Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada

Anderson Ruffin Abbott

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott
(1837-1913)

Poster commemorating Canada's first Black doctor and coroner. Abbott was a contract surgeon with the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Source: Daniel G. Hill fonds, with permission from the Metro Toronto Library Board, PA-207777

Commemorative exhibition

In 2001, Library and Archives Canada commemorated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada with an exhibition, at the invitation of the J'Nikira Dinqinesh Education Centre.

This site reproduces the photos, drawings, original manuscripts, books, and maps used in this exhibition. They tell some of the stories of the approximately 30,000 Black refugees who left the United States for Canada.

Slavery in Canada

In 1793, under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, a bill had been passed by the Legislature of Upper Canada making it illegal to bring a person into the colony to be enslaved. Slavery formally ended in Canada in 1834 after the British Parliament passed an act abolishing the institution throughout the Empire.

The anti-slavery movement

The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada was the last of several short-lived anti-slavery societies in Canada. These societies were part of an international abolitionist movement supported by leading moral thinkers of the day in Britain, Europe and the United States.

On February 26, 1851, George Brown co-founded with his family and associates, the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada in Toronto.  The purpose of the Society was to promote the global abolition of slavery. The President of the Society was Reverend Dr. Michael Willis, Principal of Knox College and Senator of the University of Toronto.

The anti-slavery movement included representatives from the "Underground Railroad" refugee community, American intellectuals and orators.

  • Abolitionists in Canada
    Alexander Milton Ross

    Alexander Milton Ross (photo not dated)

    Dr. Alexander Milton Ross (died 1897) was a leading Canadian anti-slavery activist who travelled to the southern United States to assist enslaved people to escape.

    Source: Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898.

    Harriet Tubman

    Harriet Tubman (photo not dated)

    Working from St. Catharines, Ontario, in the 1850s, Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) was the best known "conductor" of the "Underground Railroad." She returned to the United States shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War and served the Union cause.

    Source: Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898.

    William King

    The Reverend Dr. William King, (photo not dated)

    The Reverend Dr. William King (1812-1895), a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada and a founder of the Elgin Settlement in 1849, was recognized as one of the foremost leaders of the anti-slavery movement in Canada. Source: Daniel G. Hill fonds, PA-207774

  • Newspapers
    Banner of The Globe newspaper, March 1, 1851

    The Globe

    This newspaper, edited by George Brown and published in Toronto, provided information on the anti-slavery movements in the United States, Great Britain and in the British North American colonies. The Globe was one of the leading advocates of the Canadian anti-slavery movement.

    Source: MG24-B40, R2634-0-9-E

    Banner of The Globe newspaper, March 1, 1851

    Voice of the Fugitive

    Newspaper that circulated in Canada promoting the anti-slavery movement.

    NJ.FM.714 (Microform)

    Source: OCLC 13171519

  • Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842)
    Webster-Ashburton Treaty

    Treaty between Her Majesty and the United States of America, Washington, August 9, 1842

    This treaty, also known as the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, was an attempt by Great Britain and the United States to suppress the international slave trade from Africa to North America.

    Source: Daniel G. Hill fonds, MG 31 H 155, vol. 26, file 11

Anti-Slavery Society of Canada

  • Founding members
    Michael Willis

    The Reverend Michael Willis, D.D., circa 1860

    Reverend Dr. Michael Willis (1799-1879), Principal of Knox College and later a Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, was the first President of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. C.S. Ogden fonds, C-007576

    George Brown

    George Brown, circa 1862

    As editor of the newspaper The Globe, George Brown (1818-1880) vigorously promoted the anti-slavery movement in Ontario. He was also an active member of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and he later became one of the Fathers of Confederation. Credit: William Ellisson/Library and Archives Canada/C-008359

  • The Society's constitution

    Constitution and Bye-Laws of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, 1851

    This Society, founded in Toronto on February 26, 1851, played a leading role in the anti-slavery movement in Canada. The membership of this Society was drawn from many sectors of Canadian life and the anti-slavery movement included recent refugees from the United States.

    Source : OCLC 499343193

    Title page of Constitution and Bye-LawsConstitution and Bye-Laws, pages 2 and 3Constitution and Bye-Laws, pages 4 and 5Constitution and Bye-Laws, pages 6 and 7

Early settlements

  • Nova Scotia
    Muster Roll of Free Black Settlement of Birchtown, 1784, page 2

    Muster Roll of Colonel Stephen Blucke's Company at Birchtown, Shelburne County: A Black Settlement in Nova Scotia, 1784

    Birchtown was one of several Black communities established in Nova Scotia between 1782 and 1784 by African Americans who had supported the British during the American Revolution. However, local hostility and difficult conditions eventually resulted in nearly half of the inhabitants of Birchtown leaving in 1792 for Sierra Leone in West Africa.

    Shelburne historical records collection MG 9 B 9-14, vol. 1, file 3, p. 108-109

    A Negro Male, Nova Scotia, circa 1845

    "A Negro Male", Nova Scotia, circa 1845

    A full-length portrait of a Nova Scotian of African descent holding a hat in one hand and a branch in the other is attributed to Lady Falkland about 1845, when her husband was Governor of Nova Scotia. Approximately 3,000 Blacks immigrated to Nova Scotia during and after the American Revolution and 2,000 after the War of 1812.

    Viscountess Falkland Album R14203-0-1-E

  • New Brunswick
    A Map of the Great River St. John and Waters

    A Map of the Great River St. John and Waters [...], London, 1788

    The "Negro settlement" mentioned on this map of settlement along the Saint John River is a reminder that approximately 3,000 of the Loyalists coming to the Atlantic colonies during and after the American Revolution were of African ancestry.

    Source: NMC-000254

  • Upper Canada (Ontario)
    John Graves Simcoe

    John Graves Simcoe, circa 1893

    Birchtown was one of several Black communities established in Nova Scotia between 1782 and 1784 by African Americans who had supported the British during the American Revolution. However, local hostility and difficult conditions eventually resulted in nearly half of the inhabitants of Birchtown leaving in 1792 for Sierra Leone in West Africa.

    Under the administration of John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806), Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (Ontario), legislation was introduced in 1793 which limited and eventually abolished slavery in Upper Canada. Source: Acc. No. 1991-30-3

    Location Ticket

    Location Ticket, York, Upper Canada (Toronto, Ontario), March 13, 1824

    Grant of land to Robert Jupiter, a veteran of a Black militia unit in Upper Canada, March 13, 1824. Members of the Black community took an active part in the defence of Canada during the War of 1812.

    Source: British Military and Naval records. "C" Series. RG 8 series I, vol. 1702, reel C-3839, p. 242

    Man and Child

    "Negro Man and Child on the Way Side", Southwestern Ontario, 1860

    This image of a Black man and child sitting on a hillside was made when southern Ontario was the home for several thousand refugees from the United States.

    Source: Sir Henry Wentworth Acland Collection, Sketches in North America; Volume IV: Montreal to London CW

  • Lower Canada (Quebec)
    Petition of James Frazer

    The Memorial and Petition of James Frazer, Montreal, March 13, 1798

    James Frazer, a Loyalist, protested that "the Honorable Court at Montreal, are about Setting all Negroes Free from their Owners." A protest against the freeing of enslaved people, which is an example that some Canadians supported the institution of slavery.

    Source: Civil and Provincial Secretary, Lower Canada. Series 1760-1840, RG 4 A 1, vol. 66, reel C-3011, p. 21153-21154

    Canadian Minuets, circa 1807

    Canadian Minuets, circa 1807

    Black musicians were among those present at a dance in Lower Canada about 1807.

    Source: W.H. Coverdale Collection, Acc. No. 1970-188-1474 C-041232

Black communities in Canada

  • Letter from "free people of colour" in Baltimore, 1830
    Letter from Baltimore, 1830

    Letter from Baltimore, 1830

    Letter of introduction for John Deaver, a delegate from the "free people of colour" in Baltimore, to inquire about conditions in Upper Canada, with the intention of settling in Canada. RG 5 A1, vol. 100, p. 56286

    Source: 105208

  • Petition against black communities, 1849
    Petition, Sandwich, Ontario, February 19, 1849

    Petition, Sandwich, Ontario, February 19, 1849

    Petition opposing the plan by the Presbyterian Synod to settle "coloured people" in several townships in southern Ontario.

    Source: William King fonds, MG24 J14, item 698-699 101149

    Petition, Sandwich, Ontario, February 19, 1849

    Petition, Sandwich, Ontario, February 19, 1849

    Petition, page 2

  • Elgin Settlement
    Pamphlet printed July 1860, page 1

    Pamphlet on the Elgin Settlement, printed July 1860, page 1

    Source: William King fonds, 101149

    Pamphlet printed July 1860, page 2

    Pamphlet on the Elgin Settlement, printed July 1860, page 2

    Plan of the Elgin Settlement, circa 1860

    Plan of the Elgin Settlement, circa 1860

    Elgin (at Buxton, Ontario) was founded by the Reverend Dr. William King in 1849 as a planned community. The settlement demonstrated to pro-slavery supporters that people of African descent could prosper outside the bonds of slavery.

    Source: William King fonds, MG 24 J 14, item 644 101149

    Share Certificate, 1860

    Share Certificate, London, February 13, 1860

    Funds were also raised in England to support services such as schools and churches at the Elgin Settlement in Canada West (Ontario).

    Source: William King fonds MG 24 J 14, item 846 617127

    Fugitive Slaves in Canada, Buxton Mission

    Fugitive Slaves in Canada, Buxton Mission, 1860

    These posters give evidence of the leading role played by refugees and clergy, including the Reverend Dr. William King, in working on behalf of the Canadian anti-slavery movement with abolitionists in England, Ireland and Scotland.

    Fugitive Slaves in Canada, Elgin Settlement

    Fugitive Slaves in Canada, Elgin Settlement, 1859

    Poster for public meeting held in Scotland. Poster dated November 29, 1859.

    Source: William King fonds MG 24 J 14, p. 860 and p. 863 617127

Refugees and slaves

  • Escaping from slavery
    Map of the Underground Railroad

    Map of the "Underground Railroad," circa 1850s

    The "Underground Railroad" is a metaphor for the secret, multi-racial network of abolitionists on both sides of the border who assisted those escaping from slavery in the United States.

    Source: Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898.

    Stamp of Josiah Henson

    Stamp of Josiah Henson, 1983,

    Josiah Henson (1789-1883) was depicted on this stamp, issued by Canada Post in 1983, to commemorate his life as a community leader and "conductor" on the "Underground Railroad." Henson's early life is generally recognized as the basis for the popular anti-slavery book by Harriet Beecher Stowe entitled Uncle Tom's Cabin.

    Copyright: Canada Post Corporation 2218850

    Newspaper article

    Notice Regarding an Escaped Enslaved Person, 1781

    Source: Quebec Gazette, August 24, 1781. 126111

  • Books and petition concerning refugees
    Title page of The Refugee, 1856

    Title page of The Refugee, 1856

    This book, published in the United States, described the life of refugees in Canada.

    Source: Benjamin Drew, The Refugee, or, The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada, 1856

    Title page of La Case du Pere Tom (Uncle Tom's Cabin)

    Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1853

    This popular book by Harriet Beecher Stowe had a profound influence on the development of the anti-slavery movement in Canada. Dr. Alexander Milton Ross later wrote that "It excited the sympathies of every humane person who read it in behalf of the oppressed. To me it was a command; and a settled conviction took possession of my mind that it was my duty to help the oppressed to freedom."

    Source: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Toronto, 1853

    Newspaper article Memorial to Queen Victoria

    Petition to Queen Victoria, Ancaster, Upper Canada (not dated)

    In the years prior to the American Civil War, there were several court cases initiated by American citizens who attempted to reclaim as their property refugees who had fled to Canada. This petition to Queen Victoria, entitled "Coloured Inhabitants of Upper Canada," protested against the return of refugees to the United States.

    Source: 125540, RG 5 B 3, vol. 12, item 1553

  • (Slave Market), Charleston, South Carolina, March 4, 1833
    (Slave Market), Charleston, South Carolina,  March 4, 1833

    "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." (Slave Market), Charleston, South Carolina, March 4, 1833

    Painting of a sale of enslaved people by Henry Byam Martin, a British officer on a trip through Canada and the United States.

    Source: 2833438

  • Deed of sale for Quebec slave, 1778
    Deed of Sale of the Mulatto Slave Isabella

    (translation) Deed of Sale of the mulatto slave Isabella or Bell by Georges Hipps to the Honourable Hector-Théophilus Cramahé

    This archival document is presented in the language in which it was received.

    Source: Quebec, Notarial Records, Joseph-Antoine Panet, November 14, 1778. MG 8 A 23, vol. 111, 4 p. (transcription) 3081152

  • Art and music
    Song in 8 verses describing a slave fleeing to Canada

    "Song of the Free"

    Song in 8 verses describing a slave fleeing to Canada.

    Source: OCLC 1007253777

    watercolour and pencil on wove paper

    Artwork by Caroline Bucknall Estcourt

    Inscription: The good "woman of colour" who lived near us in Lundy's Lane and took in a sick black man to nurse when he had been turned out because he could not pay his lodging.

    Source: Acc. No. 1950-29-64 / c093963k 2837066

American Civil War (1861-1865)

  • Recruiters and soldiers
    Mary Ann Camberton (Cary) Shadd

    Mary Ann Camberton (Cary) Shadd (not dated)

    Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893) was an educator, abolitionist, author, publisher and journalist. She became a leader and spokesperson for refugees who had left the United States for Upper Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. In 1852, she published "A Plea for Emigration" to encourage American Blacks to emigrate to Canada. She was the first woman in Canada known to have published a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. During the American Civil War, she was an enlistment recruiter for the United States Army.

    Source: 3191895

    Abraham W. Shadd

    Abraham W. Shadd, circa 1865

    Abraham W. Shadd, a leader of the refugee community around Chatham, Ontario, had served in the 24th Kent Militia and later joined the United States Army at Detroit in August 1863. He served in the 55th Massachusetts Regiment and later served as a captain in the 104th Regiment of Colored Troops.

    Source: Daniel G. Hill fonds, 102767

    Osborne Perry Anderson

    Osborne Perry Anderson (not dated)

    Born in West Fallowfield, Pennsylvania, Osborne Perry Anderson (1839-1872) was a printer at the newspaper The Provincial Freeman and was living in Chatham, Ontario when John Brown, the American abolitionist, arrived in 1858. He took part in Brown's unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859 and escaped back to Canada. During the American Civil War, he served as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army. He died in Washington, D.C.

    Source: Daniel G. Hill fonds, PA-207775

  • Poster, commission paper, speech
    Recruitment Poster

    Recruitment Poster, 1861

    The Honourable Arthur Rankin (1816-1893) was a militia colonel and member of the Assembly when in July 1861 he volunteered to raise a lancer regiment among Canadians to serve in the United States Army during the American Civil War. In September, a warrant was issued to raise a regiment and Rankin was commissioned by the United States Army. However, Rankin was arrested in October in Toronto for violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act. He was compelled to resign his American commission and the Lancer Regiment was disbanded in 1862.

    Source: MG 26 A, vol. 297, reel C-1693, p. 136065, 513926

    A Military Commission in the Union Army, 1862

    A Military Commission in the Union Army, 1862

    Commission appointing Samuel St. Onge Chapleau (1839-1921) as second lieutenant in the United States Army in 1862. Chapleau was born in Syracuse, New York, and educated in Terrebonne near Montreal. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the United States Army and ended the war with the rank of major. In 1871, he returned to Canada and in 1873 entered the civil service in Ottawa. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery.

    Source: MG 30 E 309, vol. 1. 160153

    Speech by George Brown, February 3, 1863

    Speech by George Brown, February 3, 1863

    George Brown spoke on the American Civil War and Slavery. This was one of the concluding events of the Anti-Slavery Society. The American War and Slavery. Speech of the Hon. George Brown at the anniversary meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, held in Toronto on Wednesday, February 3, 1863.

    Source: 104699

Related links

Black History in Canada

Loyalists

Under a Northern Star (seven collections that document the experiences of African Canadians)

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