The following is an excerpt from The Enslaved Communities on Fort George Island A Special History Study for Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
by Amani T. Marshall, Ph.D.

Many of the enslaved people McQueen brought with him to East Florida considered themselves free and had likely been re-enslaved by McQueen in the chaos of the British evacuation after the Revolution. Soon after McQueen settled with his enslaved laborers on Fort George Island, he sold an enslaved woman called Nansy, along with her husband and two children, to Bartolome Benitez y Galvez, the Intendant of East Florida. In 1792, Nansy sued for her freedom. She petitioned to the governor on the grounds that she and her husband had freed themselves in Charleston during the American Revolution. They were among the tens of thousands of people who escaped from their American enslavers in response to British proclamations of freedom in exchange for service to the British military. In 1779, before the British invasion of South Carolina, General-in-Chief Henry Clinton promised runaways “full security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which [they] shall think proper.” Fugitives from slavery found refuge within British lines—some two hundred enlisting as soldiers and five thousand serving as personal servants, cooks, nurses, laborers, and wagon drivers. After the war, the lack of uniform British policy to protect the self-liberated Black population left their freedom in jeopardy. Jennifer Snyder explains, “Loyal and rebel citizens preyed upon blacks who believed themselves free, kidnapping and selling black men, women, and children and breaking up already tenuous kinship networks.”

In the months leading up to the evacuation of Charleston, the Americans and the British negotiated the fate of the enslaved people who had been freed by the British and those who had been sequestered from the estates of American patriots. Upon learning that the British were planning to carry off thousands of Black people who were within their lines, South Carolina Governor John Mathews threatened to retaliate by seizing the debts owed to British merchants and retaining the confiscated estates of Loyalists. Focusing ontheir own financial interests, the British agreed “that all the slaves of the citizens of South Carolina, now in the power of the honourable Lieutenant General Leslie, shall be restored to their former owners, as far as is practicable, except such slaves as may have rendered themselves particularly obnoxious on account of their attachment and services to the British troops, and such as had specific promises of freedom.” The agreement offered little protection to Black Loyalists, however, as they could not prove “specific promises of freedom” without British officers to vouch for them...

Evidently, the re-enslavement and illegal sale of nominal free Black people was all too common during the evacuation of Charleston. In her petition to the governor, Nansy argued that she and her family had gained their freedom during the Revolution, declaring their loyalty to the Marquis de Chappedelaine, the French aristocrat who had purchased McQueen’s Sapelo Island estate. In response, McQueen claimed that during the evacuation of Charleston, “about one hundred and twenty negroes were sent out of the Garrison by the British General to be restored to their respective owners.” These women and men had run to the British in response to Clinton’s proclamation and subsequently found themselves betrayed when the evacuating British commanders allowed American enslavers to reclaim their human property. McQueen told the Florida Governor that they all came to his Sapelo Island plantation, where he fed them for several months at his own expense until their former enslavers came to claim them. The only two who went unclaimed were Nansy and her husband, who at that point had no children. According to McQueen, he eventually received permission to keep them as compensation for the expense of maintaining the others.

McQueen claimed Nansy and her husband as his property, keeping them at Sapelo for the next nine years, until he sold the island to the French Sapelo Company in 1789. After the sale, Nansy and her husband asserted their freedom and challenged McQueen’s right to take them out of state. They appealed to the Marquis de Chappedelaine, one of the new owners of Sapelo Island, “who offered to support them in case their claim was just.” The couple produced a letter from a member of the British military, attesting to their service and loyalty. McQueen dismissed their documentation as a “pretended certificate” which “proved to be nothing more than a note of some hanger on of the army, that they were under his protection to prevent their being imployed in other departments.”

While the certificate demonstrated that they had satisfied the terms of Clinton’s proclamation, at the end of the war the Treaty of Paris nullified these proclamations of freedom. Article VII of the Treaty required the British military to evacuate “without causing any Destruction or carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants.” Deeming Black Loyalists property and denying their humanity, the treaty contradicted the Americans’ Revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality and betrayed the promises of the British to free their Black allies. Ultimately, Chappedelaine did not support Nansy’s claim to freedom and there is no further record of her petition. In her efforts to remain first in Georgia and then at Fort George, she had no power but to appeal to elite European men, whose personal interests were tied to the business of slavery. To them, she was simply an enslaved woman, valuable property belonging to their business associate or political ally. Well aware of the insurmountable odds, Nansy continuously contested her enslaved status. Her appeals are a testament to her confidence in rejecting her assigned position within the Eurocentric patriarchal power structure and in boldly asserting her identity as a free woman. Among the three hundred Black women and men with whom Nansy arrived at Fort George, one wonders how many others had also liberated themselves during the Revolution only to be re-enslaved by McQueen and forcibly relocated to Spanish Florida.

The Enslaved Communities on Fort George Island A Special History Study for Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve Amani T. Marshall, Ph.D. Full text including citations.

Last updated: November 7, 2023

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