Slavery in Canada

June 21, 2006 · Print This Article · Email This Post

On this date in 1734, 272 years ago, Portuguese-born slave Marie-Joseph Angélique, having been convicted of arson for a fire that consumed much of Montreal, was hanged in New France (Québec). Her confession, extracted through torture, became the New World’s first slave narrative. Afua Cooper has written a haunting book about the Hanging of Angélique.

Simon Legree and Uncle TomWhile slavery is traditionally thought of as an American institution or an institution of the Spanish conquistadors, chattel slavery was practiced in Canada until about 1810. The earliest recorded instance was the purchase of a Madagascar boy, re-named Olivier Le Jeune, in 1628 in Québec. About 4,000 chattel slaves have been documented in Canadian history, many of whom were owned by the French aristocracy, and some of whom were brought to Canada by British Loyalists after the American Revolution ended in 1783.

In Upper Canada, the Act Against Slavery was passed in 1793, under the aegis of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. It gradually abolished slavery; those enslaved would remain so until their deaths (bummer!), but new slaves couldn’t be brought into Upper Canada and the children of slaves were emancipated at age 25. Thus, by 1810, slavery ended, reinforced with the 1833 passage of the Emancipation Act abolishing slavery in all British colonies. By 1831, the Underground Railroad, in which Southern U.S. slaves crossed the Ohio River to points north including Upper Canada, was well established.

And happy summer solstice, while we’re at it.

Read another post about black history.

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