J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Assembling Individual Information on Black Loyalists

The Black Loyalist website reproduces the names in the “Book of Negroes” compiled by British authorities as they evacuated New York in 1783, listing all the people of African descent who chose to maintain freedom in the British Empire instead of taking a chance in the new, still slave-holding republic. And then it adds more information.

The website describes itself this way:
Working on the principle that enslaved African Americans were not just a faceless, nameless, undifferentiated mass, but individuals with complex life experiences, this site seeks to provide as much biographical data as can be found for the individual people who ran away to join the British during the American Revolution and were evacuated as free people in 1783.
The website grew out of Prof. Cassandra Pybus’s research for Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty, and was funded by the Australian Research Council. (Pybus teaches at the University of Sydney.)

The site is a work in progress. The first postings comprised “biographical and demographic information for the largest cohort, about 1000 people from Norfolk, Virginia, and surrounding counties.” Last year’s additions included “major findings as to the movement of Quakers and their slaves.” Among the planned updates are data on “the slaves of prominent individuals such as George Washington, George Wythe and Robert Pleasants.”

Pleasants was a Virginian Quaker who became an abolitionist. He was the recipient of Patrick Henry’s frank 1773 letter that deplored keeping slaves but acknowledged “ye. general inconvenience of living without them.”

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