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Black Militia Units in Upper Canada 1812 to 1850
In both the War of 1812 and the Upper Canada Rebellion, the service of Black militia units demonstrated the determination of Upper Canadians of African descent to share in the duties and rights of British subjects. Serving in numbers that were disproportionate to their percentage of the Canadian population, their service in the militia was a practical demonstration of the Black community’s belief in the importance of Canada as a haven for former slaves.
Embodied as the segregated Coloured Corps in the War of 1812, Black militiamen played a role as infantry at Queenston Heights and other battles and worked as labourers on the construction of fortifications. In August of 1812 a segregated Black company (numbering 38 men at one point) was formed as a unit in the 1st Lincoln Militia under a white officer, Robert Runchey. It participated in the final charge at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Early in 1813 the company was designated the Coloured Corps and became part of Upper Canada’s militia. The Corps participated in the opposition to American landings at Fort George in May of 1813. Following the withdrawal of the American force from Fort George in December, the Coloured Corps was attached to the Engineer’s Department and was employed as a labour unit to assist in building Fort Mississauga. The unit was disbanded in March of 1815, and its members subsequently experienced difficulty and delays in obtaining gratuities and land grants offered to militia units.
Black militiamen also served in the Upper Canada Rebellion, and were kept on strength until 1850 in roles such as construction, patrolling of frontiers and as aids to the civil power. In the face of increasing commitments around the world, the British government continued to reduce its military presence in Canada and on April 30, 1850 the Black militia units were disbanded.
During the Rebellion of 1837 and its aftermath, the Black population of Upper Canada overwhelmingly supported the government against the rebels. The Upper Canadian Act of 1793 Against Slavery, which limited slavery in Upper Canada, and the Imperial Act which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1834, had made Upper Canada into a relatively safe refuge for Black people fleeing slavery in the American slave states or seeking greater security than that provided in the free states.
Considered together, the Black Militia Units of 1812-1815 and 1837-1850 represent a strong and continuing tradition of military service on the part of Canada’s early Black communities. Practically the tradition formed part of a strategy to maintain Upper Canada as a refuge for escaping slaves; symbolically it demonstrated the community’s commitment to Upper Canada.
Title of the Image: An illustration of Black Loyalist Richard Pierpoint
Source of the Image: Canadian War Museum/1.E.2.4-CGR2
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Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology
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