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The Coloured Corps, also called Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men or Black Corps, was a British unit composed of black troops. They fought against the Americans at Queenston Heights and Fort George to defend their homes and preserve their freedom.
See the fact file below for more information on the Coloured Corps or alternatively, you can download our 21-page The Coloured Corps worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Black Corps was created in Upper Canada, where in 1793 enslavement had been limited. It was composed of free and enslaved black men raised during the War of 1812.
- The Coloured Corps fought in the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Fort George before it was appointed to the Royal Engineers, being a construction company
- The Coloured Corps was commanded by Captain Robert Runchey, a tavern keeper from Jordan, Upper Canada, as part of the 1st Regiment of Lincoln Militia.
- Towards the start of the War of 1812, a black settler in Upper Canada who had fought against the Americans during the War of Independence, Richard Pierpoint, petitioned Major General Isaac Brock, commanding the British Forces in Upper Canada, to raise a militia corps from black settlers in the Niagara Peninsula, to fight for the British Army in Canada.
- Initially, Brock turned down Pierpoint’s suggestion but reconsidered as Brock grew increasingly desperate for volunteers. Brock eventually named the company after its white officer Robert Runchey, “Captain Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men”. Instead of granting Richard Pierpoint the command, the honor was given to Captain Robert Runchey who was described as a “worthless, troublesome malcontent” by his superiors.
- By separating black men from other militiamen, Runchey supported his reputation for being a poor leader. In some instances, he hired out black soldiers as domestic servants to other officers.
- Recruiting men in the Niagara Peninsula proved difficult, and “Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men” remained small.
- In early October, 14 black soldiers including Sergeant William Thompson were transferred to the unit from the 3rd York Militia.
- The men of Runchey’s Coloured Corps acknowledged the dangers they faced if they fell into American hands and understood that their status as British subjects might not protect them or their families from enslavement if captured.
- The men fought to protect their homes at the risk of their freedom.
- Pierpoint himself, despite being a 68-year-old man, signed up as a private. He may have assumed that such a unit as the Coloured Corps would aid promote greater military responsibility and opportunities for blacks. However, black settlers would never be commissioned and would rise at most to be non-commissioned officers (sergeants and corporals).
- The Coloured Corps, though led by an undistinguished officer, saw action in some of the best-known battles of the War of 1812. They fought with distinction at the Battle of Queenston Heights and at Fort George. The Coloured Corps suffered zero fatalities in the battle although the 1st Lincoln Militia (of which the Coloured Corps was a member) had one man killed and two wounded.
- The Coloured Corps was also known for building Fort Mississauga after the British reclaimed the Niagara region. The battlements as well as the central blockade made of brick, taken in part from the remains of burned houses, still survive today.
DISBANDMENT AND LEGACY
- The Coloured Corps stayed being employed in the Niagara Peninsula for the remains of the War of 1812 as the Royal Engineers justly impressed for their zeal in their work.
- In February 1815, it was reported that “no people could be better calculated to build temporary barracks than these Free Men of Colour, as they are in general expert axemen”.
- On March 24, 1815, the company was disbanded following the end of the war. In regards to claiming the rewards for their service, many faced difficulty and discrimination.
- Sergeant William Thompson was told that he “must go and look for his pay himself”, while Richard Pierpoint, then in his 70s, was refused his request for passage home to Africa instead of a land grant.
- In 1821, during the distribution of grants, veterans of the Coloured Corps received only 100 acres, half that of their White counterparts. Numerous veterans did not settle on the land they were granted as it was of poor quality. Regardless of these inequities, the Coloured Corps protected Canada honorably, setting the precedent for the formation of black units in the future.
- Similar to most units of Upper Canadian militia, Captain Runchey’s Company wore common civilian clothes with a white armband to show their allegiance and service.
- The provincial government of Upper Canada became responsible for their clothing and supply when the unit was transferred to the Provincial Corps of Artificers. The Corps adopted a uniform consisting of a dark blue tailless jacket with black facings, grey pantaloons, and a black round hat.
- They received uniforms directly from Britain in 1814 and wore the same uniform as the Royal Sappers and Miners.
The Coloured Corps Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Coloured Corps across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use The Coloured Corps worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Coloured Corps, also called Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men or Black Corps, which was a British unit composed of black troops. They fought against the Americans at Queenston Heights and Fort George to defend their homes and preserve their freedom.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- The Coloured Corps Facts
- All About
- Fast Facts
- Arrange the Events
- Commander Runchey
- Richard Pierpoint
- Services Offered
- Worth Fighting For
- Coloured Corps Members
- Our Importance
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Use With Any Curriculum
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