The Shelburne Riots of 1784

0 Posted by - March 12, 2023 - Black History, Racism

Shelburne was one of the hubs of British Canada and the heart of Nova Scotia when it was established in 1783. The town was established for British Loyalists leaving the United States following the American Revolution and was at 10,000 by the following year—1,500 of those were Black Loyalists.



Things boiled over between White Loyalists to the Crown and the Black Loyalist as England was slow to getting land and supplies to Shelburne. While Black Loyalists were given land for Birchtown just six miles away, it wasn’t on prime land and it wasn’t a large swath of land. This didn’t matter to the White soldiers since they couldn’t find work in Shelburne but weren’t willing to work for less like the Black Loyalists.



David George was a pastor whose Baptist Church was popular with the citizens of Shelburne. It was during a baptism of William and Deborah Holmes, a White couple that tensions reached their peak. A mob burst into the church to prevent Deborah Holmes from being baptized but law officials said that she could be baptized by George if she wished. As the baptism continued some annoyed angry White Loyalists stewed.

July 25, 1784, saw a mob of White Loyalist converge on the pastor and other Black Loyalists’ homes. The Shelburne Riots raged for some time and houses were destroyed. Many Black Loyalists headed to Birchtown.

As for David George, he stayed to tend to his congregation in Shelburne. The rioters attacked him the following day, beating him with sticks. He managed to escape the town and returned later that night for his family. Like many others, he would settle in Birchtown.

The White Loyalists would turn their anger on a land agent who complimented the riot. He managed to flee to Halifax before being hanged. The riot raged for ten days but the attacks continued for a month overall. People were attacked on the road between the two towns. As the attackers neared Birchtown, Black Loyalists took to defending the town and formed a militia. Outnumbered, the Black Loyalists weren’t able to fend off the White rioters for long. Eventually, the mob dispersed as the 17th Regiment of Foot rolled in.

By the end of the riots, the only Black people left in Shelburne were either slaves or servants.



With Birchtown being overcrowded and sitting on poor farmland Black Loyalists were ready to try their luck elsewhere. This was also the case in other Black settlements. When the recruiting rounds for Sierra Leone settlers started, over 1,100 of the 3,500 Black Nova Scotians left. The preacher David George was included among them.

As for Shelburne, things fell apart towards the end of the decade as resources dried up. The vast majority of the population left for other towns leaving one-fifth of the population.

-The Shelburne Riots:


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