foreword | Historical Narratives | Resources | Links | Contact



History is the story of human liberation.

Simcoe was determined to cleanse the colony of a great evil - slavery. Before assuming the office of lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, he declared,

In His Own Words
"The principles of the British Constitution do not admit of that slavery which Christianity condemns. The moment I assume the Government of Upper Canada under no modification will I assent to a law that discriminates by dishonest policy between natives of Africa, America or Europe."

Discussions regarding the abolition of slavery were taking place in England around the end of the 18th century. The subject generated a good deal of interest and in 1791 it was debated in the British parliament. Simcoe, a member of parliament, was among those who spoke against it. He recognized the immorality of slavery, denounced it as an offence against Christianity and strongly supported efforts to prohibit the continued importation of slaves into the country. Simcoe was determined to end slavery in his "dream province" and if he had had his way it would have been banned outright. Political realities in Upper Canada intervened to prevent this from happening. Simcoe discovered to his dismay that he would have to settle instead for its gradual abolition.

The slavery of African-Canadians and Aborigines in Canada had existed since the beginning of European settlement. French settlers in the area of Windsor had used slave labour since 1749. By 1792 the number of enslaved people in Upper Canada was not large but when compared to the number of free settlers it was not insignificant. In 1799 there were 15 African-Canadians living in York and another ten living east of the Don River. Six were owned by William Jarvis and six worked for Peter Russell whose slaves included a woman, her free husband and their four children. There were some 1000 slaves in Quebec. Among the African-American Loyalists who came to the Shelburne area of Nova Scotia, 42% of them had seen action in the revolution whereas only 31% of the whites had fought. In Upper Canada the main influx of slaves came in the 1780s with the arrival of Loyalist refugees some of whom brought their slave servants.

In 1790 an act of the Imperial Parliament (the name of the British parliament when it dealt with colonial matters) encouraged emigration from Britain to Canada and assured prospective emigrants that their slaves would remain their property. During the American Revolution British officers encouraged freed slaves in the south to come north and join the Loyalist forces. It was hoped that if enough African-Americans left the south the economy would suffer and so further the Loyalist cause.

Among Loyalists there were a number of African-American veterans, individuals who had escaped from slavery and accepted Britain's offer of emancipation in return for military service against the rebels. Many responded to advertisements addressed to Heroes like the above. One of these men was Richard Pierpoint. Pierpoint was born in Bondu, Senegal in 1744. In 1760 he was captured as a slave and taken to New York where he was bought by a member of the Pierpoint family of Connecticut. When the American Revolution broke out the British government offered freedom to slaves willing to enlist to fight the rebels. Richard escaped and joined Butler's Rangers, a commando-type unit that was expert in guerrilla warfare. When the war ended with Britain's defeat Sir Guy Carleton was asked by the American victors to return all slaves to their rightful owners. Carleton refused and these African-Americans joined the exodus from the 13 Colonies and became African-Canadian Loyalists.

Richard moved to Canada along with other members of the Rangers who were given land near Fort Niagara. When war broke out in 1812 Richard, who was 60, sent a letter to the government asking that an all-African company of soldiers be formed. This was done and Richard fought bravely in a number of important battles including Queenston Heights. Pierpoint received a land ticket in 1822 and his plot was located in Garafraxa on the Grand River, near the town of Fergus about 100 km northwest of Toronto. Some old friends from Butler's Rangers also moved here, including a few other African-Canadian families. Richard lived in Garafraxa until his death around 1838 when he was 94 years old.

Upper Canada's African-Canadian population was a mixture of free veterans who were granted land for their military services and a larger number of slaves who were without rights and freedom. The initiative taken to change this came from an African-Canadian named Peter Martin. Little is known of Martin other than that he worked for Colonel John Butler and was chosen by the African-Canadian residents of the colony to speak on their behalf to the Executive Council.

On Wednesday, March 21st, 1793 Peter Martin appeared before members of the Executive Council. Present were Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Chief Justice William Osgoode and Hon. Peter Russell, a prominent citizen who owned slaves. Martin informed the Council that a violent outrage had occurred to an African-Canadian woman named Chloe Cooley who worked for him. According to Martin a resident of Queenston named William Vrooman, Chloe's master, decided to sell Chloe to someone in New York state. When she resisted leaving the province Vrooman forcibly transported her across the Niagara River to her new owner. Martin said he knew of another person who had suffered a similar fate and he reported hearing that several other slave owners in the area intended doing the same thing with their slaves. A concerned Simcoe resolved that steps would be taken immediately to prevent further acts of this nature. Council directed the attorney general to prosecute the man who had sold Chloe Cooley, however, both Simcoe and his Attorney General, John White, knew that under the existing law Vrooman was acting within his rights and little that could be done.

Simcoe decided to act to rid the colony of this great evil. While Simcoe's loyal supporter in the Assembly, Attorney-General John White, piloted the government-sponsored legislation through the legislature, Simcoe was the driving force behind it. He was the only person in the colony with the authority to initiate such legislation. White introduced the bill in the second session of the first Parliament, which opened in Newark on Friday, May 31st, 1793.
Chapter VII was titled

"An Act to prevent the further introduction of Slaves and to limit the term of contracts for servitude within this Province."

Its Preamble read: "Whereas it is unjust that a people who enjoy freedom by law should encourage the introduction of Slaves and whereas it is highly expedient to abolish Slavery in this Province "so far as the same may gradually be done without violating private property." Simcoe's noble intent had to be partially nullified by adding the qualification that recoginzied the realities of the colony for the bill to eliminate slavery in Upper Canada faced determined resistance.

Attorney General White reported that there was "much opposition but little argument"to his bill. This suggested that the real debate on the bill took place before it was ever introduced in the legislature. Slavery was closely associated with some of the ruling class in the pioneer province for a number of Simcoe's earliest advisers were prominent slave owners. Among them were Peter Russell, Alexander Grant, James Baby, Richard Cartwright and Robert Hamilton as well as a wide cross-section of leading Loyalist families stretching from Detroit through the Niagara peninsula and along the St. Lawrence River.

Nine members of the Legislative Council, some of whom were also Executive Councillors, were slave owners or members of slave-owning families. Four of the original sixteen members of the Legislative Assembly were slave owners: John McDonell, Hazelton Spencer, Peter Van Alstine and David William Smith. Another slave owner, Hannah Jarvis, wife of the provincial secretary, William Jarvis, was highly critical of the legislation and very critical of Simcoe, who,

In Her Own Words
"by a piece of chicanery has freed all the Negroes by which he has rendered himself unpopular along with White, the member for Kingston, who will never come in again (that is, be re-elected) as a representative." Despite her assertion that Simcoe had "freed all the Negroes," Hannah knew very well that not one slave had been freed by the legislation.

Hard labour was required to clear land on the frontier and some settlers considered slaves to be their most valuable asset. A number of them had been purchased during the Revolutionary War from Native warriors who captured them on forays into American territory. Slaves were highly valued given the arduous conditions of work and the scarcity of labour. Slavery was defended by owners and would-be owners who cited the Bible as the ultimate source for their certainty. "Canaan, the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." While some legislators agreed that legislative action was necessary to prevent the importation of more slaves into the province, they wanted it postponed for several years. Simcoe was adamant for abolition and finally a compromise was reached.

Following Chief Justice William Osgoode's charge to a grand jury that slavery ought not to exist in the colony of Canada the Legislature of Upper Canada took action and passed the bill which was given royal assent on the 9th of July, 1793. The Upper Canadian legislation repealed for Upper Canada that part of the Imperial Act, 30 Geo. III, Ch. 27 which permitted the importation of slaves into Upper Canada. Under Upper Canada's legislation no new slaves were to be brought into the province and the term of contract under which existing slaves could be bound was limited to nine years unless they were freed earlier by their masters. Children of slaves were to be freed when they reached the age of twenty-five. Until that time they were to remain with their mothers.

One member of the Assembly, David William Smith, was critical of parts of the legislation and conveyed his frustration to a friend on the 20th of June, 1793.

In His Own Words
"We have made no law to free the Slaves - all those who have been brought into the Province or purchased under authority legally exercised are slaves to all intents and purposes. The Assembly Members are, however determined to have an act about slaves part of which I think is well enough. Another part is most iniquitous and I wash my hands of it. If a free man who is married to a slave has children his children by this marriage would be declared slaves. Fye, fye. The Laws of God and man cannot authorize it." Smith considered it intolerable that the legislation would result in the heir of a free man and a slave woman being considered a slave.

In his address to the Assembly Simcoe praised the act as a "singular pleasure that such persons as may be in that unhappy condition which sound policy unites to condemn, added to their own protection from all undue severity.. . may henceforth look forward with certainty to the emancipation of their offspring."In a report to Henry Dundas dated 16 Sept. 1793 Simcoe commented on the difficulty he encountered in getting the bill approved.

In His Own Words
"The greatest resistance was to the Slave Bill many plausible arguments being given like the dearness of Labour and the difficulty of obtaining servants to cultivate Lands. The matter was finally settled by undertaking to secure the slaves already obtained upon condition that an immediate stop should be put to the importation of more slaves and that slavery should be gradually abolished."

The second section of the Act provided that "Nothing in the Act should extend or be construed to extend to liberate any negro or other person subject to slave service or to discharge them or any of them from the possession of the owner thereof who shall have come or been brought into this Province in conformity to the conditions prescribed by any authority for that purpose exercised or by an ordinance or law of the Province of Quebec or by proclamation of any of his Majesty's governors of the said province for the time being or of any Act of Parliament of Great Britain or shall have otherwise come into the possession of any person by gift, bequest or bona fide purchase, before the passing of this Act whose property therein is hereby confirmed."

When Peter Russell, a former president and administrator of the province, advertised one of his slaves for sale he was severely criticized by a number of people. Others defended Russell.

In Their own Words
"Not only was the President not violating any law existing at that time in the transaction of the sale of his negro slaves, but if his advertisement received a response and an actual sale was made it can in no way be made to sully his fame as administrator as the sale, if made, was not till several years after he had ceased to be administrator of this province."

The Slavery Act of 1793 was a compromise that ended slavery gradually in Upper Canada. Denmark was the first country to strike down the slave trade on May 6th, 1792. Upper Canada followed in 1793 making this remote, little-known British legislature on the edge of the wilderness the first of all British colonies to take such action and years before Britain did so

The end of slavery was hastened by the overwhelming loyalty of African-Canadian residents during the War of 1812 when they served with distinction throughout the war. "At least 40" of the 140 volunteers fought under Sheaffe at the successful assault at the Battle of Queenston Heights.

Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807. In 1833 the newly elected British parliament contained 104 members who had pledged on the hustings to abolish slavery. On August 23rd, 1833 the Imperial Parliament passed an act to abolish slavery throughout the empire effective August 1st, 1834. The Imperial Act of 1833 abolished slavery in the British Empire effective August, 1834. This Act made no mention of Upper Canada because the Imperial government believed that slavery had already been eliminated from the province many years before. By the time Imperial emancipation finally did occur there were few if any slaves left in Upper Canada.

Thanks to Simcoe and the little legislature in the heart of North America, it could be said of Canada as of England:

"Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs Receive our air, that moment they are free; They touch our country and their shackles fall off."

History is the progress of the consciousness of freedom; it is not the truth and the light, but the striving for it.

Previous / Review / Next

Copyright © 2013 Website Administrator