The Negro in New Brunswick1
by the Rev. W. O. Raymond, M.A., LL.D.2
Previous to the arrival of the Loyalists in 1783, the number of individuals of African origin, who resided within the confines of what is now the Province of New Brunswick, was so small as to require but a few words at our hands. It is of historic interest, however, to ascertain as nearly as possible the date when the first representative of the race set foot upon our soil.
The census taken by M. de Muelles, in 1686, when French authority prevailed in Acadia, shows that there was then living at Cape Sable (near Yarmouth) one La Liberté, designated in the census as "le nègre." He was probably an escaped slave from one of the New England colonies.
It is said that several slaves were brought to Nova Scotia, about the year 1760, by Captain Sennacherib Martyn and other officers of disbanded colonial corps, who were, about that time, assigned lands near the River Aulac; and it is possible that one or two persons of African origin may have then lived near the Isthmus of Chignecto, within the borders of what is now the County of Westmoreland. It is not, however, until the year 1767 that we have positive proof that a man of Negro blood was actually resident within the bounds of our Province. On the 20th of June in this year James Simonds wrote from St. John to Messrs. Hazen and Jarvis, his partners in New England informing them that he had promised 30 to 40 hogsheads of lime, manufactured at St. John, to a merchant in Halifax; he adds: "Expect nothing but to disappoint him as that rascal Negro West cannot be flattered or drove to do one-fourth of a man's work; shall give him a strong dose on Monday morning which will make him better or worse, no dependence can be put on him." Evidently West was not a particularly creditable specimen of his race, but he claims the honor of being the first of African blood to take up his abode at St. John.
The census of the townships of Nova Scotia, taken in 1767, returns two Negroes as living at Hopewell, on the Petitcodiac River. Free Negroes were rare in America at this time; it may therefore be assumed that the individuals mentioned were slaves from New England.
As contrasted with the conditions existing in the Southern States, slavery in British North America was generally of a mild type. The master had no control over the life of his slave. If he killed him he was liable to the same punishment as if he had killed a free man. The master was liable to have an action brought against him for beating, or wounding, or for immoderate chastisement of his slave. The slave had the same right of life and property as an apprentice; and the practical difference between a slave and an apprentice in early days, was that the apprentice was a servant for a limited time while a slave was a servant for life.
In many instances no doubt the position of slaves was very arduous and humilitaing, but in other cases it is stated that they stood high in the confidence and regard of their owners: "They were not excluded from the domestic affections; in families of middling rank they frequently had their places at the board; and when the circle closed around the evening hearth its blaze glowed on their dark shining faces, intermixed familiarly with their master's children." In not a few instances the slaves adopted the surnames of their masters, and, thus, originated the names of Ludlow, Winslow, and other family names of the colored race in this Province.
At the close of the American Revolution a large number of Negroes came to New Brunswick with the Loyalists; many of them were freedmen who had escaped from rebel masters in the South. The British generals, notably Sir Henry Clinton, had offered protection to all slaves fleeing within their lines. Some of the black refugees enlisted in the army as pioneers, drummers, and buglers; and one corps, "The Black Pioneers," formed in 1776, consisted solely of Negroes. They served with credit throughout the war; and at its termination the survivors were disbanded in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The muster rolls of this corps contain an odd list of names, with surnames often wanting. The following will serve as specimens: Prince, Tony, Tobey, Brass, Quash, Cudjoe, Bednigo, Glasgow, Dublin, London, Friday, August, Liberty, Old Tom, Big John, etc. Classic names also abounded, such as Cato, Nero, and Scipio; the most common name, however, was that of Pompey; no fewer than four of the name were enrolled in one company; they were distinguished as Pompey 1st, Ponpey 2nd, Pompey 3rd and Pompey 4th.
At the close of the Revolutionary War, there were within the British lines at New York about 2,000 escaped slaves. Consternation was produced among them by a rumor that they were about to be delivered up to their old masters, whose agents had appeared at New York. To allay their fears, Sir Guy Carleton issued a proclamation guaranteeing liberty to all who when taking refuge within the British lines had formally claimed the protection offered by British commanders.
Washington demanded the restoration of the slaves to their former owners, but Sir Guy declined to violate faith with the Negroes. He contended that to do so would in some instances be to deliver them up to execution or severe punishment at which humanity revolted. He added that if sending them away should thereafter be deemed an infraction of the treaty of peace compensation must be made by the British government; and in view of the possibility of such a contingency he directed a register to be kept of all Negroes sent away with the Loyalists. In this register was entered the name, age, occupation, and also the name and residence of the former owner of each slave. Sir Guy justly observed that had the Negroes been denied permission to embark they would nevertheless have found various methods of quitting the place, and the former owners, unable to trace them, would lose all chance of compensation.
This arrangement having been made, to the great satisfaction of the fugitives from Georgia and the Carolinas, they were funrished with a certificate which dispelled their fears, and in a short time transports were provided to carry them to different parts of Nova Scotia then including the Province of New Brunswick.
A prominent Whig, living at Hackinsack, New Jersey, in a letter to a friend, dated August 30, 1783, recounts his experience during a a recent visit to New York. He adds: "Few or no Negro slaves are given up. My chief errand to town was to look up one of mine, and I saw the rogue, but found he had formed such connections with a certain great personage that I could no longer look upon him as my own. He told me he was going to Novy Koshee."
Nearly all the Black Pioneers went to Shelburne or Annapolis to be disbanded. Lieut. Gov. Carleton wrote to Secretary of State Dundas, Dec. 13, 1791, stating that one Thomas Peters, a Negro, who had served as sergeant in the Black Pioneers, had come from Nova Scotia, some years before, to inquire what encouragement he and the Black Pioneers might expect if they came over from Annapolis to settle in New Brunswick. He was told they would receive allotments of vacant lands in the same proportion and on the same conditions as the Loyalists and disbanded soldiers. Governor Carleton adds: "Among the free Negroes settled in this province, I have found only three who appear to have been ever employed in any military service. These have had their allotments with their respective corps. The rest are such as by Peters are denominated Black Refugees, who having come within the British lines to escape the service of their American masters cannot be considered as entitled to claim anything from Government further than personal protection and freedom from servitude, which they enjoy in consequence of arrangements made by the Commander in Chief previous to the evacuation of New York for granting them an asylum in this country."
The Lieut. Governor states that lots were granted the Black Refugees at St. John where many of them remained until the provisions granted by the Government were exhausted.
Early in 1785, it was proposed that those inclined to become farmers should form themselves into companies for whom lots of land, of fifty acres to each individual, would be provided, and if success attended them, additional lands would be provided in proportion to their exertions. These offers were intended to encourage them to acquire habits of industry and forethought, without which freedom could be to them no real benefit. They accordingly formed themselves into three companies; forty-seven lots were surveyed for them on the Nerepis River, adjoining the southern boundary of General Coffin's manor; fifty-two lots were located at Milkish; and twenty-four lots near the lands of the Orange Rangers at Oroquaco.3 Very few of the Negroes, however, were disposed to become farmers; the majority preferred to enter into service in private families, in which wages were very good, owing to the scarcity of laborers.
About this period bounties were offered to those willing to enlist in His Majesty's service.4 Few were inclined to accept the inducement, but a larger numer were disposed to join the African colony at Sierra Leone. The origin of this little African colony claims a brief notice at our hands.
Thomas Clarkson, the son of an English clergyman, was a leading advocate of the abolition of slavery. While a student at St. John's College, Cambridge, he gained the prize offered for the best Latin essay on the question, "Whether it is right to make slaves of others against their wills?" In preparing his essay Clarkson collected, at great pains, materials from every quarter. The case he eventually made out apalled even himself. He determined to devote his life to aid in bringing about the abolition of slavery. The year after the prize essay was written, a society was formed in England to promote this object, and Clarkson became one of its most active members. During the progress of the American Revolution, and at its close, a large number of Negro slaves, that had escaped from their masters, found their way to England. Many of thse people were sent by the society to Sierra Leone, a place thought to be well adapted to their constitutions, but afterwards found to be so pestilential as to be termed "the grave of the white man." In order to strengthen the colony, John Clarkson, a brother of Thomas, just mentioned, came out to Nova Scotia, with the approval of the British Government, to encourage the Negroes there to remove to Sierra Leone. He succeeded in inducing nearly 1,200 to accompany him; among the number were 222 from St. John, Fredericton, and other places in this Province, who were thus classified men 72, women 64, children 86. They were collected under the supervision of a Mr. Uthoff, whom the Lieut. Governor appointed agent in the matter, and who received the sum of £89-16-8 stg. for transporting his contingent from St. John to Annapolis. In this way the Province lost a considerable portion of its free Negroes.
But there was an element that Clarkson could not reach. Those of the Loyalists who had been in affluent circumstances in the old colonies as a rule brought with them their colored servants or slaves. The majority in process of time received their freedom though many remained in the service of their former masters. In the muster of Loyalists living on the River St. John, made by order of Major General Campbell in 1784, four hundred and forty-one servants were included. They were doubtless for the most part Negroes. There were, however, a considerable number of free Negroes in various parts of New Brunswick, several of whom were grantees at Parr Town and Carleton.
A detailed list of the slave owners in New Brunswick cannot be attempted, but it included leading individuals in nearly all parts of the Province. Lieut. Col. Beverly Robinson brought with him from New York nine colored servants; Lieut. Col. Isaac Allen, seven; Lieut. Col. Edward Winslow, four. Hon. Gabriel G. Ludlow, first mayor of St. John, and for many years administrator of Government, was a slave owner, so, also, were General Coffin of Nerepis, Lieut. Col. Richard Hewlett of Hampstead, James Peters of Gagetown, Elijah Miles of Maugerville, Stair Agnew of Fredericton, Col. Jacob Ellegood of Dumfries, Capt. Jacob Smith of Woodstock, Titus Knapp of Westmoreland, Judge Upham, and many others. Even clergymen were slave owners. Rev. James Scovill, first rector of Kingston, N. B., in 1804 bequeathed to his wife, Amy, his servant boys Robert and Sampson, aged respectively 12 and 10 years, with a proviso that at the age of 26 years both shoud be set at liberty if they discharged faithfully the duties of servants until that period.
Few slaves were to be found in eastern New Brunswick; there were also very few in the County of Charlotte. In the last named county there was at Beaver Harbor a colony of Quaker Loyalists, the only avowed anti-slavery settlement known to have existed in British North America. These Quakers, most of whom had fled from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to New York, formed an association in June 1783 to settle together "on the River St. Johns in Nova Scotia." At the head of their agreement, in a bold hand writing, were the words "NO SLAVE MASTER ADMITTED."
Early newspapers of this Province prove that slaves were frequently offered for sale. The Royal Gazette in 1786 contained an advertisemnt of "a Negro boy for sale;" and again, in October 1788, "a stout, likely, and very active young black woman," was advertised for sale in a St. John paper, "not for any fault, being singularly sober and diligent."
The cool way in which human beings of the colored race were thus disposed of is shown in the following remarkable communication addressed by John Rapalje, a most respectable citizen of Brooklyn, N. Y., to his friend the Hon. Geo. Leonard of New Brunswick:
"Brooklyne, October 29, 1787.
"Dear Sir, I have taken the liberty at the desire of my father of sending to your care a Negro wench named Eve and her child named Sukey, in order to dispose of them to the best advantage. * * * * * * * *
She is an excellent hand at all sorts of house work except cooking, and one of the best servants for washing we ever had; she is perfectly honest and sober and the only fault she has is being near sighted. Mr. Francis Pemart and his daughter Mrs. Stoothoff, Mr. Thomas Horsfield and family and Mr. John Guest know the wench and can prove the property.
"Mama joins me in presenting our most respectful compliments to Mrs. Leonard and the family.
"From your humble servant,
"Geo. Leonard, Esq'r.
"Parr, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia."
In this letter a power of attorney was inclosed, so worded as to admit of the disposal of mother and child to different purchasers if Mr. Leonard deemed it advisable. Inhuman as appears to us the separation of mother and child, instances in which it occurred were not uncommon.
For nearly a quarter of a century slaves were considered as the property of their masters in this Province, and as such were advertised for sale, and from time to time sold at prices ranging from £25 to £40, according to age and capacity for work. As early as 1786, the advertisement of "A Negro boy for sale" appeared in the Royal Gazette, then printed at St. John. The latest advertisement of the sale of a slave in this Province appeared in the Royal Gazette of October 16, 1809, when Daniel Brown offered for sale, Nancy, a Negro woman, guaranteeing a "good title" to any purchaser.
It is probable that the latest offer of a reward for the apprehension of a runaway slave, found in a Lower Province paper, is one that appeared in the New Brunswick Royal Gazette of July 10, 1816.
To St.John, New Brunswick, appertains the honor of one of the earliest recorded manumissions of a slave. The interesting old document reads as follows:
"To all people to whom these presents shall come Frederick William Hecht, Esquire, of the City of St. John in the Province of New Brunswick, sendeth greeting:
"Whereas a certain Mulatto Man now called Joshua Moore, born in the City of New York in America the nineteenth day of April 1766 in a state of slavery to the said Frederick William Hecht, and as a slave to the said Frederick William Hecht has continued to the date of these presents;
"Now know ye that the said Frederick William Hecht for himself, his heirs, executors, administrators, hath renounced and disclaimed, relinquished, and by these presents doth clearly and absolutely renounce, relinquish, disclaim and release unto the said Mulatto Joshua Moore all the estate, dominion, right, title, interest, claim and demand whatsoever of him the said Frederick William Hecht in Law or Equity of in over and to the person and services of the said Mulatto Joshua Moore, hereby declaring and making the said Joshua Moore to all intents and purposes whatever manumitted and discharged from a state of slavery and the service of the said Frederick William Hecht, his heirs, executors and administrators forever as if freeborn.
"In witness whereof the said Frederick William Hecht hath hereunto set his Hand and Seal this nineteenth Day of December in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-six.
"FREDERICK WILLIAM HECHT
"Sealed and delivered
"In presence of
The signer of the above was Commissary at Fort Howe when the Loyalists arrived in 1783, and remained in that office for some years.
John Hume, another citizen of St. John, by a similar document, dated May 2, 1787, gave to "a certain Negro wench called Betty Hume," about thirty-three years old, and to her child born in 1785, their freedom.
There gradually arose a strong feeling against slavery in the Maritime Provinces, and nearly all cases that came before the courts were decided in favor of the slave; nevertheless, the sale of slaves continued for twenty-five years after the arrival of the Loyalists. There is now in possession of W. C. Milner, Esq., a Bill of Sale, dated May 10, 1808, by which Sarah Allen of the County of Westmoreland for the sum of £30 sells to Titus Knapp, Esq., "a Mulatto boy about fourteen years old named Bacchus."
The treatment accorded the slave varied greatly. James Law, Esq., of Westmoreland County, a leading magistratre, and well to do man, and a lavish entertainer, owned a number of slaves who were described as "a petted and useless lot," but who thought so much of themselves that "as proud as Law's niggers" became a proverbial expression in that section of the Province.
At Woodstock, N. B., there lived an old Loyalist half-pay officer who was accustomed every day to ride up to the tavern door for his glas of Jamaica spirits, followed by a slave on foot who handed the filled glass to his master and when returning the emptied glass, was wont to perform certain lively movements worthy of an acrobat, in order to avoid the blow from his master's whip which invariably accompanied the return of the glass.
Another hard-hearted old master who lived at Maugerville on a very slight pretext was accustomed to tie up his slaves in the barn and vigorously apply the lash, while his neighbor, Capt. Elijah Miles, treated his Negroes with such kindness that they were most unwilling to leave his service.
It is related of a certain old squire that on retuning to his home, after a brief absence, his wife insisted that her Negro servant shoud be punished for insolence and neglect of duty. The squire, being tender-hearted, took the girl into a room, locked the door and instructing her to scream at the top of her lungs, began to apply the whip with much vigor to various articles of furniture until the mistress of the house was satisfied her maid had learned a lesson she would not soon forget.
In some instances, the relations existing between the masters and their Negro servants were of so affectionate a nature that the tried and trusted domestic was laid to rest in the family burial lot beside her mistress.
In the year 1800, occurred the famous slave trial at Fredericton in which Jonathan Bliss, Attorney-General for the Province, Thomas Wetmore, John Murray Bliss, Charles J. Peters, and William Botsford appeared for the master, and Ward Chipman and Samuel Denny Street appeared as "volunteers for the rights of humanity." The four judges of the Supreme Court divided evenly on the issue; Chief Justice Ludlow and Judge Upham being of opinion that under the existing laws Negroes might be held as slaves, while Judge Allen and Judge Saunders were of opinion that slavery was not recognized by the laws of New Brunswick. The intensity of feeling aroused by the trial is indicated by the fact that, at its close, Capt. Stair Agnew, residing at the mouth of the Nashwaak (the real owner of the slave before the court), challenged Judge Allen to a duel, a challenge the latter declined an act of greater courage in that day than to have accepted. John Murray Bliss challenged Samuel Denny Street to meet him with pistols in an hour, and Mr. Street signified his readiness to oblige him in half that time. They met and, after an ineffective exchange of fire, the seconds effected a reconciliation.
At the close of the slave trial, Judge Allen, who had come to the conclusion that "it is beyond the power of human laws to establish or justify slavery," set at liberty his slaves; and other slave holders imitated his excellent example.
At the conclusion of the war of 1812, many of the slaves of Maryland and Virginia, who had availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by the presence of the British navy in Chesapeake Bay to escape from their masters, were brought to the British Provinces. Three hundred of these slaves arrived in St. John on the 8th of June, 1815, and the inhabitants were puzzled how to dispose of them. They were afterwards settled at Loch Lomond, where a good many of their descendants still remain.
For many years the Negro had no voice in the management of public affairs. Lieut. Gov. Carleton stated in his letter to Secretary of State Dundas in 1791: "In this province they (the Negroes) have been allowed every privilege of free British subjects, nor has any distinction been made between them and the white inhabitants, excepting only that they have not been admitted to vote in Elections for representatives in the General Assembly."
In the year 1820, a heated election was contested in St. John City and County, in which Hon. Charles Simonds, the fourth elected candidate, had a majority of seven votes over Zalmon Wheeler, Esq. The latter at the declaration declined to demand a scrutiny of votes, as was then the almost universal custom in closely contested elections, as "not agreeable to his taste or feelings." He added that, "he had held in reserve eleven votes of Freeholders, which he deemed lawful might have brought them at the last moment, and knew the sheriff could not resist their being polled, which would have given him the lead; but these being from men of colour he knew it would create another contest in the House of Assembly, the evil consequences of which to the Province, he too deeply deplored to allow himself to be the cause of it."
The newspaper account goes on to tell how the amicable speech of Mr. Wheeler drew forth the loudest plaudits from all parties the most zealous of Mr. Simonds' friends shook him by the hand they demanded that Mr. Wheeler should be chaired with the sucessful candidates, and there was witnessed the novel sight of stalwart antagonists carried around town in this manner amidst the general cheers of their supporters. It is, nevertheless, a question whether Mr. Wheeler would not have rendered a greater service to freedom and humanity had he brought his Negro voters to the polls so that the question of their being entitled to the franchise might have been brought to an issue and decided.
The number of Negroes in New Brunswick continued to increase despite the deportation to Sierra Leone; and the first census, in 1824, showed there were at that time in the Province 1,513 "People of colour," distributred among the various counties as follows: St. John 687, Kings 167, Queens 87, Sunbury 59, York 351, Charlotte 53, Westmoreland 77, Northumberland 32. Of these, 385 were men, 412 women, 355 boys, and 361 girls.
After the passing away of slavery in the Maritime Provinces, slaves from the United States frequently crossed the international boundary, and having "shook the lion's paw," entered upon a life of freedom.
Despite the obstacles that have hampered the development of our brothers of the African race in this Province, their progress in education and refinement has been marked, and the outlook for the future has never been brighter than it is today.
1. Perhaps written in 1903 expressly for Neith, a short lived publication edited and published by Abraham Beverley Walker (1851-1909), of Saint John, New Brunswick's first black lawyer.
2. A most interesting and valuable paper by the late Rev. T. Watson Smith, D.D., published in the collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. X, has furnished much of the material of this article. To the late Dr. Smith every acknowledgement is due.
3. Now, Quaco, or St. Martins.
4. A like endeavor to obtain Negro recruits was made in 1804 when the following appeared in the New Brunswick Royal Gazette:
"All free young men of colour who are able and willing to serve His Majesty King George are hereby informed that a few choice lads are wanted to complete Col. Chas. Stevenson's regiment of Infantry under the particular patronage of His Royal Highness the Duke of York. Such brave men of the above description as are ambitious of acquiring the honorable distinction of a British soldier are requested to apply to Lieut. Colledge of said Regiment now in St. John where they will receive five Guineas bounty."