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This exhibit has been refreshed in collaboration with the Ontario Black History Society and takes advantage of the passing of time to address outdated language, problematic approaches to Black histories, and the need for additional research to widen the scope of collections included in the exhibit.

The Archives invites you to view these exhibit side by side to better understand how we are working with communities to bring past narratives into the present.  You can view the refreshed Exhibit here.

Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada

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.

Futile Resistance

Photo: Unidentified woman (detail), [ca. 1875]
Click to see a larger image (206K)
Unidentified woman, [ca. 1875]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-4-7
Archives of Ontario, I0024790

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]
Thumb screws, [ca. 1840-1850]
Uncle Tom's Historic site © Ontario Heritage Trust

A Catalyst Action

Oil on canvas: Colonel John Graves Simcoe
Click to see a larger image (104K)
Colonel John Graves Simcoe
[Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada 1791-96]
George Theodore Berthon
oil on canvas, 43 x 33", 109.2 x 83.8 cm
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 694156

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.

Chloe Cooley and the 1793 Act to Limit Slaver in Upper Canada - Ontario Heritage Trust Plaque
Click to see a larger image (361K)

This plaque, located on Niagara Parkway in Niagara-on-the-Lake,
marks the spot where Chloe Cooley was forced across the river to be sold.
© Ontario Heritage Trust

A Significant Incident

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.

Whip, [ca. 1850]
Whip, [ca. 1850]
Uncle Tom's Historic site
© Ontario Heritage Trust

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