The history of Birchtown is a short but important chapter in the history of Nova Scotia. It begins with the founding of the neighboring town of Shelburne in early May 1783. Among the founding group were 936 freed slaves. They were followed by a second larger emigration of Black Loyalists arriving on August 27, 1783. The Black Loyalists were runaway slaves who sought protection under the British and who served the Loyalist cause. With their ideals of dignity and independence in a world of equal citizenship under the British crown they arrived on the shores of Shelburne Harbour filled with hope. Governor Parr ordered these new settlers to be placed 'up the Northwest Harbour', in an area they named Birchtown, after Brig.-General Samuel Birch. On September 3, 1783, led by Col. Stephen Blucke, the Black Loyalists settled in Birchtown and feverishly worked to shelter themselves before the onset of winter.
The population of Birchtown grew to 1,521 people by the late fall of 1784. It was, briefly, the largest settlement of free Blacks in North America, a phenomenon which was noted in the newspapers of the time in New York and London. We do not know the exact extent of Birchtown at its height as no exact plans of the settlement exist. The town has been shown to be as small as 13 acres in 1784, but more likely it was up to around 400 acres.
Birchtown was home to many famous figures in the history of Nova Scotia. Certainly one of the most colourful and enduring is Colonel Stephen Blucke, a free man from Barbados, who was the leader of the Black Loyalists in Birchtown. Blucke has been described as "a man of upright character, intelligent, and of good education." He was the colonel of the Black Militia in Shelburne and was the school teacher in Birchtown from 1785 to 1796 when poor attendance forced the school's closure. He was one of the few prominent citizens who resisted the wave of emigration to Sierra Leone.
David George was born to slaves and ran away from his master when he was nineteen. In 1773 he was one of the founders of the Silver Bluff Baptist Church in South Carolina, the first black church in North America. Fleeing the Revolution he came to Shelburne in the spring of 1783 and began preaching, quickly gaining fame across the province. Persecution followed him, however, as he was beaten by whites during the Shelburne riots and forced to flee to Birchtown. After four months his outspoken style resulted in the citizens of Birchtown driving him back to Shelburne. In 1792 he emigrated to Sierra Leone.
Boston King was a carpenter and ship builder who also employed himself with fishing when circumstances dictated it. In Birchtown King was moved by the preaching of Freeborn Garretson and he began voluntary missionary work throughout the province. In 1791 he was appointed pastor in charge of the Methodist Society at Preston. In 1792 Boston King, his family, and his congregation emigrated to Sierra Leone.
Next: Birchtown, 1784
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