September 05, 2012

The Coloured Corps

During the War of 1812, a number of Blacks served in both the British and American armies. These men often fought side by side with their white counterparts and frequently distinguished themselves in battle.

In Upper Canada slavery was limited in 1793, which was the first piece of legislation in the British Empire to limit slavery. This act was introduced after an incident in March 1793 when Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman in Queenstown, was bound, thrown in a boat and sold across the river to a new owner in the U.S. Her distress caught the attention of Peter Martin, a free Black and former soldier in Butler’s Rangers. Martin convinced Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe to introduce legislation to ban slavery. Simcoe managed to pass a law that prevented the further introduction of slaves into Upper Canada, but it did not abolish slavery in Upper Canada.

Plaque located at Queenston Heights
In the Niagara Region during the War of 1812 there was a small British unit raised that was comprised of Black soldiers. When the war started Richard Pierpoint, a freed ex-slave who served in Butler’s Rangers, petitioned Major-General Sir Isaac Brock to form an all-Black militia unit. With Brock’s approval a small militia unit formed under Captain Robert Runchey, know as Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men. At the age of 68 Pierpoint served as a private under the command of white officers.

The new ‘Coloured Corps’ fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights where they were mentioned in reports as having been influential in the British victory. In 1813 the corps fought in the Battle of Fort George and by 1814 the unit was converted into an artificer unit where they helped to build fortifications and perform as blacksmiths. After the war, many veterans of the Coloured Corps received land grants in the Niagara.

On October 13 and 14, make sure you make your way to Queenston Heights to see the reenactment of this infamous battle where this corps distinguished themselves. The reenactment will include a morning march from Fort George to Queenston Heights, guided tours, and a battle reenactment at 3 p.m. Click here for more details.

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