Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Social Science African American Studies

Black Loyalists

Southern Settlers of Nova Scotia's First Free Black Communities

by (author) Ruth Holmes Whitehead

Nimbus Publishing
Initial publish date
May 2013
African American Studies, North America, Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2013
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


During the American Revolution (1775-1783), the British government offered freedom to slaves who would desert their rebel masters as a way of ruining the American economy. Many Black men and women escaped to the British fleet patrolling the East Coast, or to the British armies invading the colonies from Maine to Georgia.

After the final surrender of the British to the Americans, New York City was evacuated by the British Army throughout the summer and fall of 1783. Carried away with them were a vast number of White Loyalists and their families, and over 3,000 Black Loyalists: free, indentured, apprenticed, or still enslaved. More than 2,700 Blacks came to Nova Scotia with the fleet from New York City.

Black Loyalists is an attempt to present hard data about the lives of Nova Scotia Black Loyalists before they escaped slavery in early South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and after they settled in Nova Scotia to bring back into our awareness the context for some very brave and enterprising men and women who survived the chaos of the American Revolution, people who found a way to pass through the heart, ironically, of a War for Liberty, to liberty and human dignity.

Includes an insert of 20 historical images and documents.

About the author

Ruth Holmes Whitehead has worked since 1972 for the Nova Scotia Museum, since 2003 as a Curator Emerita and Research Associate. She has authored or co-authored twenty books, including Stories from the Six Worlds, The Old Man Told Us, Black Loyalists, and Ancestral Images. In 1995, she was awarded a Doctorate of Laws, honoris causa, by St. Francis Xavier University. In 2014, Dr. Whitehead was inducted into the Order of Nova Scotia. She lives in Halifax.

Ruth Holmes Whitehead's profile page


  • Short-listed, Lela Common Award for Canadian History (Canadian Authors' Association)
  • Short-listed, Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Non-fiction)
  • Winner, Atlantic Book Award for Scholary Writing

Editorial Reviews

p>The Black Loyalists illuminates a fascinating and moving episode of history I'd known nothing about. There are so many paradoxes, not least that black people should fight on the side of the King - for the promise of freedom - in the very war which Americans fought for independence. It was not an easy transition. Many of the men joined the Loyalist armies as soldiers. But what about families what about the women? The children? And what happened when the British surrendered? The American forces under George Washington demanded the restoration of property, including slaves, and it fell to individual British commanders to interpret orders and make decisions on whether to honour early promises. Some Black Loyalists were abandoned, but for those who made it Nova Scotia, there were still many challenges to face: home-building, earning a living, and coping with often hostile attitudes from local communities.

Ruth Holmes Whitehead took eighteen years to write and research this book which is both a work of scholarship and a labour of love, gracefully and clearly written with some poignant personal touches.

Katherine Langrish

"In her new book, Whitehead succeeds in providing readers with sound analysis of primary source evidence that reveals the inhumane treatment of Black Loyalists living in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida who were bought and sold like commodities prior to escaping to Nova Scotia." — (US)

Other titles by Ruth Holmes Whitehead

Related lists