Loyalist History

The American Revolutionary War:

It was 1775 and Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, had a strategy to subdue the rebellious Colonists. He offered freedom to any slave who would escape from his rebel master and fight on the side of those loyal to the British Crown. More than 300 Blacks immediately found their way behind British Lines and formed The Ethiopian Regiment. Black Soldiers fought in the belief that they were securing freedom, not only for themselves, but for all enslaved blacks. The British were confident, because slaves made up 20% of the American population, that if they could convince them to join the ranks, the Colonial uprising would be squelched.

By 1779, the British saw another reason for luring slaves from the plantations. Their departure from rebel-owned estates would seriously undermine the southern platation’s economy. British extended their offer of freedom to include grants of land and provisions to the former slaves once the rebellion was defeated. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 slaves had taken refuge behind British Lines. By the summer of 1782, it became evident that the Americans were winning the war and the British began to make preparations for their departure.   

They left a number of blacks behind as they retreated, who were recaptured into slavery. Other Black Loyalists were resettled in Florida, the West Indies, and British North America ( Canada). More than 3,500, the largest group of Black Loyalists, were transported to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The Loyalist colonies were not equipped to maintain the influx of thousands of new citizens. A priority system was established to serve the newest citizens to British North America. White officers and Gentlemen were served first in terms of rations and land grants. Ordinary Privates and Laboring people, among the Whites, had to wait. The Blacks, coming up last, rarely recieved the land or rations promised to them.

With a population of more than 2,500, Birchtown Nova Scotia became the largest settlement of free blacks outside Africa. There were 649 male heads of families in Birchtown during the muster of 1784. Out of bureaucratic incompetence and racial inequality, only 184 heads of families received the promised crown land. Their granted lands measured and average of 34 acres. Other Black Loyalists settled communities at Port Mouton (Later Liverpool); Brindy Town (Near Digby); Tusket & Greenville (Near Yarmouth); Little Tracadie (Guysbourough County); Preston (Halifax County), Annapolis Royal, Halifax and Saint John, New Brunswick

In the eight years that followed the Black Loyalist settlement in Lower Canada, the communities suffered…harsh climactic conditions, soil unsuitable for cultivation, high unemployment, and unfair treatment from authorities…were some of the hardships endured.

Either Black Loyalists were located in exclusively Black settlements with farms too small to ensure self-support, or they were scattered as landless members of the white Loyalist settlements. Many Blacks were able to work as day workers for Whites. In desperation their employers easily exploited the Blacks. Wage rates for blacks averaged one-quarter of what was acceptable for Whites. Shelburne saw the violent outcome of this system as it became the location of the first race riot in North America as disbanded white soldiers drove Blacks out of their homes in order to secure employment for themselves.

When the Sierra Leone Company entered the scene in 1791, it is unsurprising that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick saw the exodus of almost half of the Black Loyalist community. The British formed company offered blacks more land, and a chance to establish their own governing policies in the West African country. Dissatisfied with the Canadian Government’s failure to provide land, support, and equality amongst the races, 1,200 Blacks boarded ships for Sierra Leone. The Black Loyalists who stayed in British North America, numbered approximately 2,500. Economically , the Black Community’s position showed improvement within the decade. Many Blacks completed their indenture terms and more Blacks working as apprentices began to qualify for trades. By 1812, employers could not find enough Blacks to fill available work and wages rose accordingly. During the war of 1812, Blacks volunteered in militia and formed three separate Black Corps. The Black Loyalists, although still a disadvantaged class, were watching as slavery and racial distinctions were beginning to erode and economic advance was in sight.