In 2006, an arsonist set fire to the office of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society destroying many of its valuable archives and historical papers. In June 2015 the Birchtown museum realizes a 25-year dream to honour, research and teach the history of Nova Scotia’s Black Loyalists when they officially opened The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre & Historical Site .
The centre offers an interactive experience into the dramatic and often tragic story of the Black Loyalists, who escaped slavery by fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War.
They were evacuated from New York City, their names listed in the Book of Negroes, a register that American slave owners wanted in order to claim compensation. The two original books are in Washington, D.C., and London, England, but visitors to the centre can flip through its pages digitally. About 1,000 of the 3,000 people listed came to Nova Scotia.
Lawrence Hill came to Birchtown to research The Book of Negroes. Lawrence Hill has also co-written (along with director Clement Virgo) a six-part television miniseries based on The Book of Negroes, which appeared in early 2015 on CBC TV in Canada and on BET in the USA.
Black Loyalists landed in Port Roseway — later Shelburne — in 1783 and 1784. Though some came as slaves living with their masters in Shelburne, most lived in their own community of Birchtown, outside Shelburne, on rocky, virtually unworkable land.
Most never received the land or provisions promised and had to earn paltry wages as farmhands or domestics.
People, particularly youth, need to know “the reality of what it was to be one of the original settlers in a place like this,” says society founder-president Elizabeth Cromwell, who was born in Birchtown in the 1940s and whose Loyalist ancestor is John Stevenson.
READ more … The Chronicle Herald has extensive coverage of the ongoing story of making this dream into reality.
THE BLACK LOYALIST HERITAGE CENTRE
Where: Located at 119 Birchtown Rd., 10 kilometres from Shelburne, at Exit 27 off Highway 103.
Hours: The centre, part of the Nova Scotia Museum network, is open now, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and June 1 to Aug. 31, daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8, $5 for seniors and youth, free for kids five and under, with $20 family passes.
BOOK OF NEGROES: Nova Scotia’s role in series is celebrated