NEO is the U.S./NATO acronym for Non-combatant Evacuation Operations. You can read how one should be conducted by downloading Joint Publication 3-68 from https://irp.fas.org/doddir/dod/jp3-68.pdf.
Throughout the American Revolution, Great Britain told Loyalists that they would be re-settled in a British colony should England lose and you wanted to leave.
In two separate proclamations, the British government promised that any slave that ran away and joined the British Army would be given British citizenship. He and his family would be taken to a British Colony if the British lost. For more info on these proclamations, see Blog Post #63 dated August 30th, 2020 – Two Proclamations with Unintended Results – https://marcliebman.com/two-proclamations-with-unintended-results/).
The war didn’t turn out the way King George III and Lord North had intended. During the peace negotiations in Paris, what to do with the Loyalists and their property was a contentious issue.
The 5th Clause in the treaty holds the Continental Congress responsible for ensuring that for 12 months, none of the new states could take legal action against a Loyalist who is, by the Treaty of Paris, entitled to recover any property seized by the individual states or individuals during the war or receive fair compensation. Loyalists could travel to and throughout the states and leave the new country if they wished.
The 6th Clause prohibits any state or the Continental Congress from prosecuting Loyalists for their actions during the American Revolution.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed in September 1783, there were many hard feelings – to put it mildly – between those who fought for independence and those who preferred to remain subjects of King George III. In many ways, the American Revolution was a civil war that pitted father against son, brother against brother. Families were divided, and atrocities were committed on both sides. The treaty was an attempt at waving a magic wand to solve a complex and testy issue.
To their credit, the British government lived up to its promise. On July 11th, 1782, the Royal Navy evacuated 6,000 soldiers and Loyalists from Savannah. Then on December 14th, 1782, the last Royal Navy ship left Charleston with the rear guard of the British Army. Approximately 3,400 Loyalists and 5,000 freed slaves were taken from South Carolina to Canada or British Islands in the Caribbean.
The last city to be evacuated was New York. The British occupation ended on November 25th, 1783, over three months after the Treaty of Paris was signed. In addition to the last British soldiers on U.S. soil, the Brits took about 29,000 of their Loyalist friends from New York and the surrounding area.
Estimates of the total number of Loyalists who left for British possessions vary widely. Some say the number is around 60,000, while others are closer to 100,000. In either case, it is a large number considering the total population of the Thirteen Colonies was, at the start of the war, about 2.5 million.
Most Loyalists – about 33,000 went to Canada – where they were offered free land in what is now Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Ontario. Another 5,000, mostly from Georgia and South Carolina, chose to go to Florida, which was a Spanish possession at the time. They brought with them 7,000 slaves. Seven thousand whites, including Benjamin Franklin’s son William, left for England, along with an estimated 5,000 freed slaves.
Given this was the 18th Century, international travel went by sea on transports or merchant ships. Note that these ships made five to six knots in a moderate breeze, and usually in a zig-zag course since the ships could not sail into the wind. By sea, New York to Halifax is 630 nautical miles. A ship making five knots over the bottom would need at least five days to make the trip.
What is also remarkable is that the British merchant fleet was decimated by the war. The Continental Navy and privateers captured or sunk between 10 and 15% of the ships.
One must give credit to the Royal Navy for executing this NEO without much drama, without satellite communications, without GPS, and at a time of the year when the weather in North America can be downright unpleasant.
If you read Joint Pub 3-68, you’ll find that the services of choice by the U.S. government for NEO operations is the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps team. The whys and wherefores are beyond the scope of this post, but NEOs by the Royal Navy began well before the American Revolution. It is a skill/capability that the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps learned/inherited from them and, when called upon to conduct a NEO, successfully conducts them with professionalism and little fanfare.
Image is the cover of the U.S. Joint Publication 3-68, dated November 15th, 2015.