Was Elizabeth Loring Patriot or Whore?

Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art- Velvet bodice and satin-skirted robe mounted on jointed steel panniers
from the painting Les Adieux by Moreau Le Jeune ; Gift of the Museum of the City of New York, 2011

Elizabeth Loring is cited in some contemporary history books on the American Revolution with a small sentence that she was General William Howe’s mistress during his active duty in the thirteen colonies as Commander in Chief of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Elizabeth Loring was married to Joshua Loring, Jr. who was appointed to the lucrative position of commissary general to the prisoners (it is speculated) in return for his acquiescence of the affair.

That they were reportedly lovers is hearsay and speculative gossip since we have no way of really knowing what went on behind closed doors. However, they were in each others constant company gambling and drinking. It is titillating to wonder what kind of husband could allow his wife to openly spend so much time in the company of his commander even earning herself the title of “Billy Howe’s Cleopatra”. New Jersey congressman, Francis Hopkinson penned his famous poem called “The Battle of the Kegs”

Sir William, he, snug as a flea,

Lay all the time a-snoring;

Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm

In bed with Mrs. L____g.

Some disgruntled Loyalists of the period have even insinuated that Loring was the cause for the negligence that Howe showed as Commander in Chief. There were so many occasions that Howe could have wiped out the Patriot army, yet held back.  An anonymous handbill was delivered to parliament concerning Howe’s failure to quash the rebellion: “General Howe was at New York in the lap of Ease: or, rather amusing himself in the lap of a Mrs. L____g, who is the very Cleopatra to this Antony of ours.”  This reticence to act prompted even the Patriots to wonder what game Howe was playing. Patriot Israel Putnam was to note that Howe was “either a friend of America or no General.”  Patriot General Lee also wrote of Howe: “He shut his eyes, fought his battles, drank his bottle and had his little whore.”[1]

What was Elizabeth Loring like? How could she have captivated a decadent titled battle worn career military man? I have not been able to find one image of her. She was a young 25 year old mother of two. Loring was described by her contemporaries as a “a very handsome woman, and noted for her love of play”. She was a” blue eyed flashing blonde” and “the favorite sultana lost 300 guineas at a single sitting”. What is even more interesting is that in 1778 she moved to England, reunited with her husband Joshua Jr. at the end of the war and had three more children with him.

What kind of man was Elizabeth’s husband, Joshua Jr.? In the words of a Loyalist contemporary “Joshua had a handsome wife. The general …was fond of her. Joshua had no objections. He fingered the cash, the general enjoyed the madam.” Joshua Jr. was described as a vile sociopath in Ethan Allen’s  words:

This Loring is a monster!…There is not his like in human shape: He exhibits a smiling countenance, seems to wear a phiz of humanity, but has been instrumentally capable of the most consummate acts of wickedness…(clothed with the authority of a Howe) murdering premeditatedly (in cold blood) near or quite 2000 helpless prisoners…(at N.York). He is the most mean- spirited,cowardly,deceitfuland destructive animal in God’s creation  below.[2]


[1] Revolutionary Ladies by Philip Young Copyright 1977 Alfred A. Knopf,Inc page 59

[2] Revolutionary Ladies by Philip Young Copyright 1977 Alfred A. Knopf,Inc p.71


Revolutionary Mothers Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin (First Vintage Books Edition Copyright 2005)

1776  by David McCullough (copyright 2005 Simon & Schuster Paperbacks)

Revolutionary Ladies by Philip Young Copyright 1977 Alfred A. Knopf,Inc.

Blog post: The United Empire Loyalists of Canada

“Loyalist Trails” 2010-31: August 1, 2010


Previously published in Open Salon under Snarkychaser May 17 2012