Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Black Loyalists

Black Loyalists were former slaves or free negroes who in exchange for the promise of freedom by the British Government during the American Revolutionary War, promised to fight against the American Colonies. Although, some were slaves of white Loyalists. In an effort to fortify the British forces, some of the Generals issued proclamations that slaves who joined the British Armies would be freed despite threats from outraged Virginia slave owners who decreed that runaway slaves would be executed.

Slavery in England had been abolished in 1772 after a decision from Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, but this decision did not apply in the colonies.

The Black recruits formed regiments such as the Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, Sir Clinton's Black Pioneers, Jersey Shore Volunteers, the King's American Dragoons, the Jamaica Rangers, and the Mosquito Shore Volunteers. Many of these regiments won key battles.

However, as history records it, the British lost the War to the Americans and unfortunately many former British Black Loyalists were returned to their former Masters or sold back into slavery. In addition, the approximate 2500 slaves of White Loyalists, remained slaves until 1834 when slavery ended in the entire British Empire. Hence, the British did not hold up to their end of the bargain that they made to these former slaves.

However, some generals were insistent that the former Black British soldiers be rewarded for their service. There were over 3,000 free African Americans who migrated to Nova Scotia primarily and are listed in the Book of Negroes, a book that documents the Black Loyalists. In 1793, these Blacks were taken to Florida, Nova Scotia and England as free men and women. Their names were recorded in the "Book of Negroes" by General Carleton. The group of refugees who arrived in Nova Scotia were the largest group of people of African descent to arrive there at any one time. Included in the "Book of Negroes" was a Mary Braveboy. Please recall that is one of my ancestral paternal names. Mary was aged 44 at the time of her relocation and she traveled on the ship,"Thames Abraham Ingram," to St. Johns River which in New Brunswick. I must say I was surprised because I have an acquaintance who traced her family back to the Black Loyalists and never knew that there might be a connection in my family as well.

From many of these free and enslaved Africans descended the Black Canadian culture which exists today. They have made a significant impact on the Canadian culture. There is documented evidence, that game of Hockey was created by descendants of these Africans. The story is documented in George and Darril Fosty's book,"Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes." They populated towns such as Halifax, Annapolis, Birchtown, Shelburne and New Brunswich.

However, after the war many Black Loyalists were evacuated to London and were included in the population of the Black Poor. About 4,000 of these former Black Loyalists migrated to Sierra Leone in 1787 and about 1100 more migrated there directly from Canada and are known as the Nova Scotian settlers. Today, their descendants are known as the Sierra Leone Creole people of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

These Black Warriors had a very proud history. They demonstrated tremendous bravery in their quest for freedom although for many, it never came.

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