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Organizing the Last Great Loyalist Exodus: Part One of Three
copyright Stephen Davidson UE
When Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander in chief, was put in charge of organizing the 1783 evacuation of British military personnel and loyal Americans out of New York City, he called it the “great and complicated business”. It was a job that no one wanted.
Arduous as it was, Carleton had resources at hand to lessen the “complications” involved in overseeing the evacuation of 40,000 Loyalists and 30,000 British troops. He had all of the senior officers headquartered in New York to whom he could delegate various tasks. He had access to British naval vessels to sail loyalist refugees to sanctuary in other parts of the empire. Carleton could draw on his 59 years of life experience, knowing how to deal with soldiers, civilians, and the victorious Americans. He also had the luxury of being given a task whose time frame stretched from April to November rather than one that had to be fulfilled in a dozen weeks. And aside from Patriot slave owners who objected to the evacuation of newly emancipated Blacks, Carleton did not encounter any resistance to the departure of soldiers and Loyalists. When the last British soldier and the last Loyalist was put on board their ships, Carleton had organized the largest evacuation of refugees in North America’s history.
Although he was put in charge of a far smaller number of Loyalists, Lt. John Clarkson’s task was every bit as “great and complicated”. He was charged with orchestrating a second Loyalist evacuation nine years after the end of the American Revolution. And he was just 28 years old.
Following Thomas Peters’ 1791 mission to England to seek justice for the Black Loyalists of the Maritimes, Clarkson said that he “was induced to become a volunteer in this business”. Both he and his more famous older brother, Thomas Clarkson, were abolitionists who sought the end of slavery within the British Empire.
In response to Thomas Peters’ reports of the racist behaviour of the Martimes’ colonial governments, the British government decided to provide free passage to any and all Black Loyalists who wanted a fresh start in Sierra Leone. The West African colony would become a home for free Christian Blacks.
Henry Dundas, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the directors of the Sierra Leone Company commissioned young John Clarkson to set sail for Nova Scotia to organize the last great Loyalist exodus.
Armed with letters of introduction from government officials, Clarkson set sail for Halifax, arriving in the Nova Scotia capital on October 7, 1791. Thomas Peters, the man who had prompted the British government to provide a new home for Black Loyalists, was already on his way to New Brunswick to recruit interested settlers.
New to the colony and never having organized such an ambitious venture, young Clarkson needed a sympathetic local man as his second in command. Fortunately for him, British Quakers had recommended Lawrence Hartshorne as Clarkson’s fellow agent and chief assistant. Hartshorne was a New Jersey Loyalist as well as a Quaker. Although the 36 year-old had never met Clarkson before, the two quickly formed a strong partnership.
Clarkson would later confide in his journal, “I feel myself happy in having a man of Mr. Hartshorne’s character who is universally esteemed, employed in the same business with me, and I am particularly obliged to him for his attention upon every occasion.” In the months that followed, the young man’s journal contained regular entries about meals in the Hartshorne home “to divert my thoughts and relax myself from the fatigues of the day.
How does one begin a venture that involves acquiring ships, recruiting and screening passengers, buying provisions, and seeing to the well being of those bound for West Africa? A daunting task to be sure, but Clarkson had every confidence that he could fulfill what he termed “the Plan”.
Within 5 days of arriving in Nova Scotia, Clarkson made his first contact with Black Loyalists. After crossing the harbor, he travelled four miles inland from Dartmouth to meet with the people of Preston, calling “at the huts of several of the inhabitants”.
Two days later, Clarkson received a letter from Stephen Blucke of Shelburne, one of the colony’s most prominent Black Loyalists. A leader of his community, Blucke asked Clarkson for more details of the planned migration to Sierra Leone. A few days later, Clarkson received a letter from Thomas Peters in New Brunswick that outlined his recruitment activities as far north as Fredericton and across the Bay of Fundy in Annapolis Royal. “The Plan” was gaining momentum.
By October 18th, Dr. Charles Taylor, who had been appointed the surgeon and apothecary for the exodus, arrived in Halifax. The port city was designated as the point of departure for Sierra Leone, so Black Loyalists in other parts of the Maritimes had to rendezvous there by a fixed date or miss the opportunity to sail for West Africa. It was there that Clarkson would charter ships for the African bound fleet and buy provisions for the seven-week ocean voyage. Upon discovering that a number of Black Loyalists had “tolerably good muskets”, Clarkson added “powder and ball” to his ever-growing shopping list.
To become one of the passengers bound for Sierra Leone, local Blacks had to have their names enrolled at Clarkson’s Halifax home. On October 20th, he recorded the names of 79 men, women and children. He noted that “they have certainly been much oppressed and are now in a deplorable state.”
When Clarkson visited John Parr the colony’s lieutenant governor, to work out a plan for recruitment in other parts of the Nova Scotia, he was meeting with a man who did not support “the Plan”. Parr and other colonial officials had spread rumors about the dangers of going to Sierra Leone in an attempt to hold on to the Black Loyalists who provided a valuable (and cheap) labour force.
As early as the second day following his arrival, Clarkson had to quash rumors that were circulated to undermine the exodus of the colony’s free Blacks. While eating with Governor Parr and his officials, reference was made to an African chief driving settlers out of Sierra Leone and murdering “the greater part of them”. Rather than becoming discouraged by such “fake news”, Clarkson confided in his journal, “I have never suffered them to affect me, because I know that there are many enemies to the plan who would be very happy if they could prevent the Colony from flourishing.”
In New Brunswick, the agent who was put in charge of compiling the lists of Black Loyalist migrants “has done everything in his power to prevent their going by telling them that I intended to sell them for the Company and that {Thomas} Peters was to have so much per head for his trouble; they have also been guilty of forgery, in producing Indentures & agreements on the part of the Blacks to work upon their lands, and in their service for certain terms… What a pity I could not visit Saint John to make these wretches act like men! I think I have reason to say it would have been the case here, had I not arrived just as I did.”
The lack of support from local officials and a constant flow of negative rumors about “the Plan” would plague the young lieutenant throughout his time in Nova Scotia.
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Celebrating the success of a UELAC Scholarship winner
Michael Greguol, CAHP is a Heritage Planner who was our 2011 UELAC Loyalist Scholarship Award Recipient. Michael received a Master of Arts, History (2011) for his Major Research Paper -“Class, Country, and Comfort: Place and Space in Early Niagara and Upper Canada.” from Brock University, in St. Catherines, Ontario.
He was recently interviewed by CityStudio asking him about his role and relationship with CityStudio London. The short (1 minute) video interview can be found on his Twitter and LinkedIn Canada accounts.
CityStudio London (Ontario) is an innovation hub that brings together city staff, students, faculty and community to co-create experimental projects that make London more sustainable, livable and joyful. It is a collaboration between the City of London, Brescia University, Fanshawe College, Huron University, King’s University College, Western University, and Pillar Nonprofit Network.
Thank you to all donors to the UELAC Scholarship Endowment funds for ensuring that students who research Upper Canada and the Loyalist influence are able to succeed in their studies and careers.
Christine Manzer UE, Chair: UELAC Scholarship Committee

Borealia; A Review of American Republics: A Continental History of the United States, 1783-1850
Author: Alan Taylor, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2021)
Review by Todd Webb 2 November 2022 at Borealia
This bleak and brilliant book offers a history of the antebellum United States in the wider context of its North American neighbours. That story, for Alan Taylor, was dominated by three processes: the westward expansion of American settlement at the expense of indigenous and black peoples; the increasingly ironic, if not toxic, impact of the American notion of democracy, particularly as conceived by white nationalists, on the dream of a more perfect nation; and the growing fragility of the federal union itself. This is a story that will also be of interest to historians of pre-Confederation Canada and of Mexico – both of which, of course, were shaped in reaction to the blood-stained and often chaotic growth of the United States. Read more…

Alan Taylor’s Follow-on Remarks
Especially notes re Canada – read more…

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

Editor’s Note
We have taken another step in our journey with a move of our household from one condo to another. This week has been crunch week, with the objective of the old being empty and cleaned by now – we haven’t quite met the objective but are getting there. Busy non-stop days; hence the very short issue of Loyalist Trails.

Published by the UELAC
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