Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Black Loyalists: Southern Settlers of Nova Scotia's First Free Black Communities by Ruth Holmes Whitehead

Published by Nimbus Publishing
Reviewed for Edwards Book Club

This historic non-fiction book has increased my awareness of many things I didn't know or recall, both in 1700s America and in Canada. Ruth Holmes Whitehead has done her research well, and from very good sources. She has written the book in three major parts: the Slave Trade years; the British-American skirmishes of the 18th century and finally the American Revolution; and the eventual escape to freedom in Nova Scotia, slaves and freemen alike. Many of the original slaves were a mixture of three or more races: African, Native Americans primarily of the south and whites. These are basically the divisions of the book, but there is more to each part than I am including. There are also some photos, drawings, prints and records included in the book.

What I find fascinating is the number of Black Loyalists whose family tree has been recovered and recorded, even occasionally going right back to Africa. This is amazing research. There are many citations and quotes in the book, perhaps a few more than necessary but all give an excellent picture of life in these centuries.

This is the first known record of biological warfare being used (in the wars of the late 1700s). The virus which became a part of the wars was smallpox, and it was indeed used as a targeted weapon. So, we have the horrors of slavery, the horrors of war, and possibly the biggest killer, smallpox.

Part three brings us to the final routing of the British from the Carolinas and other southern provinces. From this point negotiations begin between the Americans and the British. Negotiations meaning mostly the fate of the slaves, freed or not, as this was almost the only "currency" left, the land being totally devastated.

This section also brings us to the early part of the movement of the Black Loyalists and escaped slaves toward what is now Canada, to Nova Scotia, the establishment of Black settlements, and the group of Black Africans that had paired up with these slaves and with Native North Americans. Loyalists who requested a return to Africa carried on to settle in Sierra Leone. This movement becomes a source or resource for genealogy today and some people are able to actually trace their ancestry to the original lands in Africa from which they came.

It was not all smooth sailing to eventually reach this northern clime however. Many were "dumped" at separate and often barren locations along the way. The author is to be commended for the amazing research she has done putting this cohesive work together both in the book and in the Nova Scotia Museum. There is so much more than I can say in this book, excellent coverage of a difficult time in North American history.

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