Elizabeth Loring–Patriot or Loyalist?
One of the best parts of writing historical romance is stumbling across little known characters who in their own small way affected the outcome of history. One of these is Elizabeth Loring, who lived in the colonies during the height of the Revolutionary War. Although no images of Elizabeth remain, she was described as a playful blue-eyed blonde. Her contemporaries called her “a handsome woman.” She was twenty-five years of age when she met General William Howe, commander in chief of the British army in Boston. At the time, she was married to Joshua Loring and the mother of two small children, but was not immune to the wealth and privilege provided by becoming friendly with the general.
General Howe was forty-five when he was placed in command of the British forces in 1775. He was six feet tall and stocky, with dark eyes and a glittering reputation. Whenever he met Washington on the fields of battle, Howe’s troops were victorious. When plans were made to move the troops from Boston to New England, Howe decided to keep his forces in Boston for the winter, where he could be close to his supposed paramour, Elizabeth Loring. He eventually withdrew from Boston following the surprised fortification of Dorchester Heights by General Washington.
Joshua Loring was given the lucrative position of commissary general, tending to the British prisoners in 1777,
supposedly in exchange for allowing his wife to tend to General Howe in Philadelphia. In the words of a loyalist, Joshua fingered the cash while the general toyed with his wife and Joshua was complicit in the indiscretion. What actually went on behind closed doors has never been revealed, but what went on in public was enough fuel for speculation. They were constant companions, gambling and drinking the nights away and the general paid more attention to Mrs. Loring’s considerable charms than he did to the war being waged under his command.
There were many occasions when the British forces could have forced the patriots into submission, but he held back each time, since victory would mean a speedy return to England. The American troops were being led by General Washington, who had previous experience in battle from the French and Indian War, but no formal training as a military commander. His forces were comprised of farmers, Native Americans and merchants and they were going up against the British regiments, who were renowned as the most powerful fighting force in the world.
Howe’s head was constantly turned from the battlefield by the beautiful Elizabeth, who accompanied him to New York and then on to Philadelphia. When he returned to England, his official documents claimed he’d been trying to affect a reconciliation with the rebel Americans, not crush them with British military might. But his words carried little weight and his prowess on the battlefield never recovered. He returned to England in 1778.
Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, even penned a poem, The Battle of the Kegs, in which he referred to the couple:
Sir William he,
Snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a snoring,
Nor dreamed of harm
As he lay warm
In bed with Mrs. Loring.
Years later, Judge Thomas Jones wrote a blistering account of General Howe, blaming him for the loss of the war because he was so distracted by the lovely Mrs. Loring.
So were Elizabeth and Joshua Loring working on behalf of the patriots or the loyalists? Certainly, Joshua benefitted financially from his position as guardian of the rebel prisoners. And Elizabeth seemed, from all accounts, to enjoy her liaison with the general, whose reputation was in tatters because of her. He returned to England in disgrace as the war raged on for several more years. Had Elizabeth Loring aided the patriots in their quest for freedom while her husband accepted payment from the British government for turning a blind eye to the general? Had they been working together to fleece the British government on behalf of the colonies?
Or were the Lorings loyal to the crown and merely attempting to provide some comfort to the general? Certainly, having a mistress was not uncommon in the 1700s, but to have her husband go along with the plan and guild his pockets in the process caused some eyebrows to be raised.
Following the war, Elizabeth and Joshua Loring reunited in England and had three more children, leading some to speculate the Lorings had been working on behalf of the Patriots and had planned the entire series of events. But if that were the case, would they not have stayed in America, now a free country? Whichever side they really were on, their story, especially Mrs. Loring’s, is a part of the rich tapestry of the Revolutionary War period in our nation’s history.
Becky Lower’s love of American history began with family road trips, as her father never passed a roadside plaque without stopping to read it. Her cross-country trips as an adult have followed the path of the National Road, the Santa Fe Trail and the Pony Express. She is currently working on her second manuscript set during the turbulent Revolutionary War period. Follow her journey into the past here: https://www.beckylowerauthor.blogspot.com