Liberty Extended, Liberty Denied: The Black Loyalist Quest for Freedom in the Bahamas

Date of Completion

January 2011


History, Black|History, Latin American




Within the last two decades a number of scholars have sought to recover the social history of black loyalists—those enslaved blacks and free persons of color who supported the British cause during the American Revolution. Though considerable scholarship has documented the experiences of black loyalists and their struggles for freedom in Nova Scotia and England, less is known about their counterparts in the Bahamas and Jamaica. This study has as its subject the small, but significant, group of black loyalists who sought freedom in the Bahamas. Although granted freedom by British proclamation, many black loyalists arriving in the Bahamas found their claims were often undone through the efforts of white loyalists to either bind them to illegal indentured contracts, a form of apprenticeship, or even absolute bondage. Despite the efforts of whites to re-enslave them, black loyalists made significant contributions to Bahamian society: advancing political ideas related to personal freedom; building important institutional structures including churches and schools; and participating in the emerging market economy as proto-peasants. This project contends that the ideas that black loyalists brought with them to the Bahamas were based on their colonial experience in British North America. As such, black loyalists thought was shaped by their experiences with enslavement, but also drew inspiration from the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and freedom and the egalitarianism of the Great Awakening revival meetings. Upon settlement in the Bahamas, black loyalists expanded on these Revolutionary ideas by petitioning the courts and defending their right to liberty even while slave-owning whites deemed their claims to be unlawful. ^