Fort George

Fort George and Richard Pierpoint

Richard Pierpoint: A Black Loyalist

Pierpoint was born in Bondu, a nation state in current-day Senegal, Africa and was raised as a Muslim. He was captured when he was about 16 years of age and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Thirteen Colonies, where he was purchased and enslaved by a military officer. When the American Revolutionary War broke out, he enlisted for the British side in Butler’s Rangers, a successful loyalist fighting force that was stationed at Fort Niagara. For his service to the Crown, Pierpoint was awarded his freedom and was granted 200-acres (81 hectares) in Grantham Township, present day St. Catharines.

During the War of 1812 he stood up to fight once more by petitioning the colonial provincial government “to raise a Corps of Men of Colour on the Niagara Frontier.”

Long after the War of 1812 ended, Pierpoint received another 100-acre land grant, this time in Fergus, Ontario (Wellington County). By this time, he was quite elderly and did not wish to undertake the back-breaking work of settling the land. He was also impoverished, relying on friends and neighbours for support. In 1821 he sent a petition to Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, requesting that instead of his 100-acre land grant for his military service, he receive funds so that he could return home to Bondu. Sadly, his petition was refused. He lived on his Fergus property for many years, receiving help from other Black settlers in the area. It is believed that he spent the winter months in the Niagara region where he had many friends and where the winters were not as harsh. In 1828, around the age of 84, he had his last will and testament drawn up, signing his name with an “X.”

Richard Pierpoint, “Pawpine,” or “Captain Dick,” as he was also known, died in late 1837 or early 1838. He was a respected member of the Black community and was well-known throughout the province as an elder, a veteran, a settler, and a “griot” (or revered storyteller). He died far, far away from his beloved homeland to which he had so longed to return.

The Coloured Corps

At age 68, Black Loyalist Richard Pierpoint petitioned the colonial provincial government “to raise a Corps of Men of Colour on the Niagara Frontier” at the beginning of the conflict in July 1812. The suggestion was first rejected, but in October the military decided to consider Pierpoint’s suggestion. In October the Coloured Corps was formed under a white officer, Captain Robert Runchey.

Approximately 55 Black men enlisted, including Pierpoint. Many were Black Loyalists who had received their freedom for service in the British military during the American Revolution and some were enslaved who escaped to serve. They feared an American victory would place them again in the horrific shackles of slavery.

The Coloured Corps contributed to a British victory at Queenston Heights. They were also involved in the repairs of Fort George and Fort Mississauga after American attacks. Although they were good fighters, they were also known as being good “axemen” and towards the end of their service, they helped to build Fort Mississauga and repair other military installations.

Butler's Rangers Belt Plate

This is an example of an Officer's sword belt plate, cast in brass. It is from a member of Butler's Rangers, the same military unit in which Richard Pierpoint enlisted. He was recognized for his service in Butler's Rangers throughout his life.

Petition of Richard Pierpoint July 21, 1821

Above is the petition sent by Richard Pierpoint to Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland requesting his help to return to Africa. Below is a transcription of the full letter:

Most humbly Sheweth,
That Your Excellency's Petitioner is a native of Bondon in Africa; that he was conveyed to America about the year 1760 and sold to a British officer; that he served his Majesty during the American Revolutionary War in the Cops called Butler's Rangers; and again during the late American War in a Cops of Color raised on the Niagara Frontier. That your Escellency's Petitioner is now old and without property that he finds it difficult to obtain a liveliehood by his labour; that he is above all things desirous to return to his native country; that His Majesty's Government be graciously pleased to grant him any relief; he wishes if may be affording him the means to proceed to England and from hence to a Settlement near the Gambia or Senegal Rivers, from whence he could return to Bondon.

Your Excellency's Petitioner therefore humbly prays that Your Excellency will be graciously pleased to take his case into your favorable consideration and order such steps to be taken to have him sent as to Your Excellency may be graciously pleased to order.

And you humble Petitioner as in duty bound will ever pray his.

- Richard X, Pierpoint

Petition of Richard Pierpoint July 21, 1821
© Government of Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada (2019).

Source: Library and Archives Canada/RG5-A1, Vol. 53, 26441-26443

Extract of
Voices of Freedom | Black History of Niagara-on-the-Lake

Voices of Freedom | Black History of Niagara-on-the-Lake image circuit

Presented by : Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake

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