During the latter years of the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, British commanders used African American slaves, freemen, and refugees in a variety of military capacities. Although employed primarily as laborers, black Carolinians occasionally were armed by the British and used in combat.

During the latter years of the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, British commanders used African American slaves, freemen, and refugees in a variety of military capacities. Although employed primarily as laborers, black Carolinians occasionally were armed by the British and used in combat. In the spring of 1782, the British formed a group of about one hundred black men into a cavalry detachment, which was used for patrol duty but also saw combat. During the final stages of Nathanael Greene’s Southern Campaign, he reported that the British had as many as seven hundred black men under arms in South Carolina.

With the evacuation of Charleston pending in late 1782, British commanders pondered the fate of black soldiers under their command. A need for a black pioneer corps on the West Indian island of St. Lucia encouraged British commander Guy Carleton to order that those slaves promised freedom by the British be purchased from their owners and that volunteers from among them be enlisted for service in the West Indies at a pay rate of 8d per day. In December 1782 some 264 African American troops from South Carolina, under the command of Captain William Mackrill, arrived at St. Lucia, where they were organized into the Carolina Corps, or Carolina Black Corps. The unit served on St. Lucia until the end of the war, when it was transferred to the island of Grenada.

With the end of the war, the Carolina Black Corps continued as a provincial unit paid and supplied by the British government. It was the first black regiment to become a permanent part of the West Indian peacetime defense establishment. Although the regiment was used mainly for labor and fatigue duties, at least one company of the Carolina Black Corps was organized as dragoons (cavalry) and used to track maroons and other rebel slaves in the Caribbean. After some fifteen years of service, surviving elements of the Carolina Black Corps were enlisted into the First West India Regiment in 1798.

Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the American Revolution. 1961. Reprint, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Tyson, George F. “The Carolina Black Corps: Legacy of Revolution (1782–1798).” Revista/Review Interamericana 5 (winter 1975/1976): 648–64.

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Citation Information

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  • Article Title Carolina Black Corps
  • Author Charles W. Toth
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/carolina-black-corps/
  • Access Date January 27, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date April 15, 2016
  • Date of Last Update May 5, 2016