The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario 1834-1914: Freedom Under the Lion's Paw - Page Banner

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When enslaved Africans got their “freedom papers” either by being given ownership of themselves or through self-purchase, these documents were highly treasured and kept well after the abolition of slavery to prove their status.

However, most had to run away to achieve freedom and were particularly concerned about notorious slave-catchers and their agents and the potential for recapture.

The passing of the 1833 British Imperial Act clearly attracted enslaved Africans into Canada, but the second American Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, put all African-Americans at risk and encouraged their flight.  This act made it possible for anyone to accuse a free or enslaved African of being a runaway slave, and brought the full measure of the law to support it.  At least 60,000 took the risk for freedom.

The letter below, written by S. Wickham in 1850 warns of slave-catchers in the United States.

Tintype: Unidentified Black family portrait
Click to see a larger image (165K)
Unidentified Black family portrait
Tintype
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code:  F 2076-16-4-8
Archives of Ontario, I0024785

Letter dated Oct. 12, 1850 from S. Wickham warning of slave-catchers in the United States
Letter dated Oct. 12, 1850 from S. Wickham warning of slave-catchers in the United States
D. B. Stevenson fonds
Correspondence for 1850, letter from S. Wickham to D. B. Stevenson October 12, 1850
Reference Code:  F 499 MU 2885
Archives of Ontario
See text version of Letter from S. Wickham.

For freedom seekers and their supporters, Canada provided the most likely destination.  It was the place where the North Star would lead them from Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland - any American location.

By following the northward flow of rivers, or old military trails, or weaving from one secret location to another, thousands of formerly enslaved Africans arrived to stake their claim for liberty, liberty to live and work; liberty to form their own families; liberty to obtain an education for their children.

The Provincial Freeman was published by Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893), an important Black abolitionist and educator who came to Canada West in 1851. She returned to the United States in 1863.

Click to see a larger image (175K)
The Provincial Freeman, March 24, 1853
Microfilm Reel N 40
Archives of Ontario
(Original held by Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
University of Pennsylvania)

The Provincial Freeman, March 24, 1853

However, being free in Ontario was not without challenges, from exclusion to possible extradition.

Black Canadians actively banded together around the Moseby and Anderson cases and created their own churches and schools while challenging the law.

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Marble Village Coloured School
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-5-2
Archives of Ontario, I00024783

Photo: Marble Village Coloured School
 

Postcard: Niagara Second Courthouse and Western Home
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Niagara Court House and Jail, [ca. 1905]
Postcard
Reference Code: Item X 984.5.128
Courtesy of Niagara Historical Society & Museum

The Riot at Niagara Court House 1837

Solomon Moseby (or Mosely) stole a horse to flee Kentucky. Arriving in Niagara, he was jailed, but the local Black community surrounded the courthouse to prevent his transfer.  When he was taken out under armed guard, shots were fired, resulting in the deaths of 2 Black people, the arrest of 20 others and Moseby’s escape. He later returned to the area.


The Last Extradition Case 1861

John Anderson, an enslaved Black American, killed a man while resisting capture in Missouri. He fled to Canada and was eventually jailed. His case went before Chief Justice Robinson who decided on extradition, but the decision was reversed due to a technicality. Slaves would not be prosecuted for crimes committed if they were part of the act of escaping. Anderson was acquitted.

 

Click to see a larger image (105K)
Portrait of John Anderson
[Book Illustration] The Story of the Life of John
Anderson, the Fugitive Slave,
ed. Harper Twelvetrees.
London: W. Tweedie, 1863.

The photograph below, taken in 1868, shows Osgoode Hall in Toronto, where the Anderson case was tried from 1860 to 1861.

Portrait of John Anderson

Photo: Osgoode Hall, 1868
Click to see a larger image (346K)
Osgoode Hall, 1868
Octavius Thompson fonds
Reference Code: F 4356-0-0-0-18
Archives of Ontario, I0005304


Photo: Leroy Jones at age 2 years 8 months, Beaverton Ontario, 1915
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Leroy Jones at age 2 years 8 months,
Beaverton Ontario, 1915
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-3
Archives of Ontario, I0027800

Photo: Mary Branton with banner “Africa for Christ”, taken in Toronto [ca. 1890s]
Click to see a larger image (176K)
Mary Branton with banner “Africa for Christ”,
taken in Toronto, [ca. 1890s]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-2
Archives of Ontario, I0027793

Photo: Settlers in their Sunday best, possibly Essex County, [ca. 1900]
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Settlers in their Sunday best, possibly Essex County, [ca. 1900]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-4
Archives of Ontario


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