Richard Pierpoint petitioned to form an all-black militia to fight alongside the British during the War of 1812. His initiative eventually led to the formation of what was known as the “Coloured Corps.” This is his story.
Black History Month — The War of 1812
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Transcript: “Black History Month — The War of 1812: The Contribution of Black Soldiers in the Fight for Canada – Richard Pierpoint Monologue”
Video length: 10:05 minutes
Background music begins playing.
The Black History Month poster is shown. It reads “The War of 1812, the contributions of black soldiers in the fight for Canada.”
The angle of view changes; we now see the full image of the poster. Background is beige, floor is grey.
At the bottom right of the screen, an animated figure marches into the screen. He faces the camera, poised, his arms behind his back. The music softens and he begins to speak.
Providence comes to a man in wonderful and unexpected ways. One can have everything in life and lose it in an instant – at the moment of capture. One can endure 20 years of servitude. But all is by the grace of God.
I was captured when I was 16 years old and I never saw my family or my home again. I crossed the ocean in a slave ship, in conditions always fell and perilous. I was sold at market like any other commodity. I was bought by a British officer from New England. He gave me his family name, Pierpoint, and baptized me Richard.
The animated figure gradually transforms into a real-life figure: Richard Pierpoint.
Since 1760, my name has been Richard Pierpoint.
This is my story.
And 20 years passed. I performed my duty as his servant and valet and in return, my master performed his duty to clothe and shelter me. I thanked Providence for my lot in life. But one day, Providence visited me with a new and unforeseen salvation … it came in the guise of war.
When the American colonists rose up against the Crown and made war in 1775, men were forced to choose between two sides: the Rebels and the Loyalists.
The Rebels supported separation from the British Empire while the Loyalists stood faithful to the Crown.
The King promised land and freedom for those who fought for him. By the grace of God and the King, I chose freedom. And so I fell in with Lieutenant-Colonel John Butler’s Rangers, based in Fort Niagara. In time, several hundred black volunteers joined the Rangers. And so I became a soldier, lived a soldier’s life, caught up in a bloody war.
The war did not end well for the Crown in the Thirteen Colonies. But it did manage to preserve Canada north of the lakes, and in 1784, I was a free man. God be praised. No more owner or commanding officer ordering me about. I could go just about wherever and whenever I wanted save to the new United States, where slavery prevailed.
I was given 200 acres in Upper Canada. Working the land was hard: I had to transform a thick forest into farmland, build a house, a fence … all by myself. All around me did the same. It is hard to build a country. Finally, I sold my 200 acres and I worked for my neighbours, white farmers. People called me “Black Dick” or “Captain Dick.” They say a creek still carries my name – Dick’s Creek, a tributary of Twelve Mile Creek near St. Catharines.
In 1812, the Americans attacked Canada, and the clarion call of war was heard from one end of the colony to the other. If the Yankees were to win, I would surely return to slavery. I had my fill of the horrors of war, but there comes a time when a man has to take up arms and fight for his freedom and dignity.
So I sent a petition to the King’s Governor, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, requesting permission to form an all-Negro army corps to resist the invader and fight shoulder to shoulder. The General accepted and the Coloured Corps was born. We were about 30 men, which is quite a lot if you consider that there were only 100 free black men in all of Upper Canada.
Although the “Coloured Corps” was my idea, and despite my experience, I was not given command. Our officers were white. Nevertheless, we all fought together to repel the enemy, and in the battlefields we fought like men. And it wasn’t black blood or white blood that flowed, no, everybody’s blood is red. It’s the only colour that ran in our fields and in our rivers.
Richard Pierpoint’s eyes fill with emotion.
Major-General Isaac Brock died in one of our bloodiest battles, at Queenston Heights. He now joins the ranks of immortal heroes. The “Coloured Corps” fought with courage, discipline and composure, and in 1813, we were given a dangerous task. We had built Fort Mississauga just in front of Fort Niagara on the other side of the river.
With this fort, the Americans were prevented from using Lake Ontario to bring supplies to Fort Niagara. This was a dangerous task. And often we had to work nights to avoid being fired on. But we succeeded, and Fort Mississauga stood proudly, with its stone and brick tower surrounded by its walls, a six-foot moat and four large cannons.
Peace was restored in 1815, and Canada was not occupied by the Americans. That spring, the Coloured Corps was disbanded. The government gave us 100 acres in Oro, near Lake Simcoe.
But I was tired. I had seen too much of war. Although freed of the bonds of slavery, I knew the lot of every son of Adam who tills the soil all his days, for himself or for another man. I long to see my native land once again. I appealed to Governor Maitland for passage back to Africa. He refused, and he gave me 100 acres in Garafraxa, near the town that is now called Fergus. And so it is here, half-exiled in this land that gave me back my freedom, that I will pass my dying days. But all is grace.
I am proud of this country, I am proud to have carried the glorious banner of free men. This country is built on freedom and the rejection of servitude. All is grace! I served the King’s grace. And our beautiful country Canada.
Gradually, Richard Pierpoint transforms back into an animated figure. He puts on his hat and crosses his arms behind his back as he returns to his original position.
Music gradually fades.
Fade to black.
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