Good friend and blogging buddy John Fioravanti has been on hiatus from blogging for a while, took some time off to do a bit of soul-searching. Yesterday he made a comeback with a beautiful post based on the words and wisdom of Maya Angelou. The world is so divided today, filled with hatred and intolerance more than at any time in our lifetimes, but Maya’s words should serve as an inspiration to all of us – a message that love and caring for others can overcome the hatred. A reminder that we are all the same – human beings – and that what we have in common is far greater than the superficial differences. Please take a moment to read John’s beautiful post, and to welcome him back to ‘blogger-dom’! Thanks John, for this lovely post and we’re happy to have you back!
In February, in honour of Black History Month, friend and fellow-blogger John Fioravanti of Words To Captivate, graciously accepted my offer to do a series of guest posts on Filosofa’s Word. Last month, John honoured me by asking me to write a guest post – any topic of my choosing – for his blog. I was thrilled, and readily accepted, but with my eye surgeries and subsequent chronic exhaustion, I was forced to delay. A few nights ago, however, I realized that we were fast approaching the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and I thought it might make a perfect topic for my guest post. Long story short, John agreed and has honoured me by presenting my post and prefacing it with a very gracious and kind introduction. He has also given me permission to re-blog it on my own blog. I must admit it feels rather strange to be re-blogging my own work! Many thanks to you, John, for your many kindnesses and for sharing my work!
Today is 28 February … the last day of February and the final day of Black History Month in both the U.S. and Canada. I have let the ball drop this month, for reasons at least partly beyond my control, but our friend John Fioravanti has helped by sharing with us so much of Canada’s black history! Last week, I published Part I of John’s guest post, and we thought it fitting to save Part II for the final day of February, to wrap up the month. I would like to thank John for all the hard work he put into these wonderfully informative posts! Hey John … what say we do it again next year?
Upper Canada did not flourish, and Loyalist settlements remained scattered and isolated. Simcoe’s vision of a prosperous, English-speaking province was not shared in London. Britain viewed the fledgling colony as a mere appendage of Lower Canada (Quebec). Simcoe was succeeded by several ineffective British governors in the ensuing years who did little to foster growth in Upper Canada.
In 1812, America declared war on Britain while she was embroiled in a life and death struggle against Napoleon in Europe. For President Madison, Canada looked like easy pickings. Most of the settlers of Upper Canada were former American citizens, and the French in Lower Canada had no great love for their British rulers. America underestimated the determination of the Loyalists and Indigenous Loyalists led by Joseph Brant, and most of the French decided to remain neutral.
The War of 1812-1814 featured many cross-border skirmishes between U.S. Regulars & Militia and British Regulars and Loyalist militia. It eventually ended in a stalemate punctuated by the burning of the government buildings in Toronto by American invaders and the retaliatory burning of the White House in Washington by the British.
Black Volunteers Fight For Britain
In the summer of 1812, Black Loyalist Richard Pierpoint petitioned the government of Upper Canada to raise a company of Black troops to help protect the Niagara frontier. After some debate, the government agreed. A company of Blacks was formed under the command of a White officer, Captain Robert Runchey Sr.
Thousands of Black volunteers fought for the British during the War of 1812. Fearing American conquest (and the return to slavery), many Blacks in Upper Canada served heroically in colored and regular regiments. The British promise of freedom and land united many escaped slaves under the British flag. (See the story of Richard Pierpoint)
In 1813, British Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s offer of transportation for anyone wanting to leave the United States was widely circulated among the Black population. Four thousand former slaves deserted to the British side and were transported to the British colonies. About 2000 refugees set sail for Nova Scotia from September 1813- August 1816. Canada’s reputation as a haven for Blacks grew substantially during and after the War of 1812.
Post-War Upper Canada
Between 1815 and 1865, tens of thousands of Blacks in America sought safety and freedom in Upper Canada by way of the Underground Railway. It isn’t easy to find documentation about the Underground Railway because out of necessity it operated under strict secrecy in America – and even in Canada where they wished to avoid border incidents. One notable exception to this in Canada was a contemporary newspaper, the Voice of the Fugitive, which was the first black-owned and -operated newspaper in Upper Canada. It was founded and published in Sandwich / Windsor by Henry Bibb, who escaped, first to Detroit and then to Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. The newspaper first appeared on January 1, 1851, and ceased publication in 1854.
This excerpt from Daniel Hill’s publication, The Freedom Seekers, outlines the main areas of settlement of Black refugees in Upper Canada (renamed Canada West in 1841).
Daniel Hill, in the “Freedom Seekers,” wrote:
“Before the middle of 19th Century small Black communities were firmly rooted in six areas of Canada West: along the Detroit frontier, that is at Windsor, Sandwich, Amherstburg and their environs; in Chatham and its surrounding area, where the all- Black settlements of Dawn and Elgin were established; in what was then the central section of the province particularly London, the Queen’s Bush, Brantford, and the Black settlement of Wilberforce (now Lucan); along the Niagara Peninsula at St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Newark (Niagara on the Lake)and Fort Erie; in the larger urban centres on Lake Ontario, that is Hamilton and Toronto; at the northern perimeter of Simcoe and Grey Counties, especially in Oro, Collingwood and Owen Sound. Besides these centres of Black population, small clusters of Blacks, as well as individual Black Families, were settled throughout Canada West.”
In Upper Canada, the Underground Railroad fugitives tended to concentrate in settlements, not because of government policy but for the sake of mutual support and protection against white Canadian prejudice and discrimination and American kidnappers – looking for rewards for returning fugitive slaves to their American owners. The fugitive blacks who had arrived in Upper Canada via the Underground Railroad typically arrived destitute, and without government land grants were usually forced to become laborers on the lands of others, although some farmed their own land successfully, and some worked for the Great Western Railway.
In their concentrated settlements, the early Blacks had the opportunity to retain cultural characteristics and create a distinct community. Styles of worship, music and speech, family structures and group traditions developed in response to the conditions of life in Canada. The chief institutional support was the separate church, usually Baptist or Methodist, created when white congregations refused to admit blacks as equal members.
The churches’ spiritual influence pervaded daily life and affected the vocabulary, routines, and ambitions of their members. Inevitably, they assumed a major social and political role and the clergy became the natural community leaders. The many fraternal organizations, mutual-assistance bands, temperance societies and antislavery groups formed by 19th-century Blacks were almost always associated with one of the churches. In the 20th century, the churches led the movement for greater educational opportunity and civil rights.
In slavery, Black women were forced to work to support themselves, and economic circumstances perpetuated this tradition in Canada. Black women have always played an important economic role in family life and have experienced considerable independence as a result. Raised in a communal fashion, frequently by their grandparents or older neighbors, Black children developed family-like relationships throughout the local community. A strong sense of group identity and mutual reliance, combined with the unique identity provided by the churches, produced an intimate community life and a refuge against white discrimination.
During the 19th century, British and American societies established schools for blacks throughout Ontario. In addition, the governments of both Nova Scotia and Ontario created legally segregated public schools. Although almost every black community had access to either a charity or a public school, funding was inadequate, and education tended to be inferior. When combined with residential isolation and economic deprivation, poor schooling helped to perpetuate a situation of limited opportunity and restricted mobility. In 1965 the last segregated school in Ontario closed.
My hope is that this overview of Black history in Upper Canada during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries will serve to illustrate that this has been a story of desperate circumstances punctuated by great accomplishments by heroes who bravely struggled to survive and thrive in an often, less than hospitable environment. I’ve heard it said by a Black Canadian who has lived both in Canada and the United States that Black Canadians and Black Americans are quite different. They live in their respective countries for different reasons. As well, American Blacks are approximately 13% of their country’s population, but Canadian Blacks are just 4% of Canada’s population – a visible minority and an almost invisible minority.
The plight of Black Canadians was aided by urbanization – which led to desegregated opportunities – and the influx of thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean. I wish I could report that racism and discrimination aimed at Black Canadians is a thing of the past but that is simply not true. Happily, segregation of the races was not entrenched in Canadian law as it was in America. Tragically, many Caucasian Canadians suffer from the same cultural White supremacy tendencies that presently exist in other predominantly White countries.
A million thanks, John, for these guest posts, and for the ones you have so generously allowed me to share throughout the month!
Friend, author and fellow-blogger John Fioravanti graciously accepted my request to do a guest post to wrap up Black History Month! It quickly became apparent that one post was inadequate, so John has agreed to do a series of two posts about the history of African-Canadians. Today I share with you John’s excellent and informative Part I. I hope you enjoy and I know you will learn something new, for I certainly did!
Black History In Ontario – Early Years
This series of articles is inspired by the revelations of my research into Black history in Canada for Black History Month. I am impressed beyond words by the courage and resourcefulness of so many people of African ancestry that escaped to Canada as slaves or freely chose Canada as their new home. Ontario is my home province, hence the focus of this series. It is my hope that this effort to summarize the early history of Black Canadians in Ontario will give readers a helpful perspective for today’s realities.
In another post, we will turn our attention to the people who escaped slavery from the American South in the 19th Century by way of the Underground Railway. Four of the five ‘stations’ or destinations were in Ontario, and the fifth was in Nova Scotia. I will explore their life experiences as they struggled to create meaningful and happy lives among an often-hostile White majority.From 1608-1763, today’s Ontario was part of the colony of New France. After the British conquered New France in 1763, it was renamed Quebec. Ontario finally emerged as a separate territory called Upper Canada in 1791. The French part of the old Quebec colony was renamed Lower Canada. The two Canadas were politically reunited into a single colony, the Province of Canada in 1841. The part that used to be Upper Canada was referred to as Canada West. In 1867 the separate Canadian colonies united into a political federation called The Dominion of Canada. The former Province of Canada divided again at the Ottawa River into the modern provinces of Ontario and Quebec.Although slavery was abolished in the Canadian colonies well before this was accomplished in the United States, make no mistake, the attitude of white superiority was just as prevalent in Canada as it was anywhere in America or the white nations of Europe at that time. This attitude was not born in North America, it was transplanted here from Europe. So the Blacks who escaped or freely migrated north from the States beginning in the late 18th Century were not welcomed warmly with open arms by the Whites in Canada. They were not considered equal citizens and most often faced disdain and discrimination at the hands of white Canadians.
Early Upper Canada History
Originally part of the colony of New France, Upper Canada was home to French fur traders and Jesuit Missionaries who came to the area east and south of Georgian Bay to convert the Indigenous people they named as Huron. The French did not focus on the Upper Canada area to create large settlements – that came after the British took over.
As a result of the Seven Years War (The French and Indian War), New France passed into British Possession in 1763. There are records about the existence of Black slaves in the settled areas of New France around Montreal and Quebec City. Many of them were brought by transient officials from France and often resold in the colony. Most of the slaves were used as domestic servants and as farm laborers.
After 1763, Upper Canada became home to Loyalists and newly freed slaves from the Thirteen Colonies as a direct result of the American Revolution. Some British officials in the American colonies from 1775 onwards promised freedom to any Black slaves willing to escape and join the British army. Over 300 Blacks responded to this offer by British Governor Lord John Dunsmore of Virginia in 1775. In 1779 Sir Henry Clinton, commander-in-chief of all British forces in the Thirteen Colonies promised slaves who escaped protection in territory under their control.
Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Loyalists left the United States for Upper Canada during and after the war ended in 1783. About 10 percent of this number were Black Loyalists – and most of them went on to settle in Nova Scotia. Some arrived as freed men while most came as slaves with their Loyalist owners. Blacks who had escaped from their owners to fight in the British army and arrived as free men were called Black Loyalists. According to records, only a few dozen Black Loyalists settled in Upper Canada between Cornwall and Windsor.
Under British law, the slaves of White Loyalists were to remain slaves. There were slaves in most if not all the Loyalist settlements in Upper Canada. By 1791 the veterans of Butler’s Rangers had 300 slaves in the Niagara area – designated as domestic servants.
Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe
Before the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement was making inroads in the Canadas as Britain had outlawed the slave trade in the British Isles in 1772. By 1791 Loyalist slave owners in Upper Canada began to worry about losing their property and began to sell their slaves to Americans across the border. One such incident, involving a slave named Chloe Cooley was so brutal that Simcoe decided to free all the province’s slaves.
In 1793, Adam Vrooman, a former sergeant with Butler’s Rangers, owned Chloe Cooley and decided to sell her to an American across the Niagara River in March. Chloe was upset by the impending sale, so Vrooman beat her, tied her up and forced her into a boat with the help of two other men. She screamed as they rowed her across the river.The entire incident was witnessed by another Butler’s Rangers veteran, Black Loyalist Peter Martin. Along with another witness, he reported the incident to Simcoe’s Executive Council (Cabinet) who decided to charge Vrooman with disturbing the peace. Eventually, the charge was dropped because Cooley was considered property under the law.
Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe was outraged by the incident and moved swiftly to bring in the Act Against Slavery by July of 1793. It provided for the eventual abolition of slavery in Upper Canada by prohibiting the importation of slaves and freeing the children of slaves when they turned 21. By 1819 there were no more slaves in Upper Canada.
Thank you, John! We are looking forward to Part II!
Friend and fellow blogger John Fioravanti of Words To Captivate fame, has written an excellent, thought-provoking post about ‘respect’. Such a simple word, yet one that seems so difficult sometimes. In this piece, John searches his own heart and finds, as we all do, that he is not always true to his own ideals. Please take a few moments to read John’s piece which, I think, has much value in these uncertain and difficult times in which we live. Thank you, John, for your deeply introspective piece, for making us all think, and for your generous permission for me to share this with my friends and readers.