin Bankhurst (Shepherd University) and Kyle Roberts (American Philosophical Society) in 2017 and 2019. A popular classroom assignment in the course asked students to construct a StoryMap of the life of a Loyalist refugee based upon the information found in the Claims Commission papers. The success of the assignment convinced Bankhurst and Roberts of the potential for a much richer, student-created knowledge site and digital archive. Generous support from the OI in the form of a Lapidus Digital Collections Fellowship grant, enabled them to build upon the work of our students to create the MLP. The award funded the digitization of six volumes of manuscript material from the Loyalist Claims Commission (held in the National Archives U.K.) and funded the creation of student fellowships in 2019 to transcribe material, create tabular data, and build the sites.

Shepherd University undergraduates at the Maryland State Archives conducting research in local records detailing Loyalist property confiscation. These records will be added to the Maryland Loyalism Project in 2021.

The development of student skills in digital history has been central to the MLP from its inception. Shepherd undergraduates Claire Tryon and Michael Mastrianni, created the tabular data at the heart of the Omeka database by creating a census of all the people mentioned in the Claims Commission volumes and the Marylanders listed in the Inspection Rolls. Meanwhile, Zachary Stella, a graduate student in the Digital Humanities program at Loyola University Chicago, created the project platforms using Omeka for the biographical database and Scaler for the digital archive. The work of the original student team was further developed by  Jillian Curran and Elizabeth Lilly, Summer 2020 interns from the CV Starr Center for the American Experience at Washington College. Curry and Lilly created transcriptions, compiled biographies, and wrote interpretive blogposts for the site.  Roberts and Bankhurst have also sought interested members of the public to assist in transcription.

The Maryland Loyalism Project takes the form of two linked digital sites designed to provide scholars, students, genealogists, and history enthusiasts with access to primary sources with transcriptions and rich metadata.

Rebecca Williams freed herself from slavery by fleeing to British Lines in 1777. She sailed for Nova Scotia in 1783. Learn more about her story here.

The digital archive ( is built on the digital platform Scalar. Information is organized by manuscript volume, allowing users to browse  individual memorials as they were collected by British authorities. Within the Loyalist Claims Commission records, each memorial includes a narrative of wartime allegiance by a Memorialist (typically a White male, but sometimes a White woman), a list of claimed losses, and testimonials by other Loyalists to the veracity of the memorial. From the Inspection Rolls, every known Marylander who self-emancipated is linked to her or his entry from the ledger. Transcriptions are provided for over ninety percent of the memorials in the MLP site and more will be uploaded as they are completed.

Susannah Marshall attempted to claim her deceased husband’s estate. See her memorial here.

Each record in the digital archive is also linked to a database built on the Omeka platform  which contains individual records for every Maryland Memorialist and Witness. Internal linking allows a user to explore the networks that bound these women and men. For example, a user can explore all of the people for whom someone might have served as a witness. In time, the goal is to populate the Omeka database with a third category of people derived from the original primary sources: the thousands of people mentioned in the memorials but who were neither Memorialists nor Witnesses. This includes the hundreds of women and men they enslaved, the Patriots they tangled with, the business partners and members of their families from whom they became estranged. When completed, the database will help users better understand the scope of and connections between the women and men of Revolutionary-era Maryland. 

Funding from the OI-Lapidus Digital Collections grant provided essential seed money which enabled the Project Team to secure additional support for the project from the American Philosophical Society, the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities at Loyola University Chicago, and the C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience at Washington College. A recent grant from Maryland Humanities will allow for the further digitization and linking of sources detailing Loyalist property confiscation housed in American archives. To learn more about the project through blog posts, recorded talks, and more visit:


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