I was lying in bed this morning listening to the CBC radio's coverage of the results from the American election. Whatever your political stripes, this is seemingly a momentous day and I felt that it would be nice to be relevant in my heritage based way. As I was lying there wondering what to write, a voice from Annapolis Royal's recent past came across the airwaves and I immediately knew what I should discuss. Part of the local CBC coverage of the American election took place at a gathering in Halifax last night. One of the people interviewed was former Annapolis Royal Mayor, Daurene Lewis. Among her many accomplishments, Daurene was the first black, female mayor in Canada when she was elected in 1984.
Daurene Lewis, as with most of the African Nova Scotians living around Annapolis Royal, is a descendant of the Black Loyalists. In fact, Rose Fortune, the image at the top of this post is one of Daurene's direct Black Loyalist ancestors. Who were the Black Loyalists? Why did they come to Nova Scotia?
The Loyalists themselves are a complicated group. Truthfully, the only thing which binds the Loyalists together as a group is that they all left the newly minted United States at the end of the American Revolution. Their were a great many reasons for leaving. Some were legitimately remaining loyal to the British Crown. Others were seeking new economic opportunities and grants of land. Some arrived through mixed up circumstances and would quickly return to the United States. Finally, some were fleeing slavery and others arrived as slaves. These last two groups, the freed slaves and those still enslaved have come to be known as the Black Loyalists.
As the American revolution was progressing, the British Crown issued various proclamations which offered American slaves their freedom in exchange for fighting for the British. A great many slaves took advantage of these offers by escaping from their owners and joining the British ranks. In many cases, living conditions for Blacks in the British military were not much better than enslavement.
Toward the end of the war in 1783, many freed and escaped slaves had made their way to New York City. New York was the last of the British strongholds and as such was a relatively safe refuge for those trying to escape slavery. Safety did not mean ideal or even adequate living conditions. Many Blacks were living in accomodations not much better than tents and wooden boxes.
With the war's end, the British began to evacuate their subjects to areas still governed by the Crown including Nova Scotia. Much to the delight of genealogists, a log was kept of all of the Blacks who were evacuated. This log, commonly referred to as the "Book of Negroes", was written partially so that any disputed claims over the ownership of freed slaves could be settled. The descriptions in this book also allow descendants to know if they were descended from a "stout wench", a "fine boy" or someone who was "worn out".
Due to the scope of this story, another installement in the saga of the Black Loyalists will have to wait for a future post. Rest assured, there will be hardships, a riot, and even a voyage to Sierra Leone.
All for now,