Tuesday, February 17, 2009

slaves in nova scotia


canada post unveiled two new stamps sunday, both marking black pioneers. that was my 8th article about african heritage month, making me think i could apply to be jon stewart's new senior black correspondent.

i dragged myself out to cole harbour place, but it was actually a great event. the woman honoured, rosemary brown, died 6 years ago and her family and friends present for the unveiling beamed pretty much non-stop. going by her picture on the stamp, i can see why - she looks like just about the kindest woman who ever lived. the other stamp is for abraham doras shadd, an early (1850s) black leader and part of the underground railway. curiously enough, both canadians were born elsewhere (jamaica and the us) and came here with their crazy ideas.

reading about shadd's extraordinary life raised the question of slavery in nova scotia. i was under the impression there were never slaves here, but in fact humans were bought and sold in halifax (as shown in this 1945 illustration by bob chambers). according to this gov't website, most black people brought to nova scotia between 1749 and 1782 were slaves to english and american settles. 3,000 people, including my illustrious ancestor jean-george tattrie, lived in halifax in 1749. of the 417 black people, 17 were free, 400 slaves.

evidently part of the reason it never really took off is because we don't have the climate for plantation agriculture and the cold winters were often fatal for the straight-from-africa slaves. i read about a truro man who decided he wasn't a slave, left his 'owner's' land, only to be caught down the road. the 'owner' plugged holes in his ear, put a rope through it, and dragged the man behind his horse for miles. the man later died. nova scotians frowned upon such treatment, but apart from a tut-tut or two, nothing happened - it was legal and acceptable to do that.

it is hard to find an end-date for slavery in nova scotia, but it appears to have remained a part of life here until britain outlawed it in 1834.

all this made me understand why african heritage month is important. our racist ancestors didn't tell the story in the first place, or suppressed it. the fact that i was schooled here for two decades and learned acres about american slavery, but nothing about slavery in the centre of halifax, shows there's a long walk still ahead.

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