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John Clarkson traveled to Halifax in 1791 to recruit Blacks for the settlement in Sierra Leone. As the brother of well-known abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and an experienced naval officer, Clarkson could be trusted to see to the black's well being and successfully organize the practical details of the voyage. The company's directors had previously asked Thomas Peters to spread the news about the settlement opportunity to his people in New Brunswick and around the Annapolis Valley and Brindley Town.

The Company promised the Blacks who left that they would be able to travel for free, and would be allowed a certain weight for belongings. Each family would be granted acreage in Sierra Leone for each man, woman and child. Peters was also to inform Blacks that Clarkson would soon be arriving from England as well to officially sign up colonists and arrange ships for the passage.

Upon his arrival Clarkson spoke to Blacks in many areas of the province including Preston, Birchtown, and Shelburne. After Clarkson presented the offer of settlement, an overwhelming amount of the population wanted to go. So many attempted to sign up with the company that Clarkson was unable to cope with all the demands made on him. He appointed Thomas Peters, John Ball and David George to act as his deputies in settling small disputes and answering questions. The amount of people going far exceeded the number the company was prepared for, 1100 compared to a planned 500 or so. Eventually Clarkson had to accept people on the condition that there would be room for them to go.

Clarkson had promised Granville Sharp that he would be careful in the promises that he made to the blacks, but his enthusiastic nature got the better of him. As he was affected by the terrible stories he was told by prospective emigrants, he began to wholeheartedly promote the colony, even going so far as to claim certain knowledge that the existing colony had been destroyed (it had). More importantly he promised that there would be no land taxes. This was completely contrary to the charter of the company, which had planned to make its profits largely in this very manner.

The emigrants had to travel to Halifax to board the ships traveling to Sierra Leone. They were housed anywhere there was space while they waited to leave. This was the middle of winter, and hundreds of people were living outside in tents and crammed into tiny huts.

While preparing for the voyage Clarkson was involved in all aspects of planning. He supervised the refitting of the vessels, the cleaning and drying of the sleeping area, the completion of the contracts, and preparations of the provisions. Clarkson even took the time to ensure that the captains of the boats had instructions to treat the passengers well.

Clarkson became very ill before departure and nearly died; he had to be hoisted onto the ship before leaving. The fleet left for Sierra Leone on 15 Jan 1792. The boats carried 1190 free Black emigrants.

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Image Credit: The Long View - Tina Elliot and Jason Buchanan
Black Loyalists had to consider the perils of leaving their troubles for a very uncertain promised land.

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Mission to America

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