Blacks in British North America had a tradition of military service that long predated Canadian Confederation in 1867. Many, including Upper Canada farmer Richard Pierpoint, had served the Crown during the American Revolution. At the outset of war in 1812, Pierpoint urged, at first unsuccessfully, that a black militia unit help defend the Niagara district. By July 1812, a small black militia company had been formed that would fight at several major battles, including Queenston Heights. The Coloured Corps later worked on military construction, helping to build Fort Mississauga in the Niagara peninsula. Disbanded in early 1815, the Corps was a prominent example of black service in defence of early Canada.
The Coloured Corps, also known as Runchey's Corps, were a small company of about 40 men from the Niagara and York districts mustered under white officers.
Richard Pierpoint was a young boy of 16 in Senegal, Africa, when he was seized and sold into slavery in 1760. Purchased by an English officer named Pierpoint who had settled in New York's Hudson Valley, Richard became this officer's servant and adopted his surname.
After the outbreak of the American Revolution, Richard was given his freedom and eventually became a soldier, joining John Butler's corps of Rangers operating out of Fort Niagara.
When the War of 1812 broke out, Richard Pierpoint petitioned Major-General Sir Isaac Brock to form an all-black militia to fight alongside the British during the war. At first refusing, Brock finally agreed and ordered the formation of what was known as the "Coloured Corps." The 68-year-old Richard Pierpoint served as a private in the corps and was on active duty throughout the conflict, including the Battle of Queenston Heights.
The so-called "black refugees," arrived after the War of 1812. They were former American slaves who had loyally served on the British side during the war. Some 1,500 people were resettled in Nova Scotia, while another group of 500 went to New Brunswick. These successive groups, who remained in the Maritimes, established some of the earliest free black communities in North America.
A view from the interior of Fort Mississauga in 1840, showing the tower and barracks that were built by Runchey's Corps during the War of 1812.
It was at the Battle of Queenston Heights that Major-General Sir Isaac Brock was killed early in the war and black soldiers such as Richard Pierpoint fought beside the British and Canadians.
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