Afua Cooper – “The political education and revolutionary consciousness of the Black Loyalists.”

Extracts from the lecture meeting minutes of January 15th, 2014 at which the speaker, Dr Afua Cooper, spoke about the political culture of the Black Loyalists as manifested in the actions of the Sierre Leone colonists.


James Morrision, the Vice President of program, introduced the evening’s speaker Dr Afua Cooper the occupant of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Studies at Dalhousie University. Dr. Cooper’s book on slave life in Montreal, based on evidence of the trial of Angelique in 1734, attracted a Governor General’s award and her contemporary poetry has received critical acclaim.  Her lecture was titled “The political education and revolutionary consciousness of the Black Loyalists.”

She situated her lecture in a growing body of literature on Black Loyalists who asserted their agency in the determination of their future. In contrast to being passive fellow travelers on much of the same journey as the non-Black refugees from the Revolution this new literature asserts that Black Loyalists were agents of their own change and actively sought their freedom and the changes it would mean to their communities. From her own casual encounter with George Liele’s Baptist Church in Jamaica at a time before realizing his life path to the work of Cassandra Pybus in situating Black Loyalists in uprisings at Botany Bay in Australia there is a pattern of Black Loyalists continuing the radical consciousness that many associate with the American Revolution into their new situations.

This radical consciousness was also cradled in the heightened religious expression of Black churches which bloomed in this period. The Christian message delivered through the growing number of Black preachers became a call for recognition and equality whether delivered through a sermon at church or petitions conveying grievances to colonial governors. Additionally the demographic profile of the Black Loyalists was such that nearly half of those arriving in Nova Scotia had experienced freedom and self-determination in Africa during their life before Nova Scotia.

She then followed the Sierra Leone migration from Nova Scotia to Africa in which the popular historical narrative is that Abolitionist John Clarkson sought to create a free colony of Blacks under the British Flag in the home port of the slave trade. Yet in the colony of Clarkson under the corporate world of the Sierra Leone Company the lives of those who were now free on paper was one in which their freedoms were fleeting. With little land, less political say and a commercial colony the situation didn’t really seem much better.

Dr Cooper went on to argue that the truer keepers of the what we see now as the ideals of the French and American revolutions were not the shopkeepers of Boston who marched against the garrison at Bunker Hill, or the rising middle class of France but the Black Nova Scotians of Sierre Leone, half of whom were born in Africa, who carried the ideals of religious freedom, political self determination and economic equality into their uprising against the Sierre Leone company.

In declaring themselves free men and women and the rightful proprietors of the colony they also declared themselves not subject to the laws of Britain and were labelled as Jacobites by noted abolitionist William Wilberforce. Although ultimately not successful in their revolution Dr Cooper rooted the evolution of their ideals in their values of pre-slave Africa and the effect of the Christian gospel as voiced by African native preachers.

Following a period of discussion the speaker was thanked by the president and the meeting adjourned to refreshments.

Full minutes: Lecture Meeting – January 15, 2014

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