February 27, 2013

Fought like devils

With Black History Month coming to an end this post looks at some of the contributions made by African Americans during the War of 1812. In 1793, Upper Canada placed limitations on slavery, which was the first piece of legislation in the British Empire to limit slavery. During the War of 1812, African Americans served in British regiments and a separate ‘Coloured Corps’ was established know as Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men.

In the United States, slavery was still practiced during the war. The U.S. Army and Navy prohibited Black men from serving in the armed forces. However, as the war dragged on the U.S. began allowing Black men to serve. Many free Black men, as well as slaves, served on U.S. privateers and merchant ships during the war. The U.S. Navy also allowed Black men to serve and after the U.S. frigate Constitution defeated the H.M.S. Guerrière, Captain Isaac Hull of the Constitution said he “had never hand any better fighters. They stripped to the waist and fought like devils … utterly insensible to the danger and … possessed with a determination to outfight the white sailors.”
War of 1812 African American soldier in the U.S. Army

During the war, there were a number of runaway slaves. Most runaway slaves fled from the Chesapeake area in response to British proclamations that offered service in the British Navy or free settlement in North America or the West Indies. It is estimated that around 4,000 slaves escaped the U.S. during the war. Many runaways settled in the Maritime Provinces where many suffered from poverty. In Nova Scotia, many died from smallpox and malnutrition.

After the war, the U.S. and Britain disagreed on which runaways must be returned. Eventually both countries agreed to arbitration from the Czar of Russia who decided that the British must pay for all slaves that were removed at the end of the war. The British agreed in 1826 to pay $1,200,000 (£244,000). 

On Saturday, March 2nd, join several prominent War of 1812 authors and historians for the Living History Conference taking place in Hamilton. There will be many different sessions taking place covering several topics involving the War of 1812. Click here to learn more and to signup for the conference.

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