This site is the final resting place of a number of the 42 Royal Highland Regiment veterans of the American Revolution. The reference to Highlanders conjures images of the Scottish uplands and kilted warriors. But the history of this highland regiment intertwines with the story of Black emancipation.
In 1775 the governor of Virginia would make good on his threats to arm Blacks who joined his forces to form the Ethiopian Regiment who would act as an irregular force of marines aboard a small flotilla in the Chesapeake Bay. The governor’s name was Lord Dunmore and is emancipatory declaration bears his name.
Though Dunmore’s visionary strategy proved ultimately to be a failure, it was mostly do to an outbreak of smallpox to which Blacks were not inoculated. But also, Dunmore cannot claim to have been a military genius, nor overly diplomatic.
The 42nd Highland Regiment has a history preceding the American Revolution and in 1775 were deployed to America. Though many were captured in the confusion of the surrender of Boston, the transport Oxford escaped and the highlanders aboard tried to join Dunmore in Virginia, but were captured by the Patriots.
By 1779, the British are operating from the island fortress of Manhattan and raiding coastal settlements all along the east coast. In April, a British raid involving the Highlanders targets the Chesapeake Bay. As a result, hundreds of self-emancipate Blacks joined the British and would return to New York. From the original Ethiopian troops and these newcomers, several Black companies would be formed. These troops along with the highlanders would depart New York to take part in the failed Southern Campaign.
The Southern Campaign liberated hundreds, if not thousands more Blacks. Some served as auxiliaries with the Highlanders and other troops. Two of these would play a large role in Black society in early Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Both David George (Baptist Minister) and Boston King (Methodist Minister) departed the southern colonies and migrated to Nova Scotia as did many of the veteran highlanders.
Historians now believe that a shortage of ministers, especially with the dissenting sects like the Baptists and Methodists, and with the Presbyterians challenged the racial attitudes and preachers like David George travelled in the region preaching to both Black and White audiences, planting the seeds for many Baptist congregations. As we start recognizing these connections both in and beyond the archives, we can reinterpret spaces of commemoration in a much broader way.
Virginia African American History: The Short, Sad History Of Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment