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

Home: Our Story: Arrival: Huts and Holes

Our Story
Loyalists Now
Landfall go backgo upgo to next Birchtown

When the Black Loyalists arrived in Port Roseway and other ports in the summer and autumn of 1783, their first concern was to build shelters. Tools and nails tended to be in short supply, and the blacks had often not been granted town lots. Many people of all colours built temporary shelters, expecting that the next summer would allow them time to build a more appropriate and lasting home. Log cabins were the most common form of shelter for people with enough means and time to construct them. That rarely applied to people who had to contribute three days work each week to receive their rations.

Still, by the next year most of the huts and living sheds were demolished to make way for grander, or at least more comfortable homes. It wasn't so for the blacks. Birchtown was described as a town of huts, and what little archaeological evidence that has been found seems to imply that not many foundations were built there. In 1786 a 'Negro Hut' was pulled down in Shelburne for being used for dances and social gatherings, and Clarkson commented on the huts of Birchtown when he visited in 1792. In general it seems clear that black housing was less than adequate.

Part of the problem was cultural. Blacks were accustomed to building their shelters in the deep south and were simply not prepared for harsh Nova Scotia winters (which were much colder than modern winters). Slave quarters were typically extremely spartan with mattress-less bunks and open sections in the walls. Even many of the white homes were inadequate against the winters, but at least most of the Loyalist settlers in Nova Scotia were from New England and had some idea what to expect and how to build an adequate house. Black settlers had no such experience.

The problems went farther than that. Blacks were the last to receive supplies. When tools and wood were in short supply, it usually meant that they received nothing, and had to rely on what they could cut out of the forest. While thousands of feet of cut lumber were brought to Shelburne, in Birchtown, simple huts were typical, with wicker walls and roofs tied together in a cone and covered in birch bark.

Another structure mentioned in oral histories is a sort of hole with a roof on it: a trench would be dug on a spot of high ground and a roof of cloth and tree boughs would be built on top of that. This sort of hut was common for the military; quick to build and useful in avoiding building walls and getting the structure out of the wind. Without tools or proper lumber this was the best sort of shelter they could hope to build.

By 1787 people were abandoning Shelburne in droves, and this left a number of empty homes. The magistrates of the town were not inclined to allow squatters; the homes were seized for non payment of taxes and torn down if no buyer was forthcoming. Of course, it's almost certain that there was some scavenging of lumber and nails, but the tearing down of well built homes while many still lived in huts and trenches seems quite deliberate; an attempt to keep sharecroppers and labourers in a dependent situation.

Landfall go backgo upgo to next Birchtown
Image Credit: Illustrated London News 1849 - Scalpeen
Black Loyalists had to live in primitive huts.

Search the Site

No Frames Please


Survey at Brindley Town

Jessop's Diary Extract

Dyott's Extract