Slavery: (1) Drudgery, toil (2) Submission to a dominating influence (3) the state of a person who is a chattel of another (4) the practice of slaveholding. One must realize that "the African Slave Trade" was not only a segment of U.S. History, but it also played a part in Canadian History. However, unlike our U.S. counterparts, who have recorded the history of slavery through documentaries, books and the T.V. Mini Series "Roots", little has been written with regards to slavery in Canada.
Canadians did not refer to the term "slave", as it was potentially controversial with the United States, and therefore referred to the term "servant." A popular impression that the first slaves in Canada were introduced into the Maritimes Provinces by the Loyalists, in 1783, is false. Historical records indicated that slavery was established in Quebec, by the French, through a royal mandate issued by Louis XIV in 1689.
This mandate not only gave permission to "Canadians to avail themselves of the services of African slaves", but declared as well that all negroes who had been so bought or held should belong to the person so owning them, in full proprietorship. This system was given further legal recognition through a number of royal declarations regarding slavery and slaves in 1721, 1742 and 1745, making it possible for slaves to be listed often with "effects and merchandise in parish records, legal notices and the official documents of the times. From the royal mandate in 1689, it took approximately sixty years for the practice of slavery to reach Nova Scotia. The first reported Black man in Canada was Mathieu Da Costa who served under Governor de Monts in 1608, as a translator between the MicMac & French. As time passed it was not unusual to see ads appear in the newspaper for slaves, as this is proven by an ad place in "The Nova Scotia Gazette and Weekly Chronicle", March 28, 1775, carried the following for sale item: "a likely, well-made negro boy, about sixteen years old." The same paper, in January 1779, advertised the sale of "an able Negro wench, about twenty-one years of age, capable of performing both town and country work."
By the time the Loyalists arrived in 1783, slavery was a flourishing element and there was no consideration at this time of abolishment. Thirty-Five Hundred (3500) Black people who arrived with the Loyalists were free, as they fled the Southern States during the American Revolutionary War. The British promised them protection, land and a better life.
Between 1783-4, some 1232 Black slaves were brought by British masters into Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Of this number, 26 went to Prince Edward Island and 441 went to New Brunswick. The number of slaves in Upper Canada during the Loyalist immigration was estimated to be about 500 while Lower Canada accounted for 304. Of a total of some 2000 slaves who entered Canada in 1783-4, more than half that number were distributed in the Atlantic Provinces, with Nova Scotia receiving the largest consignment, Annapolis Royal leading with 230 and Digby second with 152. T. Watson Smith provided a break-down of the
distribution of 1232 slaves in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. He accounts for 1194 of this number and makes no entry against Shelburne (Birchtown). If the difference is allotted to Shelburne the number will stand at 38, making "a total of twelve hundred and thirty-two persons, to nearly all of whom must have belonged the appellation of "slave." Under the command of Colonel Bluck, an African Corps was established known as the Black Pioneers. This corps consisted of runaway slaves. In the majority of Loyalist Corps, there were men of African descent serving as buglers, musicians and servants. These people settled in the Shelburne and Birchtown areas in January 1784 with the white settlers. However, much to there demise they soon realized that they had not escaped the harsh, painful life, in which they had endured. They had escaped from one master to be released to another master. By 1785 Shelburne was largely known as a place with slave labour with approximately 1,269 "servants."
As Africans, who came from a rich prosperous continent, before bondage, the white loyalists took advantage of their skills (blacksmiths, millwrights, caulkers and coopers) by associating them with pioneering frontier settlements, such as working the fields, building houses, clearing land etc.
The treatment of slaves in Canada was just as severe as their treatment in the United States. They were punished when they disobeyed their master and in some cases they were whipped, tortured or murdered. Eventually laws were passed which made killing slaves as serious a crime as killing a freedman. Slavery in Canada did not flourish economically as to slavery in America. However, the two countries did have similarities as to those who supported slavery, and as to those who opposed it.
In sum, slavery began to decline in the opening decades of the nineteenth century because of the combination of factors which made slavery uneconomic in Canada, to which must be added the opposition of the law courts throughout British North America from the third quarter of the eighteenth century. When slaves were legally emancipated as of August 1, 1834, there were very few slaves in British North America who had not already obtained their legal freedom. On that date 781,000 slaves were set free in the British Empire. A hundred million dollars were appropriated by the British Government to compensate the slave owners. Not a single dollar was paid in Canada since no claims for compensation were submitted. The institution was no longer of consequence. Although our ancestors endured being captured like animals; to be denounced from African Royalty to another's man possession of property; to face the agony of being separated from their families; of being denied to speak their native tongue, one must acknowledge slavery as part of our history and culture which we should not ignore or feel a sense of humiliation. It is through this unbearable treatment, which made us a strong people. We must
look at the positive perspective, as it is the roots of our spirituals which are sung today; it empowered determination to rise above racism. The magnificent contribution that we, Africans, made to Society is a legacy we must convey to future generations of all walks of life.
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1. Webster's Ninth New Collogiate Dictionary, Thomas Allen & Son Limited, pg. 1107
2. From Slavery to the Ghetto the Story of the Negro in the Maritimes, Wedderburn, H.A.J., pg. 1
3. Beneath the Clouds of the Promised Land-The Survival of Nova Scotia's Blacks Vol. 1 1600 -1800, Pachai Bridglal pgs. 33