Finding Maj. Pierce Butler’s enslaved people who left Georgia with the British in 1815

Researching a community of enslaved people can take African American genealogists in unexpected directions. This article focuses on information that was found while researching the genealogy of enslaved people held by the slaveholder Maj. Pierce Butler. Research revealed the names of Maj. Pierce Butler’s enslaved people who left Georgia with the British in 1815.

When the British finally arrived in Georgia in 1815, during the War of 1812, they did not leave empty-handed. The British left with hundreds of enslaved people from Butler’s Island. Among them were 140+ enslaved people who had been enslaved by Major Pierce Butler. Other enslaved people (EPs) joined them from the other Butler Island and St Simons Island enslavers, namely the Couper and Wylly families. The enslaved literally walked off their respective plantations in a bid for freedom. The majority of these Georgia EPs went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada as well as Trinidad and Tobago.

Pierce Mease Butler genealogy
In order to understand the population of people enslaved by Pierce Mease Butler, we have to understand their origin story, which is what this image depicts. The people he enslaved either came from an older generation of his heavily inter-connected family lineage, or were the descendants of those who were enslaved by his ancestors and ancestral kin. Maj. Pierce Butler is key to understanding this history. His moving of Izard-Bull-Middleton-Brewton EPs greatly angered his in-laws as he was moving enslaved people around South Carolina, and between South Carolina and Georgia who were not his to move. It was the use of great friction between Maj. Butler and his in-laws. You can see how so many of the enslaved people coming from all parts of this large extended family came to be with Pierce Mease Butler by the time of the 1859 Weeping Time sale. For a larger image, please click

The Origin Story of the 1815 EPs who left Georgia for Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as Trinidad & Tobago

The origin story of this unique group of EPs began decades earlier in the Charleston region of South Carolina. The eldest among them had been brought to South Carolina by slave traders, Capt. John Bull, Col. Thomas Middleton, and Maj. Pierce Butler from Barbados as well as Africa. Others had been enslaved by various family members of Maj. Pierce Butler’s wife, Mary “Polly” Middleton Butler.

There is a pretty straightforward reason why the research team is spending so much time researching formerly enslaved people who were no longer US Citizens. Identifying the EPs who had been enslaved by Mary “Polly” Middleton Butler’s family who went away with the British in 1815 reduces the number of EPs we need to research back in South Carolina and Georgia. When you are speaking about a family who enslaved thousands of people over the course of generations, identifying and filtering out people who were no longer living in the US is an important phase in our overall research project. There is no point wasting time trying to find descendants of people in the US who were no longer within the US.

How We Found the 1815 EPs

First and foremost, we had to identify the EPs who actually left. The team knew that Maj. Pierce Butler had submitted a claim to then Secretary of State, John Adams. He did so in order to receive reparations for the loss of his EPs. This, of course, after all of his lobbying efforts to have the US Government force Canada to return these enslaved people failed. And yes, he did receive a payout for the loss of his EPs.

Priority #1 was finding that list. Kudos go to my Irish cousin, Martine Brennan, for locating that list. She has written about this list here: Georgia to Nova Scotia 1815 Part 2 via Her discovery dove-tailed with the findings of a fellow researcher, Annette H.

The 1815 Enslaved People

This series consists of a list of slaves and property for which citizens of the United States claimed indemnification.
The source citation for this image and the following 3 images: U.S., Definitive List of Slaves and Property, 1827-1828 | The National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland; Definitive List of Slaves and Property, ca. 1827 – ca. 1828; Record Group Title: Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations, 1716-1994; Record Group Number: 76 | U.S., Definitive List of Slaves and Property, 1827-1828 [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data: Definitive List of Slaves and Property, ca. 1827 – ca. 1828. HMS/MLR Entry Number PI 177 192. NAI: 1174162. Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations, 1716-1994, Record Group 76. The National Archives at Washington, D.C. via | Please click each image to view a larger image

One thing became immediately apparent in the course of our research. The British gave all of Maj. Pierce Butler’s enslaved people the same surname: Butler. It didn’t matter that this wasn’t the surname many of his EPs used for themselves before they left. It was simply the surname the British chose to give them. This has added an extra layer of complexity in trying to research them in Halifax, Nova Scotia in order to figure out who was who after they arrived in Nova Scotia and reverted back to the surnames they had used in South Carolina and Georgia. When it comes to researching enslaved people, few things are straightforward. The British didn’t seem to be inclined to make our research any easier.

So, while other researchers like Kali and Annette are focused on the South Carolina and Georgia aspects of this research, Martine is focused on the EPs who went to Nova Scotia. and I am focused on mapping this group of former EPs back to EPs listed on the estate inventories of the individuals who appear in the abbreviated family tree image at the top of this article. However, before I cover the mapping process, I wanted to share a remarkable resource that has provided a wealth of information about this group of former EPs in Nova Scotia.

The African Nova Scotia Diaspora Repository

Selected Government Records of Black Settlement, 1791-1839

Plan by George P. Brehm of lots occupied by Black people at Preston. Source: The African Nova Scotia Diaspora: selected government records of black settlements, 1791-1839, via Nova Scotia Archives . Click the image for a larger version.

Referred to as African Refugees within Canada, thousands of enslaved Americans from Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia left with the British during the War of 1812. They were settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While most would remain in Nova Scotia, life was so difficult there, in terms of the lack of income opportunities, discrimination, and the climate, that a few groups left Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Trinidad & Tobago. The African Nova Scotia Diaspora repository ( is a superb resource for researching these formerly enslaved people.

This repository has digitized dozens upon dozens of original documents for the African refugees of Nova Scotia. The image below is an example

In the image above, you will see two of the Butler EPs from Georgia that we have found, Jeffrey and Gabriel Butler.

One of the reasons why this repository is so priceless is the documents clearly state who arrived in 1815, and which plots of land were allocated to them. There are also maps showing plots of land and who was living on each plot. These documents act as a kind of census for these African refugees for the year 1815. We can see who is living next to whom. From this, we can ferret out family relationships among the groups of neighbours.

Mapping the Nova Scotia Butler EPs to the EPs Cited in Various South Carolina Izard-Bull-Butler-Middleton-Brewton-Guerard Estate Inventories

I previously stated that the first hurdle Martine and I face is researching what names Butler’s EPs in Nova Scotia used when they dropped the surname Butler that the British had given them. It came as no surprise to see surnames we have been so familiar with back in South Carolina and Georgia: Bull, Middleton, Wylly, Cooper, Johnson, and Blake. This phase of the research continues. When faced with four or five Binah)s, Rena(h)s, Dina(h)s, Quackos, etc: it is a time consuming and slow process to ensure we are matching records to the correct individual who shares the same name as so many others. At the moment, this is what this group of former Butler EPs looks like in my tree, using the Beyond Kin methodology (

To see a larger version for each image below, please click on each image.

This image shows the heirs who received EPs from Mary Bull Middleton’s estate. You can refer to the family tree at the top of this article to see how each of these people fit into this history.
When working on enslavers’ probate records, how they disperse EPs within their family, and how they group individual EPs in those dispersals, can provide clues about family relationships with a plantation’s EP community. In the image above, we noted how Pompey and Isaac were grouped together. We have found an Isaac and Pompey who received plots of land in Halifax that were very close to one another. Were they brothers? The search for who they were continues. In terms of Lucy and Atticus, we are noting when Maj. Pierce Butler took them from South Carolina to Georgia – as well as noting who their legal enslaver was – in their case, it was the Guerard family, and not Pierce Butler, although he did remove them to GA without his wife’s family’s permission. Knowing that Lucy and Atticus were taken to GA in 1775 will enable us to find them in Maj. Butler’s GA slave lists from 1776 onwards.
Taking Quamina as an example, we also note possible relationships between individuals who bear the same name over a few generations. This enables other researchers who access the publicly available Genealogy Adventures tree to clearly see and access our pending research inquiries.
The image above shows how we have begun to identify the EPs from Mary Bull Middleton’s Estate Inventory left Georgia for Nova Scotia in 1815.
Lot #4 of Mary Bull Middleton’s Estate Inventory, shows that the majority of the EPs she had bequeathed to Mrs. Elizabeth Blake left Georgia for Nova Scotia with the British in 1815.

While I have only scratched the surface of mapping the EPs who went with the British in 1815 back to Mary Bull Middleton’s Estate Inventory, a picture is beginning to emerge about which enslaved Georgia family groups were inclined to go away with the British, and those who chose to remain in Georgia. Hands down, Elizabeth Blake’s EPs, who now found themselves with Maj. Pierce Butler, chose to leave with the British. Mary Brewton’s EPs, who also found themselves in Georgia with Maj. Butler, are also beginning to appear likely to have left.

click for larger image

I have to put Roswell King’s statement into context. Over 140 EPs in his charge had left with the British. Maj. Butler was furious with him for this loss, especially as Butler had specifically instructed King to hide the EPs elsewhere, and for them not to remain on Butler’s Island or St. Simons Island. King did not believe the British would pose that much of a threat – threat enough to move cotton, rice, and other sundries, but not the EPs. Butler and King fell out over this and, eventually, King ceased to be Butler’s overseer.

I have a different take on what happened. Far from being ‘stupid’, Butler’s EPs were not happy about being in Georgia. Butler’s in-laws had been furious that he chose to take EPs held by their family to Georgia. The EPs this move affected would have known that they were not his legal property. To make things worse, Butler, who primarily lived in Philadelphia, was an absentee enslaver. The majority of EPs he had taken from South Caroline to Georgia did not know him. They had no relationship with him. In short, they had no loyalty to him. That’s an odd thing to write. However, in order to understand who was inclined to remain in Georgia, and who was predisposed to leaving with the British, this is how, as researchers, we have to think. We have to see their world and their reality through their eyes.

Butler had also lost a number of EPs during the American Revolutionary War – the first group of EPs that would leave their enslavement to go away with the British. There were EPs in Georgia who would have remembered this, which could have swayed their decision. Or, they would have known, or heard about, those EPs who had left Butler during the Revolutionary War. In short, they were now presented with a second opportunity to grab freedom.

Added to this, Roswell King was a fairly brutal overseer (Bell, Malcolm. Jr 1987. Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family, Brown Thrasher Books, The University of Georgia Press).

When fate conspired to give them access to freedom, they took it. I’m inclined to think that some of the EPs who chose to remain had been bought by Maj. Butler and knew him to be their enslaver. Others who remained had arrived from Africa or Barbados – and the very thought of boarding a European ship would have been anathema to them after the journey they had survived arriving in Charleston. Some were ill, others were old.

This is my working hypothesis in trying to understand why one group of Butler’s EPs were inclined to leave in 1815, and those who were not.

This too adds another layer of complexity regarding researching the 1815 Butler EPs who went away with the British. Some left their enslaved partners and children behind in Georgia. Others were given children who weren’t theirs to take away with them to Nova Scotia. The team has to be mindful of this when working with this group of people. Some children in these Halifax, Nova Scotia households won’t be the biological children of the couple they are living with. Spouses won’t be the spouses other individuals had back in Georgia. In some cases, I imagine, only DNA testing will determine biological lineages.

As I mentioned in my previous article, Case study: Creating a research strategy to find my lost connection to Maj. Pierce Butler’s enslaved people (, this research has numerous moving parts. I see myself working on this one slice of it for quite some time.

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One thought on “Finding Maj. Pierce Butler’s enslaved people who left Georgia with the British in 1815

  1. I think my 5th great grandfather Primus may have been involved in this. I see the first name Primus but not last name which is Burke. Born abt 1798 and died in 1881 buried in Chatham Georgia. Any help would be appreciated. May have been him.

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