Virginia’s Ethiopian Regiment

Virginia’s governor, Lord Dunsmore had a problem. He had many Loyalists to the British Crown, but they were not willing to do more than harumph heartily before returning to their bubble & squeek. The life of a British subject in Virginia was much better than in England, Scotland and Ireland, and the hefty taxes while lower than those paid by citizens still living in the UK should have paid for sufficient soldiers, sailors and war materiel to keep the rebellious, pro-French faction in check.

Washington, Jefferson, Madison and a fair number of the pro-French, anti-Crown faction were planters, meaning their time and money to pursue rebellion at their leisure came from farming and ranching that used slaves and indentured servants. Lord Dunsmore took steps that he considered a prudent means of attacking the rebels directly by means of an economic attack on the rebel source of income: slave-produced wealth. Lord Dunsmore offered slaves a deal: fight for the Crown and they will receive their freedom.

Great Britain was a pro-slavery nation at the time, so the governor’s offer wasn’t an altruism. However, raising a regiment soldiered by former slaves, with white officers and NCO, would hit Washington and his cabal where it hurt the most: in the wallet. The Ethiopian Regiment was raised, and served as a regiment of the British Army until the chaotic period between the Cornwallis’s surrender and the adoption of the Constitution.

One hero of the Ethiopian Regiment was Colonel Tye – not the Colonel Tighe of Battlestar Galactica fame.  An escaped slave, Tye enlisted in the Ethiopian Regiment, and then went north to command the Black Brigade of New Jersey.

Tye’s knowledge of Monmouth County and his bold leadership soon made him a well-known and feared Loyalist guerrilla commander. The British paid him and his group, consisting of blacks and whites, to destabilize the region. Tye and his fellow guerrilla fighters operated out of forested base called Refugeetown on Sandy Hook. They often targeted wealthy, slave-holding Patriots during their assaults, which often took place at night.

The British honored Lord Dunsmore’s bargain. Some of the regiment’s soldiers and families were transported to Canada, and others to England where a smaller number were eventually resettled in Africa. The rest, whether escaped slaves or free blacks who’d gone south to fight or free slaves were rounded up and enslaved on southern plantations for another eighty years.

Über DaveO

Retired soldier, micro-farmer, raconteur and pet owner from the great state of Oklahoma. Wandered in as a frequent commenter and have been enjoying blogging ever since.
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  1. Pingback: He’s Baaaaack… | In The Old Corps

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