SLAVERY IN BRITISH CANADA
About 250 years ago, in 1763, France lost its "Seven Years' War" with Britain, and New France became a British colony called Quebec. For Black and Native slaves, little changed under British rule. Enslaved people were still considered the property of their owners and had no rights of their own.
General James Murray, the first British governor of Quebec, was a slave owner. So were several other government officials. Many more enslaved Black people would arrive in British Canada and several decades would pass before slavery ended.
Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia became a British colony in 1749. Settlers arriving from New England brought slaves with them, and Black slaves helped to build
"Black Slaves are certalnly the only people to be depended upon, but it is necessary, I imagine, they should be born in one or other of our northern Colonies, the Winters here will not agree with a native of the torrid zone ..."
-— General James Murray
the city of Halifax. By 1767, there were more than 100 slaves in Nova Scotia. Newspapers such as the Nova Scotia Advertiser and the Royal Gazette advertised slave auctions and published notices offering rewards for runaways.
A much smaller number of slaves lived in the colony of Isle St. Jean (which became Prince Edward Island in 1799). Two enslaved Black people came with a merchant from New York. A few more were owned by Colonel Joseph Robinson from North Carolina. Slavery continued in Prince Edward Island until 1825.
In 1791, Britain divided the enormous Province of Quebec into Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Upper Canada (now Ontario). At that time, there were still enslaved Black people living in both colonies. The man who governed Upper Canada from 1796, Peter Russell, was a slave owner.
Another slave owner in Upper Canada was Joseph Brant. He was a famous Mohawk chief who was loyal to Britain during the American Revolution (also called the War of American Independence). As a reward, Brant received a large grant of land in what's now southwestern Ontario. He owned about 30 slaves, but he also allowed free Black people to live on his land and marry people in his tribe.
JOHN GRAVES SIMCOE
John Graves Simcoe was the Lieutenant-Governor, or leader, of Upper Canada from 1792 to 1796. Born in England, Simcoe was good at sports and popular in school. After joining the army, he was sent overseas to fight as a British commander during the American Revolution. Later, in the British Parliament, Simcoe spoke out against slavery.
When Simcoe settled in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), in Upper Canada, he was shocked to hear about the case of Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black girl from nearby Queenston. Cooley had been tied up by her master, thrown into a boat and taken across the Niagara River to the United States to be sold.
Simcoe's government quickly passed a law, in 1793, to limit slavery. The law said that any child born to a slave in Upper Canada would become free at age 25, and that no new slaves could be brought into the province. After this, slavery slowly began to disappear in Upper Canada.
It's hard to understand how one group of people could enslave another. When the African slave trade began, many European people felt guilty about the way they were treating their captives. They and some White settlers in the colonies tried to justify the slave trade. Many felt that it was permissible because it made them money. Others argued that the Africans were uncivilized savages and — even worse — pagans (not Christians).
But most enslaved Black people became Christians in the New World. Then White Christians who supported slavery looked in the Bible for new arguments. Some claimed that Black people were the descendants of Ham, one of Noah's sons, whom Noah condemned to be a servant. (Noah was the man in the Bible who obeyed God's order to build an ark. He loaded two of every species of animal onto this ship and escaped a great flood.)
Such false theories of Black inferiority led to racism, which still persists.
In 1777, Vermont became the first British colony to abolish slavery. Some enslaved people from Quebec escaped there to freedom. It was almost 100 years later that President Lincoln abolished slavery across the United States.
BLACK LOYALISTS IN THE MARITIMES
In 1775, a war broke out in America that, brought many new people — Black and White — to Britain's east-coast Canadian colonies, the Maritimes.
The Thirteen Colonies in America, discontented with British rule, were battling for their independence.
After a long and bitter struggle, the Americans won the American Revolution in 1783. This led to the founding of the United-States of America. But while many Americans were celebrating the birth of the United States, thousands of others were leaving for a new life in Canada.
Canada — A Safe Haven
During the American Revolution, Canada became known as a safe place for Black people. Slavery still existed, but the British promised freedom and land in Canada to all Black people who fought on their side in the war. They did this because they needed allies. Also, the British wanted to ensure that the Canadian colonies wouldn't join the Americans in their fight for independence.
Attracted by the British offer, thousands of enslaved people ran away from their plantation masters and joined up.
Americans who stayed loyal to Britain during the Revolution were called United Empire Loyalists. After Britain's defeat, 30, 000 Loyalists gathered in New York and set sail for Nova Scotia. About 3,500 were Black people who had been given their freedom. Another 1,500 were Black slaves brought by White Loyalists. Looking forward to a new life, most of the free Black Loyalists settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Others travelled to Upper and Lower Canada.
In 1784, Birchtown was the largest free Black town outside of Africa, with a population of more than 1500 people.
Despite being overcrowded, Birchtown developed a strong community life. Like other Maritime Black people, Birchtown residents often gathered to work, visit or attend church services.
Birchtown was named after General Samuel Birch. Birch was the British officer who protected the Black Loyalists in New York after the American Revolution and signed most of their Certificates of Freedom.
Other Black Communities
Black settlements were built outside other towns in the Maritimes because that's where Black people were given land. Preston and Digby, in Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown, in Prince Edward Island, had Black settlements similar to Birchtown. Near Saint John, New Brunswick, Black people established small centres such as Loch Lomond and Elm Hill.
Churches — Baptist, Methodist, Anglican and Catholic — were a big part of life for Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. British and Canadian charitable groups helped build and support Black churches. David George, a Black activist and reformer, built Baptist churches all over Nova Scotia using money the Black community donated.
Waiting for Land
Many Black Loyalists waited up to five years for the land they'd been promised. If they did receive it, their plots were half the size offered to the White people. The soil was thin and rocky and farming was very, difficult. In Birchtown, community leaders Thomas Peters and Murphy Still protested the long waits. Both men were former Black Pioneers. Perhaps for that reason, they succeeded in getting land for themselves. But many Black settlers never received the farms that had been promised to them.
Schools and Self-Help
British charities also assisted with the building of schools in Black communities. Colonel Blucke became a teacher at one of these schools in Birchtown. He hoped that education would enable his people to prosper.
Inspired by activists such as David George, Black people formed self-help organizations and anti-slavery groups. Much later, in the 1960s, these groups would join the civil rights movement, which began in the United States, to demand equal rights for all Black people.
Black Loyalists who had no land were forced to work for White farmers or merchants to earn money. They were poor, mistreated and even denied the right to vote. Birchtown and other Black communities began to look like refugee camps rather than successful towns.
THE BLACK PIONEERS
The only all-Black British regiment in the American Revolution was the Black Pioneers. In the army a pioneer was a soldier who did tasks including clearing ground for camps, removing obstructions and digging trenches. Black men weren't permitted to serve as regular soldiers.
After the war, the Black Pioneers settled in Nova Scotia. They helped to design and build the town of Shelburne. Many White Loyalists moved there, but the land grants the Pioneers and their leader, Colonel Stephen Blucke, received were located outside of Shelburne. There, they built Birchtown, where other Black Loyalists soon joined them.
BACK TO AFRICA
Many Black Loyalists were unhappy in the Maritimes. They were frustrated by the lack of decent land and work. When a message of hope came, they were ready for it. That message came in 1791 from Thomas Peters, a former Black Pioneer. Peters had sailed from Nova Scotia to England to complain to the British government about the Black Loyalists' situation. While in London, Peters met members of an anti-slavery organization. They were looking for Black settlers to form a new colony in Africa. When Peters returned to Birchtown, he and an Englishman, Lieutenant John Clarkson, convinced many people that this would be a good opportunity. So, in January 1792, 1200 of the original Black Loyalists — more than one-third — sailed for Sierra Leone. Most had never seen Africa before.
Sierra Leone is a small West African country. Granville Sharp, a British abolitionist, established a colony there in 1787 for 2,000 freed slaves from Britain and America. Others joined them, including some Africans rescued from slave ships and the Nova Scotian Black Loyalists. Conditions in Sierra Leone were difficult — food was scarce and local people were unfriendly — but the Black Canadians never returned to Canada. (Sierra Leone remained under British control until 1961, then became an independent country.)
The Jamaican Maroons
The Maritimes were about to receive other Black immigrants. In Jamaica, a group of fearless Black fighters had been frustrating the British for years. The Maroons were African slaves who had escaped from the Spanish in the 1600s. From their mountain hideouts, they fought off attackers for 100 years.
The British conquered Jamaica in the early 1700s, but they couldn't conquer the Maroons. Like guerrilla fighters, the Maroons launched surprise raids, then disappeared into the mountains. But in 1795, with the help of vicious attack dogs, the British tricked them into surrendering. One year later, the British government transported 600 Maroons to their new home — the colony of Nova Scotia.
"Maroon," the name for a fugitive slave, may come from the Spanish-American word cimarron, which means "living on the mountaintops."
NANNY OF THE MAROONS
Nanny is a national hero in Jamaica. A fearless warrior, she led the Maroons in their fight against the British in the early 1700s. Nanny was a small, wiry woman with piercing eyes. The legends say that she was especially skilled in planning sneak attacks to catch her enemies off guard.
Nanny was also a wise woman of her village. She encouraged her people to preserve the customs, music and songs they had brought from Africa. Even after Nanny died in 1734, her love of freedom encouraged Black Jamaicans to continue their struggle towards independence.
The Maroons in Nova Scotia
When the Maroons arrived in Halifax in 1796, stories of their bravery circulated around the town. Nova Scotia's Governor Wentworth welcomed them, saying they added cheerfulness and energy to the colony. He made sure the newcomers had places to live and put them to work constructing a fortress called the Citadel. At first, both jobs and housing were paid for by the Jamaican government.
Over the next four years, things went wrong. The local people disliked the Maroons' independent spirit and disapproved of their "unchristian" ways. Since the Maroons were given jobs, homes and provisions, the locals also felt the Maroons got better treatment than they did. The Maroons, in turn, disliked the cold climate and poor food. They got frostbite the first winter and couldn't grow their favourite crops of yams, bananas, cocoa and peppers.
Belongings of a Maroon
The British government gave these provisions to one Maroon family, Major and Mrs. John Jarrett and their daughter, when they arrived in Halifax: 24 handkerchiefs, 2 coats, 21 blankets, 4 vests, 3 walking sticks, box of trinkets, 1 pair of trousers, 16 gowns, 6 shirts, 15 petticoats, 4 pairs of stockings, 3 pairs of shoes, 2 men's hats, 2 women's hats,
towels, 1 tablecloth, bedding, miscellaneous.
On to Sierra Leone
Finally, the Maroon colonel, Montague James, petitioned the government to save his people from their "miserable situation" and send them to a warmer climate. To back up the demand, the Maroons refused to work.
The British and Nova Scotian governments considered their options. The money from Jamaica was running out, and conflicts were still simmering between the Maroons and other Halifax residents. It was decided that the Maroons would go to Sierra Leone, and in August 1800, 550 of them set sail for Africa. They never returned to Canada.
THE COLORED CORPS
At the start of the 19th century, many American slaves longed to escape to Upper Canada. Ten years earlier, in 1793, the province's lieutenant-governor, John Graves Simcoe, had promised that any enslaved Black people who entered the province would be granted their freedom. On plantations in the American South, worried owners tried to frighten their slaves with tales about the terrible things that would happen to them if they went to Canada. But a trickle of Black Americans began to make the difficult journey north. Upper Canada's small Black population, which still included about 1,000 enslaved people, grew as the new arrivals put down roots.
Preparing for War
In the early 1800s, Black people in Upper Canada began to hear rumours of a new war between Britain and the United States. They feared that, if the Americans won, slavery would return to their province. So Richard Pierpoint, a Black Loyalist, made a plan to help defeat the Americans. In 1812, he wrote to the government asking to form an all-Black military unit to fight for Britain. Permission was granted. The unit Pierpoint formed was put under the command of a White officer, Captain Robert Runchey, and was called Captain Runchey's Company of Colored Men, or the Colored Corps. The Black officers were Sergeants James Watters and Edward Gough, with Corporals Humphrey Waters, Francis Willson and William Thomas.
TEN DOLLARS BOUNTY!
EIGHTEEN MONTHS SERVICE
BRAVE AND LOYAL COLOURED MEN:
Your services are once more required to defend the Liberty you now enjoy.
VOLUNTEERS (NOT SLAVES)
are now called to rally round the British Constitution, which proclaims
LIBERTY TO THE MOLE COLOURED RACE.
Being authorized to raise a Coloured Corps for eighteen months,
TEN DOLLARS BOUNTY
will be paid on joining at Head Quarters at Niagara, deducting only what will complete each man's Kit to 3 Shirts, 1 pair boots, 1 Razor, 1 Shaving Brush, 3 pairs Socks, 2 Shoe Brushes, 1 Strop, 1 Comb
They will also be supplied free of cost with the following articles of clothing. One Coatee or Jacket, One pair Half Boots, One pair cloth Trowsers, One Cap, one Stock, One (Great Coat), One Knapsack, One Canteen, One Haversack, These last named articles to be returned at the expiration of their service. With the same pay as Her Majesty's Forces, and Free Rations, 14 days pay in advance when disbanded at the expiration of their service.
RICHARD WEBBE - Major Commanding Pavilion, Niagra Falls, Nov. 12th, 1838 - Apply to Captain Clench, Niagara "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN"
Richard Pierpoint was a true Black Canadian hero. He was born in 1744 in Bondou, Senegal, Africa. At 16, he was captured by slave traders and sent to America. During the American Revolution, Pierpoint fought on the British side.
In 1780, Pierpoint settled near Niagara Falls and became one of Upper Canada's first pioneers. His Colored Corps was Canada's first all-Black military unit, starting a tradition that continued until World War II. When Pierpoint was an old man, he asked the government for money so that he could go home to Africa. Instead, he received a 40 ha (100 acre) farm along the Grand River (near Guelph, Ontario). He lived there, with a few other African families, until his death at the age of 94 in 1838.
Britain and the United States at War Again
In 1812, 30 years after winning the War of American Independence, the Americans declared war on Britain again. One of the main reasons was that the British, who were fighting France for control of the oceans, had stopped and searched American ships. The Americans began by attacking the closest British colonies — Upper and Lower Canada.
President Thomas Jefferson said that conquering Canada would be "a mere question of marching." He was wrong. Canadian soldiers — both Black and White — defended their country fiercely.
Valour in Battle
The Colored Corps was a valued part of the British and Canadian forces and successfully fought the Americans in a number of battles. In Upper Canada, these included Fort George, Niagara Town, Stoney Creek and Lundy's Lane. The Corps also played an important role at Queenston Heights, the most famous battle of the war.
Many other Black volunteers fought with White military units. Thousands of American ex-slaves — promised freedom and land by the British — arrived to fight as well.
Who Won the War of 1812?
During the War of 1812, British and Canadian troops, joined by Black Americans and Native Canadian soldiers, captured several American forts, including Detroit, and burned the White House to the ground. However neither side won, and the war ended in a stalemate in 1814. But by fighting together to keep the Americans out, Canadians of all backgrounds began to feel a new sense of pride.
(VERY WRONG: PEIRE BURTON'S TWO VOLUME BOOK HISTORY OF THAT WAR, MAKES IT VERY CLEAR THAT THE USA DID NOT MAKE ANY IN-ROAD TO CONQUER LOWER OR UPPER CANADA. THE USA WERE HELD AT BAY, HENCE WE HAVE THE SOMEWHAT STRANGE BORDER LINE THAT DIPS DOWN THROUGH THE GREAT LAKES TO NIAGRA FALLS, AND THE NORTH SIDE OF LAKE ONTARIO TO LOWER CANADA AND NEW BRUNSWICK AND CANADIAN MARITIMES - Keith Hunt)
Near Niagara Falls, in Queenston Park, a national historic monument commemorates the achievements of the Colored Corps.
After the war, the new lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, Sir Peregrine Maitland, rewarded about 70 veterans of the Colored Corps with land in Oro township, near Barrie, Ontario. Maitland opposed slavery — he refused to return runaway slaves to their owners in the American South, and he stopped American slave hunters at the border.
Nova Scotia and New Brunswic offered Black war veterans freedom and protection, so about 2,000 of them settled there. Many Black Maritimers are descendants of those American veterans.
"That Your Excellency's Petitioner is now old and without property; that he finds it difficult to obtain a livelihood by his labour; that he is above all things desirous to return to his native Country ..."
—from Richard Pierpoint's petition to the government, 1821
As we have seen he was given 100 acres near Guelph, Ontartio, he lived there with a few other African families until his death in 1838.
AS WE CAN SEE THE BLACK PEOPLE'S HISTORY IN CANADA IS VARIED AND MORE THAN INTERESTING. I DOUBT MUCH OF THIS IS TAUGHT IN THE CANADIAN SCHOOLS TODAY - AND THAT IS SAD AND SHAMEFUL - Keith Hunt