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Fort Anne National Historic Site of Canada

People


Rose Fortune

After the American Revolution, several thousand people who remained aligned with the British emigrated to Nova Scotia. This wave of refugees included a contingent of black men and women. Like thousands of blacks living in the Thirteen Colonies during the war, some had crossed lines and joined the British in exchange for their freedom. Others remained the slaves or indentured servants of white loyalists. The black emigrants who arrived in Annapolis Royal during this period represented a mixture of these three groups. Among them was Rose Fortune.

While few records exist to tell a detailed and accurate story about her early origins, some historians have taken note of the Annapolis Royal muster roll from 1784. The log describes a child over ten years old of parents “Fortune and wife,” listing them as “Free Negroes.” Whether this was Rose Fortune remains a mystery. What is clear is that Rose Fortune grew to become an entrepreneur and one of Annapolis Royal’s most notable and respected figures during the first half of the 19th century.

watercolour portrait of Rose Fortune © Parks Canada. Used with permission of Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
The clearest depiction of her comes from a watercolour painted in the 1830s. It shows a middle-aged woman wearing a man’s overcoat and a straw hat on top of a lace cap tied tightly under her chin. She is carrying a straw basket and appears to be on the move. The image reflects testimonials from those who encountered Rose Fortune and described her as bold and determined. Around 1852, a Lieutenant-Colonel Sleigh of the 77th Regiment wrote of an encounter with Rose Fortune:
“I was aided in my hasty efforts to quit the abominable inn [where he had been staying] by a curious old Negro woman, rather stunted in growth…and dressed in a man’s coat and felt hat. She had a small stick in her hand which she applied lustily to the back of all who did not jump instantly out of the way. She was evidently a privileged character.”

By the time her portrait was painted, she had developed a successful cartage business in Annapolis Royal. Using a wheelbarrow or wagon, she transported luggage between the busy ferry docks and nearby homes and hotels. She also offered a wake-up service to customers to make certain they caught their boat to Digby or Saint John on time.

Later, Rose Fortune became the town's unofficial police officer, patrolling the town and wharf. She imposed curfews and kept the youth of the busy seaport town in line. She lived to around 90 years old.

James Whitman Lewis  with "Max" James Whitman Lewis with 'Max'
© Parks Canada
James Lewis Jr. and company truck James Lewis Jr. and company truck
© Parks Canada

 

Daurene Lewis Daurene Lewis
© Parks Canada

After Rose Fortune’s death, her descendents carried on her business under the name Lewis Transfer. The business was sold in 1960 but continued under new ownership until 1980.

In 1984, Daurene Lewis, a descendant of Rose Fortune, became the first black mayor of Annapolis Royal and the first black female mayor in Canada.

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