Home: Our Story: Suffering: Still Landless
It's almost impossible to make a fair examination of the issue of land distribution in a space this short and informal. There are too many documents to examine, sources to be weighed and compared. However, the issue is so important that it demands some sort of consideration, and so we must rely on and be indebted to the scholarship of others.
When the Black Loyalists arrived in the Atlantic colonies, the British intended for them to receive the same amount of land as all other disbanded soldiers. The normal arrangements would either be a small town lot and 50 acres of farmland, or a 200 acre farm in less settled country. In fact, this is a fairly accurate summary of what most white Loyalists received; the average farm grant was close to 75 acres.
The blacks were not so fortunate. While most did receive town lots, the majority never received farmland at all. Those lots that were granted were on poor soil, small, remote, and very late in coming. In many cases the blacks had already become indentured servants or sharecroppers by the time they had a chance to receive land.
In Birchtown, about one third of the settlers were granted 20-40 acre farm lots in 1789. The lots were in an area called Beaver Dam, about 10 miles west of Birchtown. Beaver Dam was inland, next to a lake on rocky, spruce covered ground. The soil was almost impossible to cultivate, with very acidic soil and covered with large rock outcroppings. It's pleasant cottage country, but totally unsuitable for growing fields of vegetables.
To be accurate, the whole region is unsuitable for agriculture, a fact that caused much argument among the Port Roseway Associates. There are some better suited areas near Shelburne, with a mix of hardwoods and evergreens which creates more fertile soil. Some small hills with less rocky soil also exist, principally up on the Roseway river. Unfortunately, all that land was long gone by the time the blacks of the area were considered.
After the race riot, the government had turned over the land distribution to the Associates. By the summer of 1786 two years later, all the whites had been granted farmland. Three years passed before the blacks were considered. By that time, Birchtown was surrounded by white settlers' farm lots, and the only available land was marginal and distant. Most blacks never worked on their land at all, and thus had it seized and auctioned off.
The story in Preston was similar. About half of the blacks in the area did receive 50 acre farm lots, but their grants were much later and smaller than the whites in the area, who usually received 200 acres each. While the land was granted relatively early, more and more blacks poured into the area. Most of the men ended up working as sharecroppers on already marginal land.
In Brindley Town, a survey was made in 1789, but it infringed on a section of glebe or church land. While glebe land reservations were usually put aside in favor of settlers' land claims, in this case the church took precedence, even though the surveyors suggested that the land could be made up elsewhere.
In fact, the botched Brindley Town land grant was used to try and discredit Thomas Peters when he returned to Nova Scotia from England - it was argued that he had been offered farmland despite the fact that none of the grants were ever made.
Tracadie was a different case. It seems that Thomas Brownspriggs made a tactical decision when his people first arrived in the Guysborough area; to request remote land so as not to compete with whites for attention. While the grants were made quickly, the land left something to be desired in both size and quality. In general, it resembled the description of Beaver Dam in it's rockiness and poor soil, and their grants were only 40 acres per family compared to a promise of 200. Their remoteness made it difficult to receive rations and tools; but having their land early gave them a crucial head start in building a settlement. None of the Tracadie blacks left for Sierra Leone; whether from lack of desire or knowledge of the opportunity. Contemporary observers commented that they were better off than other black communities.