Important Note about Terminology
Since the 1960s, there has been a change in the terminology used to designate people of African descent. Today the term “black” is preferred. Nevertheless, “negro” is used in this research tool for two reasons:
- The term appears frequently in the original documents and is used here only for historical context.
- The Book of Negroes contains references not only to black people, but also to “mulattoes” and others of mixed race; the word “negro” is used to designate both black people and “mulattoes.”
On November 30, 1782, Great Britain and its American colonies ended their armed conflict by signing a preliminary peace treaty leading to the creation of the United States of America. These articles stipulated that the British were not to carry away black people or any other American property at the time of their final withdrawal from American soil.
Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America, Sir Guy Carleton, who was responsible for the orderly evacuation of New York, the last British port, issued an order to the masters of all British vessels to respect the articles about the transport of black people. Carleton also appointed three commissioners to superintend all embarkations from New York.
At the same time, a fleet of transports was ready to set sail for Nova Scotia. On board were many former slaves who had come within the British lines under proclamations of freedom issued by Carleton’s predecessors. Feeling he had no right to deprive these people of their liberty, but at the same time anxious to forestall American complaints that he was disregarding the provisional agreement, Carleton allowed the fleet to sail, but took the precaution of directing the commissioners to keep an accurate account of each black person who embarked.
This register, called the Book of Negroes, is a complete record of each person’s name, the master he formerly belonged to, and such other details as would help to “denote his value”; it was to be used to compensate slave owners in the event that the evacuation was later found to contravene the treaty. The British completed their evacuation of New York on November 30, 1782. At the end, almost 3,000 names had been recorded and only a handful of disputed cases were heard.
The original British Headquarters Papers, New York, 1774–1783, also known as the Carleton Papers, are preserved at the National Archives in England. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a microfilm copy of the papers (MG23 B1, microfilms M–343 to M–369). Between 1984 and 1996, the Sir Guy Carleton branch of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada undertook a vast indexing project with the help of volunteers and researchers, using the microfilms held at LAC. The index was first available on a CD-ROM and in recent years, the Association gave a copy to LAC in order to make it available online as a searchable database. To learn more about the project and the records, read the brochure and other documentation at the bottom of the British Headquarters Papers 1776-1783 web page.
The Book of Negroes (MG23 B1, microfilm M–369) is only a small part of the British Headquarters Papers; the rest of the index for the papers is accessible through our Carleton Papers—Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772–1784 database.
About 5,000 people are mentioned in the Book of Negroes, both black and white people. The information was analyzed and gathered into a database to satisfy the needs of genealogists and also to be useful to historians and other researchers interested in the black community.
This research tool provides access to 2,831 references to names of people appearing in the Book of Negroes created in 1783—one reference for every black man, woman, or child listed. Each record contains all the information available for a particular individual such as:
- physical characteristics
- an indication of whether the person had any family or had served in the military
- place of origin
- previous and current legal status
- the names of former owners, claimants, and persons in whose possession the person was at the time of embarkation
- the ship of passage and the name of its master.
The content of the database entries reflects the original language used in the documents. This information was not translated.
Important note: Given that some of the original documents are very difficult to read, some information in the database may be incorrect and/or incomplete.
The search screen allows you to search by:
- Given Name(s)
You can enter a surname and/or given name. Note that some entries include only the given names. Try searching by surname only or by given name only.
You can also enter any term in the keyword box such as race, place of origin, ship, destination, regiment etc.
When you have entered your search terms, click on "Search." The number of hits found will be shown at the top of the results screen.
How to Interpret the Results
Your search results will be posted as a results summary list from which you will be able to obtain an item description.
Search Results Page
The search results page displays the following fields:
- Item Number
- Given Name(s)
- Place of Origin
Click on the underlined item number of a person to access the item page, which contains additional information specific to that person.
Depending on the details contained in the actual record, the item page will include some but not all of the following fields:
- Given Name(s): every effort has been made to transcribe the names of the people as accurately as possible, retaining the given spellings.
- Surname: approximately 800 individuals have no recorded surname. A few of these, usually wives accompanying their husbands or children travelling with their parents, have been assigned the same surname as their spouse or parent so long as the family tie was stated explicitly.
- Age: age is rounded off to the nearest full year, for example 7 1/2 years to 7 years, and 18 months to 1 year. Children less than 12 months old, or who are described simply as infants, are designated as 1 year old.
- Gender: either male or female. Determining the gender of adults and older children was relatively straightforward since a physical description—“stout wench,” “feeble fellow,” “fine boy”—was usually included in the original manuscript. Such descriptions often were not present for younger children and infants, so their gender is based solely on each child’s given name.
- Race: indicates if a person was “black,” “mulatto” (a person of half-black ancestry), “quadroon” (a person of one-quarter black ancestry), “octoroon” (a person of one-eighth black ancestry) or part Indian.
- Military Service: many black people joined and fought for the British forces. Those who did are identified by “Yes,” including any who “joined Lord Dunmore”; all others are indicated by “No.”
- Occupation: only a few individuals have an occupation recorded.
- Place of Origin: usually the Book of Negroes specifies the residence of the master, not the place of origin of the black people themselves; however, these are taken to be one and the same. No attempt has been made to substitute modern equivalents for 18th-century place names. Variant spellings have been standardized using the atlases, gazetteers, geographical dictionaries, and maps listed in the bibliography, e.g. Charlestown and Charles Town appear throughout as Charleston.
- Former Legal Status: indicates the former status of an individual as he has declared, such as “free” for black people who were free from birth, including any born of free mothers or manumitted at birth, as well as children born within the British lines; “indentured” for indentured servants, including anyone said to have “served time” with a particular master; “slave” for former slaves.
- Current Legal Status: the same expressions as in “Former Legal Status” are used to describe an individual’s legal status at time of boarding. Note that black people who were born free, including children born within the British lines, are considered to be still free unless the original manuscript states that they have since been enslaved. Also deemed free are all those who possessed certificates of freedom.
- How Freedom was Obtained: indicates the ways in which black people obtained their freedom such as:
- Abandoned: people whose masters left them to fend for themselves.
- Born Free: people who were freeborn, except children born within the British lines.
- Born Free (British Lines): children born within the British lines.
- Brought off: people taken from their masters by a third party, whether an individual or regiment.
- Manumitted: people who were released from slavery or servitude, including those manumitted at birth or at the death of their master.
- Master Died: people who were not necessarily manumitted, but nonetheless found themselves free following the death of their master.
- Purchased: people who purchased their own freedom or had it purchased for them by someone else.
- Ran off: people who ran away and successfully escaped, including all those who said they “left” their master.
- Ran off (British Proclamation): same as “Ran off” but with the proviso that the black person claimed the authority of British proclamation.
- Returned: people who were forcibly removed from the ship at the time of inspection, returned to their owner, and hence did not emigrate.
- Sent away: people who were ordered away from their master by a third party.
- Served time: people who apparently earned their freedom through indentured service. Note that not all black people who “served their time” are included here since many of them were already free. If freeborn, for example, they are entered under “born free.”
- When Freedom was Obtained: indicates when a slave obtained his freedom, or if freeborn, when he left his place of origin.
- Certificate of Freedom: “yes” indicates if the black person possessed a certificate of freedom or had a bill of sale proving that he had purchased his freedom; all others are indicated by “no.”
- Issuer of Certificate: indicates the name of the issuing authority such as General Birch, General Musgrave, some other official such as David Mathews, Mayor of New York, an agency such as the Office of Police, or simply a former slave owner.
- Name of Claimant: the name of a person, whether American or Loyalist, who laid claim to particular black people.
- Name of Former Owner: name of an individual who owned slaves, or who formerly held the contract of an indentured servant, had a black person living with him, or had a black person born into his family, born in his house, or born on his estate.
- Name of Owner: an individual, government department, or regiment in whose possession many black people were at the time of embarkation. Any black person said to be “on his own bottom” or “on her own bottom” (old English expression meaning living independently or by his or her own means) is also identified here.
- Owner’s Regiment or Ship: a regiment, government department, or ship of an individual in possession of a black person.
- Destination: no attempt has been made to substitute modern equivalents for 18th-century place names. Variant spellings have been standardized using the atlases, gazetteers, geographical dictionaries, and maps listed in the bibliography, e.g. Charlestown and Charles Town appear throughout as Charleston.
- Name of Ship: spelling of the names of ships is standardized. In cases where variants occurred, the one closest to Lloyd’s Register of Ships or to Colledge’s Ships of the Royal Navy is used. In order to help distinguish between ships of the same name, the designations brig, sloop, schooner, ship, etc. are retained where given in the original, and are found in parentheses following the name of the ship, as in Kingston (Brig).
- Shipmaster: the spelling of shipmasters’ names reflects the writing in the original document. Where variant spellings of the same name occurred, one form is used, generally the one most often used in the original document or the one that most closely approximates that found in Lloyd’s Register of Ships.
- Date of Inspection: all dates are inspection dates, not departure dates (yyyy-mm-dd).
- Document/Page Number: the Carleton Papers consist of many documents with multiple pages within the document. The document number itself may be a numeral consisting of 1 to 5 digits, for example “9590.” Where required, the page number within the document follows in parentheses, for example, “9509 (44).” If an individual is mentioned on multiple pages of a single document, the pages numbers will be indicated such as “10033 (24, 36, 87).”
To suggest a correction, click on the “Suggest a Correction” link to access an electronic form.
To return to the Search Results page, click on the Back button of your browser in the upper left corner of your screen.
How to Obtain Copies
Library and Archives Canada gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the Sir Guy Carleton Branch of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada and its volunteers, without whom this project would not have been possible.