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Book of Negroes

This article is about the historical document. For the Lawrence Hill novel, see The Book of Negroes. For the television miniseries, see The Book of Negroes (miniseries).
Book of Negroes
TNA London and NARA Washington
Date 1783

The Book of Negroes is a historical document which records names and descriptions of 3,000 African-American slaves who escaped to the British lines during the American Revolution and were evacuated by the British by ship to points in Nova Scotia as freedmen. The book was assembled by Samuel Birch (namesake of Birchtown, Nova Scotia) under the direction of Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester.


African Americans who escaped to the British during the American Revolutionary War became the first settlement of Black Nova Scotians and Black Canadians. Other Black Loyalists were transported to settlements in several islands in the West Indies and some to London. Recorded in 1783, this 150-page document is the only one to have recorded Black Americans in a large, detailed scope of work.[1]


The document contains records on 3000 African Americans; the former slaves recorded in the Book of Negroes were evacuated to British North America, where they were settled in the newly established Birchtown, Nova Scotia and other places in the colony. According to the Treaty of Paris (1783), the United States argued for the return of all property, including slaves. The British refused to return the slaves whom they had promised freedom during the war for joining their cause. The detailed records were created to document those freedmen whom the British resettled in Nova Scotia, along with other Loyalists.

Some freedmen later migrated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, where they formed the original settlers of Freetown, under the auspices of the Sierra Leone Company. They founded the Krio people.

Notable people recorded in the Book of Negroes include Boston King, Henry Washington, Moses Wilkinson and Cato Perkins.

As the Book of Negroes was recorded separately by American and British officers, there are two versions of the document. The original British version is held in the UK National Archives in Kew, London. The American version of the Book of Negroes is held by the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC. It was published under the title The Black Loyalist Directory: African Americans in Exile After the American Revolution (1996), edited by Graham Russell Hodges, Susan Hawkes Cook, and Alan Edward Brown.*[2]

Representation in other media

  • The Canadian author Lawrence Hill wrote the novel The Book of Negroes (2007, published in the United States as Someone Knows My Name). It is inspired by the African Americans who were resettled in Nova Scotia, and some of those who later chose to go to Sierra Leone, where they created a colony of freedmen in Africa. He features Aminata, a young black woman who is literate and acts as a scribe to record the information about the former American slaves. Those who founded Sierra Leone have been described as settlers who "brought America to Africa". The book won the top 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.[3]

Adaptation into television mini-series

Canadian director, Clement Virgo, has adapted the book into a 6-hour television mini-series. The series premiered on CBC in Canada on 7 January 2015 and on BET in the United States on 16 February 2015 and starred Aunjanue Ellis, Lyriq Bent, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr..[4]

See also


  1. ^ Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management - African Nova Scotians - Archives
  2. ^ "Review: The Black Loyalist Directory: African Americans in Exile After the American Revolution, edited by Graham Russell Hodges, Susan Hawkes Cook, and Alan Edward Brown", William and Mary Quarterly, 1996, Third Series, Vol. 53, No. 4, accessed 27 September 2011
  3. ^ Angela Hickman, "Merging history and fiction", The Journal, Volume 135, Issue 30 — 1 February 2008, Queens University, accessed 26 September 2011
  4. ^

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