“For free blacks, the war [of 1812] provided them the chance to enhance their individual and collective status within society. Slaves believed it would provide an avenue to freedom.” (Prof. Gene Smith) The Battle of New Orleans epitomised these rival aspirations.
Both British and American commanders, Vice Admiral Cochrane and Andrew Jackson respectively, were both acutely aware of the importance of getting African American slaves on their side.
Vice Admiral Cochrane, of the Royal Navy, was optimistic that with “Yankee negroes” (slaves) being “properly armed and backed with 20,000 British troops, Mr. Maddison [sic] will be hurled from his throne.” Such was the importance of African Americans to his plan overthrow the government of President James Madison but in seeking to capture New Orleans
In preparation for the British assault on New Orleans, Major Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines did his best to get slaves to enlist in the “Corps of Negroes” in return for freedom and the opportunity to settle in the West Indies. The British had already succeeded in enlisting African Americans in the slave unit known as the “Colonial Marines.” In the event of capturing New Orleans, the Colonial Marines along with the men from the West Indian regiments who were of African origins were considered ideal to garrison the city owing to the climate conditions prevailing there.
To counteract British plans to secure the support of the slaves, Andrew Jackson became persuaded to enlist quite a number in the American forces defending New Orleans. Hundreds volunteered to fight while many others laboured on the American defences.
The lot of African American slaves was far from enviable before the War of 1812. It was to be made even tougher by white slave owners in response to their dread of a slave revolt, a spectre conjured up in part by the British and by African Americans allying with them. And this despite the fact that evidence also shows African Americans loyally playing their part resisting the British.