In 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War, a joint British and American commission met at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan to evaluate claims that called into question the eligibility of some Black loyalists to evacuate with the British Army.
Testimonies were provided by involved persons alongside documentary evidence for the commission to render a decision. The commission was overseen by British Brigadier General Samuel Birch, Commander of the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons and Commandant of New York.
The commission’s proceedings, which would later be referred to as The Birch Trials, were part of a process whereby 3,000 Black loyalists evacuated the city of New York between April and November 1783, many of whom had previously been enslaved. The names of Black loyalists who evacuated the city were recorded in the “Book of Negroes,” the compilation of which was also overseen by the commission.
This chapter in the history of Fraunces Tavern adds to the many significant Revolutionary era events for which Fraunces Tavern is already well-known: a meeting place of the Sons of Liberty in the run-up to war breaking out (as depicted in the hit musical “Hamilton”), the site of General George Washington‘s farewell to his officers at the end of the War, and–in the early years of the Republic – the new Nation’s first executive office building, housing the Department of Foreign Affairs (now called the Department of State), then led by John Jay, the Department of War, then led by Henry Knox, and the Board of Treasury.
The Frances Tavern Museum has announced “The Birch Trials,” a new permanent exhibition in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Educational Center for American History. The new exhibition also recognizes the thousands of Black Patriots who fought to further the cause of American Independence.
For example: Crispus Attucks, a Black sailor killed in the Boston Massacre, who is thought by many historians to be the first American to die in the rebellion; Peter Salem and Salem Poor, who were recognized for their valor in the Battle of Bunker Hill; James Armistead, who served in a unit commanded by French General Lafayette and provided intelligence on the British positions at Yorktown that was crucial to the American victory; and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment – including a large and visible body of Black soldiers, both free and previously enslaved – who fought most notably at the Battle of Newport in Rhode Island.
A preview reception will be held on Monday, June 26, at 6:30 p.m., at Fraunces Tavern Museum, 54 Pearl Street. The exhibit opens to the general public on June 27, 2023 with $1 admission to the Museum all day. For more information or to RSVP for the reception, contact Scott Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information visit the Fraunces Tavern Museum website.