13. The Context in Which Black Noncombatants Served Often Required Them to Work Under Enemy Fire
In 1778, the Black Loyalist Company was merged into the Guides and Pioneers in New York, and given the name the Black Pioneers and Guides. As Pioneers, the new unit’s soldiers performed military engineering, fortification, and construction tasks. As Guides, they served as scouts and raiders. The Black Pioneers were not treated as a standard regiment, but were instead parceled out in small ad hoc units – typically of about 30 men – that were attached to British armies. They served those armies as scouts, raiders, and military engineers.
As engineers, they did not fight, but the context in which they served often required them to work under heavy fire as they dug and shored up entrenchments and fortifications. In 1779, Clinton sailed to besiege Charleston, South Carolina, and took the Black Pioneers with him. They performed vital military engineering tasks that contributed to the city’s capture. They then returned to New York, where they remained until the end of the war. The Black Pioneers were one of the last provincial in New York, and accompanied the British when they evacuated the city in 1783.