Back to Inquiry Set

Inspection Roll of Negroes Book No. 1; 1783

(Entries in the ledger were written across two pages — each image shows one side of the open ledger.)

Sir Guy Carleton, commander of British forces during the War, intended to keep the promise of freedom that was made to African Americans who joined and fought for the British in the course of the Revolution. Per the terms of the Preliminary Articles of Peace signed in 1782, however, Great Britain was supposed to return all property that was seized during the War, including slaves. George Washington demanded that they be returned to their former owners. Sir Carleton negotiated that this "Book of Negroes" be made to tally the loss of "property" for which the British government might compensate the United States at a later date. (No record of that payment has been found.)

This document captures information such as where a person was held in slavery, their owner’s name, and when and how the person obtained freedom. The people listed were evacuated by ship from New York City, and most were taken to the British colony of Nova Scotia in Canada. In 1792, over 1,000 of the new African Canadians continued on and settled back on the continent of Africa, establishing the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Included in the names in this volume are people formerly enslaved by George Washington. The page labeled "4" (images 2-3) includes a woman named Deborah listed with her husband Harry Squash. Deborah is described as "formerly slave to General Washington came away about 4 years ago." She had escaped from Mount Vernon in 1781.

Carleton, Guy
1783
Manuscript
National Archives

Inspection Roll of Negroes Book No. 1; 1783; Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 - 1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, Record Group 360; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

This book, the Inspection Roll of Negroes, is a list of over 3,000 African Americans who were evacuated from the New United States after the war. These men and women fled from their American enslavers and were behind British lines at the war's end. These men and women were promised their freedom from the British and received it as they boarded ships to Nova Scotia, Canada, which was British territory. Each person was listed with their name, age, and a short description of what they looked like and who were their former owners. As you read the document transcription, what information do we have of these people, their appearance and their family relationships? Who did they say were their former slave masters? How did their decision to "choose sides" in the Revolution differ from that of free people? Would it differ for women and men?

This source documents the men and women of African descent who had the opportunity to leave the new United States after it won its independence to go to Canada. With the Treaty of Paris in 1782, Americans were recognized as newly independent and wanted the people they enslaved returned to them. However, Sir Guy Carlton, the British officer who led the peace treaty would not return these people who sought protection behind British lines to enslavement. He stated that would be "A dishonorable violation of public faith. "

The men and women listed in the Inspection Roll of Negroes highlight the contradictions of the patriots' quest for independence. These formerly enslaved people sought their freedom in opposition to the American patriots, such as George Washington, who enslaved Harry Squash and his wife, Deborah. American patriots (who became the Founding Fathers), wanted these people returned to their enslavers; these men fought for their own freedom while actively enslaving others. According to Damani Davis, Archivist at the National Archives, the ideas of freedom from tyranny were expressed by men and women throughout the colonies, including African Americans who sought their own freedom by aligning themselves with the British. Ask your students to engage with some of the names on this list by asking them the following questions: What information do we have of these people? Who did they say were their former slave masters? How did enslaved women keep parts of their families together during the chaos of war and running away?

Inspection Roll
of
Negroes
Book No. 1

Kate her daughter 16 ditto
Geuinea 21 Stout Cut in his Rg. Eye
Harry Squash 22 Stout middle siz'd
Deborah his wife 20 do, [ditto] with thick lips pock'd mark'd
Sam Bayard 45 Stout tall man

property of W Lynch purchased from Captain Huddleston Royal Artillery
formerly slave to General Washington came away about 4 years ago GBC
ditto to Peter Bayard New Jersey came off about 5 years ago GBC