War of 1812

Image: Death of General Brock at the battle of Queenston Heights, October 13th, 1812 (artwork by John Walker, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-006487)

On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain, which was at that time in a life and death struggle with Napoleon and France. Much of the war was fought at sea and on the Great Lakes but the American army also tried to invade Canada, then part of the British Empire.

Blacks fought on both sides of the war, many with the US Navy. (Blacks made up somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of sailors manning the American ships on the Great Lakes.)

In Canada thousands of Black volunteers fought for the British. Fearing that the invading Americans would return them to slavery, many Blacks in Upper Canada served heroically in Black and regular regiments. The British promise of freedom and land united many escaped slaves under the British flag. Despite many restrictions barring them from service in the army, exceptions were always made for Black musicians. For example, it is thought that Black musicians filled out the ranks of the mostly Gaelic-speaking Glengarry Light Infantry Regiment of Upper Canada.

Another notable exception was the Coloured Corps, an Upper Canadian regiment made up of Blacks from the Niagara region. In 1812 Richard Pierpoint, a former slave who had won his freedom by fighting for the British in the American Revolution, petitioned the government to form a Black regiment. His request was granted with the condition that the commanding officer would be a White man. Pierpoint himself joined on as a private. The unit consisted of about 30 men from the Niagara region, many of whom had escaped slavery in the United States. The men fought bravely at the critical Battle of Queenston Heights.

The British Royal Navy did not have the same racial restrictions imposed by the British army. (Canadian hero William Hall had served with the Royal Navy earlier.) In 1814, Black regiments from the West Indies were employed during the naval campaign against New Orleans. After the war, the British settled a significant number of these sailors and their families in Canada, particularly Nova Scotia.

To Stand and Fight Together: Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada
A review of a book that chronicles the participation of Black men who fought for the British during the War of 1812. From the Manitoba Library Association website.

To Stand and Fight Together: Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada
Click on “Preview this Book” and then scroll down to page 73 for an account of the formation of the “Coloured Corps” in Upper Canada during the War of 1812. From From the Google Books website.

Admiral Cochrane's proclamation
Read a digitized copy of Admiral Cochrane's proclamation which invited Americans to desert to the British side during the War of 1812. A Government of Nova Scotia website.

The Black loyalists: the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia
Scroll down to page 389 for information about the Cochrane Proclamation. From Google Books.

Richard Pierpoint
A biography of Richard Pierpoint, soldier, militiaman, labourer, and farmer. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Richard Pierpoint
Read the text of "The Petition of Richard Pierpoint" submitted by Richard Pierpoint to Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland following his service to the British during the War of 1812. From the website for Parks Canada.

African Americans at war: War of 1812
Click on “Preview this Book” and then scroll down to page 151 for an overview of the role of Blacks in various military services on the British side in the War of 1812. From Google Books.

Edith Clayton
Scroll down to page 24 to read a profile of renowned basket weaver Edith Clayton, a descendent of “refuge Blacks” who arrived in Nova Scotia aboard British ships during the War of 1812. From the book The Haligonians: 100 Fascinating Lives from the Halifax Region. From Google Books.

We Are Rooted Here and They Can't Pull Us Up: Essays in African Canadian Women's History
Scroll down to page 32 to "The Women Among Them" for a brief note about actions leading to the War of 1812 and the subsequent plight of Africans who migrated to Nova Scotia from the US. By Sylvia Hamilton. From the Our Roots website.