The New Heritage Minute & A Bit Of Context

The first new Heritage Minute is out and — surprise! — like just about everything else these days, it's about the War of 1812. The commercial tells the story of Richard Pierpoint (who had the awesome nickname of Captain Dick), a former slave who had "earned" his freedom by fighting for the British during the American Revolution. He was given a bunch of free land near St. Catherines after that — although when the authorities denied his request to have former slaves given land next to each other (since many of them didn't have families and would need help clearing away the forest), he was forced to give it up and work as a labourer instead.

When the Americans invaded in 1812, Pierpoint petitioned Isaac Brock, the British commander: he wanted to be allowed to form a "Corps of Men of Colour" to fight on the Niagara border. (That's what's shown in the Heritage Minute.) Brock actually rejected the petition — but then, when not enough White Canadians were volunteering to fight, he finally allowed a White officer to form the corps and Pierpoint signed up.

"The Company of Coloured Men"
Some other Black Canadians, however, were still living in slavery at this point — including, it seems, in Toronto. Upper Canada's first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe, had wanted to abolish it completely at about the same time he founded our city, but some of the slave-owning Tories on his Executive Council forced a compromise: no new slaves would be brought into Upper Canada, and new children born of slaves would be freed when they turned 25... but the rest would live in slavery for the rest of their lives. By the time slavery in the British Empire was finally abolished altogether in 1834, Toronto's slaves had all died, been freed, or sold away.

After the War of 1812, Pierpoint — like all veterans — was entitled to another tract of free land. But instead, he asked to be given passage back to Senegal (then known as Bondu) where he'd been born and raised before being sold away into slavery as a teenager. His request was denied. He died a couple of decades later, more than 90 years old.

A second new Heritage Minute will be released next year.... and will also be about the War of 1812, this time focusing on the contributions of the First Nations.


You can learn a bit more about Richard Pierpoint at the Toronto Star here, about captain Runchey's Company of Coloured Men on Wikipedia here, and about the poor job we've done remembering the contribution of that Company on OpenFile here. I wrote about one of Toronto's slave owners, Peter Russell, here. And about Canada's first race riot here. I found the image of the uniform on the website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada here.

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

This post originally appeared on the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog, which tells stories about the history of Toronto. You can read more highlights from it here, or visit it yourself here.


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