On January 3, 1802 the Niagara Herald carried the following ad: “For sale, a negro slave eighteen years of age, stout and healthy; has had small-pox and is capable of service either in the house or out-of-doors. The terms will be made easy to the purchaser, and cash or new lands received in payment. Enquire of the publisher.”
While the United States Congress passed anti-slavery legislation in 1862, Upper Canada prohibited the importing of slaves in 1793, mainly because Governor Simcoe was an abolitionist. However, many of the United Empire Loyalists who had brought slaves with them, were allowed to keep them. Legislation provided that children of slaves would be freed when they became twenty-five years of age. The boy in the ad above would therefore have been freed seven years later.
During the war of 1812 many Americans slaves discovered that there was freedom in Canada, and an underground system was developed to transport them across the border. By 1850 it was estimated that as many as 40,000 slaves had settled in the communities along the border, chiefly between Windsor and Niagara Falls. An anti-slavery Society was formed in Toronto and helped to find jobs for them.
Reverend Josiah Henson, whose experiences inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, settled in Dresden, Ontario, where there is now a memorial to him. John Brown, immortalized in the song about his body lying “a-mouldering in the grave,” held a big convention at Chatham in 1858 and in the following year used the “underground” to smuggle twelve slaves to Windsor.
Lower Canada and the Maritimes did not pass anti-slavery legislation, but their courts refused to recognize the rights of masters over slaves — and this had the same effect.
To read more about the Underground Railroad, I highly recommend Canada Alive!‘s post.
- Myths persist about the Emancipation Proclamation (wtvr.com)
- 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation via Digital Platforms (educationminute.wordpress.com)
- The Emancipation Proclamation, 150 Years Later: Hear the Many Voices That Cried Freedom (nation.time.com)
- Does ‘Django Unchained’ get the history of slavery right? (thegrio.com)
- Today in 1808 the importation of slaves into the United States is banned. (carl-leonard.com)