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Before the Underground Railroad, Black people fled south to escape slavery in Canada

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
"Matthew Elliot, a Loyalist who came from Virginia during the American Revolution, probably had as many as sixty slaves living in the huts behind his home in Fort Malden (now Amherstburg [ON])." Source: Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (link at end of article)
"Matthew Elliot, a Loyalist who came from Virginia during the American Revolution, probably had as many as sixty slaves living in the huts behind his home in Fort Malden (now Amherstburg [ON])." Source: Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (link at end of article)

There are people arguing Canada does not have a history of anti-Black racism, or that it is nothing compared to the USA. These claims, and dominant Canandian narratives in general, tend to overlook these facts from the end of the slavery era: 

  • Black people fled enslavement in Lower Canada (Quebec) to the haven of Vermont for several years starting in 1777. 
  • Black people fled enslavement in Upper Canada (Ontario) to areas all over the north of the USA after the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 in the USA. For example, Henry Lewis, who was 'owned' by aristocrat William Jarvis of Toronto's infamous Jarvis family, reportedly fled to safety in New York State in 1798.
  • New York State, where anti-slavery currents had been building, was legislating an end to slavery in 1799, almost exactly the same time as Lower Canada, in 1798, and Upper Canada, in 1793. New York's law came into effect in 1827 (though some people were enslaved still in 1830). This year, 1827, is before anti-slavery legislation covered all of British North America (aka Canada), which happened in 1834 by British decree.
  • There was much resistance to ending slavery in the 1700s and early 1800s among Upper Canada legislators, all of whom were white and many of whom were slaveowners. 
  • For several decades, fugitive slave laws, giving powers to capture an escaped slave, were enforced on all states. Many northern states (and people in those states) resisted this law and were almost safe havens at times. But, because these states were under United States law, Canada was safer, and became a destination for many Black People via the Underground Railroad. Approximately 60- 70% of Black refugees in Canada then returned to the USA after slavery ended in 1865. 

Some people (including Black people) in Canada did play an important role in helping Black people escape slavery. This does not negate the fact that slavery was upheld in Canada for over 200 years. Neither fact erases the other. And, from the information presented here, it is clear that people in Canada were not uniquely just or moral in how they acted to end the horrific practice of slavery.

The facts indicate Canada had strong anti-Black racist sentiment, and a similar history to much of the USA regarding treatment of Black life. 

 

Sources:

Canadian Encyclopedia, Black Enslavement - http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/black-enslavement/

New York Historical Society - http://www.nyhistory.org/community/slavery-end-new-york-state

Smithsonian Institiute - http://go.si.edu/site/MessageViewer?em_id=15241.0

Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services - http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/slavery/henry_lewis.aspx

Encyclopedia.com - http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536601434.html

Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_New_York

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_Vermont

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_slave_laws

 

 


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David Gray-Donald (David Gray-Donald)
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