Richard Pierpoint (c. 1744–c. 1838)
Richard Pierpoint, born in the kingdom of Bundu (a region located in present-day Senegal), was captured in 1760 and forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Thirteen British Colonies in America that became the United States. He gained his freedom from 20 years of enslavement by fighting for Britain during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and subsequently settled in Upper Canada (Ontario), where he worked as a day labourer and confronted significant racial prejudice. During the War of 1812, Pierpoint was involved in the creation of “the Colored Corps,” the only unit in Upper Canada composed entirely of men of African descent, which took part in the fighting and helped repair fortifications in the Niagara region. Richard Pierpoint’s story illustrates the life of a Black Loyalist, ranging from his enslavement to his struggle for freedom during the American War of Independence and his civilian and military contributions after his establishment in Upper Canada.
It was likely in the West African kingdom of Bundu that Pierpoint learned the traditional tales of griots, the guardians of African stories and oral traditions who played prominent roles in their home community. Like thousands of other Africans at the time, Pierpoint was captured and forcibly transported to the Thirteen American Colonies. After being enslaved for 20 years, he fought for the British to earn his emancipation during the American Revolutionary War. As a Loyalist, Pierpoint was granted land in what would become Grantham Township, near Lake Ontario (now St. Catharines). He became a leader among the Black Loyalists of Upper Canada, where men of African descent faced social isolation and prejudice. He later lost or sold his concessions, and most likely earned his living as a day labourer between 1806 and 1812.
Shortly before the War of 1812 broke out between Britain and United States, Pierpoint wrote the military commander of Upper Canada to propose the creation of the first and only militia company in the colony made up entirely of men of African descent. His proposal was initially denied, although the British later authorized the formation of such a company as part of the 1st Lincoln Militia in August 1812. Pierpoint and his company comrades went on to help repel an American invasion during the Battle of Queenston Heights on 13 October 1812. Renamed the “Colored Corps” at the beginning of 1813 and attached a year later to the Royal Canadian Engineers, the unit helped repair the fortifications at the mouth of the Niagara River and contributed to the building of Fort Mississauga from the spring of 1814 until their demobilization in March 1815.
When the war ended in 1815, Pierpoint returned to work as a day labourer in the Grantham area. In 1821, he petitioned the Lieutenant Governor for permission to return to Africa, but was denied. He received instead 40.4 hectares (100 acres) of land in Township of Garafraxa on the Grand River, close to what is now Fergus, Ontario. Despite his advanced age, he fulfilled his obligations as a colonist, while continuing his activities of griot, before his death in 1837 or 1838.
In recent years, the life of Richard Pierpoint has become a well-known example of the early contributions and hardships of Black Loyalists who lived in Upper Canada at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.
The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn
Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada wish to thank Rosemary Sadlier for nominating Richard Pierpoint under the National Program of Historical Commemoration. Rosemary Sadlier is an educator, consultant, and author of several books on Black Canadian history.