‘Tek Force Wid Force’

Paul Shirley describes the freedom struggles of African Americans in the Bahamas after the American War of Independence.

On November 7th, 1775, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and royal Governor of Virginia, called upon ‘every Person capable of bearing Arms to His Majesty’s Standard, or be looked upon as Traitors’. The outbreak of open hostilities in Virginia lagged somewhat behind the opening shots of the American War of Independence, fired that April at Lexington and Concord. But Dunmore raised the stakes hugely when he declared ‘all indentured Servants, Negroes, or others … free that are able and willing to bear Arms … for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper Sense of their Duty’. By December, he had raised an ‘Ethiopian Regiment’ of 300 African Americans, their uniforms inscribed with the rallying-cry ‘Liberty to Slaves.’

Although Dunmore was quickly defeated in Virginia, American and British leaders were alert to the potentially explosive implications of his actions. In 1775, one in five Americans were black, and the vast majority of them were slaves. For the Founding Fathers, African Americans were certainly not ‘created equal’; rather, they were racially inferior ‘domestic enemies’. James Madison of Virginia feared that slavery was:

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