This Week in History
Slavery Attacked in Upper Canada
|For the week of Monday July 6, 1998
On July 9, 1793, Royal Assent was given to a colonial "Act to prevent the further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the term of Contracts for servitude" within Upper Canada, now southern Ontario. A personal initiative by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, it was a cautious step toward justice for the small number of African slaves in Canada.
In England, slavery ended in 1772. James Somerset, a Virginia slave, was brought by his owner to England, but escaped. His freedom was confirmed when a court ruled that slavery violated English Common Law, and could not exist in England itself. The decision did not affect the colonies, but there, too, the sympathy of judges and juries was often with the runaways, not the owners. For example, courts in Nova Scotia began to demand iron-clad proof of ownership in claims involving runaways.
The Act of 1793 made Upper Canada the first British territory to legislate against slavery. Simcoe's legislation challenged public opinion and eventually encouraged thousands of Blacks in the U.S. to seek freedom in Upper Canada. In 1993, on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, the Act of 1793 was commemorated by a plaque at the old provincial capital, Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Board has also recognized the importance of editor Mary Ann Shadd and community leader Josiah Henson, freedom seekers who made a new home in Upper Canada. These and many other African Canadians can be read about in a book by human rights activist Daniel G. Hill, The Freedom Seekers, Blacks in Early Canada (Toronto: Book Society of Canada, 1981).
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