Last updated on May 5th, 2021 at 01:12 am
Last Updated on May 5, 2021 Posted by Colonial Acres Coins
February is Black History Month, a time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions that Black communities have made to Canadian culture while simultaneously recognizing the obstacles and struggles that they continue to face. Appropriately, this last February marked the release of the third in a series of silver coins released by the Royal Canadian Mint to honour Black history in Canada. This most recent coin pays tribute to the Black Loyalists in the American Revolution who eventually settled in Nova Scotia.
Who Were the Black Loyalists?
During the War of American Independence, the British forces recruited thousands of people of African descent to fight against the revolutionaries. In return for their service to the British crown, the Black Loyalists were promised freedom from enslavement and ownership of their own land granted by the government. However, the term “Black Loyalist” is also understood to include people of African descent who were indentured to or enslaved by white Loyalists who brought them along to British North America when they fled the violence and warfare in the colonies that eventually became the United States.
How Did the Black Loyalists Come to Nova Scotia?
Black Loyalists who fought on the side of the British in the war were given a Certificate of Freedom signifying that they were no longer enslaved. The war ended in 1783, and between 1783 and 1785, over 3,000 Black Loyalists sailed to Nova Scotia. Most of them settled in a community called Birchtown, which became the largest settlement outside of Africa of free Black people.
While the majority of free Black Loyalists settled in Nova Scotia, there were also settlements in the Eastern Townships of modern Quebec, the Niagara Peninsula, and along the St. Lawrence River.
What Happened to Them After the War?
Though the Black veterans of the war did receive their freedom, the British government did not make good on all that they had promised. Black people made up only a small portion of the Loyalists who came to Canada following the American Revolution. Most Loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia were white, and the government tended to favour them over Black Loyalists when it came to land grants. Even though the government had promised Loyalists at least 100 acres of land, some Black Loyalists ended up with only a quarter of an acre, and that after waiting up to six years.
In addition, Black Loyalists faced prejudice and discrimination from their white neighbours that sometimes erupted into violence. The first recorded race riot in North America happened in 1784 when a mob of former white soldiers demolished the homes of a preacher and 20 other Black families in the communities of Birchtown and Shelburne.
Discontented with racial tensions, inequitable land grants, and the denial of other basic rights afforded to white settlers, approximately one-third of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia emigrated to Africa to found the community of Freetown in Sierra Leone. The remainder stayed and established a permanent Black community in Nova Scotia.
What Does the Coin’s Design Signify?
The back of the $20 commemorative coin is a reproduction of the armorial bearings of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society. The image is loaded with symbolic meaning, from the lions representing courage and pride in African heritage to the mayflowers and rocks representing settlement in Nova Scotia. An anchor represents the sacrifices that families made to undertake the journey, while three coronets represent the Black Loyalists who were non-combatants in the conflict.
The Black Loyalist Heritage Society consists of descendants of the original settlers. Their interest and pride in their heritage are expressed in their motto: “The Heart of Your Knowledge Is in Your Roots.” This motto appears on the coin as part of the armorial bearings.
Celebrate Black History With the Royal Canadian Mint
The perseverance of the Black Loyalists in the face of adversity is an important part of Canadian history. Your purchase of the commemorative coin from Colonial Acres helps preserve their story.