Winslow Papers

The Black Loyalists

Over ten percent of the Loyalists were African Americans.1 The majority of them were slaves who were encouraged with promises of freedom to join the British cause. Over 3000 Black Loyalists emigrated to the Maritimes with hopes of a better life. In theory, they had reason for such optimism. The Black Loyalists had been promised equal treatment with their white counterparts with respect to land grants and provisions. In practice, their land grants were smaller and their provisions less generous. Given the their former position as slaves, the white Loyalists proved unwilling to accept them as their equals, despite the great valour shown during the American Revolutionary War by many African Americans, such as George Black, a freed slave described in a 1783 letter from Isaac Allen to Edward Winslow as a "brave fellow" for his conduct during the conflict.2 Whatever their status, people with black skin were regarded as inferior to whites, and they were denied many of the privileges taken for granted by whites. They could not vote, they were forbidden from fishing in the St. John river, and were seated separately within the Anglican church.

The position of the Black Loyalists was compounded by the institution of slavery, which most white Loyalists condoned. Many of the Loyalist elite, including Edward Winslow, were slave owners, and the collection contains numerous references to their slaves and servants.3 One thing made clear in the collection is the distinction in status made by the colonial elite between their white and black servants. In a 1784 letter to his wife, Winslow drew a sharp distinction between John Porter, a "scotch boy," whose training included the possibility of schooling, and his "Black boy" Frank, who was segregated because of his colour.4 While the documentary evidence is slight, the existence of black Winslows in New Brunswick who claim Edward Winslow as their ancestor suggests that he had sexual relations with at least one of his servants. One of Winslow's supposed black descendants, Martha Mathilda "Tilley" Winslow, became in 1905 the first black woman to graduate from the University of New Brunswick.

Corey Slumkoski
University of New Brunswick


1. For works that examine the Black Loyalists see James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992); Robin Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History, 2nd. Ed. (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997); W. A. Spray, "The Settlement of Black Refugees in New Brunswick, 1815-1836," Acadiensis VI, 2 (Spring 1977), pp. 64-79; Barry Cahill, "The Black Loyalist Myth in Atlantic Canada," Acadiensis XXIX, 1 (Autumn 1999), pp. 76-87; and James W. St. G. Walker, "Myth, History and Revisionism: The Black Loyalists Revisited," Acadiensis XXIX, 1 (Autumn 1999), pp. 88-105. Back

2. Letter from Isaac Allen to Edward Winslow, June 1783, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 2-103. Back

3. See for example Letter from Edward Winslow Sr. to Edward Winslow, 20 June 1783, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 2-97. Back

4. Letter from Edward Winslow to Mary Winslow, 24 September 1784, in Edward Winslow Letter Book #7, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 24-7. Back

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