Remembering Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia
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The Story

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A difficult life for Black Loyalists

 Cemetery at Upper Big Tracadie  
Cemetery, Upper Big Tracadie
Photo by Ruth Holmes Whitehead,
Nova Scotia Museum
 

Resettlement was hard for White Loyalists, but it was worse for Black Loyalists. Nova Scotia, under the direction of Governor Parr, was not prepared for the arrival of so many people. Many arrived late in the fall and had no opportunity to clear land, build a home, or plant crops. Many spent the winter in tents and makeshift huts in the thick woods. Others built pit homes.

The British had promised free land and rations for three years to the Black Loyalists. A family was supposed to receive 100 acres for each family head and 50 acres for each person in the household (wife, son, daughter or servant). Each military officer was to receive 1000 acres; a private was to receive 100 acres. But it never happened that way. Out of 649 Black men, only 187 received land. Those who served in the Black Pioneer militia companies received very little land and in many cases none at all. The exception was Colonel Stephen Blucke at Birchtown who received 200 acres of land at Birchtown, but had to wait four years to get it..

 

 Map of Tracadie Harbour

  Click on the map for more detail.  Click to Enlarge 95k


During the initial settlement in the 1700s, Tracadie was an all-inclusive place-name for the area that today has been split into the smaller communities of Tracadie, Big Tracadie, Monastery, Rear Monastery, East Tracadie, and Upper Big Tracadie. Most of the Brownspriggs grant was located around East Tracadie, Monastery and Rear Monastery.

The Black Loyalists who moved to Chedabucto from Port Mouton got fed up with being landless. In 1787, their representative, Thomas Brownspriggs, presented a petition to the government signed by seventy-four people requesting land. By September of that year, 74 Black Loyalist families were granted 3000 acres in Tracadie, around the mouth of Tracadie Harbor, in what was then called Sydney County and is now Guysborough and Antigonish Counties

Most Black Loyalists couldn't make a living from farming because either they had no land, or their land was unsuitable for growing crops. Black Loyalists with skills as blacksmiths, bakers, shoemakers, carpenters, teachers, ministers, coopers, boatbuilders, laundresses, seamstresses, tailors, military persons, midwives, domestics, cooks, waiters, sailors, a doctor, pilots of boats, and navigators were in a better position to make some kind of a living.

But Black workers were not paid as much as White workers. In July 1784, a group of disbanded White soldiers destroyed 20 houses of free Black Loyalists in Shelburne in what was Canada's first race riot, because the Black Loyalists who worked for a cheaper rate took work away from the White settlers.

Many of those who did not have a trade had to indenture themselves or their children to survive. Indentured Black Loyalists were treated no better than enslaved persons. Slavery was still legal and enforced in Nova Scotia at this time. People could still be bought and sold until 1834, when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. One of the biggest fears of Black Loyalists was to be kidnapped and sold in the United States or the West Indies by slave traders, who sometimes sailed along the coast of Nova Scotia. At the same time, since Nova Scotia did not have a climate to support the plantation system, many White Loyalists abandoned their slaves because they could not afford to feed them.

Poverty, epidemics and suffering were widespread among the Black Loyalists. Harsh winters, sickness, and lack of healthy food killed many. Accounts written by Black Loyalists and others at this time tell how terribly difficult it was for these new Nova Scotians.

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