Gone are the days of extolling Canada as the northern terminus of the “Underground Railroad” that served to funnel Black slaves to so-called freedom north of the 49th parallel. Now, thankfully, we are seeing books that put Canada’s treatment of such Blacks under a microscope and the findings are anything but something to be proud of. Another way many Blacks arrived in Canada were on ships that carried them to what is present-day New Brunswick. They arrived with the exodus of British Loyalists from New York, the last stronghold of British resistance in the former colony. Many came as “free” persons (as they had escaped their slave owners and came over to the British side), others came as indentured servants to a white loyalist. Whatever the case, and despite what the law said about them having the same privileges and rights as a free white man, it was not to be. Slavery was still legal here.
In his brief but powerful book, historian Stephen Davidson examines the lives of eight African-Americans using what little is known or recorded of their lives to create a picture of a world that was less than kind to them.
As can be seen, slavery was all too prevalent in New Brunswick during the early decades of Loyalist settlement. Enslaved Africans were among the first to arrive in the colony. Known as the Spring Fleet, the first twenty Loyalist evacuation vessels that set sail for the mouth of the St. John River in April of 1783 had nine slaves among their passengers. By the fall, no less than 129 enslaved Blacks were working to help their white masters establish homes in the wilderness of the St. John River valley or at Parrtown.
The second New Brunswick destination for enslaved Blacks was Fort Cumberland, the site of modern-day Aulac, near the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. While they were only ten in total, they represented two out of every three Blacks who were brought to this region. It would be very difficult for the five free Black Loyalists who disembarked from the Trepassey in October of 1783 to be treated as British citizens given that so many of their brethren were considered the property of their white neighbours.
Mr. Davidson’s book highlights the struggles the men and women faced, but there is also a love story and a murder trial which makes for a balanced read. For Atlantic-Canadian historians, Black Loyalists in New Brunswick is an invaluable book to have in their library. It is concise, well-written and educational. Recommended.
About the author: STEPHEN DAVIDSON is a historian and retired educator who has been researching the story of Black Loyalists since the mid-1970s. Along with contributing to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he is the author of Birchtown and the Black Loyalist Experience: From 1775 to the Present. Stephen lives in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
- Publisher : Formac (Oct. 13 2020)
- Paperback : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1459506162
- ISBN-13 : 978-1459506169
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.