Black Pioneers

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The Black Pioneers, formally known as the Black Company of Pioneers, were an African American military unit established in May 1776 out of Lord Dunmore's disbanded Ethiopian Regiment. Famous American slaves such as Thomas Peters were Black Pioneers. They retained the Ethiopian regimental motto which was embroidered on their uniforms: "Liberty to Slaves".[1]

During the American Revolution, the Black Pioneers would "Assist in Cleaning the Streets & Removing all Nuisances being thrown into the Streets."[2] The Black Pioneers followed British troops under the command of Henry Clinton as they moved from New York to Philadelphia to Charleston, and, after the fall of Charleston, back to New York again.[2]

The Company was commanded for a time by Major James Moncrief of the Royal Engineers. Moncrief had great faith in the ability of African-American slaves to fight. In a letter to Clinton at the close of the war he offered to continue the war with a brigade of African American troops. He also advocated for their freedom in light of their service to the British Army.

One recruit was the former slave of General George Washington. After Lord Dumore's proclamation of freedom to any slave that helped the British Army, Henry Washington ran away from the Washington plantation to join the Black Pioneers in 1776. After the Black Pioneers arrived in New York in 1783 many former slaves escaped from the harbor in fear of being repossessed by their former masters. It is still unknown how many former slaves escaped from New York during this period, although it is known that after the evacuation of the British approximately 15,000 African Americans were involved.

Tens of thousands of slaves escaped during the war and joined British lines; others simply moved off into the chaos. For instance, in South Carolina, nearly 25,000 slaves (30% of the enslaved population) fled, migrated or died during the disruption of the war. When the British withdrew their forces from Savannah and Charleston, they also evacuated 10,000 slaves belonging to Loyalists.[3]

Altogether, the British evacuated nearly 20,000 blacks at the end of the war. More than 3,000 of them were freedmen and most of these were resettled in Nova Scotia, many under the leadership of Stephen Blucke, a prominent Black leader of the battalion; other blacks were sold in the West Indies.[4]


  1. ^ Goodbye, Columbus When America won its independence, what became of the slaves who fled for theirs? Lepore, Jill
  2. ^ a b Lepore, Jill
  3. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619–1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1994, p.73
  4. ^ William Weir (2004). The Encyclopedia of African American Military History. Prometheus Books. pp. 31–32. 


See also[edit]

Merge article into Black Company of Pioneers