Richard Pierpoint
Image: Richard Pierpoint (drawing by David Meyler).

10 February 1806: Russell Family Sells Slaves
Enslaved people, understandably, were not always obedient. In her personal correspondence, Elizabeth Russell complained about the behaviour of her slave Peggy and Peggy's son Jupiter. In February of 1806 Russell ran an ad in the Upper Canadian press, advertising Peggy for $150 and Jupiter for $200.

1807: Upper Canadian Slave Rejects Freedom
Runaway Blacks were used to help defend Detroit, and served in a Black military unit. In 1807, Upper Canadian slave-holder John Askin sent George, a Black 15-year-old, to Detroit on an errand. Black soldiers offered George a weapon and freedom. George considered staying, but returned to Upper Canada and his master.

21 July 1812: Company of "Coloured" Troops Commissioned
In the summer of 1812, Black Loyalist Richard Pierpoint petitioned the government of Upper Canada to raise a company of Black troops to help protect the Niagara frontier. After some debate, the government agreed. A company of Blacks was formed under the command of a White officer, Captain Robert Runchey Sr.

1812-1815: The "Coloured Troops" and the War of 1812
Thousands of Black volunteers fought for the British during the War of 1812.  Fearing American conquest (and the return to slavery), many Blacks in Upper Canada served heroically in coloured and regular regiments. The British promise of freedom and land united many escaped slaves under the British flag.

September 1813-August 1816:  "Black Refugees" Set Sail
British Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane's offer of transportation for anyone wanting to leave the United States was widely circulated among the Black population. Four thousand former slaves deserted to the British side and were transported to the British colonies. About 2000 refugees set sail for Nova Scotia from September 1813- August 1816.


Escaping to Canada 
through the underground railroad as depicted by Charles T. Webber in 1893 (courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum/1927.26)
Image: Escaping to Canada through the underground railroad as depicted by Charles T. Webber in 1893 (courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum/1927.26).

1815-1860: The Underground Railroad
Canada's reputation as a safe haven for Blacks grew substantially during and after the War of 1812. Between 1815 and 1865, tens of thousands of African-Americans sought refuge in Upper and Lower Canada via the legendary Underground Railroad.

1819: John Beverley Robinson's Pronouncement
Building on Simcoe's early work, Attorney General John Beverley Robinson openly declared in 1819 that residence in "Canada" made Blacks free. He also publicly pledged that "Canadian courts" would uphold this freedom. Many, at home and abroad, took notice. 

24 September 1819: Lieutenant-Governor's Black Settlement Plan
In 1815, Lieutenant-Governor Peregrine Maitland of Upper Canada began to offer Black veterans grants of land in the Township of Oro. His intention to balance "policy with humanity," even in the face of American opposition, was expressed in a letter to a British official in 1819.

10 August 1823: Canadian Steamer Rescues Stranded Slave
By 1820, the Underground Railroad used established routes into Canada West, but some freedom seekers managed their own escapes. In August 1823 the Canadian Steamer Chief Justice Robinson picked up a Black man floating on a wooden gate in Lake Ontario. He was trying to reach Queenston.


Josiah Henson (1789 - 1889).
Image: Josiah Henson (1789 - 1889).

28 October 1830: Henson— "Uncle Tom"—Escapes to Canada
Josiah Henson, considered by many the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom, reached Canada with his family after escaping from Kentucky. A natural leader, Josiah Henson began to help other escaped slaves adapt to life in Upper Canada. He joined the anti-slavery movement and spoke publicly about his experiences.

1820-1821: Last Slave Advertisements Posted
While slavery remained legal in all British North American colonies until 1834, the combination of legislative and judicial action had severely tested the institution by the early 1820s. The last known private advertisement for slaves appeared in Halifax in 1820 and in Québec in 1821.

1829-1830: Wilberforce Settlement
By the end of the 18th century, there were more than 40 Black communities in Upper Canada. Life was uncertain in these early settlements. One of the first sizeable Black communities was Wilberforce, founded by Cincinnati Blacks. It was poorly managed and financially troubled and after only six years disbanded.

28 August 1833: British Parliament Abolishes Slavery
On 28 August 1833, slavery was abolished throughout the British colonies by an Imperial Act which became effective 1 August 1834. The act formally freed nearly 800,000 slaves but there were probably fewer than 50 slaves in British North America by that time.

September 1837: The Rescue of Solomon Moseby
Solomon Moseby, accused of stealing a horse from his owner in Kentucky, escaped to Canada. He was arrested in Newark/Niagara in the summer of 1837. Hundreds of sympathetic Blacks encircled the jail for three weeks to prevent his transfer. Upon Moseby's transport in early September, a riot ensued. Moseby escaped, but two supporters were killed.

11 December 1837: Corps of Negroes
In the early 19th century, few Upper Canada militia units included Blacks. When the Mackenzie Rebellion broke out, the government welcomed Black men into the provincial forces. On 11 December 1837, a militia order authorized Captains Thomas Runchey and James Sears to raise a "corps of Negroes." Four days later, approximately 50 Blacks had joined the corps.

6 March 1838: Blacks in Upper Canada Publicly Praised
In the spring of 1838, Lieutenant-Governor Sir Francis Bond Head addressed the legislature to publicly praise Black Upper Canadians for their loyalty and service during the recent rebellions.


Newspaperman George Brown
Image: Newspaperman George Brown (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-26415)

1844: Anti-slavery Forum
In the Toronto Globe, editor George Brown, one of Canada's leading abolitionists, regularly commented on the disadvantaged condition of Blacks in North America. From its inception in 1844, the Globe gave anti-slavery forces a public forum, attacking United States senator Henry Clay, the Fugitive Slave Act, separate schools, and other issues.  

8 March 1849: Larwill Fails to Block Elgin Settlement
Prejudice does not die easily. In an 1849 petition, ardent segregationist Edwin Larwill expressed his considerable animosity toward Blacks by opposing the Elgin Settlement. He was unsuccessful, but his strong personality and ability to attract support contributed to Chatham's notorious discrimination against Blacks in the 1840s and 1850s.

18 August 1849: King-Larwill Debate
Edwin Larwill had some support for his segregationist views, even against Reverend William King's proposal to establish the Elgin Settlement. Larwill challenged King to a debate on the proposal. He misjudged his audience and lost support with his extreme views. The debate was a turning point in the history of race relations in Canada.


An impassioned condemnation of the American Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by artist Theodore Kaufmann (courtesy Library of Congress).
Image: An impassioned condemnation of the American Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by artist Theodore Kaufmann (courtesy Library of Congress).

18 September 1850: The Fugitive Slave Act
The Fugitive Slave Act passed by the American Congress on 18 September 1850 dealt a severe blow to the American abolitionist cause. It gave slave-owners and their agents the right to track down and arrest fugitives anywhere in the country. Bounty hunters often kidnapped free Blacks and illegally sold them into slavery in the Southern states.

1 January 1851: First Issue of Bibb's Voice of the Fugitive
Henry Bibb was a rebellious slave who escaped to Detroit around 1840 and began speaking publicly against slavery and organizing abolitionist groups. A decade later he moved to Windsor, and founded the Voice of the Fugitive, which reported on the Underground Railroad and colonization schemes.

February-May 1851: Canadians React to Fugitive Slave Act
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in the United States led to the formation of a larger and more durable antislavery society in Canada. Canadians publicly debated "the slavery question"; George Brown's Toronto Globe chastised its journalistic opposition for being soft on slavery; and individuals protested Canadian support of the American antislavery movement.

26 February 1851: Formation of Canadian Anti-Slavery Society
The number of abolitionist sympathizers grew in Canada in the 1850s-1860s. As more Black refugees entered Canada, sympathizers formed organizations and committees to influence public opinion and help freedom-seekers make their way north. On 26 February 1851, the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada was formed, "to aid in the extinction of Slavery all over the world."

3 April 1851: Leading American Abolitionist Visits Toronto
When Frederick Douglass visited Toronto and addressed a large anti-slavery audience on 3 April 1851, he was the most famous African-American in the abolition movement. In Toronto, a cheering crowd of 1,200 filled the St. Lawrence's grand ballroom to listen to Douglass expound on the evils of American slavery.


Henry Bibb
Image: In 1851, Henry Bibb chaired the famous North American Convention of Colored Freemen at St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto.

10 September 1851: North American Convention of Colored Freemen
Because of its large Black community and active anti-slavery society, Toronto was chosen as the site for the North American Convention of Colored Freemen in 1851. Hundreds of Blacks from all over Canada, the northern United States and England attended, where speakers included H.C. Bibb, Josiah Henson and J.T. Fisher.  

17 June 1852: Steamers Bring Freedom Seekers to Canada
By mid-century, Great Lakes steamers regularly transported Blacks to Canada. Underground Railroad agents used scows, sailboats, and steamboats to deliver their precious cargo to Canadian shores. This sustained migration prompted one Toronto Colonist editor to complain on 17 June 1852 that "every boat arriving from the United States seems to carry fugitive slaves."

24 March 1853: Provincial Freeman Founded by Mary Ann and Isaac Shadd
Mary Ann Shadd was an educated Black woman who had opened a Black school in Wilmington, Delaware. She and her brother Isaac fled to Windsor after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. The Shadds founded the abolitionist newspaper the Provincial Freeman. Mary Ann Shadd was the first African-American woman publisher in North America.

16 November 1857: William Neilson Hall Wins Victoria Cross
William Hall served aboard the frigate Shannon in Calcutta during the 1857 Indian Mutiny. Against all odds, Hall breached a wall of the Najeef Temple to allow British troops to overcome the mutineers. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Canadian naval recipient, the first Black and the first Nova Scotian to win the prestigious medal.

1865: Interview with First Black Girl in Upper Canada Published
American abolitionist and writer Benjamin Drew conducted research in Canada in the 1850s and interviewed many former slaves about the Black refugee experience. In 1865 he published an interview with an elderly woman named Sophia Pooley who claimed to have been one of Joseph Brant's slaves and the "first Black girl in Upper Canada."

26 April 1858: First Black Californians Arrive in BC
On the invitation of James Douglas, the governor of British Columbia, the first ship carrying Black Californians landed in Victoria on 26 April 1858. By summer's end, more than 800 Black settlers had arrived. While government legislation suggested that equality prevailed, in truth, convention and little enforcement allowed acceptance to give way to segregation.

8 May 1858: John Brown Holds a Convention in Canada
Ardent American abolitionist John Brown planned to overthrow the American government and the entire slave system by training a band of men to wage "guerilla warfare" in the American South. He chose Chatham, Canada West, as his operational base. Upon revealing his radical plan, he lost the support of Chatham Blacks.

16 October 1859: John Brown's Raid
Despite his extremism, John Brown retained some support in Chatham, including from the Shadd family. On 16 October 1859, Brown and several followers seized the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Half his supporters were killed and Brown was seriously wounded. In the end, only one Chatham Black took part in the ill-fated raid.

2 December 1859: John Brown is Hanged
The Harpers Ferry raid left a deep impression on Canadians. In the days and weeks that followed, many newspapers took note of John Brown's efforts, and some even proclaimed him a "hero." Funeral bells tolled in Toronto after Brown's 2 December 1859 execution and many churches held memorial services.

16 February 1861: "Anderson" Case Heard in British Court
Black refugee "John Anderson" was arrested for having murdered Seneca Diggs, who tried to prevent his escape. He was tried by the Court of Queen's Bench and ordered extradited. British abolitionists got the case before the Queen's Court in England. The case was dismissed on a technicality; the arresting warrant had not mentioned murder.

15 April 1865: Torontonians Mourn Lincoln's Death
When American President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on 15 April 1865, Canadians publicly mourned his tragic death. In Toronto, businesses closed, throngs attended memorial services, and Blacks mourned for two months. Lincoln's death prompted a great outpouring of anti-slavery sentiment.

1866: First Black Politician in Canada
Shortly after arriving in Victoria in 1858, Mifflin Gibbs established a business. In 1861, he won public praise for helping to organize a Black militia and decided to run for public office. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1862, Gibbs was elected to the Victoria Town Council in 1866, the first Black politician in Canada.

17 January 1871: Obituary of Distinguished Black Veteran
On 17 January 1871 in Cornwall, Ontario, the death of John Baker at 105 was announced.  In some ways, Baker's life was unique. He may have been the last surviving Upper Canadian slave. He had seen his adopted homeland become Upper Canada, Canada West and then, the Dominion of Canada.

21 November 1892: Canada's First Black Physician Named Aide-de-Camp
Anderson Abbot became Canada's first Black physician in 1861. He served as one of only eight Black surgeons in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was distinguished by being appointed aide-de-camp of the New York Commanding Officers Dept., the highest military honour bestowed to that time on a Black person in North America.