Let’s Talk About….Black Loyalist Heritage Centre

February being Black History Month, thought I’d share this bit with you:

If your knowledge of Black History in America was as spotty as mine then when those terms come up, you first think of southern slavery and possibly some in colonial New England. But Canada? Nova Scotia? Yes, indeed!

One of Canada’s best kept secrets, the largest free Black settlement in the 1780s where people voted with their free for freedom, is the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. This is a unique historical site, nestled in beautiful Birchtown on the western shores of Shelburne Harbour in Nova Scotia. 

This Centre (yes, centre…. Canadian spelling) tells the story of the arrival of the Black Loyalists seeking freedom on these shores at the end of the 18th century. At that time, they represented the largest free Black settlement outside of Africa. 

A quote from their website:  Welcome to the Black Loyalists Digital Collections site.

This site explores an untold story of our nation’s history: how Canada became the home of the first settlements of free blacks outside Africa.

As Revolution began in the thirteen American colonies in the late 1770s, the British were badly outnumbered. When in desperation they promised freedom to any slave of a rebel who fought the Americans on their behalf, the response was greater than they could have imagined; as many as 30 000 slaves escaped to British lines. Working as soldiers, labourers, pilots, cooks, and musicians, they were a major part of the unsucessful British war effort. As defeat became inevitable, these free blacks were evacuated to Nova Scotia with the other Loyalists.

But their hoped-for promised land never arrived. Their land was never granted, and most were reduced to a position not so different from slavery, where they were dependent on the meagre wages they could earn from manual labour. In the end most chose to seek a new life in Sierra Leone, away from the cold lands where they had experienced so much prejudice.

This is the story of those Black Loyalists.