2018-05-31 / Personalities

Anderson speaks about slave freedom at recent OLLI meeting

Ken Thompson (left) and Ed Anderson discuss 1770’s slave freedom possibilities through Nova Scotia. Ken Thompson (left) and Ed Anderson discuss 1770’s slave freedom possibilities through Nova Scotia. In a recent OLLI session, Kathryn and Ed Anderson described a 1783 hope for freedom of enslaved people to Nova Scotia. Knowing of the site in Canada, which was subsequently named Birchtown, enslaved people were attracted to the possibility of the freedom promised them for their service during the Revolutionary War. It was not a happy piece of black history, which began in 1775 with an offer by Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia.

In 1775 with Dunmore in retreat from patriot militia threatening Williamsburg, he sought refuge aboard a British warship off Norfolk. From there, Lord Dunmore issued a proclamation offering the emancipation of slaves and indentured servant labor to all those who would flee from rebel masters and bear arms for the British crown. This proclamation brought thousands of escaped Southern slaves to the side of the British forces operating in the South. Within weeks several hundred slaves, many with their families, had joined him. They enlisted in what Dunmore called his “Ethiopian Regiment.” The regiment first fought well but eventually lost to disease and attack. This remnant, called Black Loyalists, and other British supporters were repatriated to Nova Scotia at the end of the Revolution.

The Andersons wanted to see the settlement of Birchtown and to know the full story. This settlement was the first large scale immigration of approximately 3,000 African Americans who were repatriated to Canada after the American Revolution. They visited the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, which tells the story of the betrayal, suffering, and sacrifice of black people during this tragic piece of history.

It was between April and November of 1783 when the first Black Loyalists arrived in Halifax. Since they had fought for the British Crown, they were promised the same rights, privileges, and freedom that their white counterparts were to receive. However, the black settlers were left to fend for themselves in the harsh Nova Scotia winter with virtually no livestock, guns or ammunition for hunting, lumber for housing, or capital or credit for supplies. They built A-frame type structures into the soil for homes. Eight year later, the Sierra Leone Company of London offered free passage of approximately 1,200 to the west coast of Africa where they established a free black colony. Eventually, Birchtown was mostly depopulated by 1792. A minority of white and black people fought with the British during the Revolutionary War.

“With freedom from slavery for their families as their sacred objective, black people can take pride in their role among Patriots and Loyalists in their search for freedom,” Anderson said.

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