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The Book of Negroes (miniseries)

The Book of Negroes is a miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Canadian writer Lawrence Hill. The book in turn derives its origins from the historical document Book of Negroes, and tells the story of a fictional woman forcefully brought to South Carolina from West Africa at the time of the American Revolution. Clement Virgo and Hill collaborated on writing the six-part miniseries, with Virgo also directing.

The Book of Negroes
The Book of Negroes poster.png
Based onThe Book of Negroes
Lawrence Hill
Screenplay byClement Virgo Lawrence Hill
Directed byClement Virgo
StarringAunjanue Ellis,
Kyle M. Hamilton
Lyriq Bent
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Louis Gossett Jr.
Ben Chaplin
Allan Hawco
Greg Bryk
Jane Alexander
Music byPhillip Miller
Country of originCanada
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes6
Producer(s)Damon D'Oliveira
Clement Virgo
CinematographyGiulio Biccari
Editor(s)Susan Shipton
Kye Meechan
DistributorEntertainment One Television
Original networkCBC
Original releaseJanuary 7 (2015-01-07) –
February 11, 2015 (2015-02-11)
External links
Official CBC Website
Official BET Website

It premiered on CBC in Canada on January 7, 2015 and on BET in the United States on February 16, 2015.


In 1750, eleven-year-old Aminata Diallo is abducted from her village in West Africa, placed in shackles, and sent across the ocean to be sold into slavery on a South Carolina indigo plantation by the V.O.C., a Dutch trading company. She falls in love and marries a fellow West African slave named Chekura, but when their baby is brutally abducted and sold by a jealous slave master, Robinson Appleby,Aminata tries to find her child later and vows to return one day to her homeland.

Solomon Lindo, a sympathetic indigo inspector, plucks Aminata out of Appleby’s enslavement and takes her to New York where she escapes. Amidst the rising threat of the American War of Independence, she is recruited by Sir John Clarkson to help register names of Black Loyalists in a ledger known as The Book of Negroes, granting them freedom and passage to Nova Scotia.

Separated from her husband, Aminata encounters more hardship in Nova Scotia when tensions flare between the white and black communities over the scarcity of work in the Shelburne Riots. Aminata successfully petitions British abolitionists, who organize passage to Africa for 1,200 former slaves—a final voyage that will reunite her with her homeland and allow her to give voice to her life story.


As mentioned above, the novel is based on a real document, the Book of Negroes. Many of the events and some of the people are likewise based on historical research. Wikipedia has articles on many of these. The Atlantic slave trade and slavery in Africa, the Middle Passage between Africa and the Americas on slave ships, and revolts onboard such as La Amistad, are all well-documented. The main character is Muslim: the history of Islam in Niger gives context to this.

When the proponents of the American Revolution, the Patriots, won the war, many of those on the other side, the Loyalists, decided to leave what had been the Thirteen Colonies, now the United States, for a new home elsewhere in British America. Tens of thousands of these refugees came through New York City, where their evacuation was processed by the British Army, leading up to Evacuation Day on 25 November 1783. The Book of Negroes was created in order to ascertain which former slaves were eligible to leave; it was assembled by Samuel Birch, the namesake of Birchtown, Nova Scotia, under the direction of Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester. (For more background, see Dunmore's Proclamation, a 1775 promise by the royal governor of the British Colony of Virginia to grant emancipation (freedom) to slaves who left revolutionary masters.)

Aminata's first owner, Appleby, is based on a business partner of Henry Laurens in one of the largest slave trading companies.[1] Solomon Lindo, the Jewish indigo inspector, was an ancestor of Chris Blackwell (born 1937), the British-Jamaican founder of Island Records.[2] "Daddy Moses" was Moses Wilkinson. One of Aminata's supporters in New York Town is Samuel Fraunces, owner of the Fraunces Tavern.

The naval officer who helped the community in Nova Scotia was John Clarkson, younger brother of the more famous Thomas, one of the central figures in the abolition of slavery in England and the British Empire. Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, along with other members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, had incorporated the Sierra Leone Company, to resettle some of the Black Nova Scotians; Lieutenant Clarkson’s charge was to find volunteers. One of the Black Loyalist leaders he worked with was Thomas Peters; together they gathered a group of close to 1,200 who wanted to leave for better opportunities in Sierra Leone.[3] After a harrowing transatlantic passage, the flotilla of 15 ships arrived in March 1792. This group, who became known as the Nova Scotian Settlers, established Freetown, the capital city.

Aminata's journey to London and her biography have precedents in the life stories of men such as Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano. Her daughter's time there as a domestic worker fits into the history of the Black Poor.

Development and productionEdit

The title of the series and the novel is derived from an historical document which records names and descriptions of 3,000 African-American slaves who escaped to the British lines during the American Revolution and were evacuated by the British by ship to points in Nova Scotia as freed men.[4] Clement Virgo and series producer Damon D'Oliveira purchased the rights to Hill's novel in 2009 and began work on a feature film script. CBC and BET came on board in 2010 to develop the feature script into a six-part miniseries.

The international co-production began shooting in February 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. Filming also took place in various locations around Nova Scotia, Canada.[5] This included the Fortress of Louisbourg portraying 18th century New York City and Canvas Town, Lunenburg harbour portraying New York harbour and Shelburne's Dock Street appearing as historic Shelburne.[6] Filming was completed by the beginning of June 2014.

Prior to its television debut, the series had special cinematic screenings at the Marché International des Programmes de Communication and the Canadian International Television Festival.[7]



No. in
Title Directed by Written by Original air date (CBC) US air date (BET) Viewers
(millions) (CBC)
1"Episode 1"Clement VirgoLawrence Hill and Clement VirgoJanuary 7, 2015 (2015-01-07)February 16, 20151.941[8]
In Africa, eleven-year-old Aminata Diallo learns from her mother to catch babies (being a midwife) and her father teaches her Islam. When she is captured by slavers, a young negro named Chekura shows her kindness while escorting the captives to the sea. On the ship, Chekura is brought too as a slave, and Aminata bonds with him. The captives are forced to endure a treacherous journey to America, where they are sold as slaves to different owners and thus separated.
2"Episode 2"Clement VirgoLawrence Hill and Clement VirgoJanuary 14, 2015 (2015-01-14)February 16, 20151.607[9]
Aminata, now grown, is the flower of Robinson Appleby’s Indigo plantation. After several seasons of deflecting Appleby’s advances, Appleby rapes Aminata. She marries Chekura and has his child; Appleby, infuriated, sells her and her child to separate owners. Her new owners, a Jewish Indigo Trader and his wife, Solomon and Rosa Lindo, are more trusting: they treat her as a servant rather than a slave. But after the death of Rosa and her baby from smallpox, and the revelation that Solomon brokered the sale of her child, Aminata’s trust is broken. Lindo, desperate for a distraction to ease his grief, sets sail to New York with Aminata, who plots her escape to freedom.
3"Episode 3"Clement VirgoLawrence Hill and Clement VirgoJanuary 21, 2015 (2015-01-21)February 17, 20151.594[10]
When Revolution breaks out in New York, Aminata seizes her chance and escapes to freedom in the haven of Canvas Town. She gains respect in the community by working as their midwife, and she makes new friends. A local inn owner, also negro, admires her literacy and wisdom. She finds work and refuge in his inn, which is frequented even by general George Washington. She is also reunited with Chekura.
4"Episode 4"Clement VirgoLawrence Hill and Clement VirgoJanuary 28, 2015 (2015-01-28)February 17, 20151.501[11]
With the war end, the slave masters start seeking their fugitive slaves in Canvas Town to take them back. Aminata starts working for the British, in order to record into the Book of Negroes all blacks who worked for the British during the war, so they may be freed and moved to Nova Scotia to a new life. Just when she and Chekura are to board a ship for Nova Scotia, she is seized by authorities and Chekura must leave alone. She faces a trial as her first master, Robinson Appleby, deceitfully claims that she was still his slave, but Solomon Lindo shows up and proves Appleby is lying, and he also sets her free, so now she may go to Nova Scotia to find Chekura.
5"Episode 5"Clement VirgoLawrence Hill and Clement VirgoFebruary 4, 2015 (2015-02-04)February 18, 20151.577[12]
Life in Nova Scotia is harsh for the freed negroes, as jobs are scarce and the land is not generous at all. Chekura is not there, so Aminata tries to find him. She gives birth to a son she names Mamadu, but he is soon lost to cholera. Conflicts with white loyalists arise. Due to her literacy and skills, Aminata finds work in a white lady's print shop, but she is fired when the shop owner's son is killed near the black village. Her letters to the British abolitionists are answered, and a new project is started, to take 1000 free negroes to Sierra Leone. Aminata is employed to help negroes subscribe to the project. She learns that Chekura reached Bermuda after a storm, and they are reunited. But the white loyalists riot and attack the black village doing damage and lynching people (the historical Shelburne riots). Aminata and Chekura escape unharmed and board a ship to Sierra Leone.
6"Episode 6"Clement VirgoLawrence Hill and Clement VirgoFebruary 11, 2015 (2015-02-11)February 18, 20151.532[13]
The free negroes arrive in Sierra Leone, and with the help of the British, they create a new town named Freetown. Aminata longs to return to her home village of Bayo, which is not too far from Freetown. When a slave coffle passes through Freetown, Aminata, Chekura, and Daddy Moses go to help. After finding a navigator near Freetown, Aminata leaves for Bayo accompanied by Chekura. Halfway through their journey, they find another slave coffle. Aminata and Chekura are inclined to help a little girl in the coffle. The slave traders threaten to enslave Chekura and Aminata if they interfere. At night, Chekura goes alone to free the entire coffle, but dies in the process, thus redeeming himself. Heartbroken, Aminata leaves for Britain to assist the Abolitionists in ending the slave trade. She writes a full book on her life, and presents it to the pro-slave trade politicians. In the end, the vote is swung in the Abolitionist's favor and a law is passed banning slave trade, but not slavery. Afterwards, Aminata meets Solomon Lindo one last time. Lindo, redeeming himself for separating Aminata and her daughter May, reunites mother and daughter.



1.7 million Canadians tuned in to watch the first episode of The Book of Negroes, making it "the highest-rated original drama for the network since Road to Avonlea's Jan. 7 1990 premiere."[14]


Metacritic which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 77 out of 100 based on 9 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[15]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2015 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Limited Series Nominated
Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries Aunjanue Ellis Nominated
Directors Guild of Canada[16] Best Direction TV Movie/Miniseries Clement Virgo Won
Best TV Movie/Miniseries Won
Best Production Design TV Movie/Miniseries Jason Clarke Won
Best Picture Editing TV Movie/Miniseries Susan Shipton Won
Kye Meechan Nominated
Best Sound Editing TV Movie/Miniseries Andrea Cyr, Claire Dobson, Martin Gwynn Jones, Joe Mancuso, David McCallum, Brennan Mercer, Brent Pickett, and David Rose Won
2016 4th Canadian Screen Awards Best Dramatic Miniseries or TV Movie Won
Best Lead Actor in a Television Film or Miniseries Lyriq Bent Won
Best Lead Actress in a Television Film or Miniseries Aunjanue Ellis Won
Best Supporting Actress in a Television Film or Miniseries Shailyn Pierre-Dixon Won
Best Make-Up Lalette Littlejohn, Francesca Van der Feyst, Talia Barak and Koketso Mbuli Nominated
Best Costume Design Kate Carin Won
Best Production Design/Art Direction in a Fiction Program or Series Jason Clarke, Ian Greig, Robert van de Coolwyk, Brian Glaser and Renee Filipova Won
Best Sound in a Fiction Program or Series Derek Mansveldt, David Rose, David McCallum, Martin Gwynn Jones, Joe Mancuso, Steve Hammond, Erik Culp, Frank Morrone, Scott Shepherd and Alexander Rosborough Won
Best Direction in a Dramatic Program or Miniseries Clement Virgo Won
Best Original Score Philip Miller Won
Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Miniseries Clement Virgo, Lawrence Hill Won
Best Cross-Platform Digital Project, Non-Fiction The Book of Negroes Interactive Won

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Petrey, Whitney. "Slaves in Revolutionary America: Plantation Slaves in Virginia and the Charleston Slave Trade". Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  2. ^ Thomson, Ian (18 Feb 2009). "Surviving the Middle Passage: [review of] The Book of Negroes". Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  3. ^ Clarkson, Clarkson’s mission to America, 1791–1792, ed. and intro. C. B. Fergusson
  4. ^ "Blood and belonging in the Book of Negroes". Maclean's, January 4, 2015.
  5. ^ Bacardi, Francesca (February 4, 2014). "Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding Jr. Star In 'Book of Negroes' Mini-Series for BET". Variety. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  6. ^ "The Book of Negroes Nova Scotia connection". Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  7. ^ "Lou Gossett Jr. Says 'Book of Negroes' Is Better Than 'Roots,' '12 Years a Slave' + Watch New Trailer". Indiewire, December 1, 2014.
  8. ^ "Top Programs – Total Canada (English) January 5 - January 11, 2015" (PDF). Numeris. January 20, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  9. ^ "Top Programs – Total Canada (English) January 12 - January 18, 2015" (PDF). Numeris. January 26, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  10. ^ "Top Programs – Total Canada (English) January 19 - January 25, 2015" (PDF). Numeris. February 2, 2015. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  11. ^ "Top Programs – Total Canada (English) January 26 - February 1, 2015" (PDF). Numeris. February 9, 2015. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  12. ^ "Top Programs – Total Canada (English) February 2 - February 8, 2015" (PDF). Numeris. February 17, 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  13. ^ "Top Programs – Total Canada (English) February 9 - February 15, 2015" (PDF). Numeris. February 23, 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  14. ^ "The Book of Negroes debuts to 1.7M viewers". Playback, January 8, 2015.
  15. ^ "The Book of Negroes". Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  16. ^ "The Directors of Guild of Canada Honours the Best in the Business at the 14th Annual DGC Awards". Directors Guild of Canada. October 25, 2015. Retrieved October 28, 2015.

External linksEdit