Kent Thompson,
The Man Who Said No: Reading Jacob Bailey, Loyalist
(Gaspereau Press, 2008)

Jacob Bailey (1731-1808) was an Anglican clergyman and Loyalist at the time of the Revolutionary War. He said "No" to the rebellion, which caused him a great deal of trouble.

Bailey was not a particularly important figure in history except for his writings, but as a Harvard graduate, he crossed paths with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others. His writings give some interesting views of these people not found in mainstream histories. Harvard was far smaller in those days and much different. For example, rankings were given by social class instead of exam scores.

That is one of the many interesting things Kent Thompson reveals in this book, which is drawn from Bailey's journals and other sources. Americans may be inclined to think of Loyalists as effete landowners who wished to maintain their positions in the Colonies. Of course, there were a number of those. Bailey, however, was rather poor most of his life. There are a number of references in the book to his threadbare clothing, something that would have rankled a man who wished to be seen as a gentleman.

Bailey began as a Congregationalist. He switched to the Church of England for reasons that are not clear. This involved a trip to England, an eye-opening experience that Thompson covers at length. Bailey, who tended to be prissy and shy, learned much about human nature and became more tolerant.

Bailey's loyalty to England caused him to be examined by local "committees," an experience he wrote about in detail. These groups used tactics that uncomfortably remind the reader of McCarthyism two centuries later. In later sections of the book, Thompson covers Bailey's writings and compares him to contemporaries like Lawrence Sterne, author of Tristam Shandy.

The first sentence of this book says, "This is not a scholarly study." It is a quirky book, making it that much more enjoyable to read. Thompson interjects himself a few times, admitting that he likes Bailey, and he is not shy about calling his opponents villains. In one nice archaic touch, each page has a title in addition to each chapter.

Thompson not only brings Bailey to life, but gives a revealing look at his times.

review by
Dave Howell

22 November 2008

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