Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Ethiopian Regiment Part I

          Signed Nov 7,1775 Dunmore's Proclamation would be the first chance of freedom for many enslaved people in 1775. Hundreds of men and woman took this opportunity and escaped their masters to join Lord Dunmore and make up the Ethiopian Regiment. The first black unit in the British army during the American Revolution. The Ethiopian Regiment was made up of over 300 former slaves including a man named Titus who had escaped his master John Corlies in New Jersey in hopes to reach Lord Dunmore and gain his Promised freedom.

          Titus made his way to Virginia and joined the ranks of Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment. They would see combat all though not properly trained to do so. The laws prohibited slaves from possessing firearms of any kind and a shortage of ammunition would cut back on any training or practice shooting. Most of the Ethiopian Regiment most likely would have never fired a shot until actually faced with an enemy.

          In December of 1775 Lord Dunmore lost control of his forts and blockades that were holding the patriots back from entering Norfolk. As lord Dunmore planned his retreat to sea he ordered every available ship at his disposal to prepare to disembark and flee the area before the patriots advanced. Chaos was inevitable as British loyalists including the Ethiopian Regiment scrambled threw out Norfolk gathering belongings and trying to find space on Dunmore’s ships. Citizens of Norfolk panic not knowing how patriot forces will treat them when they took possession of the town and worried about the 300 former slaves roaming town most of whom were presently armed. When the ships were full only about half of the Ethiopian Regiment managed to find room on board. The other half were disarmed and left to fend for them self’s. (some returned  to their former masters, some fled for other areas, while others were thrown in jail) better fates then what lay ahead for most of the Ethiopian Regiment who made it on board of Lord Dunmore’s ships.

            Life at sea in Lord Dunmore’s fleet proved tragic for the Ethiopian Regiment. While Lord Dunmore, the better off loyalists and a small number of the Ethiopian Regiment who managed to find work on board were sailing on royal warships and tested sea vessels. Most of the Ethiopian Regiment were forced to sail on smaller vessels not fit to go to sea. The bad Living conditions on the overcrowded, unsanitary ships mixed with not having the proper clothing was a recipe for disaster. An outbreak of Jail Fever (epidemic typhus) hit Lord Dunmore’s fleet as soon as they set sail and hit the Ethiopian Regiment the hardest. Over packed ships made it easy for infected lice to pass the disease from person to person. Quickly crippling the black loyalists with severe headaches, absolute exhaustion, high fevers, twitching mussels, blood shot swollen red eyes, stupor, delirium, and even death. The ones who fought the fever and survived had to endure the symptoms for up to two weeks. Sadly the members of the Ethiopian Regiment who perished onboard, would be stripped of their clothing and dumped into the ocean. The person who wore the deceased’s clothing would most likely catch the disease their self. By March of 1776 all most 150 members of the Ethiopian Regiment died from Jail Fever


More to come in Part II  


  1. Interesting that they would have been called Ethiopian Regiment although none would have had connections to the present-day nation of Ethiopia except for the possibility that, at the time all Afrika, or at least the most noble of Afrika, was referred to as Ethiopia. To this day Ethiopia is the only land in Afrika that has never been colonised by foreign nations.

    1. Great comment +jdirving The term is derived from two Greek words meaning burnt face and it was used to refer to all decedents of Africa during the time period. Here is a link that will explain it in more detail.