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The Loyalists

Who Were the Loyalists?
Background information for Teachers

Biographies of the Loyalist Era

Thomas Peters, Black Loyalist

Thomas Peters was born in about 1738 in West Africa. Research tells us he was part of the royal family of the Yoruba tribe (the Yoruba people still live in West Africa in Lagos and Nigeria). At about the age of 18, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He died in Freetown, Sierra Leone (Africa) on June 25, 1792.

He was a strong young man, both physically and mentally. He was considered a valuable worker because of his strength. He was also thought of as dangerous because he often tried to escape slavery. Because he tried to escape, he was shackled in chains with an iron belt around his waist. Later, he was branded with a hot metal iron. Just after 1770, he became the property of William Campbell of Wilmington, North Carolina, and worked on the Campbell Plantation.

Soon after, the British Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, realized he had very few soldiers to fight the American Patriots. He passed a law in 1775 that allowed black slaves to become "free" if they joined the army. This group of Black Loyalist soldiers became known as the Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment. In 1776, Thomas Peters escaped from the Campbell Plantation and joined the regiment. He served as a soldier in two battles before the regiment had to escape from Norfolk, Virginia back to New York. For the rest of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Peters fought for the British, ending up as a sergeant who had been wounded twice.

When the War ended in 1783, Thomas Peters was in New York. He had married another runaway slave, named Sally. In 1784, he left New York with many other black soldiers and white Loyalists. They were evacuated to Nova Scotia. The Black Loyalists settled across from Shelburne, Nova Scotia in a community known as Birchtown. Later, they and many other Black Pioneer soldiers moved to Digby, Nova Scotia, on the Bay of Fundy.

Their life, like many of the Loyalists, was hard. They had been promised free farmland, but were given forest land instead. They had to clear the land before it could be used for farming. While white Loyalists usually received grants of 100 acres, the Black Loyalists received only 50 acres or even smaller town lots. As some were unable to make a living as farmers, they became workers in Saint John, New Brunswick. There the inequality continued as they were not allowed to be free citizens because they were black. Many of the Black Loyalists protested, repeating the promises made to them by the British government when they fought for the British. Thomas Peters became one of their leaders and wrote petitions asking for land grants.

In 1790, Thomas Peters managed to travel to England with a petition to complain directly to the British government. He told them what the Black Loyalists had gone through for the Army and repeated the promises made to them. The government, surprisingly, listened to Thomas Peters' complaints and agreed to do something. When Peters proposed that a number of Black Loyalists would be happy to return to their native Africa, the government agreed to help them. With the help of the Sierra Leone Company, each Black Loyalist and their families would travel free to the British colony of Sierra Leone. They would be given 20 or more acres of land, depending on the size of their family. (Sierra Leone was located on the Atlantic coast of Africa, just north of the equator.)

When he returned to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Thomas Peters convinced about 1200 Black Loyalists and their families to leave America and go to Africa. The Governor of Nova Scotia gave them ships and supplies. On January 15, 1792, they left for their new home. They arrived at the capital city called Freetown soon after. Unfortunately, Thomas Peters never enjoyed his hard fought dream. He died of fever only a few months after arriving at Freetown.

Most Black Loyalists who went to Sierra Leone did not find their reward for being loyal. They were able to govern themselves and were truly free, but many of them paid a heavy price for their freedom. They lived in even worst conditions than in America and many did not get the land grants the British government promised. Many died of sickness and poverty.