The Reverend Richard Preston (c. 1791–1861)

The Reverend Richard Preston. © History Collection, Nova Scotia Museum, Nova Scotia Museum P149.29

For the week of Monday February 10, 2020

On February 15, 1831, Richard Preston arrived in England to be ordained into service as a Baptist minister. He subsequently returned to British North America, where he became a leader of the African-Nova Scotian community.

Born c. 1791 in Virginia, Richard Preston escaped enslavement in the United States by joining Britain’s Royal Navy during the War of 1812. He was among the thousands of enslaved people of African descent who opposed the United States during the war. Britain promised freedom to any enslaved people who instigated a rebellion against their “masters,” hoping that their uprising would deprive enemy forces of much-needed labour and strike fear in the hearts of Americans. After the war, Preston obtained his freedom and travelled to British North America in search of his mother. Some sources suggest that he found her in Preston, Nova Scotia, where many Black Refugees settled after the war, and subsequently adopted the name of the township as his own.

In Nova Scotia, Richard Preston served as pastoral apprentice to the prominent Reverend John Burton, whose impoverished Baptist congregation somehow managed to raise enough money for Preston to travel to Britain in 1831 to be ordained. While in England, he delivered sermons and lectures on the enslavement of African people, and learned of the growing British movement for the abolition of enslavement across the Empire. 

Upon returning to Halifax in 1832, Preston began construction of the African Baptist Church (later, the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church), which soon became a popular centre of the African-Nova Scotian community. He went on to found many more churches in Nova Scotia, while also gaining prominence as a leading abolitionist, founding the African Abolition Society in 1846. The African United Baptist Association, which he helped establish in 1854, also advocated for abolition, while strengthening the African-Nova Scotian community through the creation of churches.

The Reverend Richard Preston is designated a national historic person. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Persons—individuals who have made unique and enduring contributions to the history of Canada.

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here:


February is Black History Month. Learn more about African-Canadian histories by exploring our online archives about R. Nathaniel Dett, Carrie Best, Ernest Melville DuPorte, William Hall, George Dixon, and the Experiences of Black Loyalists, among others, and check out entries about No 2 Construction Battalion, C.E.F., Kathleen ‘Kay’ Livingstone, and the Black Pioneers in British Columbia in the Directory of Federal Heritage Designations