During the American Revolution, one man was especially feared by the rebels. He was Colonel Tye, leader of the ferocious Black Brigade. He earned the rank of “colonel” not from the British, but from the men who fought beside him in an elite commando force.
Tye was among the 800 Blacks who responded to the Governor of Virginia’s call to arms in 1775. The last thing Lord Dunsmore wanted, he said, was to declare war. But with American rebels firing on British ships, he had no choice. In a startling innovation, he included “Negroes” in his appeal for men. Dunsmore formed the Blacks into their own company, trained them and gave them uniforms embroidered with the words, “Freedom to Slaves.” On December 10, 1775, the former slaves marched to war. Tragically, within weeks, battle and disease had reduced them to just 300 men. Colonel Tye survived to 1780, when he too died of his wounds.
The British promised slaves their freedom in return for loyalty. Some slaves joined the army. Others fled to British-held cities, such as New York, where they supported the cause as civilians until the final defeat of the British. In 1783, as some 30,000 Loyalist refugees trailed wearily north, 3,550 former slaves went with them. These new arrivals formed the first free Black community in Canada.
BLACK LOYALIST EXPERIENCE. NATIONAL HISTORIC EVENT OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1993. PLAQUE: BIRCHTOWN, NOVA SCOTIA
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Visit “Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia,” an online exhibit produced by the Museum of Nova Scotia and featured on the Virtual Museum of Canada site.