Search for "Enslavement"
Albert Jackson, letter carrier (born c. 1857–58 in Delaware; died 14 January 1918 in Toronto , ON). Albert Jackson is thought to be the first Black letter carrier in Canada (see Postal System). Jackson was born into enslavement in the United States, and escaped to Canada with his mother and siblings when he was a toddler in 1858. In 1882, Jackson was hired as a letter carrier in Toronto, but his co-workers refused to train him on the job. While his story was debated in the press for weeks, the Black community in Toronto organized in support of Jackson, meeting with Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to have Jackson reinstated. Jackson returned to his post days later and served as a letter carrier for almost 36 years.
Walter Patterson, army officer, landowner, first British governor of St. John’s Island [Prince Edward Island] (born c. 1735 near Rathmelton, County Donegal, Ireland; died 6 September 1798 in London, England). Patterson served with the British army in North America during the Seven Years’ War. In 1770, he was sworn in as the first British governor of St. John’s Island (renamed Prince Edward Island in 1799). His time as governor was marked by land speculation and political uproar.
Joshua Mauger, colonial entrepreneur, sea captain, politician (baptized 25 April 1725 in the parish of St. John, Jersey; died 18 October 1788 at Warborne, near Lymington, England). Mauger was one of Nova Scotia’s wealthiest and most influential merchants in the 18th century. Although he only spent 11 years in the colony, he exerted significant power in its business and politics for two decades after. His complex involvement with Nova Scotia underscores the bonds of subservience and influence that hindered the colony’s early development. Mauger also enslaved Black people and built a significant portion of his business empire on the labour of enslaved people.
John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born c. 1845–50 in the United States; died 11 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength and horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled near Calgary and Brooks. He was widely admired as one of the best cowboys in the West, even at a time of widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination.
Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few have arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in the continent of Africa, the term "African Canadian" became increasingly popular in the 1990s to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth.
Black Fur Traders in Canada
The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.
James McGill, fur trader, merchant, politician, philanthropist (born 6 October 1744 in Glasgow, Scotland; died 19 December 1813 in Montreal, Lower Canada). James McGill was one of Montreal’s most prominent citizens in the 18th and early 19th centuries. He grew a successful career as a fur trader into a business empire. McGill also held various positions in public office, including three terms in Lower Canada’s legislature. His will contained the endowment for McGill University. James McGill’s achievements cannot be separated from the fact that he enslaved Black and Indigenous people and profited from this practice.
Black Enslavement in Canada
In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. The buying, selling and enslavement of Black people was practiced by European traders and colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, settlers in what would eventually become Canada were involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean.
This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).
(See also Olivier Le Jeune; Sir David Kirke; Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833; Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)
Editorial: The Arrival of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia
“Freedom and a Farm.” The promise was exciting to the thousands of African Americans, most seeking to escape enslavement, who fought in British regiments during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Following the war, they joined tens of thousands of Loyalists — American refugees who had sided with the British. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Loyalists eventually fled the United States. About half came to British North America. The main waves arrived in 1783 and 1784. The territory that now includes the Maritime provinces became home to more than 30,000 Loyalists. Most of coastal Nova Scotia received Loyalist settlers, as did Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island (then called St. John’s Island).
Loyalists in Canada
Loyalists were American colonists, of different ethnic backgrounds, who supported the British cause during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Tens of thousands of Loyalists migrated to British North America during and after the war. This boosted the population, led to the creation of Upper Canada, and heavily influenced the politics and culture of what would become Canada.