Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

“I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old”

At the end of Black History month it seems appropriate to draw attention to the plight of fugitive slaves who had escaped to Canada or were taken there as slaves. In 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada was published. Compiled by Benjamin Drew, whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it included material Drew had gathered from former slaves. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. Here is the account of one Sophia Pooley who was a slave in Canada but eventually gained her freedom.

I was born in Fishkill, New York State, twelve miles from North River. My father’s name was Oliver Burthen, my mother’s Dinah.  I am now more than ninety years old. I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old, and brought to Canada; that was long before the American Revolution. There were hardly any white people in Canada then—nothing here but Indians and wild beasts. . . . I was a woman grown when the first governor of Canada came from England: that was Governor Simcoe.

My parents were slaves in New York State. My master’s sons-in-law, Daniel Outwaters and Simon Knox, came into the garden where my sister and I were playing among the currant bushes, tied their handkerchiefs over our mouths, carried us to a vessel, put us in the hold, and sailed up the river. I know not how far nor how long—it was dark there all the time. Then we came by land. I remember when we came to Genesee—there were Indian settlements there—Onondagas, Senecas, and Oneidas. . . . The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king [Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant, a leader within the Iroquois Confederacy and an ally of the British during the Revolutionary War]. I lived with old Brant about twelve or thirteen years as nigh as I can tell. . . . While I lived with old Brant we caught the deer. . . . We would let the hounds loose, and when we heard them bark we would run for the canoe—Peggy, and Mary, and Katy, Brant’s daughters and I. Brant’s sons, Joseph and Jacob, would wait on the shore to kill the deer when we fetched him in. I had a tomahawk, and would hit the deer on the head—then the squaws would take it by the horns and paddle ashore. The boys would bleed and skin the deer and take the meat to the house. . . .

Brant’s third wife, my mistress, was a barbarous creature. She could talk English, but she would not. She would tell me in Indian to do things, and then hit me with anything that came to hand, because I did not understand her. I have a scar on my head from a wound she gave me with a hatchet; and this long scar over my eye, is where she cut me with a knife. . . . .

At twelve years old, I was sold by Brant to an Englishman in Ancaster, for one hundred dollars—his name was Samuel Hatt, and I lived with him seven years: then the white people said I was free, and put me up to running away. He did not stop me—he said he could not take the law into his own hands. Then I lived in what is now Waterloo. I married Robert Pooley, a black man. He ran away with a white woman: he is dead. . . .

I am now unable to work, and am entirely dependent on others for subsistance: but I find plenty of people in the bush to help me a good deal.

Other narratives from Drew’s book can be read HERE. The image of Brant is by Ezra Ames.

posted February 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Pooley, Sophia,Slaves/slavery

“I grew up like a neglected weed . . .”

It seems fitting on Martin Luther King day to draw attention to a book published in 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada compiled by Benjamin Drew whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. This by Drew from the introduction to the book:

When in any State, the oppression of the laboring portion of the community amounts to an entire deprivation of their civil and personal rights; when it assumes to control their wills, to assign them tasks, to reap the rewards of their labor, and to punish with bodily tortures the least infraction of its mandates, it is obvious that the class so overwhelmed with injustice. are necessarily, unless prevented by ignorance from knowing their rights and their wrongs, the enemies of the government. To them, insurrection and rebellion are primary, original duties. If successfully thwarted in the performance of these, emigration suggests itself as the next means of escaping the evils under which they groan. From the exercise of this right, they can only be restrained by fear and force. These, however, will sometimes be found inadequate to hold in check the natural desire of liberty. Many, in spite of all opposition, in the face of torture and death, will seek an asylum in foreign lands, and reveal to the ears of pitying indignation, the secrets of the prisonhouse.

Benjamin Drew sought out many black Americans who had fled to Upper Canada to escape slavery in order to interview them and record their experiences under slavery and what they were experiencing under conditions of liberty. His intent was to place “their testimony on record.” One of the people he interviewed was HARRIET TUBMAN. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. She is well known for leading hundreds of other slaves to freedom utilizing the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War she served as nurse, cook, and spy for the Union forces. Here is her brief narrative.

I grew up like a neglected weed,—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented: every time I saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain-gang,—one of them left two children. We were always uneasy. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. I have no opportunity to see my friends in my native land. We would rather stay in our native land, if we could be as free there as we are here. I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could.

You can read other narratives from Drew’s book HERE. The Tubman sculpture is by Jane DeDecker.

posted January 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Slaves/slavery,Tubman, Harriet

” I was in raptures all the way”

Niagara Falls was known to Indians, explorers, missionaries, and fur traders in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century it became a waystop for settlers and government officials as Upper Canada was developed, as well as a familiar landmark to loyalist refugees who migrated to the area from the warring colonies. Several visitors, including women, recorded their observations and impressions of the “Cataract” in diaries or journals. Reading what these various observers wrote gives a sense of the wonder and awe with which this extraordinary phenomenon of nature was viewed and goes far in explaining why the Falls became a popular tourist destination in the nineteenth century.
Ann Powell (1769-1792) was a Bostonian by birth. Of distinguished lineage, her well-to-do family left Boston at the start of the American Revolution. When her older brother, William Dummer Powell, was appointed superior court judge in Detroit—one of the forts still in British possession in 1789—Ann made the journey from Montreal to Detroit with him and his family. She kept a journal recounting her experience, to which she added and amended from memory.

We left Montreal on the 11th of May, 1789. . . . [and] went to our boats; one was fitted up with an awning to protect us from the weather, and held the family and bedding. It was well filled, eighteen persons in all, so you may suppose we had not much room; as it happened that was of no consequence, it was cold on the water, and we were glad to sit close.
This mode of traveling is very tedious; we are obliged to keep along shore and go on very slowly. . . . This part of the country has been settled since the Peace, and it was granted to the troops raised in America during the war. We went from a Colonel to a Captain, and from a Captain to a Major. They have most of them built good houses, and with the assistance of their half pay, live very comfortably.
[At the landing, eight miles from Fort Erie] the Niagara river becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. . . .
After dinner we went on . . . to Fort Schlosher. . . . All our party collected half a mile above the Falls, and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids!
For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of Islands. . . . One in the centre of the river, runs out into a point, and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river, into the form of a crescent.
I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds. . . .
I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.
For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.
With reluctance I at length attended to the proposal of going, determining in my own mind, that when I returned, I would be mistress of my own time, and stay a day or two at least. . . .

Sadly, Ann Powell had a short life. She married Isaac Winslow Clark, a fellow loyalist who had also fled Boston—his family firm had owned the tea that was thrown into Boston Harbor in 1773—and moved to Montreal where she died in childbirth in 1792.

Ann Powell, Journal of Miss Powell of a Tour from Montreal to Detroit, ed. Eliza Susan Quincy (New York, NY: A.S Barnes & Company, 1880), pages 39, 42, 43. See also In the Words of Women, pages 255-56.

posted November 16th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Loyalists,Niagara Falls,Powell, Ann,Travel

“such a great quantity of snow fell”

Outside the window next to my computer I see that snow is falling, along with the temperatures, yet again. Fie on the polar vortex. Yet it puts me in mind of Valley Forge and the suffering of the Americans there in the cold winter of 1777-78. And of other examples of severe winter weather described by women, some in our book and others I have since come upon. It seems appropriate to present a few.

In 1777, Frederika von Riedesel, with their three children, had joined her husband in Canada where he commanded the German mercenaries hired by the British. General von Riedesel pushed south into New York with British General John Burgoyne and his troops in an attempt to cut off New England from the other colonies. Frederika, who was with him, witnessed the decisive defeat of their combined forces by the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The British and Hessian troops were marched to Boston, where the Von Riedesels were put up in a house in Cambridge. In the following year as winter approached, Congress decided to move the prisoners to Virginia where their maintenance would be less costly. The Baroness and her children traveled by carriage while her husband made the journey with his troops. Frederika described what the family had to contend with.

Before we passed the so-called Blue mountains, we were forced to make a still further halt of eight days, that our troops might have time to collect together again. In the mean time such a great quantity of snow fell, that four of our servants were obliged to go before my wagon on horseback, in order to make a path for it. We passed through a picturesque portion of the country, which, however, by reason of its wilderness, inspired us with terror. Often we were in danger of our lives while going along these break-neck roads; and more than all this we suffered from cold, and what was still worse, from a lack of provisions. When we arrived in Virginia, and were only a day’s journey from the place of our destination, we had actually nothing more remaining but our tea, and none of us could obtain any thing but bread and butter. A countryman, whom we met on the way, gave me only a hand full of acrid fruits. At noon we came to a dwelling where I begged for something to eat. They refused me with hard words, saying that there was nothing for dogs of Royalists. Seeing some Turkish [Indian] meal lying around, I begged for a couple of hands full, that I might mix it with water, and make bread. The woman answered me “No, that is for our negroes, who work for us, but you have wished to kill us.”

. . . The place of our destination was Colle in Virginia, where my husband, who had gone ahead with our troops, awaited us with impatient longing. We arrived here about the middle of February, 1779, having, on our journey, passed through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and having traveled in twelve weeks, six hundred and seventy-eight English miles. . . .

The passages from the Baroness’s journal appear on pages 268-69 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 30th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Canada,Hessians,New York,Prisoners,Saratoga,Travel,Weather

“a tongue for the dumb”

In 1856, Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist, published a book called The Refugee: Narratives of Fugitive Slaves In Canada. He had made a trip through Canada in the early 1850s, sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to interview slaves from the United States who had fled to Canada as fugitives or were kidnapped and sold there. It has been estimated that there were about 30,000 such persons in Canada in 1852. As stated in the Preface: “While his informants talked, the author wrote: nor are there in the whole volume a dozen verbal alterations which were not made at the moment of writing, while in haste to make the pen become a tongue for the dumb.” However, the usual cautions about oral history apply. Presented here is the account by Sophia Pooley, who had been a slave of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk military and civilian leader who supported the British during the American Revolution.

I was born in Fishkill, New York State, twelve miles from North River. My father’s name was Oliver Burthen, my mother’s Dinah. I am now more than ninety years old. I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old, and brought to Canada; that was long before the American Revolution. There were hardly any white people in Canada then—nothing here but Indians and wild beasts. . . .

My parents were slaves in New York State. My master’s sons-in-law, Daniel Outwaters and Simon Knox, came into the garden where my sister and I were playing among the currant bushes, tied their handkerchiefs over our mouths, carried us to a vessel, put us in the hold, and sailed up the river. I know not how far nor how long—it was dark there all the time. Then we came by land. I remember when we came to Genesee—there were Indian settlements there—Onondagas, Senecas, and Oneidas. I guess I was the first coloured girl brought into Canada. The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king. I lived with old Brant about twelve or thirteen years as nigh as I can tell. . . .

Canada was then filling up with white people. And after Brant went to England, and kissed the queen’s hand, he was made a colonel. Then there began to be laws in Canada. Brant was only half Indian: his mother was a squaw—I saw her when I came to this country. She was an old body; her hair was quite white. Brant was a good-looking man—quite portly. . . . He lived in an Indian village—white men came among them and they intermarried. . . . When Brant went among the English, he wore the English dress—when he was among the Indians, he wore the Indian dress—broadcloth leggings, blanket, moccasins, fur cap. He had his ears slit with a long loop at the edge, and in these he hung long silver ornaments. reason of his going about so much. I used to talk Indian better than I could English. I have forgotten some of it—there are none to talk it with now.

Brant’s third wife, my mistress, was a barbarous creature. She could talk English, but she would not. She would tell me in Indian to do things, and then hit me with anything that came to hand, because I did not understand her. I have a scar on my head from a wound she gave me with a hatchet; and this long scar over my eye, is where she cut me with a knife. . . . Brant was very angry, when he came home, at what she had done, and punished her as if she had been a child. Said he, “you know I adopted her as one of the family, and now you are trying to put all the work on her.”

(more…)

posted August 19th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Indians,Slaves/slavery

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