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Black Loyalist Lecture North Jersey Revolutionary War Round Table February 13, 2013

John J. McLaughlin

Dr. John J. McLaughlin wrote his thesis at Drew University for his Master’s Degree in Theology about the Black Loyalists. He became interested in the subject when he took a course in the Revolutionary War. Dr. McLaughlin made two trips to Nova Scotia, visited the Black Loyalist Museum in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, interviewed dozens of the descendants of the Black Loyalists still living in Nova Scotia, and did additional research at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He has given lectures to many groups in New Jersey and elsewhere on the history of the Black Loyalists. Dr. McLaughlin is also a World War II historian and the author of “General Albert C. Wedemeyer: America's Unsung Strategist in World War II.”

In 1775 when an armed conflict appeared inevitable between England and the American Colonists, there were approximately 500,000 slaves in the Southern Colonies, roughly twenty percent of the total population. This presented a frightening situation for the slave owners, and fascinating opportunities for the British forces.

From the British standpoint, they were chronically short of troops, and a number of theories were advanced, to take advantage of the slave situation, including inciting an insurrection of the slaves and causing chaos in the southern colonies, thus wrecking their economy. For the patriots, they briefly considered using some as soldiers to fight the British, but this notion was quashed by the fear that putting weapons in the hands of the slaves, whose loyalty was doubtful, was considered too risky. Further, if this plan was implemented, some slaves who were devoted to their masters probably would have willingly borne arms, but the problem post- war would have been how to compel them to revert to their pre-war slave status after having fought a war for independence and “freedom” from oppression. An additional problem which the white slave owners faced was leaving the slaves back on the plantation while they went off to fight; this also was risky.

Two events, both initiated by the British, set the stage and initiated the “Black Loyalist” history. The first was the Proclamation of 1775 by the Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, and the second came four years later: the Philipsburg Proclamation of 1779 by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Henry Clinton.

Starting with the first event: in November 1775, Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia, facing a rebellious population, declared martial law, and without consulting any higher authority issued a proclamation calling on the slaves to come to the Loyalist cause and bear arms, and further declared:

all indented servants, negroes, or others free, that are willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of duty, to his Majesty’s crown and dignity.

Dunmore’s call produced little response, no doubt because of the need to actually join the British forces to win freedom. How likely was it that a married slave would abandon his family to the mercy of an infuriated master? The Dummore call in Virginia did produce some response, and the first black slaves to desert their masters were formed into a unit named the “Ethiopian Regiment” numbering approximately 300. They saw action in Virginia at the battle of “Great Bridge”, and fought valiantly. Emblazoned on their chest was the legend “Liberty to Slaves.”

Despite this relatively unimportant fight, the effect was terrifying to the southern colonists. Washington said of the event that Dunmore’s proclamation made him the “Most Formidable Enemy America Has.” However, when the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Henry Clinton, issued his famous Philipsburg Proclamation four years later in 1779, it stated that freedom was not limited to those who actually took up arms:

To every negro who shall desert the Rebel Standard, full security to follow within these Lines, any occupation which he shall think proper.

Hitherto only those blacks capable of active military service had been accepted as refugees, and numbers had been relatively small. Those who now responded were also promised, in addition to their freedom, land in some place in the British Empire, yet to be designated. It must be pointed out that the British motives were not abolitionist, because the proclamation did not apply to slaves of Loyalists. (The Loyalist's "property" was protected.)

The British efforts to lure away the slaves of rebels were solely to undercut the economy and keep the South immobilized and in fear of slave uprisings and thus constituted good military tactics. Indeed, the greater success of the British forces in the south demonstrates the wisdom of the plan. As a counter-measure, the rebels started to free slaves of the Loyalists when captured, and to be sure this also was not from abolitionist motives, but simply for revenge.

The Philipsburg Proclamation was quite effective; it is estimated that approximately 100,000 slaves crossed to the British lines. Jefferson said that Virginia alone lost about 30,000 slaves to the British. The colonial “spin masters” attempted to stem the flow of slaves with many propaganda advertisements in the papers to the effect that the offers were bogus; that the British intended to resell them as slaves in the West Indies; that they were far better off where they are now, but these efforts were not effective.

Not all black Loyalists were former slaves. Some free black abolitionists became British Loyalists in the era of the Revolution, since they believed that the power of Parliament and the authority of the Crown were likely to be leveled against the slave trade. Benjamin Quarles in his book, The Negro In the American Revolution, notes that blacks from both the North and the South believed a British victory would bring an end to slavery. He estimated that approximately 5,000 free blacks, mostly from the North and all volunteers, fought with the British.

Some historians attribute this phenomenon largely to the famous trial in England decided by Lord Mansfield, said by some to have been one of the greatest Lord Chief Justices in the History of English Law. The case is entitled the Somerset Case, the holding of which freed a slave from his master. It is worth some comment for the potential impact it could have had. Somerset had been a slave in the colonies, and his master brought him to England where they resided several years. When the master decided to leave England he determined to sell Somerset to another master. Granville Sharp, a well known English abolitionist intervened, and through his efforts obtained counsel for the slave. Mansfield decided the case in 1774, two years prior to the Revolution. The case was written up in all the Colonial newspapers and some feared, erroneously, that the freeing of Somerset was, in effect, a freeing of all the slaves in the Colonies, since the colonies were subject to the same Common Law. There is disagreement among historians as to whether, and to what extent, the knowledge of the Somerset case reached the slaves. There is also disagreement as to the actual effect of the Somerset Case. Of course, few slaves could read the newspapers, but surely some heard the case discussed at the Master’s house, and the slaves had an incredibly efficient system of passing news orally.

Some noteworthy free blacks joined the British forces. One who deserves mention is Lemuel Haynes. A recent biography of Haynes: Black Puritan, Black Republican, is well worth reading. A one-time minuteman, Haynes never wavered in his patriotism. He was a free black from Connecticut who was ordained. He joined the Rebel forces and saw combat on several occasions. He passionately believed in the American cause, and throughout his entire life believed that victory would bring freedom to all black people.

I read here a passage from a ballad he composed entitled “The Battle of Lexington” written by him probably in 1775, not found until 1980, and not published until 1985. I read this not to demonstrate his poetic skills, which he possessed only in limited quantity, but to highlight the clear message of fervent bravery and patriotism which informed his entire life. He, like the Trench Poets of the First World War, Julian Grenfell, Rupert Brooks, Sigfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and numerous others (at least in the first stages of the war), wrote eloquently of bravery and willingness, indeed eagerness to sacrifice their lives for God and country. The difference between the Trench Poets and Haynes was that

throughout his entire life he never abandoned his patriotism, and his love of God and country. He was truly a remarkable man, ahead of his time, and the country was not prepared for his views.

The entire poem can be found here:

It should be mentioned what the Black Loyalists, other than the ones who actually saw military action, did for the British. Many were blacksmiths, coopers, tailors, carpenters, bakers, and guides. Guides were especially important. Many knew the country intimately, with all the back roads, swamps, rivers and streams, and were invaluable to the British.

The Provisional Peace Treaty of November 30, 1782 presented the British with an interesting ethical dilemma. Article VII required all “property” to be restored to the colonists.

All hostilities both by Sea and Land shall from henceforth cease. All prisoners on both sides shall be set at Liberty and His Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient Speed and without causing any destruction or carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants withdraw all his Armies, Garrisons, and Fleets, from the said United States.

Just what did this mean with regard to slaves that had taken advantage of the Dunmore and Philipsburg Proclamation? The story about how this clause was inserted into the Treaty as a last minute addition is fascinating, and the import of the clause had far reaching implications lasting well beyond the Revolutionary War.

Henry Laurens, a prominent South Carolina planter, and large slave holder was on a diplomatic mission in 1780 when captured at sea and imprisoned in the Tower of London for about 2 years. He was finally released in late November 1782 at a time when the Paris Peace talks were virtually completed. He was directed by Congress to join the group negotiating in Paris. He arrived on the last day of the conference. His sole contribution was to add Article VII to the document (an early version of a Legislative "earmark"?). He had no opposition from his American counterparts, John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin, and was delighted to find that the chief British negotiator was one Richard Oswald, well known to Laurens. Oswald was probably the largest and richest British slave trader and he owned the infamous slave factory or trading post on Bunce Island on the Sierra Leon River. Oswald sent virtually all of his slaves to South Carolina where his friend, and business partner, Henry Laurens, brokered them, for which he received a 10% commission. Clearly, adding article VII was a slam dunk. [Interestingly, Henry Lauren's son, John, was an abolitionist, and

served in the American Army, a former aid, to General Washington. He was killed

in the last days of the war.]

Suffice it to say, Article VII presented General Carlton [he replaced General Clinton shortly before] with a real dilemma. He recognized at once that the Paris negotiators had committed his country to a policy radically different from the one he had inherited. The Americans, relying on clause VII, were demanding their slaves back as “property.” This was contrary to the British commitment to free them. To resolve this impasse, General Washington and General Carleton met at Orangetown, New York on May 6, 1783. The "transcript" of the meeting is preserved. Washington ultimately was compelled to accept the British position that any blacks who were already with the British before November 30, 1782 and who claimed freedom by the proclamations were free and would not be considered American property.

Carlton was determined to honor the previous British commitments, despite the clear language of the Treaty and refused to enforce that clause literally. For this, he deserves praise. With a shrewd eye, he argued that by reason of the promises of the British, the slaves who were promised freedom were no longer "property," a tenuous argument by a losing side, and certainly not consistent with the plain language of Article VII, but one from which he would not budge. He refused to give in to the pressure from Washington, in itself a formidable task. His unalterable position was that any slaves who came over to the British after the declarations and were with them for one year were entitled to their freedom. Slaves who came over or were confiscated after that date were to be returned.

Carleton and Washington ultimately agreed to create a commission to hear the claims of slaves demanding freedom and land pursuant to the two proclamations and Carlton committed the British Parliament to provide compensation for the slaves he was clearing, in the event his interpretation of the treaty clause was deemed wrong.

A commission was set up with General Samuel Birch in charge. Birchtown, in

Nova Scotia where the first contingent of former slaves landed, is named after General Birch. The commission consisted of three British and two American officers. They met twice weekly at the famous, and still standing, Fraunces Tavern, in lower Manhattan, where the commission heard the cases of those blacks who claimed to “qualify” under the terms of the proclamations. The board met every Wednesday at 10 o’clock to hear and settle all claims. General Birch issued certificates (known as “Birch Certificates”) to all successful applicants.

An example of a Birch Certificate can be found here:

One can only imagine the heartrending scenes that transpired, as hundreds of poor, uneducated, and inarticulate blacks sought to produce evidence while

facing hostile and demonstrative masters who poured into the city from all over the south, demanding their “property” back. There was no “Legal Aid Society” or “pro bono” lawyers to represent them. Doubtless, many of those entitled to freedom lost their cases. Despite Carlton's efforts many worthy blacks were spirited away by former masters and returned to slavery without a chance to present their cases.

What was it like in the city of New York during this time? Rumors circulated that all runaways were to be delivered up to their former masters. "This dreadful rumor filled us all with inexpressible anguish and terror," wrote Boston King, “especially when we saw our old masters coming from Virginia, North-Carolina, and other parts, and seizing upon many slaves in the streets of New York, or even dragging them out of their beds.”

Carleton advised Washington that he would keep an accurate record of all slaves that were transported, and that he would see to it that his government paid compensation to any owners of slaves, in the event that his interpretation was incorrect. (A remarkable position for a general to take, especially a defeated one, and against such a formidable adversary as Washington.) A fascinating account of the encounter between Carleton and Washington is contained in a well researched pamphlet, Wine and Bitters: An account of the meetings in 1783 at Tappan, N.Y. The author is Isabelle K. Savell; published by The Historical Society of Rockland County,1975.

Carlton's decision infuriated the American Congress and many other Americans, especially the powerful southern slave owners. For 43 years, the rancorous argument over compensation for war liberated slaves rumbled on, snarling the fulfillment of other treaty provisions and contributing to the bad feeling which ultimately brought about the war of 1812. Interestingly, in the war of 1812 Britain again made an offer to the slaves of the seaboard states to desert, and some 2000 responded, and went to Nova Scotia. Article 1 of the Treaty of Ghent August 1814 again spoke of not carrying away "slaves or other property" – the same language as the Treaty of Paris. Same dispute! The Russian Czar was called to arbitrate and he decided in favor of the United States. Britain had to pay a lump sum of $1,204,960 for 3,601 slaves. [$334.00 per slave]

When I first read about the hearings, and obtained copies of them from the New York Public Library where photostats of the actual hearings and orders are located as well as the British Orders setting them up, I was curious as to whether Fraunces Tavern had any record of this in their museum. I visited the museum and examined the second and third floor, all devoted to American heroes of the Revolution. No mention! I met the curators. And they were incredulous. It is necessary to point out than only a tiny fraction of the blacks that left their masters and went to the British ever made it to Nova Scotia. A natural question to ask was what happened to the other 97,000 blacks that crossed to the British lines? It is not possible to be precise, but, in general, it can be said that many of the

blacks were betrayed, often by British operatives. Many were resold into slavery and returned to the Southern Colonies, or to islands in the Caribbean. Many escaped, and some managed to get to England or other countries. A few came to Nova Scotia from other routes. A great number were returned to their former masters. It is impossible to estimate how many truly qualified for land and freedom pursuant to the terms of the two British proclamations.

Regrettably, the British gave little or no thought to how to implement the plan prior to the proclamations. It was inherently flawed, administered by generally incompetent officials. This must come as a shock to those of us accustomed as we are to well planned, fair and efficiently run governmental programs! Further, the program was seriously biased in favor of the white Loyalists, and, in short, amounted to a cruel and monstrous fraud. Indeed there is absolutely no evidence that Britain had any postwar plan for the thousands of blacks who had sought its protection and who were now called free. Although the program was later endorsed, and funded by Parliament, all the initial decisions and plans for the program were initiated by generals on the scene in the colonies, as a strictly strategic military enterprise. The program commenced with ad hoc proclamations and no planning, as a war time expedient.

Settlement of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia The overwhelming number of blacks were runaway slaves. Many of them served

honorably with the British forces and some were disabled from wounds received

in battle. They were different from other runaway slaves in another respect in

that they had an ideal of becoming free and independent landowners and loyal British subjects. That is why their fate is so tragic.

Indeed, most accounts of the Black Loyalists tend to concentrate on the hardships and discrimination suffered, such as inadequate farms and economic dependence on white society, and tend to overlook the underlying motives which led the Blacks to join the British during the War, i.e., the idea of Freedom from slavery! Most also failed to credit the influence of Religion that welded the Blacks together.

A simple calculation by the British would have demonstrated that the entire plan

was flawed. To begin with there was inadequate land in the province to accommodate the 30,000 Loyalists who descended on the province. When you add the new arrivals, some 3,000 Black Loyalists and approximately 27,000 White Loyalists, the total population of the province was increased to about 40,000, of which three-quarters were now thrown on the Administration for assistance. Little or no increase in administrative assistance was given, and the province was clearly overwhelmed by the population explosion. Total acreage in Nova Scotia was 26,000,000 of which 13,729,134 was available for distribution. With 30,000 claiming land, that amounted to an average grant of some 457 acres assuming the land was divided evenly, which it was not. The policy which was developed for land distribution was designed to favor those “ who suffered the

most” This was interpreted to mean property and financial damage, which right from the start put the blacks at the end of the line. This, of course, was not the understanding of the blacks. The prospect of free land had enticed many of them to enlist in the British forces. They believed that they would fare much the same as the whites of their rank regarding future allocations of land and provisions. This was not to prove the case. Generally, few blacks got any land at all, and those that did, got a lot less than promised, in the worst places possible. The land grant policy was designed to compensate the Loyalists relative to the estates they left behind, and then “ordinary” refugees would get 100 acres for every member of the family. Officers would get larger grants.

It bears mention that slavery existed in the province prior to the arrival of the Loyalists. Then, White Loyalists brought 1,232 slaves with them. Accordingly, the general population was accustomed to the notion of slavery and thus had little difficulty relegating the newly arrived free blacks to second class status. In a society conditioned to associate blacks with slavery, the claims of the free blacks to equality were not taken seriously. “Segregation” as a de-facto condition followed, with most of the blacks settling in areas where other blacks were located in several places allocated to them by the administration. Those that settled in the cities lived in ghetto-like housing.

From the time that they arrived in 1783 to the time when many departed for Sierra Leone in 1791, life for these black refugees was hard. Many became sharecroppers, indentured servants, subsistence day laborers, or completely dependent on the whites. With a shortage of skilled labor, blacks were exploited and paid wages well below that of white laborers. Blacks were denied a right to trial by jury, denied the right to vote, and numerous restrictions were placed on their right to express their religious views in a manner that they desired. Arguably they were better off than they were under slavery, but only marginally so; clearly, Nova Scotia was not their Promised Land.

Black Society and Religion in Nova Scotia It is important to emphasize that the blacks who came to Nova Scotia were different from the others in a very unique way. Herbert Aptheker, a modern American scholar has accurately captured the central moving force of those hardy black Loyalists who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1783:

The desire for freedom is the central theme, the motivating force, in the history of the American Negro people. This has always determined their actions, policies and efforts, and has, indeed, permeated their religions, inspired their real and legendary heroes, and filled their incomparably beautiful hymns and spirituals.

The passage to Nova Scotia was therefore regarded not merely as an escape from slavery, but as an entry into a new world where the dignity and independence that came of equal citizenship were to be his. Fundamental to the

realization of the Black Loyalist ideal was the acquisition of land, for without it no true independence was believed possible. The disappointment of the Black Loyalists in not realizing these dreams is what makes this story so tragic.

Religion was central to these blacks, many of whom became Anglicans in the Colonies, influenced by the large presence of Anglicans in the colonies, and the fact that many of their masters were Anglicans. To be sure, an argument can be made that the previous influences on the black’s social life prior to their arrival in Nova Scotia might have predisposed them to a religion more in keeping with a revivalist fundamentalist theology, but had the Anglicans, and the rest of Nova Scotia society, welcomed the blacks and admitted them to full membership, and to their church, the history of the Black Loyalists and their religion in Nova Scotia might well have taken a different course. But such was not to be the case.

Anglicans already had a secure foothold in Nova Scotia; the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the earliest Anglican Missionary Society had been established in Nova Scotia in 1749, the year Halifax was founded. When the White Loyalists arrived, the group included 31 clergymen. Clearly the Anglicans had the advantage at this stage. It was likely that with the right effort they would have captured most of the Black Loyalists. For them, it was a way to identify with what they saw as their new society in which they expected to play a part. Likely, they also identified with the Anglicans whom they saw as their deliverers, Moses- like, and early on this link was useful to the Anglicans in attracting the Black Loyalists. Nova Scotia Bishop Inglis saw the Anglican Church as a steadying force conducive to loyalty and submission to duly constituted authority. He wrote special prayers which reading at all services was endorsed by the government. The prayers were designed to:

contribute much to the peace and order of society and produce a ready obedience to lawful authority.

Gov. Parr gave his weight to the Anglican Church and backed all efforts to check any deviations from solid Anglicanism.

The problem was that the Anglicans accepted the blacks only on their terms. In Halifax during the first year of their arrival, hundreds of blacks were baptized and “welcomed” into the church, and invited to attend services, and take communion, but they were not permitted to “mingle with whites in the congregation.”

At St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Halifax a “special gallery” was fashioned to keep them separate. [When I visited this church, the pastor denied any knowledge of this.] In Shelburne, the whites accomplished the same segregation by instituting high church pew fees. Soon the black Loyalists were advised to start having services in their own homes. Although theoretically Halifax and Shelburne were not segregated societies, de facto segregation was in effect, and there was segregation de jure in the Anglican Church. Blacks, left largely on their own, and

compelled to hold separate services soon had their own version of the Anglican church independent from central authority.

Blacks, therefore, could not be said to have been part of the Anglican structure of the church. So, it is not surprising that they started to drift away from the ritualized version of Anglicanism. New Lights, Huntingdonians, Baptists, and Methodists all made inroads, each in their own way, and for different reasons. The Baptist church enjoyed the most success among the Black Loyalists, and it is interesting to note that scholars have stated that the Baptists have continued to enjoy similar success throughout the black communities of North America to this day. According to one scholar this phenomenon is accounted for by several factors: invariably the preachers were themselves black men, and the chapels they founded offered an opportunity for direct and democratic involvement, owing no allegiance to and requiring no direction from any outside white authority. Preaching was allowed by lay-preachers, and ordination was not complicated by such as the Anglican hierarchy. Then the attractiveness was linked to total immersion similar to West African river cults. Ann and Anthony Pinn (authors of The Fortress Introduction to Black Church History) agree with this and add that the success of the Methodists and the Baptists, especially the latter, is related to the connection of African spirituality to these two denominations as well as the utilization of water.

The slow but eventual total alienation of the blacks from the established church and their joining separate denominations was a function then, not only of the fact that they were alienated by circumstances of color, lower economic and social status, and prejudice of the whites, but of the uniqueness of their own theology informed by their spiritual and cultural heritage. In their view only the church was pure. Black chapels took on real importance in their separate communities which were defined by the chapel to which they belonged. The leaders of the black community were the preachers.

In short, it can be fairly said that the unique religious experience of the Black Loyalists can be summarized by stating that the Baptists by intent, the Huntingdonians by coincidence, and the Methodists and Anglicans by default, all, in their special ways, contributed to the development of independent black churches, only loosely tied, or in the instance of the Baptists, completely untied to any white hierarchy. This would explain why the Roman Catholics who had a presence in Nova Scotia attracted no blacks; they could not allow or offer this relationship with their parishioners.

Had the black Loyalists received the land they were promised and to which they were entitled, it is likely that they would have stayed in Nova Scotia. Which religious denominations would have prospered and which would have declined is not so certain. However, by 1791 a substantial number of the black Loyalists had finally concluded that they were never going to receive the land and many

determined to depart. Their frustration and disappointment ushered in a new chapter in the history of the black Loyalists.

The Lure of Africa Thomas Peters, a decorated war hero was a non-commissioned officer in the Revolutionary War with outstanding leadership qualities. He served as a local distributor of provisions and had the respect of his peers. He was vocal in his protests against the injustice of the Nova Scotia blacks not receiving their land. He often gathered signatures of his people and presented petitions to the local authorities and to the governor’s office in Halifax. By 1785 he was convinced that no governmental authority in Nova Scotia was going to assist them. However, he like many other blacks, continued to have faith in the British government, and thought the problem lay with the local authorities and that the British Parliament was ignorant of their plight. Being a true activist, he determined to go to the top, and decided to present a petition directly to the British cabinet. He secured a petition with 100 signatures and power of attorney, authorizing him to represent the group. He eventually made his way to London, arriving in 1790. The petition was a detailed account of the trials and frustrations of the landless Black Loyalists.

In London he gravitated towards the large group of poor blacks then in London, many of whom were also veterans of the war. Eventually, he met, and was supported, by Granville Sharp an early white abolitionist who was active in the movement, and instrumental in the formation of the first Sierra Leone Colony which had been founded some years before. By 1786 the first group of blacks from England arrived there. The settlement was not successful for a number of reasons, poor planning, sickness, lack of provisions, poor selection of settlers, and local resistance. With the arrival of Peters, the backers saw another opportunity to populate the colony with a new group from Nova Scotia. With Sharp’s assistance he was able to get a hearing. The organization of the colony was completely revamped, this time as a commercial enterprise, and when word was spread throughout London that the Nova Scotia blacks were willing to go to Sierra Leone, a good deal of capital was raised. Thomas Clarkson, who was appointed first governor of this second Sierra Leone colony was engaged to go to Nova Scotia and recruit colonists. They heard glowing reports about the colony, but never a word about the many problems of the previous group that went. Eventually about 1,200 Nova Scotia Black Loyalists were signed up, about one third of the black population.

On January 1, 1792 the group sailed from Halifax in 15 ships and landed in March of that year at their new home. Their story from here on is in some ways a repeat of their earlier frustrations, and again the many promises made to them were in large measure not honored, but that is another tale, and another lecture.