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Slavery in Canada and The First Wave - If you think the U.S. had a monopoly on slave trade in N.A., think again. Nova Scotia had slaves long before the arrival of the "underground railroad". Read on.Life After Slavery - Halifax Farmers Market 1890

 We northerners have maintained a bit of a 'holier than thou' attitude about the widespread use of slaves in the southern States. If one were to ask if Canada ever had slaves, many Canadians would respond with an indignant 'no', yet we did have slaves for a period of about 20 years. When the American colonies fought for freedom from British rule between 1775 and 1793, colonists who swore loyalty to the British Crown were offered land in Canada and provisions.

Thousands of American colonists who took advantage of the British offer left the colonies in the south and in New England and headed north where the only established British colonies were in the eastern part of the new land. The Loyalist pioneers arrived in Halifax by shipload, carrying with them whatever possessions they needed to start their new life. About 2,500 indentured servants and slaves were part of that 'baggage'.

One could argue that having slaves in the country didn't define a slave trade, but enough auction posters exist from the period to refute those claims. Emancipation was in full swing in the American colonies and it was strongly supported in Canada. According to Thomas H. Raddall (Halifax: Warden of the North, 1980), the practice of slavery in Nova Scotia was over by 1792 (see addendum), much through the efforts of Chief Justice Strange. Because of Strange, "a stout emancipationist, the owners of runaway Negroes found it difficult and finally impossible to recover their 'property' through the courts. This rang the knell of slavery in Nova Scotia."

"I'm on my way to Canada,
That cold, but happy land
The dire effects of Slavery
I can no longer stand.
O righteous Father,
Do look down on me
And help me on to Canada
Where colored folks are free!"

-   Sojourner Truth

The British had also extended the offer of free land and provisions to blacks in the 13 original colonies, but most importantly, they offered them freedom, if they would enlist for duty. Partially a recruitment effort and partially a ploy to undermine the Rebel land owners who depended on their slaves to work the plantations, the British lured many black men and women with their promises. While the American War of Independence brought the first wave of black pioneers to Nova Scotia, most of them never received the land and provisions promised to them.

Addendum: Tragically, slavery was not abolished in Britain until 1834, so many black slaves who were taken from the Rebels as spoils of war, were not freed like the Black Loyalists who fought on the side of the British. They simply changed owners. According to Carolyn Smith of the Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia, slavery was still a fact of life in Nova Scotia when the second wave of black pioneers arrived following the War of 1812.

The second in a series of articles outlining Nova Scotia's black heritage; an introductory path to further reading.

Back to: Nova Scotia Black History> Part 1, 2 3


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All contents © 1995 - 2013 Highway7.com unless otherwise attributed
Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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