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Birchtown and the Book of Negroes

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At the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783, former black slaves that had fought for the British – on the condition they be freed – were shipped to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, ostensibly to be settled as free men and women. The largest group (some 3000) came to Shelburne, where they were promptly shunted off to the rocky, worthless land nearby Birchtown. Most were soon signed up as indentured servants to the Loyalists in Shelburne – essentially another form of slavery. Having suffered the largest race riot in Canadian history in 1784 and years of abuse, most of the settlers sailed back to Africa in 1792, founding Freetown in Sierra Leone. Some were forced to stay, however, establishing a community that exists to this day. Learn about their story at the Black Loyalist Heritage Society (May–Sept 11am–5pm; t 902 875 1293, w blackloyalist.com; $3) off Rte-3 in Birchtown, 7km west of Shelburne; a new interpretation centre should be open by July 2013 (the old one was torched in 2006). The shop sells copies of Lawrence Hill’s excellent Book of Negroes, named after the register all those “freed” slaves had to sign in New York before travelling to Canada.

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