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The War of 1812: A Black Bicentennial Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized by Publisher, Port Of Harlem Snippets on February 8th, 2013

By C.R. Gibbs

Blacks with the Americans

At the beginning of the war, there were 1.3 million persons of African descent in the United States, representing 19 percent of the total population. Eighty seven percent of the Black population was enslaved. Thirteen percent was free. The two and a half year conflict between England and the United States began in 1812. No matter how little known or remembered today, the war was a transforming struggle for many Blacks.

Thousands of men, women and children left slavery’s grief in the wake of the British ships they sailed away on to an often arduous, but free future in ports as distant as Trinidad, Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Men of African descent in opposing armies warily eyed each other over their gunfights in several of the war’s major battles, including Bladensburg and New Orleans. And throughout America, at all times, Black people sought to exploit the opportunities and inconsistencies of the war for one paramount objective: freedom.

History books tell us that the war had three major causes: the seizure of American vessels trading with France (with whom England was fighting), England’s arming of Native Americans who raided American frontier settlements and England’s forcible taking of thousands of sailors in an act known as “impressment.” (The Impress Service was formed to force sailors to serve on naval vessels — there was no concept of joining the navy as a fixed career path for non-officers at the time.)

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