#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 4

For Diverse Book Week this year, I’m reading David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History. I explain in this earlier post why I chose this book. You can read my previous daily posts here:

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 1.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 2.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 3.

In this update, I’m considering Chapter 5 which covers the period of the American War of Independence, which saw Black soldiers fighting on both sides, and its aftermath.

This isn’t an area of history I knew much about. What struck me most about the war was the way that British commanders encouraged slaves to escape to become enlisted soldiers in the British ranks or auxiliary workers. This wasn’t for reasons of principle or morals but rather as a military strategy. This seemed however to further incense slave-owning revolutionaries who saw no irony in complaining of taxation without representation as a form of ‘slavery’ while relying on slave labour themselves.

In a book which catalogues many horrors. Nevertheless, I was still shocked to read of the betrayal of these black loyalists by British commanders at the siege of Yorktown when they were forcibly evicted to face the mercy of their former owners in the attacking revolutionary army.

Not all the British commanders acted in this way, however, and at the end of the war, hundreds of former slaves travelled from British-occupied Manhattan to Nova Scotia and Britain, some of them who had been owned by George Washington, sailing away almost as their former master marched his troops the length of the Island.

The presence of these exiled and impoverished former colonial slaves who had fought for Britain provided an embarrassing reminder of defeat on the streets of London. Prof. Olusoga tells the tale of the mix of charity and criminality, good intentions and incompetence that let to the eventual settlement of the community that became Freetown in Sierra Leone. I’d been aware of it’s origins in the broadest of brushstrokes, but not the tortuous, and often tragic, journey to its foundation.

What is apparent from this section of the book is the readiness of the white establishment to use People of Colour, whether slave or free, to further their own economic, military or political ends. Even the most well intentioned protagonists, advocates of the abolition of slavery and equal rights under law seem happy to recruit black Britons to help further their cause, but it never occurs to them give them authority, even when they might be in the best position to lead others.

More than a little interesting too that what was perhaps the first Black British community was founded on the shores of West Africa, and within a stone’s throw of the most infamous of slave fortresses, Bunce Island.

You can read the Day 5 update here.

5 thoughts on “#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 4”

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