This Week in History
John Anderson: Free!
For the week of Monday February 10, 2014
On February 16, 1861, John Anderson, an escaped slave from Missouri, was discharged by a Toronto court, narrowly avoiding a return to the shackles of slavery.
On November 24, 1860, Anderson appeared in a Toronto court where the judges considered whether he should be returned to the United States to stand trial for murder. Anderson’s act would probably not have been considered murder under Canadian law, because he was defending his freedom from a man who would enslave him. However, the presiding justices decided that based on Missouri law Anderson had committed murder and so they were required to hand him over to the American authorities.
But the fight wasn’t over! Many people in Canada were sympathetic to his plight and one petition was signed by more than 2,500 people. They feared that if he was given over to the Americans, no fugitive slave would be safe in Canada. The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society made an appeal on his behalf in Great Britain since Canada was still a British colony. However, before it could proceed, Anderson’s appeal was heard in Canada and the court freed him. The Canadian and British abolitionists who supported him and his highly publicized story rejoiced!
The Fugitive Slave Movement through which John Anderson was freed is a National Historic Event and Osgoode Hall in Toronto where his case was heard is a National Historic Site.
February is Black History month. You can read more about the escaped slaves and their lives in Canada here: Shadrach Minkins, A Voice for Freedom, The Legendary Harriet Tubman, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn Test the Fugitive Offenders Act and Mary and Henry Bibb, Committed Couple.
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