Wednesday, April 29, 2015

(SMITH) The Slave that Got Away

In 1783, William Holt owned 21 slaves—more than any other Williamsburg resident at the time. If the British Army had cooperated, he would have owned 22.1

During the American Revolution, the British commander-in-chief2 hoped to weaken the American economy3 via the Philipsburg Proclamation, which proclaimed freedom to all slaves owned by American patriots and promised protection to slaves who left their masters.4 Thousands of slaves escaped to the British lines.5

Accordingly, one condition of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the War, prohibited the retreating British from “carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American Inhabitants.”7

General George Washington met with the British to discuss implementation of the treaty terms. Washington reminded them of the importance of returning “all Negroes and other property” to the Americans. The British general, Carleton, said that “in his interpretation, the term property meant property owned by Americans at the time the treaty was signed,” and therefore excluded slaves who had absconded to British lines during the war.8

The Americans were not pleased, but the British stood by their word: they had promised freedom. Although the former slaves had run away because of the Philipsburg Proclamation, Carleton noted that “the Negroes in question” had escaped before he arrived in New York as commander-in-chief. “I had therefore no right, as I thought, to prevent their going to any part of the world they thought proper.”9

Some of the former slaves were evacuated to the Canadian "part of the world." Among those bound for Port Roseway, Nova Scotia was Hannah Jackson, age 12, a “fine girl. Formerly the property of William Holt of Williamsburgh, Virginia.”10

William Holt would simply have to make do with 21 slaves.

**I am NOT condoning slavery, merely reporting history. And for the record, I think it's great that the British kept their word. 

Line of descent:

William Holt 1730-1791
William Holt 1765-1820
John Holt 1792-1872
Jesse Payton Holt 1833-1922
Maria Druzilla Holt 1861-1946
Lucia Naomi Scoville 1889-1958
Alice Zemp 1925-2000

1 - Thad W. Tate, Jr., “The Negro in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg,” Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library,
2 - “American Revolution: General Sir Henry Clinton,”, Accessed 29 Apr 2015
3 - Black Loyalists, “The Philipsburg Proclamation,, Accessed 29 Apr 2015
4 - Wikipedia, “Philipsburg Proclamation,”, Accessed 29 Apr 2015
5 - Wikipedia, “Philipsburg Proclamation,”, Accessed 29 Apr 2015
7 - Black Loyalist, “Treaty of Paris,”, accessed 29 Apr 2015
8 - Black Loyalist, “Evacuation of New York,”, Accessed 29 Apr 2015
9 - Black Loyalist, “Evacuation of New York,”, Accessed 29 Apr 2015. Same reference for entire paragraph.
10 - Black Loyalist, “The Book of Negroes – Transcript,”, Accessed 29 Apr 2015

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