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Freedom Fighters George and Harry Washington


George Washington-Wikimedia Commons

 by Kathy Warnes

General George Washington and his former slave, Harry Washington, were both convinced that the Enlightenment ideas of the dignity and worth of the individual and individual freedom were worth fighting and dying to preserve. Both Washingtons fought for individual freedom with very different results in their individual lives. Although Harry Washington left a more documented life than most Black Loyalists, dates and events in his story often conflict. Much of the information about Harry is gleaned from Virginia records, the records of George Washington and Mt. Vernon, and the Book of Negroes.

Throughout his life and even after he became President of the United States, George Washington displayed the paradox of his era – slavery and freedom existing side by side. He waxed indignant enough about perceived British violations of the rights of colonists as freemen to fight a war against them, yet he denied the same rights to black people.  He actively bought and sold slaves and hired slave catchers and other emissaries to recapture them when they ran away. He signed the 1793 fugitive slave law and played a freedom chess game with a female slave, Oney Judge, who had fled to New Hampshire to avoid being recaptured and taken back to Mount Vernon.

George Washington Buys Harry Washington

Harry Washington’s life took a circular course. His birth name is lost to history, because he was documented with the name that he acquired after becoming George Washington’s property. Harry was born on the Gambia River in West Africa around the year 1740, and slave traders sold him into slavery around the year 1760, perhaps as part of the shipments of slaves sent to the South Potomac region in 1760 and 1761.

A plantation owner from the Lower Potomac River, Daniel Tebbs, initially bought Harry, but in 1763 Harry had a new owner. George Washington  purchased Harry from the estate of Daniel Tebbs and included him in a group of slaves that he contributed to the Dismal Swamp Company, an organization he had formed to drain 40,000 acres the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia. Included in the group were a woman named Nan and a sixteen year old boy named Toney that the scant documentary evidence suggests might have been his wife and son. Battling mosquitoes, brush, and oppressive heat, Harry Washington helped his fellow slaves dig a three feet deep, ten feet wide canal to drain into a lake five miles in the distance.

Harry Washington Trains Horses and Works at the Ferry Plantation

Two years later in 1765, both Harry and Nan were taken to Mt. Vernon, George’s Washington’s plantation, which further indicated that they might have been a couple. They appeared on George Washington’s  1766 list of taxable property, although Toney did not because children below sixteen years of age weren’t listed as titheables.

Even if they were a couple, Harry and Nan was separated, because Harry worked in or around the house and Nan worked at Muddy Hole, one Mt. Vernon’s outlaying farms. According to plantation records, Harry was considered to be a valuable horse trainer, and he probably helped take care of George Washington’s horses.

In July, 1770, Harry and Nan were still working in different places. Harry appeared to be working as a ‘house servant’ at Mt. Vernon and Nan still worked at the “Muddy Hole” farm. Harry toiled as a “house servant” until 1771, when his name appeared on a list of slave laborers working to build a mill at Ferry Plantation, the most distant Mt. Vernon farm.

Harry Washington and his fellow slaves performed the duties of their servitude caught in a volcano of rhetoric and ideas that erupted into the American Revolution. His master, George Washington wrote of British disrespect of the rights of their colonial citizens and George Washington’s colleagues, including Thomas Jefferson, wrote about the natural rights of men to be free to decide their own destinies.  Harry Washington must have pondered words like dignity and freedom and bondage as he went about his daily tasks with very little control over his own destiny.

It appeared that Harry Washington had taken his destiny in his own hands when he ran away on July 29, 1771, compelling George Washington to shell out one pound and sixteen shillings in advertisements to recover Harry.  Within a matter of weeks, Harry was once again working at the Ferry Plantation where he remained until 1773, when he was returned to house service. By November 1775, he performed the daily chore of grooming his master George Washington’s horses in the Mount Vernon, Virginia, stables.

Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, Issues a Proclamation

In 1775, John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia issued a proclamation offering freedom to any slaves willing to join his Majesty’s troops to smash the American rebellion. In December of 1775, George Washington who was then commanding the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts received a report that the proclamation had motivated his own slaves. Washington’s cousin wrote from Mount Vernon that all of them would “leave us if they believed they could make their escape. Liberty is sweet.”

The date that Harry Washington joined Lord Dunmore is disputed, but the logbook of the HMS Roebuck, the lead ship in the fleet of Lord Dumore, recorded Harry as joining in 1776. Eight of Lord Dunmore’s fleet of British ships ventured up the Potomac River to take on fresh water, and a small craft coming down from Fairfax County joined them. Three of General Washington’s servants were aboard the boat, including Harry Washington who became one of the 500-600 runaway slaves who responded to Dunmore’s Proclamation.

For part of the war Harry Washington served with an unarmed company called the Ethiopian Regiment or the Black Pioneers who were directed to: “Assist in Cleaning the Streets & Removing all Nuisances being thrown into the Streets.”

British General Sir Henry Clinton commanded the Black Pioneers as they moved from New York to Philadelphia, and then to Charleston, South Carolina. In 1781, Corporal Washington commanded a company of Black Pioneers attached to the Royal Artillery Department in Charleston. By 1783, the tides of the Revolution had turned against the British, and although he returned to New York for a time, Harry Washington was anxious to leave New York before General George Washington recaptured both the city and his person.

Article Seven of the Treaty of Paris

In November 1782, the newly independent Americans and the British hammered out a treaty to end the American Revolution in Paris, France. John Adams, one of the American negotiators, noted that on the last day, Henry Laurens, who had joined the American negotiating team while the Commissioners were finalizing the Treaty of Paris at the house of the chief British negotiator Richard Oswald, insisted on including an additional provision to Article Seven. The additional provision said that the British were prohibited from “carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants.”

John Jay, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams himself hadn’t thought it was necessary to include a clause about runaway Negroes, and later John Jay said that he was surprised that the British had agreed to the additional condition that Henry Laurens had inserted. The Laurens addition caused the British massive headaches  and the Black Loyalists massive heartaches and disruptions in their lives.

The British Deal with Defeat and Fearful Black Loyalists

The defeated British were faced with the dual problem of making good on their promises of liberty to the Black and White Loyalists and honoring The Treaty of Paris. Since they had not quelled the American rebellion, the British promise of freedom to runaway American slaves left a huge question mark about their futures hanging in the air. During the Revolutionary War, almost 100,000 former slaves ran away from their masters and those that had not died in battle, perished from smallpox, typhoid or other diseases, or already had been dragged back into slavery were in a vulnerable position.

In 1782, the British government appointed Sir Guy Carleton as the commander-in-chief of the British forces to replace Sir Henry Clinton, instructing Sir Guy Carleton to recognize the independence of the 13 Colonies. In 1783, at Newburgh, New York, General George Washington of the newly freed Colonies negotiated with him for the return of Colonial property, “especially the Negroes.”

Sir Guy Carleton knew that there were many Black and White Loyalists who wanted to flee the newly independent colonies and needed a place to live. He especially appreciated the plight of the Black Loyalists who had to leave the Colonies immediately or be returned to slavery. Sir Guy suggested the unsettled land in Nova Scotia and many Loyalists, both black and white, decided they would try settling in Nova Scotia.

General George Washington, generally seen as unflappable, became increasingly upset with Sir Guy Carleton and other British officials when they refused to immediately return Black Royalists, black soldiers, and black laborers, all of whom he considered runaway slaves.  In a letter to Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison dated April 30, 1783, General Washington allowed his frustration to boil over when he wrote about a list of his slaves he was trying to recover and the recovery of escaped slaves in general,   “ But I have but little expectation that many will be recovered; several of my own are with the Enemy but I scarce ever bestowed a thought on them; they have so many doors through which they can escape from New York, that scarce anything but an inclination to return, or voluntarily surrender of themselves will restore many to their former Masters, even supposing every disposition on the part of the Enemy to deliver them..  “

After the British and the Americans signed the Treaty of Paris, arranging travel for the Loyalists who wanted to leave the Colonies proved to be a daunting task. The British and the Americans disagreed about the distinction between free Negroes and slaves. Sir Guy Carleton decided that the Black Loyalists who had gained their freedom previous to the Treaty were not property of any kind and the Treaty did not apply to them.

The Americans disagreed, but they were willing to agree to the Royalist interpretation when Sir Guy Carleton promised compensation. Sir Guy set up a board of enquiry to hear disputes about freedom offers from the proclamation. The officials of the board also recorded the names and former owners of all freed slaves that the British evacuated so that the British could compensate their old masters. This record came to be called Carleton’s Book of Negroes. In conjunction with Sir Guy Carleton’s plan, Brigadier General Samuel Birch issued certificates of freedom to all qualified Black Royalists, allowing them to travel wherever they chose, including Nova Scotia.

By the time the British retreated to Canada, over 100,000 Loyalists had left the United States to settle in Canada, with more than 30,000 Black Loyalists settling in the Maritime Provinces, and the rest in Upper and Lower Canada.  Many of the Black Loyalists settled in Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, along the Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick and along the St. Lawrence River. Some people accepted them as legitimate pioneer settlers, but others didn’t treat them as citizens entitled to the rights and privileges of full citizenship.

Black Loyalist Harry Washington Emigrated to Nova Scotia

In July 1783, Harry Washington and more than 200 other black men, women, and children departed New York City on a ship called L’Abondance. Harry’s fellow passengers were mainly followers of a preacher named Moses Wilkinson, or “Daddy Moses.”   In reality only in his thirties, Daddy Moses appeared to be an old man because he had contracted smallpox in 1776, and the disease had left him blind and crippled.

Fleeing from his owner Suffolk merchant Mills Wilkinson of Nansemond, Virginia, Moses was one of the first groups of Wilkinson slaves defecting to Lord Dunmore in December 1775. In fact, nearly two thirds of the Nova Scotia settlers hailed from Virginia, the next largest group from South Carolina, and a smaller number from Maryland, Georgia, and North Carolina. Thomas Jefferson, the architect of American liberties, called them “fugitives.”

The L’Aondance safely landed its passengers in Nova Scotia, and “Daddy Moses” and his congregation soon founded a community at Birchtown, Nova Scotia, which they named after Samuel Birch. The July 1784 Muster at Birchtown listed Harry Washington, 44, laborer, and his wife, Jenny, aged 24. Jenny traveled to Nova Scotia aboard the Clinton with her two small children. Other sources list Harry Washington as single, but marrying a woman named Sarah after he arrived in Nova Scotia.

When the new settlers arrived, there was little to eat, the planting season had passed, and the thin topsoil didn’t support many crops. Harry had to immediately hire himself out under contract to his white neighbors in Shelburne so that he and his family would survive. Most of the time arrangements like Harry’s did not favor black laborers. White Loyalist settlers considered them cheap labor and sometimes didn’t pay them at all.

As the years passed, conditions in Nova Scotia did not improve for Harry Washington and his family. The British military had promised land and provisions for the first year, but the Crown underfunded the settlements and the authorities ultimately favored white Loyalists, especially white Loyalists from the South who had resettled with their slaves. When the British government allocated land, it usually gave the blacks settlers smaller parcels of land on poor, rocky soil and attempted to force the settlers to pay quit rents on their land, an attempt the settlers successfully resisted.

Some black refugees were still waiting for their land three years after they had arrived in Nova Scotia. Many of the Black Loyalists were from warm Southern climates and added Nova Scotia’s cold, wet weather to their last of tribulations. Black Loyalists were barred from voting or serving on juries and they faced enormous competition just to survive from day to day.

The situation in Nova Scotia became so dire for the Black Loyalists that in 1791, they decided to send an emissary to England. They deputized Thomas Peters, a runaway from North Carolina and a former Sergeant in the Black Pioneers during the Revolutionary War. In his petition to King George III, Thomas Peters requested that the Black Royalists in Nova Scotia be resettled or if they chose to remain in Nova Scotia, they would receive the allotment of land that they had been promised. Responding to the petition of the Black Royalists, Prime Minister William Pitt‘s government agreed to pay the expenses of black settlers wishing to relocate from Nova Scotia.

John Clarkson Accompanied the Black Royalists to Sierra Leone

Thrilled at the prospect of new settlers in their colony on Africa’s west coast, the Sierra Leone Company with British philanthropist, politician, and abolitionist William Wilberforce at the helm, offered free grants of land with to any of the Black Royalists of Nova Scotia who wanted to emigrate. The Company offered twenty acres for every man, ten for every woman and five for every child. The land came with “certain charges and obligations,” and even though the Black Royalists and other settlers didn’t realize it until they were trying to settle in their new homes, the Sierra Leone Company had an imperialist philosophy which would clash fatally with the Black Royalists desire for freedom.

William Wilberforce represented another irony in the story of Harry Washington. He advocated freedom for black people, but he and his Sierra Leone Company seemed unwilling to grant black settlers in Sierra Leone self determination. The company adopted a policy of encouraging only black settlers to emigrate there, but they put the few white employees in charge and appointed white governors.

The Sierra Leone Company appointed John Clarkson, a young naval officer and Abolitionist, as agent to oversee the Black Royalist move from Nova Scotia. Hundreds of people, including Harry Washington, attended a meeting in Birchtown, at Daddy Moses’ church to listen to John Clarkson explain what the Sierra Leone Company meant by “subject to certain charges and obligations.” According to Clarkson, the conditions didn’t mean an annual rent would be charged on Sierra Leone land, but instead it was just “a kind of tax for charitable purposes like the maintenance of their poor, the care of the sick, and the education of their children.”

Harry Washington and his fellow settlers believed John Clarkson and he rejoiced in Clarkson’s assurances that in Sierra Leone they would be able to vote and serve on juries. Discrimination between black and white settlers would not exist, according to Clarkson. Harry Washington and a large group of Black Royalists decided to go to Sierra Leone, a decision that forced Harry to abandon his freehold land. The British kept a list of settlers relocating from Birchtown to Sierra Leone where Harry was described as a farmer, age fifty, and traveling with his wife Jenny. Harry forfeited two town lots, a house and forty acres, but he kept an axe, saw, pickaxe, three hoes, two muskets and some pieces of furniture with him.

John Clarkson’s persuasive powers convinced approximately half of the black refugees in Nova Scotia to pursue their dreams of freedom and economic opportunity in Sierra Leone. Working with Black Loyalist leader Thomas Peters, John Clarkson addressed the practicalities of resettlement.  The British government relocated about 1,200 black settlers at a cost of 15,500 pounds.

William Wilberforce, the director of the Sierra Leone Company, tragically misinterpreted the will and mettle of the black setters when he decided to refer to them as Africans, thinking this was a respectable title and a valid way of thinking about the new settlers. He wasn’t quite as magnanimous in awarding them their freedom.  According to John Clarkson’s Journal, the Black Royalists “had strange notions…as to their civil rights.”

Exercising their right of independent thought, the black settlers saw themselves as free British subjects like John Clarkson and they intended to build new lives and a new community in Sierra Leone.  The conflicting perspectives of the Sierra Leone Company and the new black settlers of Sierra Leone would play themselves out against the sometimes hostile landscape of Sierra Leone itself.

The Black Royalists Arrived in Sierra Leone

The hopeful black settlers left Nova Scotia in fifteen British ships late in 1791, and after surviving a stormy winter voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, the fifteen ship flotilla arrived in Sierra Leone in March 1792. The black settlers from Nova Scotia established Freetown and John Clarkson stayed to help them in their initial pioneering efforts, serving as Governor from August 1792 until December 1792. The pioneer black settlers became known as the Nova Scotian Settlers.

The Atlantic voyage was only the first in many battles facing the settlers. Alexander Falconbridge, a British surgeon who lived and died in Sierra Leone, criticized the “premature, hair-brained and ill-digested scheme” of introducing a multitude of settlers into a “largely untamed and disease ridden wilderness.”

The settlers survived clearing elephant grass and jungle growth and building their houses in their new settlement called Freetown. They also battled gorillas, leopards, and poisonous snakes. The next obstacle they faced was the power struggle between two of their leaders, Thomas Peters and John Clarkson. Caught in the middle, the Sierra Leone settlers began to feel that the Sierra Leone Company was treating them as badly as the British had in Nova Scotia and the Americans who had enslaved them.

As in Nova Scotia, the weather in Sierra Leone presented another challenge to the immigrants. Monsoon rains arrived in April and produced one of the wettest that local residents could remember. Without adequate shelter from the rain, nearly everyone developed malaria. Many people died every day and were quickly buried. Provisions that the company ships brought from England spoiled and the sultry air reeked with the smell of rotting food.

John Clarkson had a more serious problem than the weather. Backed by Thomas Peters, the settlers continued to challenge him with their “strange notions as to their civil rights.” They wanted more self determination, and demanded to elect their own representatives to preserve order and resolve disputes. John Clarkson conceded that they could elect black juries to hear disputes but only after they submitted their choices to him. By this time, Thomas Peters had died, thoroughly disillusioned with white man’s justice.

By late July 1792, the settlers were agitated because the survey for the farm lots that the Sierra Leone Company had promised had not materialized. All their hard work had produced huts built on small town lots wrestled from the jungle, and the only way they survived was two days a week work for the company that it paid in credit at the company store. Their discontent continued in August and they protested to John Clarkson who had been appointed the first governor of Freetown by this time.

Again, John Clarkson had to tap into his persuasive powers to convince the settlers to accept only one-fifth of the land that the Sierra Leone Company had promised them. Clarkson had to face another vital issue when the Company directors decided not to allow the settlers to claim land along the Sierra Leone River. Settlers had to have access to the River because water was the only means of transportation and communication in Sierra Leone. The settlers furiously rejected the directive, because white men in Nova Scotia had done the same thing to them, building wharves along the waterfront and charging money for access. They emphasized that they had not crossed the ocean to deal with the same discrimination.

Seeking to pacify the agitated settlers, John Clarkson rescinded the Sierra Leone Company’s directive about the waterfront, and he also agreed to allow settlers to elect a tithingman for every ten families and a hundred for every hundred.  He didn’t tell the settlers that the Sierra Leone Company directors had demanded a quit rent payment of two shillings an acre on the land the settlers were granted, convincing himself that the company would honor his promises as governor.

John Clarkson went on leave in December 1792, and never returned to Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Company dismissed him in May 1793, and replaced him with William Dawes and then authoritarian Zachary Macaulay. By 1796, settlers sent heartfelt letters to John Clarkson begging him to return and rescue them from Governor Macaulay who had threatened to enforce a huge quit rent, a hundred times higher than the one demanded of them in Nova Scotia.

Harry Washington Persevered for Freedom

Since he had sailed away from George Washington and Mt. Vernon over twenty years earlier, Harry Washington had been determined to overcome the indignities of slavery and to earn land of his own. He also was determined to support his own family so well that his wife and children wouldn’t have to work as they had as slaves. For a short time after their arrival in Sierra Leone, Harry had swallowed his pride and worked for credit to buy goods at the company store instead of cash while he waited for the Company to give him his land allotment that would allow him to be independent.

By 1796, Harry Washington and twenty nine other settlers had turned their mountain lots into farms and were producing crops to trade, including coffee, pepper, and ginger as well as rice, cassava and yams. The quit rent that the Sierra Leone Company had decided to impose hung over his life like an axe.

In early January, 1797, the settlers held a meeting to determine how to get rid of the Sierra Leone Company’s quit rent, well aware that the rent condemned them to perpetual tenancy. For his part, the governor warned that the slightest murmur of rebellion would cause the Company to discontinue any service to them. In his journal, Governor Macaulay wrote that the white men in Sierra Leone were the “natural advisers” of the black settlers.

In an eerie repetition of the tax disputes between the British King George III and the American Colonies, Harry Washington and his fellow settlers considered themselves British subjects and expected the equal rights of British subjects living in a British colony. Three of the elected Tithingmen presented a petition to the King’s representative on the West African coast, asking the King to rescind the quit rent. The petition was turned over to Governor Macaulay who ignored it, but advised the Sierra Leone Company not to collect the rent for the short term.

For a brief but peaceful time in early 1798, a  relaxed and industrious calm settled over Sierra Leone, especially with Governor Macaulay preparing to leave for England.  Then the Sierra Company directors issued an edict stating that the quit rent had to be paid. Outgoing Governor Macaulay informed the settlers that the Company had drawn up new titles including the quit rent conditions and they had to apply for the new titles by December 15, 1798. Every family except about a dozen refused, even though they knew that their children could no longer attend the Company school.

Harry Washington, by now a successful farmer, learned that his land had been listed as reallocated under a new grant register that left off the names of the people who refused to pay the tax. The Sierra Leone colony seethed with discontent. In a later report Governor Macaulay’s replacement, 23 year old Governor Thomas Ludlam, wrote that after the quit rent controversy, “the colony had no peace.”

After Governor Macaulay left in April 1799, the Sierra Leone colony settlers acted independently and elected a judge and two justices of the peace and the elected Hundreds and Tithingmen formed a makeshift bicameral parliament that passed laws governing the daily management of the Freetown and the Granville Town, the other Sierra Leone Company settlement. The settlers considered themselves to be independent settlers of the Colony. They didn’t know that the Sierra Leone Company had appointed former governor Zachary Macaulay the permanent Secretary of the Company and that he had applied to the British Parliament for a royal charter giving the Sierra Leone Company formal jurisdiction over the Sierra Leone colony. Once granted a royal charter, the directors of the Sierra Leone Company would no longer have to worry about the elections and “assumption” of the colonists.

Thomas Ludlam Takes Over as Governor

While the Sierra Leone Company applied for a royal charter, it also negotiated to bring approximately 500 Maroon warriors from Jamaica to settle in Sierra Leone. The British had not defeated the Maroons in the Maroon War of 1795, but the Maroons had accepted a treaty offer from the British commander that the colonial government had later repudiated. The British deported the Maroons to Nova Scotia, but the climate of Nova Scotia didn’t agree with the Maroons any more than it had with the Black Royalists, and the Maroon chiefs petitioned the British government for a better place to live. The British government quickly accepted the Sierra Leone Company’s offer of settlement land for the Maroons and gave them money to fortify Government House in Freetown and garrison a detachment of soldiers in the colony.

When Thomas Ludlam officially took over as governor of Sierra Leone in November 1799, he didn’t tell the settlers about the impending arrival of the Maroon warriors. Instead, he removed the restrictions that defying the quit rents had placed on the settler’s children attending school, and then he removed the rent itself. The son of a mathematician, Governor Ludlam had worked the sums proving that the quit rent forced the settlers to pay the full value of their land every twenty years. He didn’t collect any rent money and he argued that it never could be collected.

Governor Ludlam also informed the settlers that the Sierra Leone Company would not permit or acknowledge their judicial appointments. He called a meeting on May 20, 1800, to explain why he had to reject their appointments, presenting the British argument that a judge had to be literate and versed in English law. He added that under the royal charter that the Sierra Leone Company was drawing up in England, the King would make all decisions and if the settlers didn’t accept his decisions, they would be tried for treason. He didn’t mention that the Company was sending a detachment of soldiers to Freetown for its protection and to uphold the charter and he also didn’t tell them that over 500 Maroons with a reputation for aggressive fighting, were scheduled to arrive in the Sierra Leone Colony within a few months.

The Sierra Leone settlers decided they had to move immediately for independence. On September 3, 1800, almost all of the heads of the black families in Freetown gathered to create a new code of laws for trading practices, animal care and farming practices and domestic and social behavior. They decided that the governor’s authority extended only to the Sierra Leone  Company’s business.

A few weeks later, Governor Thomas Ludlam heard disturbing stories of meetings “of a most seditious and dangerous nature.” Calling a meeting of his own at his house with all of the Sierra Leone Company employees, thirty loyal settlers, and all of the African seamen from the Company ships, he told them he would “form a strong guard and assist the civil power in the execution of its warrants.”

That night he displayed a new code of laws and the next day a crowd of curious people gathered around the display. A group of settlers gathered in one of the houses to discuss the new laws. The inexperienced and frightened young governor sprang into action, sending a group of loyal black setters that he had deputized and armed as marshals to arrest several men on charges of treason. Just as the meeting ended, the marshals broke into the house.

The marshals managed to arrest three men, but about forty escaped from Freetown and established camp by the bridge on the road to Granville Town near Harry Washington’s farm. Some accounts say that Harry joined them at their camp, and others say that the men went to his farmhouse and drew him into their ranks. The next day Governor Ludlam posted rewards for the supposed traitors and the Sierra Leone Company portrayed the men as dangerous rebels who wanted to kill the company employees and the loyal settlers.

The “dangerous rebels” were all middle aged and they had some guns, but no ammunition. On September28 or 29, they stole powder and shot from a farm and a gun and some powder from the governor’s farm probably to hunt game for food. Sixty year old Harry Washington was not a young, hot headed rebel, and perhaps with the wisdom of his years but not enough insight into the character of his adversaries, he believed they would listen to reason.

Governor Ludlam’s Military Tribunal Finds the Rebels Guilty

On September 30, 1800, the large British transport ship Asia carrying over 500 Maroons and 47 soldiers from the Twenty-Fourth Regiment anchored in Freetown harbor. The Maroon chiefs called on Governor Ludlam the next day to discuss their land grants and found all of the Sierra Leone Company employees huddled together and protected by an armed guard. Governor Ludlam told the Maroons that the rebellion would put their promised land grants in jeopardy. He didn’t tell the Maroons that the “rebellion” was a dispute over the rights of settlers between the Sierra Leone Company and exiles from Nova Scotia, like themselves According to Ludlam’s diary, the Maroon chiefs offered to hunt the rebels.

After the Maroons had helped to hunt down and capture the rebels, Governor Ludlam presented them with the land grant agreement and they refused to sign it. When the Maroons found out about the quit rent, they opposed it with as much vigor as the Black Royalists did.

Thanks to the martial vigor of the Maroons, within a week of the rebellion Governor Ludlam had 31 men in custody, but he still did not have the charter of justice from the King that would authorize him to try the rebels on criminal charges. Desiring to avoid paying for the upkeep of his prisoners, he established a military tribunal composed of an officer from the Asia and two officers from the Twenty-Fourth Regiment. The court martial convened on October 10, 1800, trying each of the prisoners for “open and unprovoked rebellion.”

Six of the settlers were sent to the British slave fort of Goree for life. Harry Washington and 23 of his companions were banished across the Sierra Leone River to the Bullom Shore. The directors of the Sierra Leone Company felt fully justified in endorsing the Tribunal’s actions, rejoicing that Sierra Leone had gotten rid of the upstart rebels with outlandish notions about their rights as free men.

Harry Washington spent the rest of his life away from the Sierra Leone colony that he had fought so hard to create, dying on the Bullom Shore within a few years of his exile. The American Revolution had refined and defined Harry Washington and his struggles for freedom. The fact that he fought again for the same freedom twenty years after fighting in the American Revolution might have surprised his former master George Washington who didn’t seem to understand the drive for freedom in black as well as white hearts, but it shouldn’t have surprised him at all.


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Jasanoff, Maya. Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World.Alfred Knopf, 2011.

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