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Birchtown was the largest of the independent Black Loyalist settlements: at its peak it was the largest community of free blacks in the world outside Africa. Founded in 1783 by five companies of the Black Pioneers, it soon became the destination of choice for many isolated communities of blacks and refugees from Shelburne. Its population swelled to somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people; almost half of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia.

Birchtown is located about 7 km northwest of Shelburne on Shelburne Harbour. All of Shelburne is notably rocky; the original name of Port Roseway comes from the French 'Rasoir' or razor, for the sharp granite rocks that would cut open their canoes. But Birchtown is even rockier than the other side of the harbour, and is backed by a large swamp. As farmland the whole area is entirely unsuitable. Although the water is fresh, the twin creeks that drain out the west branch of the Roseway are unnavigable.

Colonel Stephen Blucke was the local authority, serving as local magistrate, schoolteacher, and leader of the public work Corps. As the head of the Pioneer Corps that did public construction in the area he was effectively the only local employer. As schoolmaster at the local Anglican sponsored school he had the best paid job in thre community and a position of some influence over the families in the town. Blucke also had some useful connections in Shelburne, that were probably used to find work for favoured Birchtowners. Stephen Skinner seems to have sponsored Blucke in this way.

The local preachers probably had more influence though. Moses Wilkinson of the Wesleyans made his Nova Scotia headquarters in a meetinghouse in Birchtown, as did John Marrant of the Huntingdonians. David George's Baptist church was in Shelburne's 'Blacktown', located in the north end of Shelburne on the way to Birchtown. Birchtown was famous for the strength and expressiveness of its churches.

After the Sierra Leone exodus, Birchtown was largely depopulated. Nearly of the religious people who had a chice in the matter left. About 50 families remained, and over the years most of them slowly moved away as well. Shelburne had fallen on hard times as well, and there was little employment in the area to keep them there. Some moved to Halifax and Preston, others to Saint John and other towns in the area. Even today though, there are still a few Black Loyalist families in the area.

Today Birchtown is the home of the Black Loyalist society. There's a National Heritage Monument on the site of the original Birchtown cemetery, a small museum in an 1800's school, and plans to construct a large interpretive centre. There are numerous trails in the area, and the bay is ideal for sea kayaking.