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Many blacks received half rations and were forced to work most of the week.Under the circumstances they had little choice but to take employment under whatever terms were available. The alternative was usually indentured servitude, since unemployed blacks were commonly sold off to provide them with food and keep them off the streets. Lacking land, savings, or any other way to support themselves, they were forced into the uncertainties of the labour market.

Blacks were valuable employees in many ways. Most of them had been tradesmen of some sort, usually in rough trades like carpentry and woodcutting. Large numbers of them had experience in the Black Pioneers, where they had dug trenches and constructed forts. White soldiers frequently had no skills, and were used to the inflated wages they had received during the war. By comparison, the blacks were much more useful, especially since their lack of power and protectors meant they could be freely exploited.

In some rare instances, blacks earned as much as half of what a white tradesman could expect, but on average, they received only one quarter of the wage. The labourers in Colonel Blucke's Black Pioneers were paid 8 pence per day, while a white laborer in Halifax might demand as much as 3 shillings (36 p.). White businessmen quickly became dependent on black workers. Their cash was quickly running out, and the wages whites demanded were unusually high. This, in turn, infuriated the white soldiers, who felt they were being cheated out of their living. That resentment eventually led to an ugly outbreak of prejudice in Shelburne.

One exception laid in the fishing industry. For whatever reason, blacks usually received an equal wage to white fishermen. Like today, they were often paid in a share of the catch, or they might go into business on their own and fish from small dories. Either way, the sea proved to be an attractive career for many Black Loyalists. A fish on the end of a line didn't much care what colour the fisherman was.

In Birchtown and Halifax, some men went into service on larger boats. Boston King was hired on to a salmon fishing boat in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and received a fair wage and a share of the catch. Others became privateers in the West Indies. There had been several black pilots in service to the British navy, and apparently their skills were well valued in these seafaring places.

It's possible that other attitudes were a factor. White Loyalists were frequently in conflict with the more established settlers. They were often from the southern states and had strong beliefs about the racial inferiority of blacks. The old comers, as they were known, had seen few blacks and were more willing to accept them on their own worth. As the old saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Old inhabitants dominated the seagoing fishing trade of the area.

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William Booth's Black Woodcutter - Hand colored by Jason Buchanan
Black tradesmen would receive as little as one quarter the pay of an equally skilled white.

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