CANADA'S FORGOTTEN SLAVES
Slaves Disappeared One by One
The Anti-Slavery Campaign
Slave-owners were getting anxious about the gains of the anti-slavery movement. Evidence of this anxiety is contained in a sales contract from November 1787. Pierre Joinville, a resident of He Dupas, represented by the merchant Louis Olivier, bought Cynda, a ten-year-old black slave from John Lagord for the sum of 750 livres. Joinville added an important clause to the contract: "Should any law be adopted by the Legislative Council currently in session or by any other authority, emancipating slaves and giving them their freedom," the seller, Lagord, would have to take his black slave back and reimburse the entire sum he had received from Joinville.187 Already by 1787, it was clear owners feared the more or less imminent abolition of slavery. Was the Legislative Council of Quebec serious about abolishing slavery or was it only rumoured to be concerned about the matter? We found no documentary evidence either in or before 1787 that would help answer this question. On the one hand, Pierre Joinville did not want to pay a hefty price for a slave he might have to give up soon afterwards, whereas on the other hand, John Lagord may have agreed to reimburse the' entire sale price in the event of abolition because he was not that worried it would happen anytime soon. By 1787, there had been no public campaign in Quebec against slavery: newspapers were silent on this issue.
It was only in July 1790 that newspapers began to publish anything on slavery. On July 22, 1790, the Quebec Herald printed a 48-verse poem, "Domestic Slavery; or Lines occasioned by the Efforts to emancipate the African Negroes!' The poem is attributed to one Quoilus and we cannot say whether the author was Canadian or whether the piece had previously appeared in the British or American press. This poem is a rather innocuous satire aimed at zealots clamouring for the emancipation of blacks: the gist of the poem is that thousands of people are pushing for the liberty of blacks, which means everyone is a slave, whether of the countryside, of the Court, or of boredom: people should therefore advocate liberty for all humanity. This poem was the first literary piece in this country on the subject of slavery. The following December a second piece appeared in the Quebec Gazette: "The Negro's Recital" made a plea for blacks, and ended with the lines:
"For though no Briton, Mongo is a man"
In other words, although the slave Mongo was not a Brit, he was nonetheless a human being! The author (of unknown nationality) underscored both Mongo and a man to make his point, following the poem up with a brief article on slavery.188
The anti-slavery campaign gathered steam during the summer of 1791. In April that year opponents of slavery engaged in a passionate debate in the British House of Commons, describing scenes of torture and everything they held to be heinous about slavery, but in the end a majority of MPs voted against abolition: every week between July 21 and September 8 the Quebec Gazette gave a full account of the debate. On September 15, the Gazette published the resolutions of an anti-slavery committee in London, which regretted Parliament's continuing support for the slave trade, and hoped that the cause of freedom would ultimately prevail.189
On March 12, 1792, the Quebec Herald published a 56-verse poem: "The Negro's Complaint." In this anti-slavery diatribe, a Negro woman recounts her woes, and addresses her masters sharply, calling on God as her witness. The following month, on April 16, the same newspaper reprinted reports from the British press about a four-part plan to free the slaves of the British West Indies; this report was accompanied by commentaries from British newspapers. On June 7, the Quebec Gazette reprinted reports from the British press about the historic meeting of the House of Commons on April 2, when MPs voted for a gradual abolition of the slave trade by a margin of 230 to 85. However, Quebec journalists reported this first step in the long march towards slave emancipation as straight news, without making any direct comment. On June 21, the same newspaper reported the story of a black woman who had given birth to a child, then jumped into the sea to escape a life of servitude: but this story had been translated from French, was set outside of Canada, and could actually have been made up, since literary works could help in the struggle against slavery.190 The Quebec Herald then began reporting on the debates of the previous April, that had led the British House of Commons to call for the gradual abolition of slavery: on July 16 the Herald, a weekly newspaper, devoted a column .and a half to the historic debate, boosting its coverage the following week to five and a half columns! The abolition of the slave trade had unquestionably become the great question of the day. Finally, on August 30, the Quebec Gazette published a report on the abolition of black slave trafficking, which had been tabled in the French National Assembly.
There is not much point in trying to detect any coherent and orchestrated anti-slavery campaign in these writings: after two initial poems were printed in 1790, more material came out in the summer of 1791, but the Canadian press campaign was of an episodic character. Coverage depended on events taking place in Europe: the subject of slavery could disappear from the press for months, then suddenly regain importance before retreating from public view once again. We should note there was nothing original about the anti-slavery press campaign, nothing relating explicitly to slavery in Canada: newspapers reprinted the text of debates taking place in London as foreign news, without any accompanying comment relating these debates to the practice of slavery in Canada itself. Reading this anti-slavery coverage one could easily conclude there were no slaves in Lower Canada.
And yet there were still slaves: according to the 1784 census there were at least 304 slaves remaining in Canada. Some of them died before 1790, although others came to take their place. Newspapers continued reporting slave sales or descriptions of fugitive slaves. Between 1790 and 1792, fifteen Amerindian and eleven black slaves appear in the baptismal and burial registries. Slaves were not numerous, but slavery still existed.
An Anti-Slavery Bill
The anti-slavery campaign waged by Canadian newspapers was modest, but with England, France and even some American states seeking to improve the lot of slaves, the Legislative Assemblies of Upper Canada or Lower Canada could be expected to address the issue during the 1792 session. The House of Assembly of Upper Canada sat from September 17 to October 15. During this very short session, no measure relating to slavery was considered. On December 17, the House of Assembly of Lower Canada began a session which would last four and a half months.
On January 28, 1793, the fifty members of the House of Assembly, meeting in the former bishop's chapel of Quebec, began considering the issue of slavery. That day according to the Journal, a member of the House, Pierre-Louis Panet, "asked leave to bring in a bill tending to abolish slavery in the Province of Lower Canada!" Mr. Duniere seconded the motion, which was unanimously adopted, and the bill was tabled.. The question before the House of Assembly was whether slavery should be abolished or retained. It was not until March 8, however, that another member, Bonaventure Panet, moved the first reading of the bill proposing to abolish slavery; the member for Quebec, Amable Berthelot, seconded Panet's motion and the House began the first reading of the bill.
The members of the House faced more pressing matters at the time, however, and the subject of slavery only came up again a month later. On April 10, Pierre-Louis Panet, seconded by Amable Berthelot, moved the second reading of the bill for the following day, but while this motion was unanimously adopted, nothing happened the next day. The second reading only took place on April 19. After the bill was read Pierre-Louis Panet moved "That this House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House to consider the Bill tending to abolish slavery, next Thursday," that is, the 25th. So far, Panet's plan of emancipation seemed to be on track, but moving debate to a Committee of the Whole was a decisive part of the plan, and proved to be controversial. Pierre-Amable Debonne, the member for York, proposed a destructive amendment that would involve adjourning debate on the subject. Debonne was seconded by George McBeath who represented the same riding as Bonaventure Panet. The House voted and Debonne's amendment passed by a margin of 31 to just 3. The bill was now dead, and by the will of the House of Assembly slavery would be maintained in Lower Canada.
The failure of this first bill introduces us to four opponents of slavery: Pierre-Louis Panet, Louis Duniere, Bonaventure Panet and Amable Berthelot. Oddly enough, one of the four men had already owned a slave: in 1751, Louis Duniere had bought the black Jean Monsaige, and his brother, the parish priest of Saint-Augustin, had owned the black Daniel-Telemaque.
The vote on April 19, 1793 showed that a large majority of members of the House of Assembly favoured maintaining slavery. Of these proponents of slavery, we know that at least twelve were then, or were about to become, slave owners: Michel Chartier de Lotbfniere, William Grant, Pierre-Guillaume Guerout, Antoine Juchereau-Duchesnay, Hippolyte-Saint-Georges Lecompte-Dupre, John Lees, Robert Lester, David Lynd, James McGill, Mathew McNider, Louis Olivier and John Young.
Indeed, Chartier de Lotbiniere had at least two blacks. William Grant, who had a black woman in 1772 and lost a black man in 1776, had seen his slave Jack escape in early 1792. In 1783, Pierre-Guillaume Guerout had a black man named Charles, who fled servitude. Antoine Juchereau-Duchesnay had a black slave at his manor at Beauport who had married a French Canadian, and was the father of four more slaves. We know Hippolyte-Saint-Georges Lecompte-Dupre had a black in 1774. John Lees owned two married black slaves and their young son. Robert Lester, an English Catholic, had lost a black in 1783, but that same year he baptized another black and probably still owned him. In 1798, David Lynd would baptize a seventeen-year-old black slave. James McGill had lost a Panis man in 1778, a Panis woman in 1783, and a black woman in 1789: he may have been the owner of the black Jacques, baptized in 1806 at the age of about forty. Mathew McNider owned a black man who fled in 1788 and another slave who was treated the same year at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec. Louis Olivier had received the black Marie Bulkley from his father-in-law Pierre Joinville - this woman gave birth to a child in 1792 and the child was sold as a slave in 1797. John Young would buy a black in 1795 and is known to have owned another black slave in 1798.
Twelve of the fifty members of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada in 1793 were, or would become, slave-owners, while one member, Louis Duniere, spoke out against slavery. The other members appear to have favoured the status quo. The fact twelve of the fifty Assembly members were slave-owners did not necessarily guarantee that slavery would continue. But these slave-owners -William Grant, Antoine Juchereau-Duschesnay Hippolyte-Saint-Georges Lecompte-Dupre, John Lees, James McGill, Mathew McNider and John Young among them - were influential men. However, we would need to know exactly what was said during the debates in order to form a reasonable judgment of what happened. Unfortunately, the Journal of the House of Assembly provides few details.
Upper Canada Banned the Importation op Slaves
The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Canada into two distinct provinces: Upper and Lower Canada. Upper Canada, which eventually became Ontario, was the first of these provinces to adopt legislation specifically on slavery. The Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada did not address the issue of slavery during its first session, which lasted one month, but it raised slavery during its second session, which opened in spring 1793, by adopting a bill to prevent the importation of slaves to the province and to determine the conditions needed to bring an end to slavery. The Act Against Slavery prohibited the future introduction of black slaves or any other person into Upper Canada with a view to subjecting them to slavery; slaves already present in the province would continue to live in bondage and any child born of a slave mother would also be a slave, but only until the age of twenty-five.
The 1793 Act Against Slavery of Upper Canada did not abolish slavery, it only prohibited the introduction of new slaves into the province and provided that children born to a slave mother would gain their freedom at the age of twenty-five. As Assembly member D.W. Smith wrote to the merchant John Askin: "We have made no law to free the slaves. All those who have been brought into the Province or purchased under any authority legally exercised, are Slaves to all intents & purposes, & are secured as property by a certain Act of Parliament." Speaking of the members, Smith added: "They are determined however to have a bill about Slaves, part of which I think is well enough, part most iniquitous! I wash my hands of it. A free man who is married to a Slave, his heir is declared by this Act to be a slave, fye. fye. The laws of God and man cannot authorize it." D.W.Smith was shocked by one thing more than anything else, although it had been in the Code Noir since 1685: that the child of a slave was a slave like its mother, regardless of the father's condition.
As a major owner of black and Panis slaves, John Askin needed reassurances about the new legislation, but he had little to worry about, since his slaves — and even those born just before the Act became law - would continue as slaves indefinitely, whereas any infants born to a slave mother would remain in servitude until their twenty-fifth birthday.
The Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada had squared the circle by seizing on a formula that satisfied slave owners, respected their ownership rights and opened the way to the gradual extinction of slavery. The Art had one significant and immediate consequence: Upper Canadians could no longer import slaves. But the Act also had the longer-term effect of turning Upper Canada into a "land of liberty" for runaway slaves. Indeed, the Act of 1793 prohibited that any black or Indian slave entering the province of Upper Canada should b,e treated as a slave: as a result, any fugitive slave seeking asylum in the province would be released from bondage. And, in fact, slaves from outside Upper Canada quickly took advantage of this opportunity - from Detroit (which Britain handed over to the United States in late 1796), the slaves crossed the Detroit River, while others were spirited out of New York and Lower Canada from 1792 until the early 1860s, by a web of smuggling networks known as the Underground Railway. These smugglers traveled along secret paths and riverside wetlands.191 Fugitive slaves reaching the province saw Upper Canada as an international place of refuge, but slaves already established there before 1793 continued to toil in servitude.
The Chief Justice Did Not Recognize Slavery
In Lower Canada, meanwhile, the bill introduced in the House of Assembly in the spring of 1793 was still "lying on the table" and the conditions of slavery remained unchanged: slaves in the province would remain in servitude indefinitely, fresh slaves could be brought into Lower Canada, and once they got there they would in principle remain slaves as before. Civil registries continued identifying blacks and Panis in bondage as slaves, as they had done since around 1700: the historical records indicate eight such slaves in 1793, seven in 1794, two in 1795, six in 1796, four in 1797, and five in 1798. Hospital records also refer to slaves: two in 1793, one in 1794, and one in 1796. In other cases, slave owners posted notices in newspapers or other places to the effect their slaves had escaped: in 1794, Pretchard was looking for his black slave, Isaac; in 1798, Madame Sawer of Sorel, lost her black slave, Phillis; James Fraser was looking for his black slave Lydia who deserted with a four-year-old mulatto girl. In 1797, George Westphal pawned his mulatto Sedy, since he owed money to Richard Dillon. These diverse sources of information between 1793 and 1798 indicate the presence of eight Panis and thirty-three blacks, who were still held in slavery.
To this number should be added individuals put up for sale. Here are some examples of twenty advertisements from 1793 to 1798:
1793: Mulatto, 22 years of age, for sale in February and March: contact Jean Routhier, residing in Riviere-Duchesne, or Jean-Marie Huppe, residing in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine (Montreal Gazette, published by Edwards, February 21 and 28, March 7).
1795: Judith, Negress, purchased January 27,1795 in Albany by,the merchant Elias Smith, of Montreal, for consideration of 80 pounds, New York currency (Journal of the House of Assembly, 1799:126).
1796: Rose, Negress, aged 31, sold September 9, 1796 by Louis Payet, parish priest of Saint-Antoine-de-Richelieu, and Thomas Lee, for the sum of 500 livres, old currency (Michaud notarial registry).
1797: Negress, aged about 17years: her remaining seventeen years of service being offered for sale (Montreal Gazette, published by Edwards, July, August and September 1797).
From 1793 to 1798 owners were still selling or trying to sell slaves, and among these sellers we even find a Catholic priest, Father Louis Payet, among the very last people trafficking in "Negroes." In the last confirmed sale we know of, the former member of the Assembly Louis Olivier sold a slave in May 1797 to the sailor Joseph Gent: this last slave sale was thus made by a French-speaking person in Lower Canada. The last offer of a slave for sale was in January 1798. These incidents mark the end of the slave trade in what is now the province of Quebec.
There had been considerable uncertainty about slavery for a number of years. We should recall that in 1793 members of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada had proposed the abolition of slavery but had failed in their attempt, while Upper Canada that same year forbade the importation of new slaves. This measure was not likely to reassure slave owners in Lower Canada, and the Courts gave them more cause for anxiety.
In 1794, a Court of Justice in Montreal set a precedent for slaves. A black man, whose name was not recorded, had fled the United States and found refuge in Montreal. He then went to work at Riviere-Duchesne; a certain Mr. Piatt of Plattsburgh (on Lake Champlain), turned up, claiming the man was his slave; Major Anctil refused to allow the black to be taken out of the country; a lawsuit was filed and the judge, stating that slavery was not "known under the Laws of England," freed the black from any further prosecution.192
For the judge to rule that slavery was unknown under the laws of England was a highly debatable, although commendable, step to take - slavery had actually been formally recognized in the British colonies, and the Parliament in Westminster had not yet taken a position on the gradual abolition of the slave trade. In any event, the precedent was set - a judge had just discharged a black from prosecution for being a runaway slave.
Was this judge William Osgoode? To our knowledge, the only document recording this event does not identify the judge. William Osgoode, said to be the author of the 1793 Act Against Slavery of Upper Canada, was promoted Chief Justice of Lower Canada in early 1794, but it was not until December 11 (i.e. after the ruling of the Court of Montreal) that he was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench.193
Although we cannot tell whether Chief Justice Osgoode set this precedent of 1794, we know for certain that on three occasions in 1798, he released blacks whose only crime was to have run away from their owners. The first of these, the black Charlotte, belonging to Jane Cook of Montreal in February 1798, left the service of her mistress and was arrested under the Magistrates Warrant. When she refused to return to her mistress, she was thrown behind bars. She then obtained a writ of Habeas Corpus, but since the Court was now on holidays, Chief Justice Osgoode decided to discharge the black woman without requiring any future appearance before the Court. This decision immediately caused a stir, as stated in a petition to the House of Assembly: "Upon this enlargement, the Negroes in the city and district of Montreal threatened a general revolt."194 In other words, other slaves wanted to obtain their freedom by similar means.
We do not know the details of this "general revolt" and it is possible that the petitioners were overstating their case. In any event, two slaves quickly followed Charlotte's example: the black Judith (also known as Jude) and the black Manuel. Jude had been purchased in 1795 in Albany by the merchant EKas Smith. After Charlotte's discharge, Jude fled her master and Smith had her arrested and jailed. Jude invoked her right to appear before a judge, and the judge in question was none other than William Osgoode. On March 8,1798, he discharged the woman, declaring at the same time, in open Court, "that he would, upon Habeas Corpus, discharge every Negro, indented Apprentice, and Servant who should be committed to Gaol under the Magistrates Warrant in the like cases."
On another occasion, the following December, Chief Justice Osgoode refused to recognize slavery. The black Manuel had been sold in 1797 by Jervis George Turner to the innkeeper John Thomas Sullivan: the innkeeper made a first payment of eighteen pounds (Quebec currency), promising nonetheless to free the slave in five years. However on March 1, 1798, Manuel decided to flee like the previous two black slave fugitives. Sullivan refused to discharge his debt to Turner and was sued on these grounds. Sullivan defended himself, claiming that Turner had sold him a free "Negro," and demanding that the eighteen pounds be reimbursed. Manuel then declared that Turner had no right to sell him because according to Manuel the country's laws did not recognize slavery. On December 18, Chief Justice Osgoode ruled that Turner had not proved he had the right to sell the "Negro" Manuel, nor could Sullivan establish his ownership of the slave: the sale was therefore null and void, and the eighteen pounds had to be returned to Sullivan. Manuel's own intervention in Court was turned aside.195 Turner did indeed own the black slave, since he had bought him from a man named Allen, but that was not enough for Justice Osgoode, who considered slavery to be illegal. Meanwhile, there was nothing further that Sullivan could do to establish his property rights. As for Manuel, there were no grounds for him to intervene because, according to the sentence, he had not been sold in the first place. As a result, he was now free to go.
Slave Owners Addressed the House of Assembly
Still no law in Lower Canada explicitly prohibited slavery: existing legislation remained in force. If the Chief Justice persisted in freeing slaves on the grounds that he did not consider them legally to be slaves, then slave owners could no longer rely on the protection of the courts. Accordingly, in April 1799, a group of Montrealers had Joseph Papineau, a member of the House of Assembly, present a petition on their behalf in the House.
Presented and read to the House on April 19, the petition drew the members' attention to the legal basis of slavery: Intendant Raudot's ordinance of 1709 had established that blacks and Panis belonged to those who had bought them "as their own slaves"; the King of France had never disapproved of this ordinance, which was still in force in 1763 and, consequently, had become part of the "laws, usages and customs of Canada" in 1774; slavery was considered lawful in the British colonies; an Act of the British Parliament in 1732 for the recovery of debts in the colonies included slaves among "real states" (immovable property) which could be seized in order to satisfy debts: by virtue of the Quebec Act, this 1732 act was in full force in Lower Canada; the Act for couraging new settlers in His Majesty's Colonies and Plantations in America? passed in 1790, ensured that subjects of the United States could lawfully bring their slaves and other property with them, and could sell them within twelve months of their arrival.
It was "upon the faith of His Majesty's Government," the petition stated, that the inhabitants of the province in general and of Montreal in particular "have purchased for a valuable consideration, a considerable number of Panis and Negro Slaves"; and it was upon the same faith that diverse persons, formerly subjects of the United States, had imported Negro slaves into the province; that these "Panis and Negro Slaves have always comported themselves in a becoming manner until lately, that they have imbibed a refractory and disobedient spirit, under pretext that no slavery exists in the Province." The petition provided two examples of this change in attitude: the Negro women Charlotte and Jude, whom Chief Justice Osgoode had released because he did not recognize slavery. "Upon this enlargement, the Negroes in the city and district of Montreal threatened a general revolt." Under these circumstances, His Majesty's Justices had no power to compel absconding Slaves to return to the owner's service, while the owners had no "power to enforce obedience"; the "Memorialists" (who had drafted the petition) foresaw "alarming consequences to this Province ... independent of the great loss which his Majesty's Subjects of this Province, owners of Negro Slaves, and the Creditors of such owners, may sustain by the disability such owners now labour under of preserving their property in their Slaves." The Montreal slave owners therefore called on the House of Assembly to enact legislation that provided for the jailing of slaves who deserted their masters, in the same way as indentured apprentices and servants were jailed in England; or that "a Law may be made declaring that there is no Slavery in the Province; or such other provision, respecting Slaves as this House in its wisdom shall think proper."
Slave owners were pushing for a clear choice: the House should either uphold their property rights over their slaves, or it should abolish slavery altogether. But the House of Assembly seems to have taken the petition in stride, ordering only "that the said Petition do lay upon the table for the consideration of the members."196
Slaves could continue to desert because the House of Assembly had refused to take a stand and the Chief Justice had ruled that British; law did not recognize slavery. For example, when James Fraser immigrated to Quebec from the United States in 1783, he brought his slaves with him. By 1799, only one slave was left, a black man by the name of Robin (also known as Robert or Bob). According to a petition presented to the House of Assembly; this slave was "one of three, the only property [Mr. Fraser] had saved from the ravages of the late war, and his chief dependence for support in his old age"; but Robin, who had already deserted previously, disappeared once again in the spring of 1799. The master waited for him in vain, only to discover, on January 28, 1800, that Robin was now staying with the innkeeper Richard Dillon, where life was obviously more attractive; the following day, the black man was arrested and jailed. A lawyer named Perry took up the black man's defence, and on February 4 obtained a writ of Habeas Corpus. As a result, on February 10, the slave appeared before the Court of King's Bench, with Chief Justice Osgoode presiding, flanked by Justices Pierre-Louis Panet and Isaac Ogden. Perry requested that the black be released, whereas a lawyer named Kerry pleaded the owner's case; the justices heard the arguments by both parties on February 13, and ruled finally on the 18th to discharge the slave unconditionally. One of the grounds the Court invoked was a law of 1797 that prevented the seizure of slaves for the payment of their master's debts: in the Court's view, this law amounted to emancipation. In any case, Chief Justice Osgoode and his colleagues refused to punish a slave whose only offence was to . have run away from his master.
Slave owners did not give up the struggle. Indeed, they once again called on Joseph Papineau to present a petition in the House of Assembly: the petition was "brought up and read" on April 18, 1800. This petition was somewhat different from the previous one, in that it asked the Legislature "to vest in a more effectual manner the property in slaves in their masters, and to provide laws for the proper regulation and government of such a class of men as come within the description of slaves." The petition repeated the same arguments used in 1799, but this time, instead of merely referring to legal texts, it took the trouble to quote from them at length: the Raudot Ordinance in 1709 which "was never altered or repealed"; the law of 1790 concerning Americans leaving their country for British colonies in North America. "Many faithful and loyal subjects of His Majesty," the petition stated, "after exposing their lives in his service, and sacrificing almost the whole property they were possessed of in the late calamitous war, came into this Province with their slaves under the sacred promise held out to them in the last mentioned statute, and from an idea lately gone abroad, that slavery does not exist in this country." The petition backed up this statement by giving the example of James Fraser who had only one slave "for support in his old age" but who had suffered the indignity of having the Court deprive him of his property. The petition maintained, in defiance of the Court ruling, that the law of 1797 prohibiting the seizure of slaves for the payment of their master's debts "does not go so far as to divest such owners of their property in their slaves, nor can it be considered as tending to emancipate the slaves in His Majesty's plantations."197
The petitioners said they were "extremely sorry to detain the House so long on this occasion, so interesting to them, as many of the petitioners have paid considerable sums for slaves who have deserted their service, and all of them are deeply sensible that this class of men who are now let loose on society, and live an idle and profligate life, may be tempted to commit crimes, which it is the duty of every citizen to endeavour to prevent." What were the petitioners seeking? "That it may therefore please this House to frame such an Act as will declare that slavery exists under certain modifications in this Province, and will completely vest the property in Panis and Negroes in the owners thereof; and further, that this House will provide such Laws and regulations for the government of slaves as in the wisdom of the House maybe thought expedient."198
They could have provided an additional argument - namely, the example of Upper Canada. In fact, the petitioners were .seeking exactly what the Legislature of Upper Canada had established in 1793: that Parliament formally recognize slavery, ensure that slave owners would have full property rights over their slaves, and introduce restrictive measures, if necessary, on the importation of new slaves. We do not know why these Montreal petitioners failed to invoke the precedent of Upper Canada. In 1791, what was then known as the "Province of Quebec" had been divided into Upper and Lower Canada, and legislation addressing common problems ought to have been harmonized in these two jurisdictions.
The House of Assembly Still Refused to Take a Stand
The petition of April 1799 had quickly been laid on the table of the House, which amounted to dying in procedural terms, but the petition of April 1800 got a little further. On the motion of Joseph Papineau, the House agreed to refer the petition to a committee of five members "to examine the matter thereof, and report theron with all possible diligence"; sitting on the committee were Joseph Papineau, William Grant, John Craigie, James Cuthbert and Alexandre Dumas. The composition of the committee gave slave owners cause for hope, since three of the five members wanted to see a law on slavery, Joseph Papineau was advocating the position of slave owners, while William Grant and James Cuthbert had owned slaves.
The committee got to work quickly: the petition was filed on Friday, April 18, and the committee reported back to the House on the following Monday. As committee chairman, James Cuthbert presented the report, after which the Clerk of the House read out the committee's two resolutions:
RESOLVED, that it is the opinion of this Committee, that there are reasonable grounds for passing a Law to regulate the condition of Slaves, to limit the term of Slavery, and prevent the further introduction of Slaves in this Province.
RESOLVED, that it is the opinion of this Committee, that the Chairman move the House, that leave be given to the said Committee to bring in a Bill accordingly.
In calling for a law to regulate the conditions of slaves and at the same time limit the term of slavery, the committee was aligning itself with the law passed in Upper Canada in 1793. The House of Assembly immediately approved the committee's two resolutions. The next step was debating the bill itself.
James Cuthbert moved the first reading on April 30. The second reading was set for May 2, but the matter was deferred till Saturday, when there was no time to deal with the matter. The second reading took place on Monday, May 5, and on motion of James Cuthbert and Joseph Papineau, a Committee of the Whole House was formed to debate the bill. Discussion proceeded apace, the House proposing to continue the following, since no further debate was possible that day, for want of a quorum. Work resumed on May 7 but "several members having retired," the House was again adjourned for want of a quorum. No further mention was made of the bill during the session, which ended May 29.
The Journal of the House of Assembly does not provide aver-batim account of debate on the slavery bill: it would have been interesting to follow the debate, and see why several members of the House were absent, just when the bill reached a third and final reading. Was this an indication of their opposition to the bill, or of their indifference? In any event, only six of fifty members had a personal stake in the issue of slavery, whether because they still owned or had once owned slaves: Louis-Charles Foucher, William Grant, John Lees, Joseph Perinault-Lamarche, Denis Viger and John Young.
For this reason slave owners in Lower Canada failed to validate their ownership rights by means of a specific law. Once the House of Assembly was dissolved at the end of May 1800, everything was put on hold until the next session began after a general election. And the slave owners had a lot to worry about; in that same year, 1800, Nova Scotia deported a cargo of its slaves to Africa. An indication of this anxiety appeared in Chartier de Lotbiniere's inventory of his property in August 1800. Writing of his black slave, Joseph-Louis dit Pompee, aged about 20 years, he noted: "Given that there is no way in this province to hold this kind of property, it is considered precarious and uncertain."199
After the general election the new session of Parliament opened on January 8, 1801. On January 17, James Cuthbert and Justice Pierre-Louis Panet presented a new bill in the House to regulate the condition of slaves and limit the term of slavery, and moved the first reading. The second reading took place on Friday, January 23. Cuthbert and Lees moved that the following Friday a Committee of the Whole House should consider the bill, and this motion was approved. But the following Friday came and went, and the bill seems to have fallen by the wayside. On February 5, James Cuthbert returned to the charge, seconded by Pierre-Louis Panet, and the House agreed to go into a Committee of the Whole on February 26. But the House did not sit on the 26th. On March 2, James Cuthbert presented his motion again, seconded by Francis Badgley, and the House agreed to sit in a Committee of the Whole on Friday, March 6; that day, Pierre-Louis Panet and Joseph-Perinault Lamarche moved to defer the matter to the following day, but no mention of it was made. Then, on March 9, the House met as a Committee of the Whole, chaired by Francis Badgley: there was a little discussion, but the member speaking returned to his seat, and the committee adjourned its work, in what proved to be its last meeting of the parliamentary session.
How can this new failure be explained? The only way for us to understand what really happened would be to examine the verbatim account of the debates, but no such account exists, and we can do no more than record yet another failure.
It was not until 1803 that slave owners made a new attempt in the House of Assembly. On March 1, James Cuthbert presented a bill "to remove all doubts about slavery in this province and other effects": the bill went through first reading in the House, while the second reading took place on March 7. Debate generally began in earnest after the second reading. James Cuthbert and Denis Viger moved that the bill be referred to a committee that would report "with all due despatch"; the committee consisted of James Cuthbert, Justice Pierre-Amable Debonne, Alexis Caron, John Craigie and John Lees. The committee got to work; on March 13, Cuthbert and Caron proposed the addition of two members, and Francois Huot and Jean-Baptiste Raymond were named. But this proved to be the last time the Journals of the House of Assembly ever mentioned a bill on slavery. Indeed, after all these unsuccessful attempts to get the House of Assembly of Lower Canada to enact legislation on slavery, nothing further was done: after 1803 the question of slavery never appeared in the agenda of the House of Assembly. Ultimately, no Act specifically addressing the condition of slaves was adopted in Lower Canada.200
Slavery Disappeared Before it was Formally Abolished
While these various attempts were going on were there still that many slaves in Lower Canada? We believe the number of slaves still held in bondage had to be greatly reduced for the House of Assembly to treat the issue of slavery with such indifference, for newspapers to maintain complete silence about the matter, and for owners such as James Fraser to be intent only on keeping whatever slaves remained to them personally. Only a handful of slaves turn up in the historical record. The last deed of sale is dated May 13, 1797 (when Louis Olivier of Berthier-en-Haut sold the black woman Marie Bulkley to the sailor Joseph Gent) and the Montreal Gazette was the last newspaper to print an advertisement for a slave sale, on January 29,1798; the market in slaves had dried up. After 1799, we only find a very few blacks and Panis still living in bondage. In fact, we only know of nineteen slaves, eleven of them blacks and eight Indians:
Historical records indicate the presence of a few slaves every year until 1808, but then there is a gap of thirteen years until 1821, when the last historical document mentions an individual slave. In fact, the Panis Marie-Marguerite would have the distinction of being the last person in the catalogue of slavery, when she was donated by Grasset de Saint-Sauveur to the Hopital-General de Montreal on his return to France. The last time the word "slave" actually appears in the civil registries was on November 13,1793, at the christening of the black Henry Williams in the Anglican Church in Quebec.
There may well have been other slaves than these nineteen individuals identified as such at the time of enumeration. We know that some slaves did not want to be freed. For example, the black Angelique, who lived with the Neilson family in Trois-Rivieres, died a willing slave around 1808 or 1810. This was also the case of Lisette, a mulatto woman who had been bought by the grandfather of the writer Aubert de Gaspe and was attached to his family: an attempt had been made to free her but "I don't give a fig for your freedom!' she would say, snapping her fingers. "I've as much right to remain in the house where I was brought up as you and all your family." If her exasperated master were to put her out by the north door, she would immediately come back in by the south, and vice versa."201
Former slaves also turn up in historical records, although we cannot determine whether they had been freed or not. On April 12, 1799, the Panis Marie-Joseph, aged about 100 years, was buried at the Hopital-General de Montreal: she had belonged to the late Madame Ruette d'Auteuil; also buried at the same place were the eighty-seven-year-old Panis Marie-Louise, formerly the property of Chevalier de Lacorne, on March 22, 1802, and the sixty-year-old black woman Marie-Louise-Jeanne "Thomme" who had belonged to Jean Orillat, on July 6,1802. The seventy-year-old Panis Marguerite, now described as a servant, was buried at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec, on June 8, 1810. And on October 23, 1812, the eighty-eight-year-old black Marie-Elisabeth, widow of the black Jacques-Cesar and a former slave of the Lemoyne de Longueuil family, free since 1763, was buried in Longueuil. The sixty-year-old Panis Marie was buried at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec on December, 25 1814. The twenty-two-year-old Panis Marie was buried in Montreal on March 22,1819. Dr. Boucher de Labruere who was jailed in Montreal, mentioned an old black woman in December 1838 "who comes to wash our things for practically nothing." This old black woman must have been a slave, at least in her younger years.202 We should finally mention the eighty-three-year-old black Catherine Thompson, widow of Jean-Baptiste Johnton, buried at Vaudreuil on June 30, 1840. She must also have had personal experience of slavery in former times.
It is hard to say exactly how slavery ended in French Canada. The last sale of a slave took place in 1797; the word "slave" appeared for the last time in civil registries in 1798; the subject of slavery was never again raised in the House of Assembly after 1803; and the last individual slave - a Panis woman - died in 1821. Did the history of slavery in Lower Canada end because of a law enacted in Britain? On August 28, 1833, the British government voted to put an end to slavery throughout the British Empire. The Slavery Abolition Act came into force in 1834, and provided "a period of apprenticeship of freedom that was to last until August 1, 1838 for urban slaves and until August 1, 1840 for rural slaves," but this learning periqd was soon shortened and "by 1838, to all intents and purposes, all slaves had been emancipated" on British soil.203
Were there any remaining slaves in Lower Canada to take advantage of this legal emancipation? Benjamin Suite said he had known "several Negroes emancipated by the Act of 1833, but not a single Panis"; what a pity he failed to record their names!204 Given that the slave market had ceased to exist by the dawn of the nineteenth century, we are inclined to believe that whatever slaves were emancipated by the Act of 1833 must have been very old blacks or exceptional cases. One thing seems clear — no Indian slaves were left in Lower Canada to enjoy the fruits of emancipation. Suffice it to say that in Quebec, slavery withered away on its own, and no date can be assigned to its final disappearance.
TO BE CONTINUED