The Colonial Marines
African Americans in the War of 1812
Excerpted from: “Through the Perilous Fight,” by Steve Vogel, published in 2013 by Random House.
The Corps of Colonial Marines were a new fighting force of escaped slaves. Cockburn had distributed a thousand copies of a proclamation inviting slaves in the Chesapeake region to join with the British, either to fight against their former masters or to settle in Canada or the West Indies. At night, British barges went to prearranged meeting spots to pick up slaves willing to join. In one night, more than 140 slaves escaped. It was a perilous venture for the slaves – if caught, they risked execution or being sold out of state. Others likely perished when their canoes or rafts drifted to sea.
Cockburn, who had been skeptical of how useful the Colonial Marines might be, found their skill as soldiers “astonishing” and soon was their staunchest advocate. They “are really very fine fellows,” he wrote. “They have induced me to alter the bad opinion I had of the whole of their race and now I really believe these we are training, will neither shew want of zeal of courage when employed by us in attacking their old masters.” Cockburn had decided he preferred the Colonials to his own Royal Marines, finding them stronger and less likely to desert. The escapees provided invaluable intelligence, guiding the British through the backwoods and waters, often with more intimate knowledge than their former masters. What Cockburn appreciated the most was the unalloyed fear they inspired in the Americans.
From a recent PBS special about the War of 1812: http://video.pbs.org/video/2088022215/
From the Trindad Express newspaper: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/How_the_Merikins_came_to_Moruga-135008663.html
“Next Year’s bicentennial commemoration in the US of the War of 1812, is linked to an important part of Trinidad’s history.
It was the engagements in the Atlantic States of Maryland, Virginia and Georgia, between the United States and Britain that led to the founding of the Company Villages in Moruga.
During the battle Britain lost to America, the black soldiers who fought against their ex-masters as Corps of the Colonial Marines in British service were later sent to Trinidad in companies where they became known as the Merikins.”