RE: [WarOf1812] Re: black troops in War of 1812: West India Regiments
Many thanks for your precis on the WIR, all very interesting.
From: Roger Fuller [mailto:fullerfamily@...]
Sent: 06 June 2003 13:35
Subject: [WarOf1812] Re: black troops in War of 1812: West India Regiments
"West India Regiments
The West India Regiments were raised in 1795 as a black corps to
compliment the European regiments, composed primarily of European officers
and non-commissioned officers and black soldiers, although some did rise to
The origin of these regiments was the Carolina Black Corps (a black corps
formed during the American Revolution) and various locally raised black
pioneer and ranger corps. The army needed to buy slaves to bring the
regiments up to strength, at first from plantation owners and later directly
from slave ships. Between 1798 and 1806 the army bought 6,376 slaves for the
West India Regiments (an estimated 7% of all slaves sold in the British West
Indies during this period).
In 1807 two acts directly affected the West Indies Regiments: the Mutiny
Act, which emancipated (freed) all military slaves from the status of
slaves, but they were still soldiers; and the abolition of the slave trade.
The recruiters next turned to recruiting liberated Africans (who had been
released from captured illegal slave traders) and black soldiers from the
recently captured French and Dutch colonies in the Caribbean and Central
America and Mauritius.
Between 1795 and 1888 there were between one and 12 West India Regiments.
An important point to realize is that although the slave trade was
abolished in the British Empire in 1807, slavery itself would still persist
in it in varying forms until 1834. In the Caribbean, besides freeing up
white troops for war against the French in Europe, the West India Regiments
offered freed and escaped slaves a chance to get ahead in the white man's
world on the early 19th century, some even becoming NCOs, although I doubt
any were allowed to become officers, if indeed, any applied to become
officers at all. Some regiments, such as the 1st, were at times poorly led,
eventually leading to mutiny against their bottom-of-the-barrel white
officers, but others, such as the 5th WIR, served with distinction, some
even putting down slave revolts, an ironic stiuation, to be sure.
The West Indian Regiments, at least regiments 1 through 8, served in
amphibious island assaults on Guadelupe and Martinique in 1809 and 1810
(some earning battle honours), and later participated in the Louisiana
campaign of 1814-15, but with mixed success, since most had never seen snow
or ice before, and suffered severely from frostbite and exposure to the
point where they almost became ineffective. Many of these men, acclimated to
the tropics only, and unused to cold and wet, simply died in great numbers
before the British could do much about it, esp. since the British had
neither brought along nor unloaded from their transports (depending on
which source one reads) hardly any tentage for any of their men on this
campaign. Surtees of the 95th (Rifles) in his memoirs notes how WIR soldiers
on this campaign were amazed by the cracking and feel of the thin ice on the
water in the early mornings. Nonetheless, sufficient numbers of the 5th WIR
were still sufficiently fit to serve as an element of Pakenham's right wing
during the ill-fated attack at Chalmette.
A good book on this subject, although a little dated: Buckley, Slaves in
Redcoats: The British West Indian Regiments 1795-1815 (Yale University
Press, 1979). Buckley makes the point that the British military took
advantage of the slave trade in the 1795 to 1807 period, even increasing it,
to make up the numbers in the WIRs in the little time remaining before the
government itself would abolish commerce in slaves in the Empire.
Other good webpages on this subject:
The role of black troops in America's wars before 1861 has gone
unheralded, esp. those on both sides in the War of 1812. On a Canadian note,
wasn't there a fellow on this list who used to come out as one of Runchey's
Company of Coloured Men?- that's a unit worth doing some research on. Both
sides also used black troops as laborers in large numbers, too.
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- --- In WarOf1812@yahoogroups.com, "Larry Lozon" <lalozon@n...> wrote:
> From: "Roger Fuller" <fullerfamily@s...>information .........
> "West India Regiments
> Thank you Roger
> - you can always rely on a Rifleman to supply
Thank you, Lar, recon is our specialty :^)
BTW, for the original poster who posed the query on this topic, a
great overview of black participation on both sides of the War of
1812, written by Gerry Altoff, can be found at:
>Many thanks to all and sundry who replied to my orginal post. I'm not
> BTW, for the original poster who posed the query on this topic, a
> great overview of black participation on both sides of the War of
> 1812, written by Gerry Altoff, can be found at:
a re-enactor but am thoroughly engrossed by the national dynamics on
both sides of the border as a result of the War and, with the bi-
centennial approaching, would like to see our respective governments
focus on honouring its historical significance.