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Birchtown was the largest of the independent Black Loyalist settlements: at its peak it was the largest community of free blacks in the world outside of Africa. Founded in 1783 by five companies of the Black Pioneers, it soon became the destination of choice for many isolated communities of blacks and refugees from Shelburne. It's population swelled to somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people; almost half of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia.

Birchtown is located about 7 km northwest of Shelburne on Shelburne Harbour. All of Shelburne is notably rocky; the original name of Port Roseway comes from the French 'Rasoir' or razor, for the sharp granite rocks that would cut open their canoes. Birchtown is even rockier than the other side of the harbour, and is backed by a large swamp. As farmland, the whole area is entirely unsuitable. Although the water is fresh, the twin creeks that drain out the west branch of the Roseway are not navigable.

Colonel Stephen Blucke was the local authority, serving as local magistrate, schoolteacher, and leader of the public work Corps. As the head of the Pioneer Corps that did public construction in the area, he was effectively the only local employer. As schoolmaster at the local Anglican sponsored school, he had the best paid job in the community and a position of some influence over the families in the town. Blucke also had some useful connections in Shelburne, that were probably used to find work for a select few people from Birchtown. Stephen Skinner seems to have sponsored Blucke in this way.

The local preachers probably had more influence though. Moses Wilkinson of the Wesleyans made his Nova Scotia headquarters in a meetinghouse in Birchtown, as did John Marrant of the Huntingdonians. David George's Baptist church was in Shelburne's 'Blacktown', located in the north end of Shelburne on the way to Birchtown. Birchtown was famous for the strength and expressiveness of it's churches.

After the Sierra Leone exodus, Birchtown was largely depopulated. Nearly all of the religious people who had a choice in the matter had left. About 50 families remained, and over the years most of them slowly moved away as well. Shelburne itself had fallen on hard times, and there was little employment in the area to keep them there. Some moved to Halifax and Preston, others to Saint John and other towns in the area. Although even today, there are a few Black Loyalist families in the area.

Today Birchtown is the home of the Black Loyalist Society. There is a National Heritage Monument on the site of the original Birchtown cemetery, a small museum in an 1800's school, and plans to construct a large interpretive center. There are numerous trails in the area, and the bay is ideal for sea kayaking.

Map showing Birchtown and Shelburne
An early map of Shelburne showing Birchtown on the Northwest Arm of the harbour.

Story: Arrival


Story: Suffering

Still Landless


Stephen Blucke

John Marrant

Jupiter Farmer

Isiah Limerick

Boston King

Moses Wilkinson

David George

Cato Perkins


Marston's Journal

Mission to America

Dyott's Description

Booth's Description

Marrant's Journal

Boston King's Memoir

Bill for Surveying Birchtown

Road Petition