Book of Negroes

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The Book of Negroes (or Inspection Roll of Negroes) is a manuscript ledger of 3,000 black refugees whose details were recorded as part of the evacuation of British loyalists from the port of New York between April 23 and November 30, 1783, following the British surrender in the American Revolution. Fugitive slaves who were behind British lines at the time of surrender were not returned to their former owners (unless they wished to be returned), and the majority were evacuated to Nova Scotia, Canada (a British territory), with some transported to the British West Indies, London, or eventually migrating to Sierra Leone, West Africa.[1]

The book lists the names of ships the evacuees were transported on, their commanding officers, and the ports to which they are headed; names, ages, and brief descriptions of the evacuees; names of claimants seeking their property returned and their places of residence; in whom's possession the evacuee was currently; and remarks on the evacuees' former owners and places of residence, and they year they left. The book also records if the evacuee is in possession of a certificate granting them freedom, issued in the name of General Birch (G.B.C.), or General Musgrave (G.M.C.).

There are two copies of the manuscript, one made by the British (now at the National Archives in Kew, England),[2] and a copy made by the Americans (now at the National Archives of the United States, Washington, D.C.).[3]

At least 14 former slaves listed came from Williamsburg, Virginia. One, listed as James Rea (or Ray), age 24, an "Ordinary fellow without legs," is noted as being "Formerly Slave to George With Williamsburg Virginia... left him in 1779. G.M.C.":[4]


James is recorded as having sailed on the Elijah, mastered by Alexander Buchannon, on October 31, 1783, bound for "Port Mattoon" (Port Mouton), Nova Scotia.

Months later, in July, 1784, he is listed in the first "Muster Book of Free Blacks, Settlement of Birchtown" in Nova Scotia, as James "Ray," part of Captain Robert George Bridges' Company. James is listed as 25 years old, his occupation given as "Labourer," listed under "Heads of Families," then married to a Peggy Ray, age 26.[5]

See also


  1. "Book of Negroes," African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition, Nova Scotia Archives, accessed March 1, 2018.
  2. "Book of Negroes registered by the Commissioners and embarked from New York between 23 April and 31 July 1783," Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester: Papers, (PRO 30/55/100) 10427, The National Archives, Kew, England.
  3. Inspection Roll of Negroes Book No. 1, Series: Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 - 1789, Record Group 360: Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1765 - 1821, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. Taylor Stoermer, "Stout Fellows and Fine Girls: Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Book of Negroes," History Doctor, accessed March 1, 2018. "George With," presumably Wythe, is sometimes mistakenly transcribed as "Wilk."
  5. "Muster Book of Free Blacks, Settlement of Birchtown," pp. 146-147, Black Loyalist Refugees, 1782-1807- Port Roseway Associates, Library and Archives Canada, accessed March 12, 2018.

External links