When the War of 1812 started most of the fighting was in the north along the Canadian border. This left the Chesapeake bay area including Washington and Baltimore without an army to defend it. Admiral Alexander Cochrane of the British Navy, in 1813 with a squadron of naval vessels sailed in and set up camp on Tangier Island. He had a large fort built, including well, houses, breastworks, barracks, hospital, gardens and cannons, on the southwestern end of the island. At one point there were over 1,200 British soldiers garrisoned on the island. From that position in the Chesapeake Cochrane had the run of the Chesapeake Bay area. The only defense the Chesapeake Bay population had were lightly trained home militia.
In the early 1800’s there were a number of slave revolts from Haiti in the
Caribbean to Chatam Manor, Virginia in 1805, and any thoughts of armed slaves
made the white residents of the Chesapeake area quite nervous. Alexander
Cochrane played a little psychological warfare with the residents by saying any
slave (or actually anyone) not "satisfied" with living in America
could come to his camp and he would make arrangements to send them to Canada or
the Caribbean. They were also given the opportunity to join the Royal Marines
stationed at Tangier Island. Several thousand from the Chesapeake area fled
their masters and went over to the British, some joined the Royal Marines and
became part of the Colonial Marines that was attached to the Royal Marines.
They were clothed, trained and had the same living arrangements as the Royal
marines at Tangier Island. The Eastern Shore Colonial Marines were valuable to
the British not only for filling out the ranks but since they knew the local
area they could act as guides for the British.
In 1814 Thomas Beauchamp was living on his farm on the Annamessex River outside
of Princess Anne. Three of his slaves on October 15th, 1814 fled to the British
frigate “Regulus” which was in the Tangier sound. The slaves were Stephen
Beauchamp, Elijah Beauchamp, and Jack Teagle. Isaac Beachamp's slave, Mentor
Beauchamp, also joined them.
Both Stephen and Elijah Beauchamp and Mentor Beauchamp joined the British in
the Sixth Company of Colonial Marines. In November of 1814, Thomas Jones of
Somerset County saw Stephen on Tangier Island “in British uniform and in the
The Colonial Marines with the now ex-Beauchamp-slaves saw their first action at
Pungoteague on the Eastern Shore on May 29, 1814. On that day the 83 gun
British warship “Albion” moved into position between Onancock and Tangier
Island Virginia and begin offloading Royal and Colonial Marines. After some
confusion and entering Onancock Creek by mistake the Marines eventually entered
Pungoteague Creek with eleven barges and launches of Marines on May 30th.
The second Regiment of Virginia Militia had built a small fort at the mouth of
Pungoteague Creek. Thomas M. Bayly commanded the 2nd Regiment. Bayly with 50
men defended the fort against 400 trained veteran British Royal Marines and
sailors. In addition there was cannon and rocket fire from the “Albion.” In the
fight about 30 uniformed Black Marines of the Colonial Marines lead the advance
against the American Forces. One would be shot and killed. Altho the number
varies, from four to fourteen, British Marines were shot that day and were
later buried on Tangier Island. The end results of this fight was both sides
claimed victory although based on wounded and dead the Americans seem to come
A month later these two opposing units would fight again at Chessconnessex
Creek on the Bayside of Accomack County. The British used the Colonial Marines
again at the Battle of Bladensburg and three companies fought at North Point,
Maryland. When the British moved south to Georgia in December 1814, the
Colonial Marines joined them. Operating from Cumberland Island, the ranks
swelled to six companies. After the war, the Colonial Marines served in Bermuda
for fourteen months and in 1816 the units were disbanded in Trinidad.
Stephen, Elijah, and Isaac Beachamp's slave Mentor Beauchamp were part of 700
Colonial Marines that would settled in Trinidad and were each given sixteen
acres of land that the British had promised each soldier's family.
The Colonial Marines’ were organized in villages in their military companies,
in the south of the island around the Mission of Savanna Grande, now Princes
Town. Today those villages are called “The Company Villages”. Each under the
local supervision of an ex-sergeant, sworn in as an alguacil or constable, and
under the general control of the Commandant of the Quarter. Each household in
the Colonial Marines’ settlements was to have five quarrés or sixteen acres,
following the previous Spanish rule for persons of colour, and as much more as
they could cultivate.
It is my impression they were always considered a separate group of citizens in
Trinidad and referred to as Merikens (I assume short for Americans). The local
planters thought they got the best land, and the Merikens acted different from
the other people of colour on the island. There was some form of “discrimination”
toward them that continues on up to current day.
Since the Ex-slave Americans, now Merikens were mainly of the Baptist religion
belief they intermingled that belief with a number of African beliefs and
developed the Shouter Baptist religion. Called Shouters because when they
“catch The Spirit” they clap and shout, making a loud noise.
So Somerset County Maryland slaves formed a new class of free Black citizens in
Trinidad and perhaps the Beauchamp name still is carried on in Trinidad from
these ex-Eastern Shoreman.
As for Thomas Beauchamp, who lost his slaves; he died, but his son Samuel
Beauchamp, under the reparation part of the Treaty of Ghent (that ended the War
of 1812), claim for compensation for his three escaped slaves and Thomas
Beauchamp's estate received $840 ($280 for each slave) in reparations.
Perhaps the only person who has done research in this interesting group of
people called Merikens is John Weiss who is author of "THE MERIKENS: Free
Black American Settlers in Trinidad 1815-16' and most of the internet
information I obtained on Merikens was generated by him.