Friday, April 27, 2012


Under the heading “Harper Government Boosts Tourism by Investing in War of 1812 Commemorations in Ontario” and dated March 19, 2012 the Canadian government sent out a press release that read in part: "The War of 1812 represents an essential yet lesser-known chapter in Canadian history, and we are proud to bring the events, personalities, and significance of this conflict to Canadians through dynamic programming. The Government of Canada has provided total funding of $2,132,946 through Canadian Heritage’s War of 1812 Commemoration Fund and Canadian Studies Program. The War of 1812 Commemoration Fund supports community-based projects to foster greater awareness and understanding among Canadians of the importance of this moment in our history.” After reading such interesting and historic information I decided to investigate the names of the organizations that will receive some of that $2,132,946 to “foster greater awareness and understanding among Canadians of the importance of this moment in our history.” Not surprisingly there was not a single African Canadian organization listed as a beneficiary of the government’s generosity in providing funds in its effort to educate Canadians about our glorious war history. As quiet as it is kept there was a significant African Canadian contribution to the British victory/success in the War of 1812. There are also “events and personalities” that should be recognized to “foster greater awareness and understanding among Canadians” of the importance of the contributions of African Canadians to the culture and history of this Great White North where we all dwell. There are many Canadians as well as recent immigrants who have no idea that Africans have been living in Canada at least since the 1600s. The education system does not make it a priority to teach our children about any history other than white history. While the Canadian government is commemorating the War of 1812 there seems to be a lack of recognition that some of the “personalities” of that war includes Richard Pierpoint who was the force behind the recruitment and organizing of the Coloured Corps. It is documented that the Coloured Corps saw action in several of the battles fought between Britain and America during the three year war from 1812 to 1815. They are credited and recognized with a plaque for fighting at Queenston Heights in October 1812 and at the siege of Fort George in May 1813. The plaque which is located at Niagara-on-the-Lake does not mention that the members of the Coloured Corps built Fort Mississauga while under attack from American military forces and since the Corps was active from 1812 to 1815 they would have seen action in more than two instances. Richard Pierpoint who was born in Senegal in 1744 was kidnapped and enslaved when he was 16 years old in 1760. He was taken to America where he was sold to a British military officer. He was given the name Richard Pierpoint at some time during his enslavement and there is no record of his African name. When the Americans were at war with the British from 1776 to 1783 (American War of Independence) Pierpoint like many other enslaved Africans took the opportunity offered to enslaved Africans of enlisting in the British forces and gaining their freedom. Those enslaved Africans who were enslaved by British families did not gain their freedom at the end of that war. They arrived in Canada as the property of the British families who were their enslavers in America. Those who escaped American masters to fight on the side of the British were given their freedom and entered Canada as free people and members of the United Empire Loyalists. Pierpoint was fortunate that even though he escaped from a British officer he gained passage to Canada as a member of the United Empire Loyalists. Pierpoint was a pioneer member of Butler’s Rangers. Butler's Rangers (1777–1784) was a British provincial regiment composed of Loyalists (men loyal to the British crown) in the American War of Independence under the command of John Butler. By 1780 Pierpoint was stationed with Butler's Rangers in the Niagara region of Quebec. On July 20, 1784 his name appeared among those of disbanded Rangers on a list of people who intended to settle in that area. African members of the United Empire Loyalists in theory were entitled to the same proportion of land as the White loyalists but that was in theory, the reality was very different. In 1788 Pierpoint was granted 200 acres of land on Twelve Mile Creek, in what later became Grantham Township. By and large the land granted to the Africans was not land that they could productively farm. In addition many of the African men had no families with them (they were forced to leave their families behind) and therefore did not have help to farm any piece of land they might have been granted unlike the White men who brought their families to Canada with them. Unlike the Africans from the USA who supported the British during the War of 1812 and were granted land in Trinidad those who came to Canada did not fare well. The formerly enslaved Africans from the Chesapeake Bay area who supported the British government during the War of 1812 were members of the Corps of Colonial Marines. After the War of 1812 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent (December 24, 1814) the members of the Corps of Colonial Marines were garrisoned for 14 months at the new Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda and then disbanded in Trinidad in 1816. This group of Africans were given land as a community in five Company Villages located in the south of the island around the Mission of Savanna Grande, now Princes Town, mostly within the area known since then as The Company Villages and they and their descendants were known locally as “The Merikens” a distortion of “The Americans.” Many of their descendants still own the land their ancestors were awarded for their service to the British during the War of 1812. Pierpoint and the Africans who lived in Canada had a very different experience. On 29 June 1794 Pierpoint had been one of 19 signatories to a petition of “Free Negroes” to Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe requesting permission to allow them “a Tract of Country” to settle on, separate from the white settlers. The group consisted of veterans of the “late War,” and “others who were born free with a few who have come, into Canada since the peace.” Landless and socially isolated for the most part, they were “desirous of settling adjacent to each other in order that they may be enabled to give assistance (in work) to those amongst them who may most want it.” On July 8, 1794 the petitioners received the unwelcome news that a decision had been made by a committee of the Executive Council that permission was not granted. The minute-book of the committee suggests the petition’s emphasis on land separate from whites as the most likely explanation for the refusal, which was highly hypocritical since the men obviously needed the support of each other if they were to enjoy any success at farming the land grudgingly doled out to them. It would have made sense for these men to be given land together so that they could support each other. Instead of which they were scattered and could not work their land individually unlike the white farmers who had family members to help. These African men eventually became a cheap source of labour for the white farmers. Between 1806 and the War of 1812 Pierpoint resided in Grantham Township, earning his living as a labourer. When America declared war on Britain in 1812 Pierpoint “proposed to raise a Corps of Men of Colour on the Niagara Frontier” to fight alongside the British during the war. Major-General Sir Isaac Brock turned down his offer at first. By late August 1812, permission was granted to recruit a Coloured Corps but instead of Pierpoint with his experience being put in command that position was given to a local white officer, Captain Robert Runchey. Characterised as a “black sheep” and a “worthless, troublesome malcontent,” Runchey fulfilled his reputation for poor leadership by segregating “his nigros” from other militiamen, and in some cases hired them out to officers as domestic servants. The then 68 year old Pierpoint who should have been a leader of the group instead volunteered immediately, serving as a private from 1 Sept. 1812 to 24 March 1815. A company of about 40 men from the Niagara and York districts mustered under white officers. Pierpoint served as a private in the Corps and served on active duty throughout the conflict, including the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812 when the corps was mentioned in dispatches as having played a key role in that British victory. The Coloured Corps saw action not only at the battle of Queenston Heights on 13 Oct. 1812 but was involved in heavy fighting during the siege of Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake) on 27 May 1813. The corps remained with Brigadier-General John Vincent’s army on the retreat west to the head of Burlington Bay (Hamilton Harbour) and then followed it east again after the battle of Stoney Creek on 6 June 1813. For the remainder of the war the members of the Coloured Corps were used for labour or garrison duty, stationed either at Fort Mississauga (Niagara-on-the-Lake) or Fort George and then seeing action at Lundy’s Lane on 25 July 1814. When the corps was disbanded in 1815 Pierpoint who was in his 70s returned to the life of a labourer in the Grantham area. During this promotion of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, where the federal government is placing even more emphasis on military history by designating a number of sites, events and groups as historic there has not been any mention of Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada. The Coloured Corps of Upper Canada served with distinction at the Battle of Queenston Heights, the siege of Fort George and the Battle of Lundy's Lane as well as other engagements during the War of 1812. On 21 July 1821 Pierpoint, then a resident of Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), petitioned Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland for aid since he was finding it “difficult to obtain a livelihood by his labor” and was “above all things desirous to return to his native country.” His wish to return to the West African country he had left in the hold of a slave-ship more than 60 years earlier was not granted. This man who lived most of his life serving the interests of white people from the time he was 15 years old and kidnapped from his home in West Africa, was not granted his wish to return to his African homeland in his old age. He transitioned in 1837 and no one is quite sure where he is buried. Pierpoint and the members of the Coloured Corps deserve to be recognized during this federal government recognition of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.


Black America still wears chains. The finest Negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man. Even winners of our highest honors face the class color bar. With their right hand they raise to high places the great who have dark skins, and with their left, they slap us down to keep us in "our places." "Yes, America you have stripped me of my garments, you have robbed me of my precious endowment." We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one great group living in ignorance. We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime. We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flaunt the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule. So as we gird ourselves to defend democracy from foreign attack, let us see to it that increasingly at home we give fair play and free opportunity for all people. Excerpt from speech “The Negro and the Constitution” by then 15 year old Martin Luther King Jr delivered in April 1944 at First Baptist Church in Dublin, Georgia, USA. Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave several speeches during his short time on earth (assassinated on April 4, 1968 at 39 years old) “The Negro and the Constitution” delivered in April 1944 when he was 15 years old is recognized as his first public speech. Not surprisingly in September of that year (1944) the 15 year old entered university. He began his post-secondary education at Morehouse College one of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA. Although King was at least three years younger than his classmates when he entered university, according to the authors of “The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr” (published 1992): “King was socially active. Not only was he president of the sociology club and a member of the debating team, student council, glee club and minister’s union, but he also joined the Morehouse chapter of the NAACP and played on the Butler Street YMCA basketball team.” This side of King has become lost over the years to where he is now mostly considered a one dimensional dreamer only identified with his “I Have A Dream” speech which he delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. As African American author Jake Lamar wrote in his article “King, Minus Sentimental Goo: A Bold, Dangerous Radical” published December 20, 1999: Is there any 20th-century American icon who has been more banalized, neutralized and homogenized by mythology than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? From the day he was martyred in 1968, the civil rights crusader has been enshrined as a romantic visionary: the healing, nonviolent, nonthreatening integrationist. Honored as a national holiday, King’s birthday gives Americans, black and white, conservative and liberal alike, the annual opportunity to appropriate his legacy and slather it with sentimental goo, to squeeze the complex ideas of a true revolutionary into four wistful words: ‘I Have a Dream.’ Reading his several speeches it is obvious that King was a revolutionary freedom fighter and an activist who used his eloquence to define and defend the cause for which he eventually paid the supreme sacrifice. In his speech The Death of Evil upon the Seashore which he first delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954 when he was 25 years old and then on May 17, 1956 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, in an ecumenical program commemorating the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision in “Brown v. Board of Education” King indicted the American power structure as evil similar to the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt as told in the Bible: In our own struggle for freedom and justice in this country we have gradually seen the death of evil. Many years ago the Negro was thrown into the Egypt of segregation, and his great struggle has been to free himself from the crippling restrictions and paralizing effects of this vicious system. For years it looked like he would never get out of this Egypt. The closed Red Sea always stood before him with discouraging dimensions. There were always those Pharoahs with hardened hearts, who, despite the cries of many a Moses, refused to let these people go. As we look back we see segregation caught in the rushing waters of historical necessity. Evil in the form of injustice and exploitation cannot survive. There is a Red Sea in history that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red Sea closes in to bring doom and destruction to the forces of evil. Many viewed King’s criticism of America’s white leaders and government policies and practices as radical. On Good Friday, 12 April, 1963 King was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting the white supremacist segregation laws of the city and was kept in solitary confinement. The city government had obtained a state circuit court injunction against African American protesters on 10 April. After much discussion with other African American leaders King decided to disobey the court order declaring: We cannot in all good conscience obey such an injunction which is an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process.’ While King was in jail he wrote Letter from a Birmingham Jail in response to an open letter written by 8 White religious leaders (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon, the Reverend George M. Murray, the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) which was published on April 12, 1963 after King was arrested. These 8 white religious leaders had in their open letter condemned King’s activism and leadership role in the Civil Rights struggle. King wrote in part: You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society - then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. These are not the words of a man who was merely a dreamer waiting for the benevolence of white people for rescue from the nightmare of living as an African American in the southern USA. King willingly put his life on the line to spend time in a southern jail especially when there were no funds for bail. Unfortunately King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail as eloquent as it was did not influence the good Christian white people of Birmingham to turn away from their wickedness, instead the abuse of African Americans escalated to include the murder of children. Determined to keep African Americans “in their place” white Americans in Birmingham unleashed a vicious campaign of violence. The violence did not lessen even after the September 15, 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church where four African American girls were killed. In his final speech on April 3, 1968 the day before he was assassinated King seemed to have a premonition that his end was near. He had criticized the government for being involved in the Vietnam War, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was monitoring his every move and some African Americans were becoming disenchanted with his “turn the other cheek” non-violence philosophy. In that final speech King urged African Americans to strive for unity, practice self determination and co-operative economics. Martin Luther King Jr deserves to be remembered as a drum major for justice not merely a dreamer.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to a chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you, the men of Ashanti, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.

Excerpt from speech by Nana Yaa Asantewaa Queen Mother of Ejisu, Ashanti Empire, Ghana April 1900

Nana Yaa Asantewa is credited with rousing the traditional leaders of the Ashanti people to do battle with the British in what was the final Ashanti-British War. In his 2003 published book Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1 A. Adu Boahen, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Ghana asserts that it was Nana Yaa Asantewaa who rallied Asante resistance with “her fiery and provocative speeches and gender-conscious challenges.” The war that lasted a year from 1900 to 1901 is sometimes called the Yaa Asantewaa War in honour of this uncompromisingly brave woman who was in her 60s when she rallied her people into taking up arms against the arrogant White men who sought to subjugate the proud Ashanti. For almost the entire 19th century the covetous British interlopers had been trying to gain dominance over the Ashanti Empire. There were several wars and minor skirmishes between the two nations, some the Ashanti won and others the British won. The British and other White people were seeking to exploit the richness of the African continent and after witnessing the extraordinary wealth of the Ashanti Empire there was no stopping the rapacious horde of British in their determination to possess that wealth. In his 1995 published book The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred Year War for Africa’s Gold Coast Robert G. Edgerton a white anthropology professor who has written several books on African history described the impetus for the expression of British greed. “In 1817, the first British envoy to meet the king of the Asante of West Africa was dazzled by his reception. A group of 5,000 Asante soldiers, many wearing immense caps topped with three foot eagle feathers and gold ram's horns, engulfed him with a ‘zeal bordering on phrensy,’ shooting muskets into the air. The envoy was escorted, as no fewer than 100 bands played, to the Asante king's palace and greeted by a tremendous throng of 30,000 noblemen and soldiers, bedecked with so much gold that his party had to avert their eyes to avoid the blinding glare. Some Asante elders wore gold ornaments so massive they had to be supported by attendants. This first encounter set the stage for one of the longest and fiercest wars in all the European conquest of Africa. At its height, the Asante empire, on the Gold Coast of Africa in present-day Ghana, comprised three million people and had its own highly sophisticated social, political, and military institutions.”

From 1823 with the first Ashanti-British War which lasted 8 years until 1831 it was on! There were victories and defeat on both sides during the 8 years and in 1831 a treaty was signed which resulted in a 30 year period of peace. In 1863 war broke out again between the two nations and lasted for a year during which the British were soundly thrashed by the Ashanti. The third Ashanti-British War also lasted a year from 1873 to 1874 during which British armament manufacturers did brisk trade with the Ashanti and the British. The Africans were not sold the same weapons as the British so the victory went to the British in that round of fighting. It says a lot for the bravery and tenacity of the Ashanti that they could withstand the constant aggression of the White men whose country enjoying relative peace and prosperity could afford to keep sending young and healthy men into battle. The Africans on the other hand had to deal with the White men who occupied their land and the constant harassment of these avaricious alien people. This unsettled environment would of course affect the entire community and especially the men who had to keep defending their land. The fact that the Ashanti continued to resist British domination for close to 100 years is a testament to their fortitude. The fourth period of British aggression against the Ashanti lasted from December 1895 to February 1896. It is said that the Asantehene (king) ordered the Ashanti not to resist when the British forces arrived in Kumasi (the capital) in 1896. The Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I was enstooled (crowned) in 1888 when he was 16 years old and was only 23 years old when the British attacked in 1895. In 1896 the British kidnapped the young Asantehene, his parents, younger brother and several members of his court and exiled them to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

The insult to the Ashanti people which led to the last Ashanti-British hostilities in April 1900 was the British demand to own the sacred Golden Stool of the Ashanti. The arrogant white man who represented the British government in Ghana met with the leaders of the Ashanti in April 1900, four years after the exile of the Ashanti royal family during which the British had provoked the proud Ashanti people by heaping untold assaults on their dignity. At that meeting he told them that the Asantehene would not be returned to Ghana the British intended to hold him hostage forever and that the Golden Stool sacred to the Ashanti rightfully belonged to Victoria the British monarch. In The Fall of the Asante Empire Edgerton explains the British government representative’s attitude: He firmly believed that only if the Asante knew their king would never return and the Queen of England possessed the Golden Stool would they submit to British rule. But because he had no understanding of the meaning of the Golden Stool for the Asante, his tough talk would start a war. When the Ashanti leaders met in secret following their meeting with the representative of the British government Nana Yaa Asantewa made her now famous speech and the battle was on! Several books have been written about Yaa Asantewa by Africans including The struggle between two great queens, 1900-1901 : Yaa Asantewaa of Edweso, Asante and Victoria of Great Britain by Asirifi-Danquah published 2007, Yaa Asantewaa : an African queen who led an army to fight the British by Asirifi-Danquah published 2002 and Yaa Asantewaa : the heroism of an African queen by Ivor Agyeman-Duah published 1999. Many of the books available from the Toronto Public Library system written about Africa and Africans were not written by Africans so it is important when reading to keep in mind the African proverb: Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.