Black Loyalists in New Brunswick, 1783-1854

Exploring the Lives of Black Loyalists

For many of the half million African Americans living in the Thirteen Colonies in the late eighteenth century, the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) was also their war for independence. The British, seeking to undermine the American Patriot war effort, offered freedom and security to slaves who ran away from their masters.

About 3500 free Black Loyalists were among at least 35,000 people who left the United States at the end of the war to settle in what are now the Maritime provinces of Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Some of the Loyalists owned slaves, who had no option other than to accompany their masters into exile. Of the 5000 African Americans, enslaved and free, who joined the Loyalist migration northward, roughly one-third settled in New Brunswick, a colony carved out of Nova Scotia for the Loyalists in 1784.

For the free Black Loyalists, the hardships of pioneer life in New Brunswick were increased by the discrimination they faced due to their colour. Authorities were slow to survey their land grants and, when grants were finally authorized, they were almost always smaller and located in less desirable areas than those offered to other Loyalists.

This website features petitions relating to land grants in colonial New Brunswick in which African Americans were either the petitioners or the land granted to African Americans is the subject of attention. Dating from 1783 to 1854, the collection includes petitions from African Americans who fought in the War of 1812-14 between the United States and Great Britain under inducments similar to those that prevailed during the American Revolution. Nearly 400 of the 3000 African Americans who were emancipated from slavery as a result of the second war between Great Britain and the United States were brought to New Brunswick in 1815. Known as "Black Refugees" to distinguish them from the "Black Loyalists," they, too, suffered from the reluctance of authorities to issue land grants in a timely manner and in the same generous spirit accorded to white settlers.

The Petitions

Written between 1783 and 1854, the collection consists of petitions from African Americans who moved to New Brunswick during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Browse the collection by name, date, or keyword.

Historical Context

Read biographies of some of the African Americans who were part of the Loyalist migration to New Brunswick.

Learn more about the Black Loyalist experience in the image gallery and selected writings.

For further reading, browse our bibliography of Black Loyalist sources.

For Teachers & Students

Browse learning resources designed to promote historical thinking. Students are encouraged to use primary and secondary sources to explore the lives of Black Loyalists who settled in New Brunswick.