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Citizens' Claims of Property Lost to British Army, 1815


In December 1814, the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent which was ratified by Congress in February 1815 and officially ended what came to be known as the War of 1812. As part of this treaty, England agreed to turn over to their American owners those slaves who had escaped to or been taken by British forces during the war. However, instead of returning these individuals, the British government eventually chose to monetarily compensate the slave owners.

Areas of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay and along the major coastal rivers were subject to numerous British naval and land incursions giving enslaved African Americans the opportunity to reach British ships and occupied areas. Not surprisingly, masters in counties such as Northumberland on the Northern Neck lost considerable slave property. The flow of enslaved people increased after April 1814 when British military authorities offered Americans who deserted the opportunity to enter British military service or to be resettled to other British colonies. The British offer theoretically applied to any American, but was clearly aimed at the enslaved population. About 4,000 enslaved African Americans, primarily from coastal Georgia and the Chesapeake region escape into British lines. Most were resettled in Nova Scotia and the rest were settled in Trinidad and other British colonies. Among the Trinidadian settlers were former Colonial Marines who had actively fought under arms for the British.

Citation: Citizens' Claims of Property Lost to British Army, 1815. War of 1812 Digital Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond.



Suggested Questions

In Their Shoes: If you were a slave in Virginia during the war of 1812, would you try to run to the British? Why or Why not?

Political Plans: If you were an American politician during this time, what arguments would you make for compensation for stolen slaves?

Analyze: Why do you think the British chose monetary compensation over actually returning slaves?

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