Monday, February 16, 2009

Nova Scotia Black Loyalists

Black Canadians have close intertwined ties and kinship with their southern cousins on many levels, and nowhere in Canada is that statement more accurate than in southern Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Some Black Nova Scotians can trace their ancestry directly back to the United States thanks to the Black Loyalists.

When the British realized they were losing the war, the then British Commander in chief at New York Sir Henry Clinton issued on June 30, 1779 the Philipsburg Proclamation. It stated that any Negro belonging to an American patriot was free, and if they deserted the rebel cause would receive full protection, freedom, and land. Thousands did and supported the Loyalist cause until the end of the Revolutionary War.

When the war came to a successful conclusion for the Americans, once the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 the British had to leave the new United States and the Loyalists gathered in New York to await transport.

In the interim, General George Washington demanded that their lost property, the Black Loyalists be returned. Sir Guy Carleton, now the British commander in chief for New York said no to returning any slaves who had joined the British cause before November 30, 1782, but later came to an agreement with General Washington to pay monetary compensation for their losses.

Signed Certificates of Freedom were issued for New York Blacks identified as joining the British cause prior to the surrender, and any who chose to emigrate were evacuated by ship. To ensure that no one without a certificate was evacuated from New York, the Book of Negroes documented and recorded the name of any Black person on board a vessel, whether slave, indentured servant, or free. It also recorded the details of enslavement, escape, and military service.

Between 1783 and 1785, in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War an estimated 5000 Black Loyalists departed New York for Nova Scotia, Quebec, the West Indies, England, Germany and Belgium. 3000 of them ended up in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which was then a part of Nova Scotia but was split off into a separate province for administrative reasons.

Life for them upon arrival was harsh. The large wave of Loyalist immigration they were part of put severe strains on the Nova Scotian government and the Black Loyalists encountered unfair and unequal treatment. They were given much smaller plots of land and fewer provisions than white settlers. Many didn't received the promised land allotments and some received no provisions. Black laborers were paid lower wages than white laborers for the same work. In addition, black people faced discriminatory local bylaws that penalized them for ‘offenses’ such as dancing or loitering.

Some eventually left for Sierra Leone, but others stayed in Nova Scotia, persevered and eventually carved out for themselves a proud history that their descendants are eagerly reclaiming.

It's a history I look forward to one day exploring in a visit to Nova Scotia as well.


Dennis R. Upkins said...

And people wonder why I want to relocate to Canada.

Azulboi said...

I was channel surfing and on KQED they are talking about the Blacks and the british in New York, the Loyalist.. 10pm pst

ginasf said...

Yup, every time people talk about the Revolutionary War and 'fighting for liberty' from the British, I have to roll my eyes with disgust. That said, even though the British outlawed slavery in some places, they permitted to continue in other colonies if it suited their economic purposes (not to mention how they used de facto slavery in China and India throughout the 19th Century). Thanks for this loving tribute to people who had to leave the U.S. to find peace and freedom.