This Week in History


Reverend Richard Preston Fights Slavery!

For the week of Monday February 15, 2010

On February 15, 1831, Reverend Richard Preston arrived in England to begin his training as a Baptist minister. Upon completing his education, he returned to Nova Scotia and became a vital member of the Black community there.

Richard Preston was born into enslavement in about 1791 in Virginia, U. S. He was one of the few of the enslaved who was able to purchase his freedom. Once free, he travelled to Nova Scotia in 1816 to find his mother, who had fled to Canada during the War of 1812, like many other African-Americans, in order to escape slavery. It was by pure chance that they would meet again in the small Black community of Preston, near Halifax. Eventually his mother recognized him because of a scar on his face. Overjoyed to see his mother again, he settled in Preston and, according to some accounts, took the community’s name as his own.

Preston, shortly after his arrival in Halifax, joined Reverend John Burton’s congregation and became Burton’s pastoral apprentice. He began visiting the surrounding Black communities where he quickly attracted a large following due to his intellect and good sense of humour. However, if Preston wanted to perform marriages, he would need to become an ordained minister. The community raised enough money to send Preston to England to complete his education. While there, he joined the movement to abolish slavery world wide and would remain committed to the struggle for equal rights.

Cornwallis Street Baptist Church
© Courtesy of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church
Upon Preston’s return to Halifax in 1832, he began construction of his first chapel, the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, which soon became a popular social centre for Black Nova Scotians. He went on to found 13 churches in Black communities throughout Nova Scotia and continued to preach in them. During many of his sermons, he emphasized that Christian doctrine, in fact, opposed the concepts and practices of slavery.

In addition to fulfilling the duties of a Minister, and widely recognized as a leader of African-Nova Scotia, Preston formed the African Abolition Society in 1846 and created the African Baptist Association (ABA) in 1854. The ABA’s mandate was to foster a stronger community among Black Nova Scotians through the creation of churches, and to end slavery world wide and advance equal rights.

Reverend Richard Preston died in 1861. His crowning achievement, the ABA, continues as the African United Baptist Association, and still serves Black communities in Nova Scotia. For his religious and social leadership within the Black community in Canada, Reverend Richard Preston was designated a national historic person in 2005.

February is Black History Month. For more stories on Black History, see Thornton and Lucie Blackburn test the Fugitive Offenders Act.

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