Introduction

a Black family on the Hammonds Plains Road (watercolour by Robert Petley, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-115424).
Image: After the War of 1812, over 500 Black people were settled at Hammonds Plains. This painting, c1835, shows a Black family on the Hammonds Plains Road, with Bedford Basin in the background. (watercolour by Robert Petley, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-115424).

The earliest Black communities were established in the Maritime Provinces; Birchtown became the largest settlement of free Africans outside Africa. The first large wave of Africans to arrive in Canada were free Black Loyalists invited by the British government and promised land, provisions, and freedom for their support during the American War of Independence. Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, invited all male slaves owned by Rebels to join the British cause, promising them freedom. As losses mounted, Henry Clinton, the British Commander-in-Chief, invited all slaves to join the British, again promising freedom. At least 3500 Blacks supported the British and were landed in Canada, 10% of all Loyalists.

Blacks were the last to receive plots of land, often waiting years. Part of the problem was the amount of land to be surveyed, with too few surveyors. Land was usually remote, rocky, and too small to feed a family. Those who came into Canada on the Underground Railroad faced different obstacles. Initially, they were seen as valuable workers. Then the trickle became a flood of Black arrivals. By the 1840s and following the American Civil War, they were not as welcome, since immigration from Europe had increased. They were expected to return to the United States, but the former enslaved Blacks did not necessarily have a place to return to. Free Blacks, some of whom had been born in Canada, would have had to forfeit their homes and businesses. But they had established themselves here; Canada was their home.

Rosemary Sadlier