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The Battle of Yorktown in 1781 was a colossal defeat for the British. General Cornwallis was surrounded by 12 000 troops with only 6000 defenders. Clinton had been outmaneuvered by Washington and the French Navy kept him from reinforcing Cornwallis. The guns and sharp attacks wore down the British resolve, until Cornwallis surrendered a month after the siege had begun.

As Cornwallis surrendered, hundreds of black soldiers were abandoned to the Americans. Where other British commanders made the fate of their black soldiers a priority in peace negotiations, Cornwallis either had no choice or thought it was a minor consideration. All of these unlucky soldiers were returned to slavery.

After Yorktown, the British knew that the war was a lost cause. The question was how to save dignity and concede under the best possible conditions. Their forces were fighting fiercely all over the world, and the lost cause of America was a low priority. Hostilities with the French and Spanish continued, but negotiations with the Patriots were quietly begun in Paris. The American side pressed the point that a peace with unfair conditions would not last and would result in no security for the remaining colonies. The British agreed, and after some bargaining a rough deal was struck. The French were initially angered that they hadn't been included in the negotiations, but were impressed by the final agreement the Americans had made. They too agreed to peace.

The final agreement was signed in September of 1782, but the basic conditions had been outlined several months earlier. Reparations were to be made for seized Loyalist land and buildings. Everything that had been stolen in war was to be returned as best possible. The British recognized the independence of the United States, and the Americans recognized the British colonies in Florida and in the north.

One particular item remained unsettled; what would happen to the Black Loyalists who had risked everything for freedom? Many loyalists thought they should be returned to the Americans so that their chances of receiving reparations would be improved. Most of the British military leaders disagreed. A promise made had to be kept, and since the blacks were free British men at the time of the treaty, the British had no right to remove their freedom after that. The Americans, unsurprisingly, disagreed.

Washington wrote an angry letter to Carleton on the subject, mentioning that he had heard rumors that the British planned to evacuate their black soldiers with them. Carleton replied that this was true - as he had no right to deprive free blacks of what had already been granted to them; their freedom. Carleton agreed that compensation for their previous owners would be appropriate, and towards that end a careful record of those freed slaves being evacuated was being kept.

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The Treaty of Paris

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Guy Carleton

Henry Clinton


The Treaty of Paris, 1783