The Stories and Accomplishments of Some of Kingston’s Early Black Citizens, 1780 to 1950
The following tour will touch on aspects of Kingston history covering a wide span of time – from 1780 to 1950. We will highlight the lives of some of the city’s more noteworthy black citizens by visiting sites connected with them. It is hoped in this way to make them come alive.
Exodus from the United States
During the American Revolution (1776-1783), slaves who deserted the Rebels to join the British were granted their freedom. There were also a number of free blacks enlisted with the British forces. Loyalist units such as the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and Major John Butler’s Corps of Rangers took slaves as prisoners during engagements and sometimes brought them back to be sold as spoils of war. Many Loyalists, fleeing during the revolution, brought their slaves with them to British territory. After the peace treaty was signed in September 1783, the fate of blacks, whether freedmen, enlisted soldiers or slaves, was just one of many problems to be solved. Major Ross in a letter to Major Matthews dated 7 July 1784, described some of the dissention arising at Cataraqui (later renamed Kingston):
Disputes among the Loyalists frequently arise, the most material as yet, are between the Master and Servant where severe correction Seems to take place, an Evil which requires a Speedy remedy, and what I do not think my self at liberty to pronounce judgement upon; many more may be expected to ensue; Strange is the Collection of people here….
In 1793 Upper Canada (now Ontario) became the first British territory to enact anti-slavery legislation. Called the Upper Canada Abolition Act, it forbid the importation of slaves, as well as legislating that children born to slaves, after the law was passed, were to be free when they reached the age of 25. Slavery was abolished throughout the British colonies by an Act of the Imperial Parliament, passed on 28 August 1833 (to take effect on 1 August 1834.) Fugitive slaves from the southern States were coming across the border in the 1820s, and numbers increased through the 1830s and 1840s. The signing of the Fugitive Slave Act on 18 September 1850 in the U.S. made the Province an even more attractive destination for those southern slaves who had fled to the northern (“free”) states, as the latter were no longer secure.