Title of Abstract

Black Loyalists: African American Migration During the American Revolutionary War

Submitting Student(s)

Nicole Holbert

Faculty Sponsor (for work done with a non-Winthrop mentor)

O. Jennifer Dixon-McKnight, Ph.D.

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Department

History

Abstract

In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, released a document offering emancipation to all slaves willing to serve the British in an effort to destabilize the American rebellion. While Lord Dunmore’s efforts were largely ineffective, his efforts inspired Sir Henry Clinton to offer emancipation to all slaves who sided with the British. In the aftermath of the British defeat freed African Americans, known as Black Loyalists, were evacuated to British territories including Nova Scotia, London, the Bahamas, and Sierra Leone. A complicated social dynamic emerged among the black population in these areas, as British territory still operated as a slave society, and as such, a nuanced social class system emerged. This was comprised of freeborn Black Loyalists, African American refugees, Loyalist slaves, and sequestered slaves. The residual British slave state highlights that their efforts towards African Americans stemmed not from altruism, but rather to use them as pawns in a larger strategic plan that ultimately failed. While technically free, Black Loyalists faced large-scale discrimination, oppression, and servitude in a society that did not know how to receive them within the larger context of their own racism. An examination of primary and secondary documents reveals the complex social experience of being free and black within a slave society and illuminates how the British created a new system of bondage for African Americans through the guise of hope.

Start Date

15-4-2022 12:00 PM

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Apr 15th, 12:00 PM

Black Loyalists: African American Migration During the American Revolutionary War

In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, released a document offering emancipation to all slaves willing to serve the British in an effort to destabilize the American rebellion. While Lord Dunmore’s efforts were largely ineffective, his efforts inspired Sir Henry Clinton to offer emancipation to all slaves who sided with the British. In the aftermath of the British defeat freed African Americans, known as Black Loyalists, were evacuated to British territories including Nova Scotia, London, the Bahamas, and Sierra Leone. A complicated social dynamic emerged among the black population in these areas, as British territory still operated as a slave society, and as such, a nuanced social class system emerged. This was comprised of freeborn Black Loyalists, African American refugees, Loyalist slaves, and sequestered slaves. The residual British slave state highlights that their efforts towards African Americans stemmed not from altruism, but rather to use them as pawns in a larger strategic plan that ultimately failed. While technically free, Black Loyalists faced large-scale discrimination, oppression, and servitude in a society that did not know how to receive them within the larger context of their own racism. An examination of primary and secondary documents reveals the complex social experience of being free and black within a slave society and illuminates how the British created a new system of bondage for African Americans through the guise of hope.