Residents of rural black community want compensation for land lost in 1799

A group representing black residents in the rural Nova Scotia community of Lincolnville wants the provincial government to compensate them for land that was granted to Black Loyalists in the late-1700s but was later handed over to Acadians.

'I feel that the government didn't live up to their agreement,' says resident James Desmond

The original document for a land grant in 1787 to Thomas Brownspriggs and 73 other Black Loyalists. (Nova Scotia Archives)

A group representing black residents in the rural Nova Scotia community of Lincolnville wants the provincial government to compensate them for land that was granted to Black Loyalists in the late-1700s but was later handed over to Acadians.

James Desmond chairs the Lincolnville Reserve Land Voice Council. In the 1990s, when Desmond worked as a development officer, he did some research with the Nova Scotia Museum about the arrival and settlement of Black Loyalists in Guysborough County following the American Revolution.

Documents showed that in 1787, 1,200 hectares of land was granted to Thomas Brownspriggs, a teacher and lay preacher, and 73 other black men who arrived in the area with 50 women and 51 children.

Twelve years later, Desmond said, more than 1,100 hectares of the land was "regranted" to Acadians.

"The excuse by the government was that, at the time, was that they didn't know that the land had already been granted to the Black Loyalists," Desmond said.

Desmond said the economic impact of losing the property was great for residents of the small rural community because fertile land was taken away and they lost access to the fishery.

"Their lives could have been a lot easier because they would have had lots of fertile land, lots of standing timbre that they could have used to better themselves," he said.

"I feel that the government didn't live up to their agreement. Before we can move ahead into the future, the wrongs of the past have to be looked at, it has to be dealt with."

Lincolnville is a historic black community in Guysborough County. (Rev. Elaine Walcott)

The Lincolnville Reserve Land Voice Council has not formally applied to get title under Nova Scotia's Land Titles Clarification Act, because the property is occupied by others. Still, Desmond said he's concerned.

The Nova Scotia government is "showing a pattern of the systemic racism and injustice that has been delivered to the black people in the area concerning their land," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, one of the departments handling title issues under the act, said it doesn't comment on individual cases.

Fighting for other land

The council has applied under the act to gain control of separate land inside of the two areas formerly identified as Reserve One and Two, and Shepherd Lake. Desmond said the aim is to "determine our own destiny and not let the Province of Nova Scotia determine our destiny."

"A lot of people want to move back to the area so that will give us the power to start developing our area and expanding it for economic development," he said.

"We had some discussion around building cabins around the lake and renting it out during the summer and winter months, also using the lake during the summer and the winter months for different activities."

Helping blacks obtain land titles

Last September, the province announced it would spend $2.7 million over two years to help residents in five historically black communities obtain legal title to land.

The province will hire two navigators by the end of February to assist people with their applications. Nova Scotia Legal Aid and a surveyor and surveyor technician will also provide free services.

Wayn Hamilton, executive director of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs, said several government departments are working together to get some black families clear title to their land. (CBC)

Those communities include North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon in the Halifax Regional Municipality, and Lincolnville and Sunnyville in Guysborough County.

After Nova Scotia's earliest black settlers arrived in the late-1700s, the government gave them land lots but not legal deeds to the property. Throughout the years, land was passed on down to family members. Though many pay taxes on their property, they have never held the deeds.

"This has been on people's minds for a very, very long time, probably going back several generations and it's that notion of saying enough is enough," said Wayn Hamilton, executive director the province's Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

"There's several departments that are really joining hands to try to figure out how best to make sure that everybody who comes forward, we try to find out what's the best pathway for them to get that clear title."

Since the fall, two certificates of title have been issued in North Preston and three have been issued in East Preston. One certificate of claim has been issued in North Preston and Oldham, Halifax County.

The following applications are pending in the five communities:

  • Sunnyville – 0
  • Lincolnville – 1
  • Cherry Brook – 1
  • East Preston – 5
  • North Preston – 14 (Four had certificates of title issued previously and some have overlapping claims).

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca