The network premiere of the miniseries “Book of Negroes” on BET television has caught the attention of our next young, gifted, and Black generation! The series chronicles the life of Aminata Diallo, a West African Jeli (or ‘griot’, storyteller), an adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s “Book of Negroes.”
Her character is based on the true story of Black Loyalists.
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The REAL Book of Negroes
– 1 –
Most enslaved Africans, at the peak of the slave trading economy, were captured and sold on the coasts of West Africa.
By 1775, over 300k Africans were enslaved.
Slave labor was essential to the economies of southern states, especially the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia.
Enslaved Africans outnumbered whites in several colonies that created a deep fear of uprising.
Eventually political opposition turned into armed conflict as political tensions grew, division ran deep between colonists who were Loyalist to the British crown and Patriots who rejected it.
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As the American Revolution waged on, the British were so outnumbered that Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, announced the first mass emancipation of enslaved Africans and Native Americans.
Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation of 1775 called all able-bodied to slaves to run away from their Patriotic masters and join the British forces in exchange for protection and freedom after the war.
Over 300 enslaved Africans risked life, limb, and family to experience freedom in the British Navy despite rumors of broken promises within the first week of the proclamation’s printing.
The British Army doubled and African runaways were trained on the basics of shooting, marching, and outfitted in special uniforms with “Liberty To Slaves” stitched on the breast of their uniforms.
Over 800 African soldiers were recruited and formed the Royal Ethiopian Regimen.
– 3 –
After losing over 500 soldiers from the Royal Ethiopian Regimen, Sir Henry Clinton issued the Phillipsburg Proclamation which expanded Lord Dunmore Proclamation, declaring economic war on the colonies.
Colonel Tye and Thomas Peters, would have been organized in small, guerrilla corps and assigned them to various units as military engineers to work under heavy fire or in the most dangerous conditions.
The most famous of the Black Loyalist military units, the Black Pioneers and Black Guides, served as scouts and raiders. The Jersey Shore Volunteers, King’s American Dragons, and the Jamaica Rangers were some of the popular Black Loyalist units.
The Black Brigade was the most successful band of guerrillas, most known for raiding Patriot plantations and conducted assassinations across New Jersey, partnered with white Loyalists to retain supplies that supported the British Navy.
Although African soldiers were not allowed to be commissioned officers, the British Navy honored Black Brigade’s Colonel Tye, who became one of the most respected and celebrated as the most effective soldiers of the American Revolution.
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When the British surrendered, Loyalists of all nationalities began fleeing the United States to the West Indies or Canada.
The British military leaders made it a priority to keep the promise made to free Black Loyalists who were considered free British citizens during the time of war.
The Peace Treaty of Paris in 1782 recognized the independence of American colonies, reparations were made for seized property of Loyalists, and formal British territories were established.
Commander George Washington declared Black Loyalists were property of America and should be returned because they were noted as stolen property in the Treaty.
Patriots, furious with the peace agreement, traveled to the British territories to retrieve their runaway slaves by any means necessary, including kidnapping.
– 5 –
To facilitate the promise of freedom amidst chaos and confusion, British General Carleton made formal arrangements with American leaders to compensate slave owners for freed slaves.
Brigadier General Birch began issuing Certificates of Freedom to Black Loyalists who could prove their length of service.
A log book, known as Carleton’s Book of Negroes, was developed to record thousands of Black Loyalists who received certificates to properly compensate slave owners.
During the spring and summer of 1783, over 5,000 Black Loyalists were relocated to British ports in England, Florida, and Nova Scotia in Canada which officially granted the status of free men.
The book is bound with each Black Loyalist passengers leaving New York on British ships name, age, physical description, and free or slave status, owner’s name and address handwritten.