Guysborough County Genealogy

Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Story of Guysborough County's Black Loyalists

by Gloria Desmond

The history of Blacks in Nova Scotia really begins with the arrival of the Loyalists at the time of the American Revolution.

In 1775, the Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issued a proclamation promising freedom to "all Negroes" escaping to British lines. In 1779, the Phillipsburg Proclamation was issued by Sir Henry Clinton, Commander-in -Chief of British Military in America. This decree promised to every Black person, not only freedom but full security to follow any occupation.

Thousands of slaves emerged and formed their own units or corps and calvary troops. Others were used as guides, servants, spies and in the Royal Navy as pilots and seamen. As the war drew to a close in 1783, with the British accepting defeat, a hurried evacuation of Loyalists occurred from their base in New York. Many Blacks were taken to the West Indies and Florida. Others were taken to Nova Scotia. The coming to Nova Scotia was considered by the Loyalists as an entry into a new world where the dignity and independence, that came of equal citizenship, was to be theirs.

The Guysborough Settlement

  • Country Harbour, June 12, 1784. - South Carolina Royalist Regiment and King's Carolina Rangers arrived with some Black slaves and some free Blacks holding certificates.
  • Chedabucto Harbour, June 21, 1784. - Department of Army and Navy ship arrived with 226 recorded Blacks as both servants and Negroes holding certificates. From the Muster Rolls of each of these ships, we can determine the number of Blacks accompanying the White Loyalists. Quite often the Black servants assumed the last name of their owner, since slaves were stripped of their African identity and given only an English first name.

A Harsh Beginning

The first winter, the winter of 1785 - 1786, in Guysborough was tragic for all the inhabitants, particularly Blacks. In September of 1785, a vessel carrying much needed supplies to Guysborough was hi-jacked by a mutinous crew and taken to the United States where it was sold. A large number of Blacks perished that winter without the necessities to sustain life. There were no more ships that year until the harbour opened in the Spring. The white settlers had guns and could hunt for food while Blacks were not permitted to have weapons at that time. Lacking food, suffering from exposure and profoundly affected by the strange new environment, many died.

Those who survived became increasingly confident in their ability to cope. By 1871, records show that Guysborough had a population of 747 Negroes. In 1872, there were 918. Communities and small settlements of Blacks existed at Sunnyville, Birchtown, Cook's Cove, Country Harbour, Old Guysborough Road, Upper Big Tracadie, Rear Monastery, and along the Tracadie River.

The Reality

  • Many of the Black Loyalists were skilled carpenters, sawyers, barbers, seamstresses, midwives, and coopers, however they had to work for less wages than their white counterparts.
  • Land promised to the Black Loyalists was difficult to obtain as the system used for distribution was unfair. In the system used, white officers and gentlemen were to be served first. Ordinary whites had to wait their turn. The Blacks, coming up last, were all too frequently, not served at all.
  • The land that Blacks received was smaller in size, less fertile, and often located in remote regions in blocks where they were left completely on their own.
  • Early settlers were promised a mule, seeds, and tools. These provisions were extended to the White Loyalists, while Blacks being last on the list, went without, making it difficult to prepare land and produce crops to support their families.
  • Punishment for the Black Loyalists for crimes such as theft, slander, assault, or vagrancy was severe. Between 1785 and 1791, there were no whites in Guysborough County receiving corporal punishment, however records indicate public whippings for Black settlers.
    • In 1786, a Black Loyalist woman, Sarah Ringwood, stole some butter. She was ordered, for punishment, to receive thirty-nine stripes on her naked back, at the Public Whipping Post in Manchester
    • During the year of the famine, in 1789, Eleanore Bourke received the same punishment, plus a weeks imprisonment for being a vagrant.
    • In 1790, Black Loyalist men were whipped for stealing food and a Black woman for lewd and indecent behaviour.

Upper Big Tracadie

From the beginning of the Guysborough settlement, Thomas Brownspriggs, well educated and respected, emerged as a leader in the Guysborough settlement. By 1787, having grown fully dissatisfied with the conditions of the community in the Chedabucto Bay area, he partitioned Lieutenant Governor Parr for a grant of land for Negroes who wanted to become farmers.

On September 28, 1787, Governor Parr ordered the surveyor-general to lay out under the authority of Thomas Brownspriggs and 73 others, at Tracadie, 3,000 acres.


Few records have been found on the origins of the Lincolnville community. It might be assumed that early settlers formed a separate community apart from the Tracadie settlement on part of the original 3,000 acre land grant of 1787.

Traces of early inhabitants can still be found in the Lincolnville area. A road existed about a kilometer in from the present highway, running almost parallel to Route 16. This settlement was part of what was called the "Sixty's Lots". Remnants of early pit homes are still there.

These homes were made by hollowing out ground, lining the pit with fir boughs, and securing the top with rock circles. These often measured 8 ft. by 6 ft. and housed families of up to six people. When tools became available, settlers began building log cabins.

Despite the lack of fertile land and water, the availability of firewood and isolation from other Black and White communities, the people of Lincolnville continue the struggle to survive as a community.

(Taken from lecture notes Mrs. Desmond uses in Guysborough County Schools)