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From the beginning, Loyalists of all colours were dependent on food and supplies provided by the British. Even if all the refugees had carried sacks of gold with them, there simply was not enough food in Nova Scotia to feed them all. In truth, most of them had lost nearly everything, and the blacks had never owned anything at all. Though only six months of rations were promised, it was soon obvious that enforcing this rule would result in the starvation of nearly all the settlers. For many, the six month line would have fallen in the dead of winter, ensuring their quick deaths.

To avoid such an awful situation, the British resorted to trading with the enemy, sending an agent to New York to purchase 5 000 barrels of flour. This was probably the first significant trade between Britain and the United States. Still it was obvious that this was not enough, and the next year more rations were sent from England and purchased in Boston.

The blacks were the most dependent on this support of all the Loyalists. While everybody had lost a great deal, the blacks had absolutely nothing to start with. Many observers commented on their extreme poverty. Without savings to support themselves, their dependence on royal supplies was absolute.

Blacks were typically forced to do public service in various work corps in order to receive their rations. This arrangement was enshrined in various forms in Digby, Annapolis, Preston, and Shelburne. In Birchtown there was a Black Pioneer corps and later a Black Militia which was sent out to clear roads and cut trees. The local military commander, Colonel Morse, commented that 'it is known from experience that these persons brought up in servitude and slavery, want the assistance and protection of a master to make them happy; indeed to preserve them from penury and distress.' To assist with this he suggested that service in these work corps be made mandatory, but by this time Shelburne's decline was evident and there was little demand for public works.

Abuse of the supplies was rampant. An audit in 1784 revealed systematic fraud. One of the most common problems was withholding supplies from blacks held in bondage as indentured servants. By doing this, whites could obtain labour and much needed supplies - often without having to pay anything, since indenture contracts were routinely broken. Some whites simply managed to steal rations or have them picked up in their name.

This audit helped curb some of the worst abuses, but problems continued unabated until they were finally discontinued in 1787. By this time there were taxes to support the poor, and most of the underprivileged whites had returned to the United States.

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Picture by Tina Elliot
Loyalist Refugees of all colours had to depend on the King's Bounty of rations.

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Stephen Blucke


Petition for extension of the Bounty

List of Indentured Servants from 1784 Audit