Black Loyalist History

The Black Loyalists at Birchtown

During the American Revolution, the British government promised free land, provisions, political freedom and religious liberty to Blacks who would move behind British lines. At the end of the war, 3500 Blacks took up the British offer to move to its colonies in Canada. Nearly two thirds of these emigrants came from the Southern Colonies, the rest from the Middle Colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Prior to their departure, each was issued a document known as a "freedom certificate" certifying eligibility to embark.

The majority of Black Loyalists were transported between April and September 1783. Their destinations in Nova Scotia included Brindley Town, Chedabucto, Little Tracadie, Preston, Halifax, Annapolis, Liverpool, McNutt's Island, Shelburne, Port Mouton, and Birchtown. Birchtown became the largest and most influential Free Black community in the region, and reportedly the largest outside Africa during the period. In New Brunswick, destinations included areas on Nerepis Creek, at Milkish Creek and at Quaco.

Birchtown became for a period of eight years a model of black independance, albeit of a qualified sort. These highly motivated individuals assisted in the building of the town of Shelburne and helped construct barracks, storehouses, and wharves, in addition to erecting their own town. They comprised a very skilled workforce, listing at least 38 occupations in the town census of 1784. They established churches belonging to the Baptist, Wesleyan Methodist denominations, in addition to adhering to the established Church of England. They also maintained a school for their children, with Colonel Stephen Blucke as schoolmaster.

The Black Loyalists became disillusioned when their allocations of land, which would have provided them with the means to become self - sufficient, were not legitimately fulfilled. Considering themselves victims of discrimination and unfair treatment, the Black Loyalists sent one of their own, Thomas Peters, to London to petition on their behalf. The British government instructed Governors Parr and Carleton to rectify the land issue. It also offered free passage to Sierra Leone, a Bristish colony in West Africa, which had offered the discontented Blacks an invitation to settle there.

As a result of the recruitment efforts of Peters and John Clarkson of the Sierra Leone Company, a total of 1196 Black Loyalists agreed to resettle and embarked at Halifax on January 9, 1792. Of these nearly 600 were from the Birchtown-Shelburne area, 220 from the Preston area, 180 from the Annapolis-Digby area an 200 from New Brunswick. The fleet of 15 ships got under way on January 15 and arrived in Freetown Harbour between February 26 and March 9, 1792.

This departure left the remaining Blacks in the region with a leadership vacuum for decades. But the sense of community had been established, and the unending struggle for fair treatment and equality in which they had been engaged continues to inspire their descendants and those of later migrations to the Maritimes to the present day.

Special thanks to Canadian Heritage, (Parks Canada), Atlantic Region, & the Shelburne County Cultural Awareness Society.

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Last modified November 14, 2005.