In late 1782, in the final days of the American Revolution, the British Army in South Carolina gathered all of its troops and equipment on the wharves of Charleston and prepared to sail for New York. Among those boarding the transport vessels were several thousand former slaves—men, women, and children—who had defected from their American masters and sought refuge and freedom among the invading British Army. In New York in 1783 an official “Book of Negroes” was created to record the names of over three thousand “black loyalists” from the American south as they were delivered to their new home in Nova Scotia. There they established a new community of free people, and the memory of their lives in the colonial South soon grew dim. Fortunately, the Book of Negroes contains a record of the origins of each of these “loyalists,” and, with a great deal of diligence, their roots can be traced back to the southern plantations on which they were once enslaved.
Charleston native Ruth Holmes Whitehead has spent many years tracing the threads of these “black loyalists” back to the lowcountry of South Carolina. Having worked at both the Charleston Museum and the Nova Scotia Museum, Ms. Whitehead used her knowledge of the history of each community to plumb the silent names in the Book of Negroes and bring their stories of migration back to life. Many Canadians, especially those of the Maritime Provinces, are familiar with this important story; now it’s time for South Carolinians to catch up.
Want to learn more about this fascinating part of forgotten lowcountry history? You’re invited to join us at the Charleston County Public Library this week as we welcome Ruth Holmes Whitehead back to Charleston and celebrate the publication of her long-awaited book, Black Loyalists: Southern Settlers of Nova Scotia’s First Free Black Communities (Nimbus Publishing, 2013).
Time: Wednesday, November 6th 2013 at 3 p.m.
Place: Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.
For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.