Disclaimer: Please note that the terms used in historical records reflect the attitudes and language of the time and may now be considered inappropriate, derogatory or offensive.
The records are varied and naturally give varying amounts of information, depending upon who created them and for what purpose. Some are very detailed, giving precise locations or details of household or personal histories. Others are tantalisingly slim. The following fields are usual:
• Note or description of document
• Archive reference
• Link to original record online
Nova Scotia was a British possession from 1710 to 1867, in which year it became a founder member of the confederated Province of Canada, a self-governing dominion within the British Empire.
At the start of British rule, Nova Scotia was populated mainly by its indigenous First Nation people the Mikmaq, together with the Francophone Acadians (the French having been the first Europeans to settle what became Nova Scotia). The Scots and other early British settlers were largely confined to Annapolis Royal, with only a relatively thin presence elsewhere. In the mid-18th century, other settlers came from New England. However, the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) led to the arrival of an entirely new population, as Black Loyalists and former slaves left the States (1783) with other Loyalists and British Army ex-servicemen to settle Nova Scotia. The War of 1812 similarly led to an influx of Black refugees from slavery in the US.
Although the Black population of Nova Scotia was never especially large, it is linked into a far-flung diaspora web. Some of the earliest Black settlers moved to Britain and especially London (1785/86), and some of these then became part of the ill-fated first Sierra Leone expedition (1787). Others took up an offer to move to Trinidad, by then another British colony. In turn, Nova Scotia received Maroons deported from Jamaica after an uprising there (1796) – many of these too later went to settle Freetown in Sierra Leone (from 1800).
The records in this dataset, then, relate to this Black history in all its complexity. You will find individuals who escaped slavery in South Carolina and Virginia, but also the slaves of British Loyalists. You will find those who merely passed through, living their lives for a few years before moving on elsewhere.
Be careful when searching for surnames, as many are spelt in various different ways. Some have been standardised (e.g. Hamilton), but most have been left as per the original document. For instance, Anthony Honeycutt, a Black refugee from 1812, also appears as Honeycuttle, Honycut, Hunecute, Hunycutt and Hunycutte. Similarly, names such as Johnson, Johnston and Johnstone may be used interchangeably for the same person or family. Many names appear to have been spelt phonetically rather than in what we would today think of as the standard way. Other names clearly evolved over time. For example, the first name Bristol (one of several forenames given to slaves after ports and other places) also shows as Brister, Bristo and Bristow, perhaps reflecting pronunciation.