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Peggy: Difficult Property

Photo: Unidentified woman, [ca. 1875]
Click to see a larger image (266K)
Unidentified woman, [ca. 1875]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-4-7
Archives of Ontario, I0024792

Elizabeth Russell’s diary describes the “insolent”, “pilfering”, and “lying” behaviour of the Russells’ slaves – Peggy and her children. Peter Russell’s letters and newspaper ads reveal the extent of his efforts to get rid of them.

"My Slave Peggy, whom you were so good to promise to assist in getting rid of, … is now at large, being not permitted by my Sister to enter this House, and shows a disposition at Times to be very troublesome, which may perhaps compel me to commit her again to Prison. I shall be glad that you would either taker away immediately, or return to me the Bill of Sale I gave you to enable you to do so."

Peter Russell to Matthew Elliott,
York, 19 September 1801
When he could not sell Peggy, he advertised in the Upper Canada Gazette:
"The subscriber’s black servant Peggy not having his permission to absent herself from his service, the public are hereby cautioned from employing or harbouring her without the owner’s leave. Whoever will do so after this notice may expect to be treated as the law directs."

The difficult behaviour may have been a deliberate ploy. Slaves sometimes used this kind of dissembling as a strategy to get their own way – historians of slavery call this behaviour "slave resistance."

Peter Russell, the Receiver General of Upper Canada, and his sister Elizabeth were the owners of Peggy and her children.

Oil on canvas: The Hon. Peter Russell [President and Administrator of Upper Canada, 1796-99]
Click to see a larger image (111K)
The Hon. Peter Russell [President and
Administrator of Upper Canada, 1796-99]
George Theodore Berthon
Oil on canvas, 43 X 33½", 109.2 x 85.1 cm
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 693124

Slaves as Property

Advertisements: For Sale, a Negro Wench, Newark
Advertisements:
For Sale, a Negro Wench, Newark
Upper Canada Gazette,
19 August 1795
Reference Code: N 31
Archives of Ontario
Wanted, A Negro Boy
Niagara Herald, 18 November 1801
to 9 January 1802
Reference Code: N 23
Archives of Ontario
For Sale, The Negro Man and Woman
Niagara Herald, 9 January
to 13 February, 1802
Reference Code: N 23
Archives of Ontario
Photo: Unidentified women, [ca. 1875]

Click to see a larger image (213K)
Unidentified women, [ca. 1875]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds,
Reference Code: F 2076-16-4-7
Archives of Ontario, I0028819


Photo: Unidentified child, [ca. 1875]
Click to see a larger image (157K)
Unidentified child, [ca. 1875]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-4-8
Archives of Ontario, I0028820


Most slaves were sold or passed down in families until the abolition legislation came into force. In his will, Colonel John Butler left to his grandson, granddaughter, and son respectively:

"a Negroe Boy named George . . . [to his grandson John] until the said negroe arrives to the year the the Law directs to receive his freedom, . . . also a Negroe Girl . . . named Jane . . . [to his granddaughter Catharine] which girl is to remain her property until discharged from her servitude as the law directs . . . [to his] son Andrew a Negroe Woman named Pat . . . .

Will of John Butler,
11th June 1796, Archives of Ontario

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