(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.