Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Merikens

above a Colonial Marine

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 British ranks." 

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 out ahead. 

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 quarrĂ©s 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.

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