The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.


Part Twenty-Three: Thomas Peters—Symbol of the Struggle for Freedom

As a result of this turn of events, ex-African American slaves were struggling on both sides of the conflict as revolutionaries and freedom fighters. One of the symbols of the African American presence in the Revolutionary Struggle was Thomas Peters, who has been described as a "Black Moses," because he helped lead his people back to Africa. His story stands as a testament to thousands of Blacks who fought for freedom and have been forgotten. His efforts reflect the strength of character and group solidarity that his contemporaries manifested and left as a legacy of struggle for posterity.

Peters was a slave of one William Campbell in Wilmington, North Carolina, who ran away to the British lines. Later, his wife-to-be, Sally, also fled her master in Charleston, South Carolina, and gained her freedom. His desire for freedom and his ability to lead men earned him the rank of Sergeant in the Companies of the Black Pioneers. After the war was over in 1783, he evacuated the United States with other British Loyalists and sailed to Nova Scotia in Canada, where he continued to use his leadership capabilities to help the thousands of Black Refugees carve out a new life for themselves in the barren wilderness, clinging to the hope and promise of land.

Over fourteen thousand African Americans left the United States when the British armies evacuated. Most of them were ex-slaves who answered the call of Lord Dunmore and other British Commanders, such as General Clinton. Some of these African American Refugees went to Florida, then British territory; others to the West Indies; a few to England and thousands went to Nova Scotia in Canada. All of these people remained loyal to the British Crown, and expected to receive land and support to start a new life. All of them waited patiently in makeshift settlements, hoping to receive the means to become self-supporting.

In most instances, the promise of land was not fulfilled and the Blacks in Canada found themselves neglected or exploited as a cheap labor pool for white loyalists, some of whom had brought their slaves with them. In this alien environment, the ties that African Americans had forged in the Revolutionary Struggle were reinforced as survival mechanisms. These ex-slaves turned soldiers continued to maintain a paramilitary structure to control their settlements and prevent chaos. The churches and mutual laid societies they had established in America during the Revolutionary era were strengthened so that everyone could share some of the meager resources.

Schools were built furthering the hope of a better future for the next generation.

During the years of their exile in Canada, the Black Refugees waited patiently for redress of their grievances against the royal government of the colony. When their petitions were not heeded, they drew up a list of grievances to present to the British Crown itself. They drafted one of their leaders, Thomas Peters, an ex-Sergeant of the Black Pioneers, to deliver the document personally to authorities in London. Peters arrived in London in1791, using funds raised by his community and working as a hired hand to help pay his passage across the Atlantic Ocean.

When the Great English abolitionists, Grandville Sharp, William Wilberforce, and Thomas Clarkson heard about the petition by Peters, they agreed to support the demands he was making on behalf of himself and other Black Pioneers and Refugees in Nova Scotia, Canada. An important friendship developed between them.

They also explained to Peters that they had initiated a project to return people of African descent living in England to Africa. The first group of more than three hundred had sailed in 1787 to Freetown, Sierra Leone on the West Coast of Africa. The experimental colony was floundering, however, and needed new blood.

The English Abolitionists told Thomas Peters that he could offer his people in Canada the prospect of going home to Africa. When Peters returned to Canada he had two offers to give to his people. One was granted by the King of England who declared their petition and grievances justified and that they were entitled to land grants in Canada. Many of the African Americans transplanted in Canada accepted this offer.

In addition, Thomas Peters also had the offer made by the Abolitionists to leave Canada and return to Africa. The prospect of going home to the Motherland excited thousands of the African American refugees in Canada and many volunteered to go. In fact, many more wanted to go than there were places in the ships. Finally, on January 16, 1792 a flotilla of fifteen ships with more than one thousand one hundred ninety, African American men, women, and children sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Thomas Peters sailed with them and was one of the important leaders. Their settlement was successful and they kept this historical experiment alive. They were successful because they were already organized in churches and had already developed their schools and mutual aid societies and fraternal groups. They transplanted and nurtured these institutions on the West Coast of Africa and opened the era of modern development for the continent. Thomas Peters, ex-slave from Virginia who fled slavery to freedom during the Revolutionary War and fought to preserve his liberty, was a true symbol of freedom. His strength and character were representative of thousands of African Americans who fought on both sides of the American Revolutionary War for the principle of freedom and contributed to the growth of America, the Caribbean, Canada and Africa.


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