Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. before Emancipation

Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. before Emancipation

Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. before Emancipation

Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. before Emancipation

Excerpt

It was mid-summer 1816 and Africans in Florida, tensing for an epochal battle near the Apalachicola River, were well-armed. Among the hundreds gathered at what was called the “Negro Fort” were former slaves who had been trained by the British—a nation which only recently had fought a brutal war with the United States: the warriors also included escaped slaves from this young republic, along with a grouping of indigenes who too had unresolved grievances with Washington. Thanks to London, they had the ability to inflict severe pain on approaching U.S. troops: their weaponry included four twenty-four pound cannons, four six-pound cannons, one field piece, and one three-and-one-half inch brass howitzer, not to mention 2,500 muskets, 500 carbines, 500 swords, 300 quarter casks of rifle powder, and 162 barrels of cannon powder. Their encampment was one of the most heavily fortified along a river route in the southern reaches of North America. They also had flags flying over their battlement: the Union Jack and a red flag, which signaled “no surrender.” They did not surrender and they were overwhelmed, though some departed hastily and lived to fight another day.

These Negroes were part of what was probably the most profoundly militant and sustained resistance of the enslaved since Europeans had invaded the continent hundreds of years earlier. More than this, this resistance marked a repetitive strategy deployed by London against its former colony: deploy the republic’s Africans to assault their homeland. Just before war erupted in mid-1812, Sir Alexander Cochrane noted confidently that Virginia’s Negroes were “British in their hearts and might be made great use of if war should be prosecuted with vigor.”

Taking advantage of the war commencing in 1812, the enslaved had fled en masse. When Washington itself was torched by the redcoats in August 1814, one stricken Euro-American reported angrily that the Negroes had . . .

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