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The History Of Black People In Nova Scotia, Canada

Black Loyalists

As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, the contribution of Black people in helping to shape Canadian history must never be overlooked. This brief synopsis of the history of Black people in Nova Scotia was therefore put together to mark this special iteration of Black History Month in Canada. For a more concise account please consult the Nova Scotia Black Culture Society.

Originally designated by the British and sought out by many free Blacks as well as run away slaves as a place of refuge, Nova Scotia turned out not to be a very friendly place for Black people. They made it a home however and through the resilience of their AfRAkan Spirit, are still proud residents today.

It has been determined by historical accounts that Black people of AfRAkan descent have been living in the Province of Nova Scotia since the early 1700s as either French servants or trade workers. However, much of the details of their lives were not properly documented. It was only after the English took over from the French in 1763 that records of the arrival of other Black people started to appear in public records

Those records show that several hundred Black people migrated to Nova Scotia in the 1760s along with a group of white settlers known as Planters. The Planters were a large group of settlers who came from New England after the British gained control over Nova Scotia from the French in 1763. The British gave the Planters free land in order to populate the vast expanses of empty territory so that the land did not fall back into the hands of the French.

20 years later, between 1783 and 1785 over 3,000 Black people came in as part of the Loyalist migration from the United States. The Loyalists were settlers who were loyal to Britain during the War Of Independence. The Loyalists were mostly White but also included many of their slaves, former slaves and indentured servant Blacks who had joined in the war after being promised freedom by the British.

Most of the Black Loyalists began their journey from camps in New York City. After the War of Independence the Loyalists feared retaliation from the Americans so the British decided to grant them help by relocating them to other areas of the British Empire. The Americans fearing that other slaves who did not fight in the war would also seek freedom along with the Loyalists so they ordered the British to compile a list of all the Black people who had helped them in the war so that they could expel them from America.

The British compiled an extensive list of Black Loyalists and their families which was then compiled into a book known as The Book Of Negroes. Only 3 copies of the book exists and contain all the surnames of the Black Loyalists who left New York for Europe, England, Africa, and Nova Scotia. Original copies of the book can be found in Washington, England and Nova Scotia.

Upon arriving in Nova Scotia, the Black Loyalists were scattered by the British throughout numerous towns and villages in the territory. The Black Loyalists attempted to integrate into existing communities but found out very quickly that they were not welcome, not even by their fellow white Loyalists who still saw them as inferior and not deserving of the opportunity to pursue a life of unbridled freedom.

The Black Loyalists created their own settlements and segregated communities but without sufficient farmland of their own they had to depend on white settlers for their survival. This put them at odds with whites who threatened and harassed them constantly. Fed up with their situation, the Black settlers directed their anger toward the British for reneging on their promises to give each Black family a plot of land of their own. However, several years of complaining only resulted in a few of the high-ranking former Black solders getting land of their own. 

Eventually, the Black Loyalists managed to gather up enough financial support to send representatives to England to plead their case directly the monarchy. Unfortunately, in England their petition fell on deaf ears but while there the representatives had a chance encounter with a contingent of Afrakans from Sierra Leon, West Afraka. The Afrakan representative sympathized with the plight of the Black Loyalists and promised to provide land for them in Sierra Leon; all the Loyalists had to do was secure their own transportation.

The Black Loyalists then presented another proposal to the British Monarchy and the Monarchy agreed to send ships to transport all the Black Loyalists who wanted to leave Nova Scotia and go to Sierra Leon. Back in Nova Scotia, the thought of going back to Afraka was mixed. Some welcomed the chance to return to their true homeland and some hated the idea. Subsequently, a large percentage of the Black Loyalists made their way to Sierra Leon in 1793.

Seven years later, in the year 1800 another group of Black people known as the Maroons also relocated to Sierra Leon from Nova Scotia. The Maroons were former Afrakans originally brought to the island of Jamaica as slaves but who had escaped off the plantations to live in the mountains and caves of the Island. The name Maroon is thought to have originated from the Moors, an Arab influenced cultural and religious group that once dominated North-West Afraka. 

In Jamaica, the Maroons had formed Guerrilla groups that became a serious threat to the stability of the Island’s economy. They raided plantations on a regularly basis and assisted other slaves to escape and join their ranks. After years of being embarrassed by the Maroons the British recruited Maroon spies then successfully captured the top Maroon leader resulting in the surrender of the largest group of Maroons.

The British then decided to relocate most of the captured Maroons off the Island in order to diminish the threat of reprisal. So in 1796 they shipped 550 Maroons to Nova Scotia. Most of the rebellious group of men, women and children were settled in the township of Preston. After a few years, most of the Maroons found jobs as builders and laborers but they never got along with the other Blacks.

The Maroons had different religious practices and customs than the Black Loyalists who were a mixture of various denominations of Christianity. Subsequently, the Maroon demand that the British send them back to AfRAka. The British agreed and in the year 1800 most of them were boarded onto ships and sent to Sierra Leone.

From 1812 to 1816, the last major influx of Black people entered Nova Scotia. They came during and after The War of 1812 between the US and Canada, which was still a British colony at the time. This was the war in which the White House was disrespectfully burned down by the Canadian forces. The war was a terrible loss for the United States but it enabled thousands of former slaves to escape into Canada.

The British again offered Blacks freedom and land in Canada for helping them during the war and thousands of Blacks accepted the offer. This new group of free and former slaves moved into Windsor, Ontario and Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia, they settled in the Halifax areas of Preston, Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Porter’s Lake, and Lucasville Road.

Throughout the period of their arrival in Nova Scotia up until slavery officially ended in the United States, Black people lived under the constant fear of being kidnapped by slave hunters and re-sold back into slavery in the US. Slave hunters often roamed the forests and coastlines of Nova Scotia on foot or in boats searching for Black people to could capture and earn a bounty on.

After slavery officially ended and Black people felt at ease to pursue their dreams they were still routinely exploited as cheap laborers. In the early 1900s, when the Coal Industry in Nova Scotia wanted to undercut the wages that Black labor unions built up, they recruited immigrants from the West Indies. Those West Indian communities still survives to the present day in Whitney Pier, Glace Bay and New Waterford, Porter’s Lake, and the Lucasville Road, as well as the Windsor area.

Racial tensions between Blacks and whites in Nova Scotia made headlines time after time throughout the 1900s. One famous incident happened in 1945 when Viola Desmond, a Black entrepreneur was arrested and thrown in jail for deliberately dis-obeying the whites-only sign in a movie theater. The incident sparked riots in Nova Scotia at the time but it was nothing compared to a similar act of civil disobedience by Rosa Parks, which occurred 10yrs later in the United States. That incident was seen as the spark of the American Civil Rights movement.

Black people of Nova Scotia have never laid down to racism and discrimination. They have fought injustice every time, especially when the government tries to bulldoze or relocate Black historical settlements for commercial or modern development purposes. They’re treated like the Native Indians; they get abused, disrespected, and mistreated then only get apologies, not compensation for the injustices they have to endure.

Even so, Black Nova Scotians are proud of their deep and rich history. Many have risen to prominence within Canadian society in Politics, Education, Business, and Law. Today, people of Afrakan descent are continuing to immigrate to Nova Scotia, which ensure that Black people will continue to maintain a strong influence on Canada’s East Coast.