Experts say that Canadians know a lot about the history of slavery in this country


Warning: This story contains disturbing details about slavery.

When Sharon Robart-Johnson walked around in the black history room of the Yarmouth County Museum, she pointed out the paintings of black educators, the first to join the Royal Canadian The black Nova Scotia of the Mounted Police, and even her own paintings, she was the first to write a book about blacks in the area.

But she kept her dearest person till the end.

This is a wood carving of a enslaved woman named Jude being beaten by the owner’s son.

Court records show that Jude died of injuries on December 28, 1800. She is 28 years old.

Robart-Johnson said in a recent interview at a museum in southwestern Nova Scotia: “The night before her death, she entered the pantry, because she often went hungry, so she did it often.” Trying to steal a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese.”

Her owner was charged with murder, but was acquitted at trial.

“When I learned that they were at large, I was very angry, even more angry. They were really murdered,” Robart Johnson said. Her first book, Children of Africa: Black History in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Including a chapter on Jude.

The brutal experience of this young woman is just one example of the shameful history of slavery in this country, and experts say most Canadians know very little about it.

They hope that this year will begin to change.

The writer Sharon Robart-Johnson holds her second book, Jude and Diana, at the Yarmouth County Museum in southwestern Nova Scotia. Diana)’s copy. (Brian McKay/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Liberation Day commemorates August 1, 1834, when the British Empire abolished slavery and liberated approximately 800,000 people of African descent throughout the British colonies, including the area now known as Canada.

So far, Ontario is the only province to commemorate this moment, but this year Members of Congress voted to designate it nationwide. Nova Scotia also celebrated this day at the provincial level for the first time.

Robart-Johnson said she was fascinated by Jude’s story, and she published a second book, a historical novel called Jude and Diana, Record the lives of Jude and her sister.

Records show that Jude was taken from New Jersey to Nova Scotia by her owner Francis Wood when she was nine years old. She was eventually sold to Major Samuel Andrews, the leader of the royalist party who came to Nova Scotia from North Carolina in 1785.

“I didn’t know that the people in Yarmouth had slaves, so it opened my eyes,” said Robart Johnson, who stumbled upon Jude’s documents while researching her family tree 28 years ago.

Court records from the Archives of Nova Scotia described a enslaved woman named Jude “stealing things in the kitchen.” (Brian McKay/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

From file

In the Nova Scotia Archives, records show advertisements, sales slips, and court documents of fugitive slaves, all of which illustrate the history of slavery in the province.

“Sold for many years,” wrote a newspaper clipping in June 1800. “18 years old, cheerful personality, loves children, and is used to working in towns and villages.”

The June 1800 newspaper clippings of the Archives of Nova Scotia advertised a young girl. (Brian McKay/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

In 1750, Halifax had about 400 slaves out of its 3,000 population.

Manager and archivist John McLeod said, especially the two judges of Nova Scotia, Chief Justice Sampson Salter Blowers and Chief Justice Thomas Andrew Thomas Andrew Lumisden Strange, when he heard the case in the early 1800s, seemed to have found a way to support freedom rather than continue slave ownership. Some historians even call them abolitionists.

MacLeod said this is probably because there is no legal framework to strengthen slavery.

“But the legislature has not taken steps to ban it,” he said.

He pointed to a petition in the public collection. It shows that in 1807, a group of slave owners, mainly from the royalist party of Annapolis County, received some assurances from the British Empire that they could carry “property” with them against the court’s ruling. They signed their names and attached the number of slaves they owned.

A petition from the Nova Scotia Archives shows that in 1807, a group tried to get the government to enact legislation to give them more rights as slave owners. (Brian McKay/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

The same petition shows that the slave owners signed their names and entered the number of slaves they owned. (Brian McKay/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

“Slave owners in Nova Scotia are aware that their situation is increasingly being eroded by the courts,” McLeod said. “They petitioned the parliament to require legislation to give legal status or a legal framework so that they can continue to exercise what they believe to be property rights.”

This legislation has been proposed many times, but it has never been passed.

The newly established Canadian Slavery Institute

Charmaine Nelson, professor of art history and founding director of the college The newly established Canadian Slavery Institute A professor at the Halifax Nova Scotia College of Art and Design said that commemorating Liberation Day is very important.

“This is really a moment for us to think about what slavery is and what slavery in Canada is,” she said in an interview.

She said that although it might surprise some people that such an institution would be located in an art school, art is actually the key to helping people understand the specific history of slavery in this country.

She said that when asked how much they knew about transatlantic slavery and how they knew it, most people would cite Hollywood movies, such as Lincoln, friendship, Twelve years as a slave, and The liberated Jiang Ge.

“In terms of the terrible and cruel nature of slavery, the most recent ones are quite accurate,” she said. “But almost all performances from Hollywood represent slavery in the American South.”

She said that the history of slavery in Canada was mainly written by white people, who usually defended the view that slavery took place here, but because there were fewer slaves than in the southern United States or the Caribbean, slave owners were kinder and gentler to some extent.

Not really, she said.

Charmaine Nelson is a professor of art history and the founding director of the Canadian Slavery Institute at the Halifax Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. (Megan Tensi Wheaton)

People often associate slavery with the thousands of people working on plantations.

Due to the inability to maintain the climate and seasonal changes in agriculture throughout the year, this has not happened in the same way in Canada.

Nelson said that Canadian slaves probably harvested apples or corn, but they were also forced to milk and groom horses, while women were forced to breastfeed the children of white masters, which was not good for their own children.

She said that Canadians generally do not understand their country’s connection with slavery as Americans do.

“How can people know something they never had the opportunity to learn?” she said. “If you are a Canadian who spends any time in our elementary school, high school or university…these content is not in the curriculum at all.”

Nelson hopes to use the new institute and the Liberation Day logo as a starting point for changing this.

She said that ordinary people do not read academic literature, so they usually learn about this kind of history through art exhibitions, paintings or movies.

“So, without the artists sitting at the table, we will never be able to educate the wider public about how profound and truly changing the 400-year system of transatlantic slavery is, which is regrettable,” she said.

Not everyone embraces Liberation Day

But for the writer Robart Johnson, whose fourth great-grandfather was a fugitive slave, the naming of Liberation Day was too few and too late.

“You can’t wait for almost 200 years to say it shouldn’t happen,” she said.

She still focuses on telling the personal story of Jude and her sister.

“Because no one has listened to them, and no one would listen to them during that time,” she said. “So now their story has been told.”

For more stories about the experience of black Canadians—from anti-black racism to success stories in the black community—check out Becoming Black in Canada, a CBC project that Canadian blacks can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)



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