Back to Black Loyalist Home Page Black Loyalists: Our Story, Our People Canada's Digital Collections

Home: People: Influential: Henry Clinton

Our Story
Loyalists Now

Henry Clinton was born in 1738 as the son of an Admiral. Clinton began his military career early and served in the Seven Years War. He was appointed to a seat in Parliament, but the death of his beloved wife, Harriet, sent Clinton into a depression that he could not shake, and in turn did not take his seat. Clinton then became second in command to Commander-in-Chief Howe. Even at this point Clinton was having trouble interacting with both his superiors and subordinates. Despite these problems Clinton was knighted by the Crown in 1777.

Clinton had a great impact on the dynamics of the American Revolution. Clinton made the initial contacts with Benedict Arnold that led to Arnold's betrayal of the Patriots. He was the main architect of the decision to offer freedom to any rebel's slave who could desert to the British lines. On June 30, 1779, in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, Clinton issued a proclamation stating that every Negro who would desert the rebel standard and join with the British would be afforded British protection. This was a turning point of the war because only men who could fight were previously offered British protection.

Clinton also insisted that Loyalist owned slaves who ran away from their masters should not be punished. This may give the impression that Clinton respected slaves' right to freedom, but in a contradictory statement he announced that any slave that was seized during the war should become public property and be used for public works. At the end of the war all of these slaves were returned to their masters as part of the peace agreement. Near the end of the war Clinton was forced to refuse acceptance to any new Blacks who were fleeing their masters to join the British.

In October of 1781, Clinton failed to arrive in time to reinforce Cornwallis at Yorktown, resulting in a devastating defeat for the British. Under pressure, he then turned his command over to Sir Guy Carleton. Clinton had become more cautious and had developed a tendency towards self-doubt, which proved to be his undoing. He had suspected Washington was feinting to throw him off, but feared an attack on New York and was trapped in indecision. This ended his military career. The Yorktown surrender was the crucial turning point of the revolution, and many British blamed him for the loss of the war.

Throughout his life Clinton was obsessed with correspondence. He began collecting and making copies of all letters that were in his possession. Many think that this duplication strategy was to protect himself from any possible repercussions associated with the choices he made throughout his military career. Clinton spent the last twelve years of his life compiling his memoirs into a book. He entitled his book The American Rebellion. It was not published until many years after his death.

Painting of Henry Clinton
Sir Henry Clinton

Story: Revolution

Philipsburg Proclamation

Story: Exile

Treaty of Paris

Story: Exodus

Peters in London