Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Black Loyalists part 4

It has been a couple of months but this seems like another good opportunity to write an installment in the ongoing story of the Black Loyalists. I would honestly feel like I missed an opportunity If I didn't make a posting on this topic during African Heritage Month. For the earlier posts on this topic, click the Black Loyalists link on the left side of the page.

By legend, Thomas Peters was born to a noble family in western Africa some time around 1738. During his youth western Africa was in turmoil due to the slave trade. Men, women and children were being captured, marched cross country and loaded onto ships bound for America. These ships, where vermin, suffering, disease and death were common, were among the most horrific places imaginable. As with so many others, this was the reality for a young Thomas Peters. Although it is just speculation, we can assume that when he arrived in America Peters was sold at the slave markets in Charleston, South Carolina. This is likely as the first written record for Peters occurs in 1776 when he is recorded as a 38 year old slave of William Campbell of nearby Wilmington, North Carolina.

In 1775 Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia had issued a decree whereby any slave leaving their rebel (American) owner would be granted their freedom if they fought for the British. In November 1776, Thomas Peters answered this call and joined the British black regiment known as the Black Pioneers. Peters was eventually advanced to the rank of Sergeant. In 1779 Peters met a woman named Sally who had also joined the Black Pioneers. Thomas and Sally were married later that year.

As with many other Blacks, the Peters had arrived in New York by 1782. It is here that they waited for transport to British lands after the War of Independence ended. After first going to Bermuda, they arrived in Annapolis Royal in May of 1784. Peters quickly took up residence in Brindley Town which is located near Digby. The Black Loyalists of Annapolis County (Digby County had not yet been created) met with many of the same hardships as Black Loyalists in Birchtown. Unequal distribution of rations and unequal treatment by the authorities were again problems. Competing claims for land grants also led to conditions where the Black settlers could not hope to support themselves. In 1785, Peters moved to Saint John, New Brunswick in an attempt to secure land. This was as unsuccessful as his earlier attempts. This begins a period where Peters petitions the Colonial administration for the land that the Black Loyalists were entitled to.

By 1790, Peters had unsuccessfully petitioned the Crown five times. In a growing state of frustration, Peters was given the power of attorney by hundreds of Blacks in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. With this in hand, he proceeded to London, England where he was to petition the Crown directly. On his arrival Peters met the English abolitionist Granville Sharpe. It is through Sharpe that Peters was eventually able to make his presentation to the secretary of state for the Home Department, Henry Dundas. Dundas was presented with documents outlining the ill treatment of the Black Loyalists as well as their inability to acquire land. As a result of these discussions combined with previous work by the Sierra Leone Company, the government agreed to pay for the cost of transporting Black Loyalists to Sierra Leone.

This seems like another natural break in the story. We are getting closer to the long awaited return to Africa. The next installment will deal with the efforts to recruit settlers in Nova Scotia to re-establish a recently destroyed colony in Sierra Leone. I have borrowed today's image from the Black Loyalists: Our History Our People website.

All for now,
RGS

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