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By the winter of 1782, it was clear to everybody that the British would soon have to evacuate the American states. Thousands of Loyalist refugees were packed into the few British held strongholds of New York, Charleston, and Savannah. Everyone knew that staying in the new country invited retaliation against them by the victorious Patriots. The blacks among them risked much worse by remaining.

Under the circumstances, people tried to flee to British territory by any means possible. Included in this early group of refugees were many blacks, who realized that their situation was precarious and it was wise to leave as quickly as possible.

As word of the peace treaty began to circulate among the Black Loyalists in New York, a terrible rumor spread; all the blacks would be returned to their former masters. Indeed, the text of the Treaty of Paris seemed to say just that, promising that the British would evacuate without "carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants".

The black soldiers who had fought for the British were terrified. They knew that if they were returned to their owners they could expect not just slavery but also a cruel punishment for their rebellion. Many had escaped in the first place precisely because they had such cruel masters, and the prospect of being abandoned in this manner caused them great fear and anguish.

Several months passed between the drafting of a rough outline of the peace agreement and the final signing, but the substance of the treaty was known to everybody well before that. Many white masters from the southern states traveled and sent their agents to New York to seize their former slaves in anticipation of the treaty.

Boston King wrote about the fear the blacks felt as they watched their companions being kidnapped off of the streets by their old masters. Some were even captured while they slept and dragged back to their old plantations. Other adventurers saw an opportunity for quick profit by kidnapping any likely black and claiming them as a slave. Probably hundreds of blacks were returned to slavery in this fashion.

This desperate situation only really ended when the British authorities decided to made a stand against the Americans on the issue of the Black Loyalists.

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Image Credit: Tina Elliot
Blacks in New York at the end of the war were often simply captured and sold off as slaves.

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Boston King


King's Memoir - Chaos