A fascinating example of the 'hidden history
' that is rarely mentioned in any context is the story of the Black Loyalist
s, an instructive example of the hard truths of racism
behind the myth of America
Contrary to the absurd lies propagated by The Patriot, most blacks who fought in the American Revolution were not rebels. At least not against the British. Mostly, they were escaped slaves, promised freedom by the British in exchange for fighting against their rebel masters.
In 1785 Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, was in serious trouble. Thousands of armed rebels roamed the colony freely, while he only had about 200 loyal troops. Most of the plantation owners were against him and openly supported the patriot cause. With no hope of reinforcement in the foreseeable future, Dunmore made a desperate decision. He would widely advertise that any escaped slave of a rebel could seek freedom behind British lines. This became known as Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, and became widely known throughout the colonies. Although some Loyalists thought this was insane, it proved highly successful. Several hundred escaped slaves joined Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment in the space of a few months. Lord Dunmore himself said that as soldiers they were at least the equals of his veteran redcoats.
Eventually this policy was emulated by all of the British military. It forced rebel slave owners to guard their slaves instead of fighting the war, and it filled the ranks of an army that had less volunteers than supporters. Loyalists had to live in the community with patriots and suffered greatly from the fear of having their property destroyed and their family tarred and feathered. Black soldiers were much more forthcoming, having little to lose.
In particular, the Black Pioneers served with distinction in New Jersey, raiding all through the area, and earning the fear and respect of the patriots. Their leader, Colonel Tye, was killed in action near the end of the war.
Eventually it became clear to everyone what the outcome of the war would be. The Loyalists were concentrated in three main areas, New York, Charleston, and Spanish Florida. As a peace treaty was signed promising the return of all stolen property, panic reigned on the streets of New York, as slaveowners came from all over the colonies to reclaim their property. Others sensed an opportunity in the confusion and simply sought to kidnap and sell any suitable looking black man.
General Carleton, the leader of the British forces in America, sought to honour the British pledge of freedom however. He announced that any black man who had fought for the British would leave with them, along with their wives and children. 'Certificates of Freedom' were issued to all of the black soldiers, and their names were inscribed in a list called the 'Book of Negroes', in the expectation that compensation would be paid to their former owners by the British. Like all reparations promised in that peace treaty, none of it was ever paid.
Most of the Black Loyalists in Charleston and Florida were simply sold by enterprising British military men into slavery in the West Indies and Jamaica. Those in New York, however, were brought to Nova Scotia. They created their own settlement near Shelburne, called Birchtown. At the time, it was the largest settlement of free blacks in the world outside of Africa.
However, once there, they suffered great prejudice. Conditions in Shelburne were terrible, and even the wealthiest were soon reduced to abject poverty. At the bottom of the social totem pole, the free blacks were despised by many, and were the target of riots and systematic prejudice. Most never received any of the land they were promised.
Eventually, this story reached prominent abolitionists in England, and they financed and organized organized the emigration of these unfortunate people to the Sierra Leone Colony, where they founded Freetown and became the black aristocracy of the new colony. Even to this day, to be a 'Nova Scotian' means you're from the best families. Although some blacks remained in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, their numbers and influence were greatly reduced, and they became a footnote to history that is only really being investigated today.