CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 18. . . .May 2, 2008
To Stand and Fight Together: Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada.
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle/Dundurn, 2008.
144 pp., pbk., $19.99.
Pierpoint, Richard, 1744?-1837.
Great Britain. Army. Runchey's Coloured Troops-History-Juvenile literature.
Black loyalists-Ontario-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Canada-History-War of 1812-Regimental histories-Juvenile literature.
Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
The army engineers selected a spot directly across the river from Fort Niagara at Mississauga Point. It was the same place where the British Americans had established a six-gun battery to attack the French when they occupied Fort Niagara in 1759. The Coloured Corps was assigned the dangerous task of digging and fortifying the gun emplacement under the cannons of the enemy. There is no written record of how the troops of the Coloured Corps achieved this feat, but they likely worked to night to escape being picked off by the bullets of sharpshooters or the blasts of grapeshot.
It was hard and dangerous work made even more challenging because it was done in the dark. Once it was finished, the gun emplacement was named Fort Mississauga in honour of the First Nations tribe that lived nearby.
To Stand and Fight Together is the story of Richard Pierpoint, a young slave captured in the small African country of Bondu. Pierpoint founded the Coloured Corps, a group of black men loyal to Britain, who fought for the British during the War of 1812. It is an unusual history because most books about the American Revolution and War of 1812 deal with the experiences of white and native Loyalists.
The book begins with an account of the West African slave trade in the 18th century. Anyone unfamiliar with the origins of slavery will find the discussion in the book fascinating. It is informative and as factual as is possible with such a subject. This leads to the story of Pierpoint and the American Revolution. He, like many slaves, fought for the British because they were promised freedom for their support. Pierpoint became a member of Butler's Rangers, an irregular group of men loyal to the British crown who fought in a style comparable to today's guerrilla soldiers.
After the war, Pierpoint moved to Upper Canada. Life here was much harder for him and other blacks than it was for white Loyalists. Unable to marry a white woman, he had to clear the 200-acre land grant he received all by himself. White settlers had the help of family members. This made the required task of clearing five acres in two years impossible for Pierpoint, and eventually he sold his acreage and worked as a labourer.
When the War of 1812 began, Pierpoint asked General Brock, the British officer commanding troops in Upper Canada, if he could form a Coloured Corps. With few white men available to fight Americans in the expected invasion, Brock eventually agreed. Pierpoint, now age 68, only served as a private in this company. The Corps had but 30 men, and so it was not important
militarily. It's significance comes from the fact that it was made up of black men, apart from the commander, who was white.
There is very little in To Stand and Fight Together about the Coloured Corps because, as Pitt states, it "rarely appears in the official records of the War of 1812." This is unfortunate because the reader is led to believe that the Corp's exploits will be a main feature of the book.
However, Pitt does a fine job retelling the history of the war, and one can assume that men like Pierpoint made a significant contribution to the British victory. Pitt also provides some details about Pierpoint's life after the war. These are interesting and help the reader to form a more complete picture of the man.
There are nine chapters in the book. Each has a number of sidebars referred to as "Fascinating Facts" and "Wordplay." The latter attempt to clarify unusual terms used in the text. Longknife, for example, was a term that native warriors gave to American soldiers because they used both swords and bayonets when fighting. There are also print and electronic references, a useful timeline and functional black and white illustrations spread throughout the book. An index and a map showing the locations of African slave trading posts would have both been welcome.
To Stand and Fight Together is author Steve Pitt's second book for young readers. His first, Rain Tonight: A Tale of Hurricane Hazel was nominated for the Silver Birch, Red Cedar, and Rocky Mountain awards. He has also written articles for numerous magazines and newspapers.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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