Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia
Between 1783 and 1785, more than 3000 Black persons came to Nova Scotia as a direct result of the American Revolution. With the establishment of tobacco, indigo, and rice plantations in the southern states, plantation owners required more labourers to work in the fields, and carry out other jobs. In order to reduce costs for themselves and their estate, these owners used slave labour. Initially, the owners attempted to enslave local natives, but with little success, decided to opt for mostly African slaves instead.
When the issue of British control arose in North America, these people of African birth (and their descendants) who were brought against their will to the colonies to solely provide slave labour, ended up getting entangled in the American Revolution. The British forces were greatly outnumbered, and as a last resort, reached out to rebel slaves to fight against Americans. These slaves were promised “freedom” if they chose to fight for the British, and soon enough, up to 30, 000 slaves enlisted. Even with these recruits, defeat loomed in the air, leaving the British with little to no choice but to agree to a treaty signing. After America’s resolute war effort proved to be successful, the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, forcing the British and their supporters to evacuate the United States. Sir Guy Carelton agreed to pay some Americans reparations for their lost labourers and these Africans were issued “certificates of freedom”. Their names were entered, along with details of their past into a document entitled The Book of Negroes.
When the Black Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia, many faced a harsh reality—they had been duped. The land and resources they had been promised were not provided, and white settlers were given priority when land grants were being issued. Many had to take up work as farmhands and domestics to earn meager wages, in a drastically different climate than they were used to. Much of the land that they were eventually given was not arable, and they could only build rough sheds and huts to protect themselves from the harsh climate. Unfortunately, many of these unsound structures became permanent housing, and provided little shelter from the elements.
After suffering unfair treatment in Nova Scotia, some loyalists who had survived the terrible living conditions, and nearly escaped being roped back into slavery by white settlers, the Sierra Leone Company offered these people a third chance at a life of freedom. The Sierra Leone Company aimed to start a new Christian colony on the west coast of Africa, but the passage to “Freetown” mirrored the voyage that brought these Africans to North America. It was long, crowded, and plagued with disease. Those who survived the journey were determined to establish a land of their own, even if the odds were against them. Although the history of Freetown is a tremulous one, descendants of Black Loyalists established an important ethnic group, and dominated many churches. To this day, many descendants still dominate churches, and are living out the hopes of their ancestors.
Canada Digital Collections.”Loyalist History.” The Black Loyalist Heritage Society. http://www.blackloyalist.com/?page_id=2 (accessed March 15, 2013).
Canada’s Digital Collections. “Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People.” Black Loyalists. http://www.blackloyalist.com/canadiandigitalcollection/ (accessed March 15, 2013).
Historica Dominion Institute . “Departure of Black Loyalists.” Black History Canada. http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/events.php?themeid=21&id=2 (accessed March 15, 2013).
Nova Scotia Museum. “Black Communities in Nova Scotia.” Remembering Black Loyalists. http://museum.gov.ns.ca/blackloyalists/ (accessed March 15, 2013).
Pictou Antigonish Regional Library. “The Black Loyalists.” Pictou Antigonish Regional Library. http://www.parl.ns.ca/nativeborn/loyalists.htm (accessed March 15, 2013).
To Africa Once Again:
Lawrence Hill on “The Book Of Negroes” :