Monday, September 03, 2018

Lincoln, Lord Dunmore, and the Emancipation Proclamations (1775 and 1863)

Abraham Lincoln

Americans rightfully celebrate Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but often do not realize that this was not the first Emancipation Proclamation in American history.  The first one fizzled out.
On November 7, 1775 the Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore issued a proclamation offering freedom to all slaves and indentured servants belonging to rebels and willing to bear arms in the service of the Crown. The Earl of Dunmore’s proclamation anticipated Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by some four score and seven years and was done for much the same reason, to cripple the ability of rebels to resist.

Lord Dunmore armed hundreds of runaway slaves in Virginia and formed an all black unit called the “Ethiopian Regiment” which performed distinguished service. The regiment marched under the banner, “Liberty to Slaves”. 

Sir Henry Clinton
The British lacked sufficient manpower to put down a revolt by a “people numerous and well armed”.  This manpower shortage made the use of slaves all the more appealing to the British since slaves constituted some twenty percent of the total population of the colonies.  On June 30, 1779, Sir Henry Clinton the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America, promised in the so called Philipsburg Declaration that “every NEGRO who shall desert the Rebel Standard, [is granted] full security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which he shall think proper.” Now it was not hundreds of slaves seeking refuge in British lines but tens of thousands.  Some one hundred thousand slaves (out of a population of 500,000 slaves) are estimated to have sought freedom with the British over the course of the next four years. An estimated twelve thousand ex-slaves served with British forces during the American Revolution in such units as the Ethiopian Regiment and the Black Pioneers.
The British were willing to emancipate slaves if by so doing they could first cripple and then crush the rebellion.  Much as in the later American Civil War, military necessity rather than morality acted as the catalyst of history.  The struggle of Black Loyalists for freedom under the British Crown is one of the inconvenient truths of American history, embarrassingly politically incorrect.  Certainly American abolitionists in the 19th century fighting for slave emancipation made no mention of the earlier struggle for freedom.  The first Emancipation Proclamation made in 1775 by Lord Dunmore and later expanded by Sir Henry Clinton is scarcely ever mentioned in American history books.  It is only now, after America and Britain have been allies in two World Wars, the Cold War, and developed the so called “special” Anglo-American relationship that Black Loyalists and their struggle for freedom can be rehabilitated.

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