Elizabeth and Henry Drinker of Philadelphia were no friends of the American Revolution. Yet neither were they its enemies. The Drinkers were a merchant family who, being Quakers and pacifists, shunned commitments to both the Revolutionaries and the British. They strove to endure the war uninvolved and unscathed. They failed. In 1777, the war came to Philadelphia when the city was taken and occupied by the British army.
Aaron Sullivan explores the British occupation of Philadelphia, chronicling the experiences of a group of people who were pursued, pressured, and at times persecuted, not because they chose the wrong side of the Revolution but because they tried not to choose a side at all. For these people, the war was neither a glorious cause to be won nor an unnatural rebellion to be suppressed, but a dangerous and costly calamity to be navigated with care. Both the Patriots and the British referred to this group as “the disaffected,” perceiving correctly that their defining feature was less loyalty to than a lack of support for either side in the dispute, and denounced them as opportunistic, apathetic, or even treasonous. Sullivan shows how Revolutionary authorities embraced desperate measures in their quest to secure their own legitimacy, suppressing speech, controlling commerce, and mandating military service. In 1778, without the Patriots firing a shot, the king’s army abandoned Philadelphia and the perceived threat from neutrals began to decline—as did the coercive and intolerant practices of the Revolutionary regime.
By highlighting the perspectives of those wearied by and withdrawn from the conflict, The Disaffected reveals the consequences of a Revolutionary ideology that assumed the nation’s people to be a united and homogeneous front.