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Treatment of Enslaved Peoples

Enslaved people resisted and challenged the institution of slavery. This resistance took many forms, including asserting their humanity, refusing to work, escaping bondage, or assisting freedom seekers. To dare to dream was an act of defiant resistance.

Peter Russell, the Receiver General of Upper Canada (1796-1799), and his sister Elizabeth enslaved a woman named Peggy, and her three children: Amy, Milly, and Jupiter.  Elizabeth described Peggy as “insolent” and “pilfering”, referring to her resistance to service.

"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

Letter from Peter Russell to Matthew Elliott [1801]
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Letter from Peter Russell to Matthew Elliott [1801]
Archives of Ontario
F 46-0-0-2350
Newspaper article offering a reward for a runaway enslaved person

Upper Canada Gazette, 4 July 1793
Microfilm reel number N 31, Archives of Ontario

Newspaper article about a runaway enslaved person

Upper Canada Gazette, 4 July 1793
Microfilm reel number N 31, Archives of Ontario

One example is that of Henry Lewis, who fled to Schenectady, New York from Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) in order to escape the ownership of William Jarvis, the provincial secretary and registrar. While there he wrote to Jarvis requesting to purchase his freedom.

My desired to support my self as free man and enjoy all the benefits which may result from my being free in a country whear a Blackman is defended by the laws as much as a white man is induce me to make you an offer of purchasing myself . . . .

the reason why I left your house is this your [Jarvis' wife Hannah] vexed me to so high a degree that it was far beyond the power of man to support it is true and I will say in all company that I always lived as well in your house as I should wish.

Painting of Hannah Jarvis hoer her two daughters
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Hannah Jarvis (née Peters) and her daughters. Maria Lavini and Augusta Honoria Jarvis, [ca. 1791]
James Earl
Oil on canvas
Royal Ontario Museum ©ROM
 Ink on paper, handwritten letter
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Henry Lewis letter to William Jarvis, 1798
William Jarvis Papers
Reference Code: S109 B55 PP. 56-57
Toronto Public Library (TRL)
Special Collections, Archive & Digital Collections, Baldwin Room
A watercolour painting of Schenectady New York
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Schenectady, 10th Sept. 1832
Watercolour, 108 X 168 mm
Library and Archives Canada /Dr. Nigel Davies, Gelati, Mexico (Original Source)
Acc. No. 1981-42-2 C8303471

In this video, learn more about the Jarvis Family history and its relation to enslaved labour.

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