When the British lost the 1812 War against the Americans, there was a promise made to the Colonial Marines, which was an all-black unit that fought on behalf of the British Army. The British authorities promised to grant them their freedom and allocate 16 acres of land to each family head in the unit.
After the war, the British government began resettling them in its territories, mainly Trinidad as free men. The terms were favorable to these men who had been declared fugitives by American slave owners. They were recruited specifically from the Chesapeake Bay, the shores of Virginia, Maryland, and the coast of Georgia, and later categorized into six companies.
The 700 black soldiers who were resettled in Trinidad decided to christen their community as ‘Merikins.’ Although slavery was still rife in Trinidad, the ex-Colonial Marines were placed under the protection of Commandant, Robert Mitchell, according to the national park service. This precedent of granting runaway slaves their freedom was earlier set by a similar event during the American War of Independence between 1775 and 1783.
The then Colonial Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, offered runaway slaves an opportunity to consolidate their freedom by fighting for the British army. At the end of the war, the contingent of black soldiers was granted freedom and resettled in Nova Scotia in Canada, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, according to nalis.gov.
When the Colonial Mariners fully resettled in 1817, there were concerns about the unequal gender disparity in the community. This was because the British army, as a rule, did not enlist women. To address this, about 42 African women who had been captured by a French slave trader were permitted to settle in the community. This was not the only intervention provided by the Merikins.
The Trinidad government for the first year during their relocation provided them with food rations, clothing, tools to construct their homes, as well as healthcare. In 1821, the final badge of Merikins joined the community.
Though the land was given to them by the British authorities, there was no legal backing protecting their ownership. This became an issue of worry to the leading figures of the black community. In 1847, they petitioned the authorities and were given deeds to the lands.
The mainstay of most of the Merikins was farming, they cultivated plantain, corn, rice, and pumpkins; this has since been the culture of Merikins even today. With time, some ventured into working on sugar estates while others took to blacksmithing and carpentry. There are many living in Merikins who trace their ancestry to the Colonial Mariners who built the original town in 1815.