We do not know who these people are. They had their portraits taken sometime during the 1870s or 1880s. The older people might have been slaves; perhaps the younger ones were descendants of slaves.
The documents and images in this exhibit come from the collections of the Archives of Ontario and from other heritage organizations as noted.Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are shown as written in the original documents.
March 14, 1793
Queenston, at the American border William Vrooman , a Canadian slave owner, takes a woman slave by force across the river and sells her to an American buyer. Chloe Cooley does not go quietly. It takes three men to tie her up and throw her in a boat. Once on the American side she screams and resists again. They bind her once more and hand her over to a new owner.
Chloe Cooley has no rights. She is property that can be bought and sold, or bequeathed in her owner’s will. Most of eighteenth century society condones slavery as a normal condition and an economic necessity; few people are willing to assist slaves to escape their servitude.
Thumb screws, [ca. 1840-1850]
Uncle Tom's Historic site © Ontario Heritage Trust
Peter Martin, a free Black, brought the witness William Grisley to make an official report about this incident to John Graves Simcoe, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. They recounted the story at the Executive Council meeting on March 21, 1793.
Simcoe, a supporter of the movement to abolish slavery even before coming to Upper Canada, used the Chloe Cooley incident as a catalyst for enacting legislation against slavery.
Many Canadians do not know that slavery existed here. The Chloe Cooley incident is one of many documented accounts about slaves and their owners in Upper Canada. In this exhibit you will see for yourself how slavery affected both slaves and their owners.