The Rev. Richard Preston on horseback, travelling in his ministry from community to community.

This is how most people would have remembered Richard Preston – on horseback and constantly on the move in pioneer Nova Scotia. A former slave, he studied for the ministry in England, where he met and was inspired by the abolitionists. He returned to Nova Scotia determined to help his people. Over the next few decades, he became the single most energetic organizer of Nova Scotia's Black community.

Dr. J.B. Gilpin
History Collection, Nova Scotia Museum

P149.29
© 2008, Nova Scotia Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Richard Preston spent most his adult life on the move, travelling for hours and days through the forest or along the rocky coastline of Nova Scotia. His purpose was to make contact with poor, struggling Blacks in the province and to help them organize – both within their communities and through connections with the larger Black community.  In the 45 years or so that Preston spent in Canada after buying his freedom from a Virginia plantation-owner in 1816, he founded 11 Baptist churches. They were more than churches: they were schools, community halls and a focus of identity for people just learning to think of themselves as people and citizens.

When Preston was 25 and serving as an apprentice minister in Halifax, the Black community raised money to send him to school in England. While studying there, he came into contact with the abolitionist movement. He returned to Canada determined not only to help his people, but to show them how to help each other. To do that, he founded the Anglo-African Mutual Improvement and Aid Society, the African Abolition Society and – most importantly in 1854 Read More

Richard Preston spent most his adult life on the move, travelling for hours and days through the forest or along the rocky coastline of Nova Scotia. His purpose was to make contact with poor, struggling Blacks in the province and to help them organize – both within their communities and through connections with the larger Black community.  In the 45 years or so that Preston spent in Canada after buying his freedom from a Virginia plantation-owner in 1816, he founded 11 Baptist churches. They were more than churches: they were schools, community halls and a focus of identity for people just learning to think of themselves as people and citizens.

When Preston was 25 and serving as an apprentice minister in Halifax, the Black community raised money to send him to school in England. While studying there, he came into contact with the abolitionist movement. He returned to Canada determined not only to help his people, but to show them how to help each other. To do that, he founded the Anglo-African Mutual Improvement and Aid Society, the African Abolition Society and – most importantly in 1854 – the African United Baptist Association. Everything Preston did had a single purpose – to bring Africans together to work for their mutual freedom and support.

Richard Preston died in 1861 – the year that the American Civil War began. Though he lived free in Canada for most of his 70 years, he never saw the end of slavery in North America. He did create institutions, however, that were strong enough to survive his death. The African United Baptist Association continues to serve the Black community of Nova Scotia to this day.

THE REV. RICHARD PRESTON, NATIONAL HISTORIC PERSON. DESIGNATED 2005. PLAQUE RECOMMENDED: HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA


© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

The Rev. William King, founder of the Buxton settlement near Chatham, Ontario

William King migrated from Ireland to the United States, where he saw slavery first-hand, and then – after studying for the ministry – came on to Canada, where he formed the province's single most successful farming settlement for escaped slaves.

Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

Photograph
© 2008, Buxton National Historic Site and Museum. All Rights Reserved.


A Plan of the Elgin Settlement, later renamed Buxton

This plan of the Buxton Settlement, with its neat arrangement of houses and roads, shows the farming colony that William King founded on 9,000 acres of land near Chatham, Ontario. King divided the land there into 50-acre parcels which he sold to Black refugees for $2.50, giving the buyers ten years to pay.

William King Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Paper
R4402-0-1-E / C-2790003
© 2008, Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


William King was a born leader. As founder of a Black farming settlement at Buxton, he never hesitated to throw off his coat to work alongside former slaves. “When we grew tired of the cold and hard work,” a settler remembered, “Mr. King would jump upon a stump and swing his axe around, calling out, ‘Hurrah boys’ and set us laughing over some nonsense.”

Born in Ireland, King went as young man to teach school in Louisiana and there married the daughter of a slave-owning family. His wife died young, leaving King the embarrassed owner of 14 slaves. As he departed to study for the ministry in Scotland, he settled the slaves on a farm of their own in the hope they could be self-sufficient. It was a temporary solution. As soon as he graduated, he brought the slaves to Canada and formally freed them.

King was a good manager. He raised funds to buy land in Chatham, north of Lake Erie, and there he shared out lots to refugees. He encouraged them to work together to clear land and build their houses and barns. When white neighbours refused to welcome Black children to the local school, King founded a school of his own. And it was such Read More

William King was a born leader. As founder of a Black farming settlement at Buxton, he never hesitated to throw off his coat to work alongside former slaves. “When we grew tired of the cold and hard work,” a settler remembered, “Mr. King would jump upon a stump and swing his axe around, calling out, ‘Hurrah boys’ and set us laughing over some nonsense.”

Born in Ireland, King went as young man to teach school in Louisiana and there married the daughter of a slave-owning family. His wife died young, leaving King the embarrassed owner of 14 slaves. As he departed to study for the ministry in Scotland, he settled the slaves on a farm of their own in the hope they could be self-sufficient. It was a temporary solution. As soon as he graduated, he brought the slaves to Canada and formally freed them.

King was a good manager. He raised funds to buy land in Chatham, north of Lake Erie, and there he shared out lots to refugees. He encouraged them to work together to clear land and build their houses and barns. When white neighbours refused to welcome Black children to the local school, King founded a school of his own. And it was such a good school that before long the white community was begging to send their children there as well. Buxton, almost accidentally, was a pioneer of integration.

THE REVEREND WILLIAM KING. NATIONAL HISTORIC PERSON OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 2005. PLAQUE RECOMMENDED: CHATHAM, ONTARIO

BUXTON SETTLEMENT. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1999. PLAQUE: BUXTON, ONTARIO

© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Portrait of the author from Narrative Of The Life And Adventures Of Henry Bibb, An American Slave

This picture of Henry Bibb was published in the front of his famous auto-biography, which – along with the newspaper that he and his wife, Mary, founded in Canada – helped to turn public opinion against slavery in the United States in the 1850s.

Rare Book Collection, Special Collections Department, J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina

Photograph (book)
Call no.: E444.B58
© 2008, J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University. All Rights Reserved.


When Henry Bibb strode to the head of an anti-slavery meeting, people fell silent, anxious to miss not a word of his story… How, as a slave, he’d been forced to choose between freedom and family. How he had fled to safety, only to return, again and again, trying to rescue his family. How, tragically, he had failed.

Mary Bibb’s story was different. She was the child of free Blacks, well educated, a trained teacher. She met her husband-to-be in 1848, at an anti-slavery rally in New York City. They married and came to Canada in search of a haven from which to organize their campaign against slavery.

Henry and Mary Bibb had only six years together, but what a difference they made. He traveled and spoke widely. She opened a school for Black children. They published a newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive, which reached out with argument, advice and comfort to slaves and abolitionists alike. In its heyday, it was the most important Abolitionist paper in Canada. They also founded the Refugee Home Society to help refugees to settle, become self-sufficient and learn the rules of freedom.

It was a life of feverish activity, as feverish as the arso Read More

When Henry Bibb strode to the head of an anti-slavery meeting, people fell silent, anxious to miss not a word of his story… How, as a slave, he’d been forced to choose between freedom and family. How he had fled to safety, only to return, again and again, trying to rescue his family. How, tragically, he had failed.

Mary Bibb’s story was different. She was the child of free Blacks, well educated, a trained teacher. She met her husband-to-be in 1848, at an anti-slavery rally in New York City. They married and came to Canada in search of a haven from which to organize their campaign against slavery.

Henry and Mary Bibb had only six years together, but what a difference they made. He traveled and spoke widely. She opened a school for Black children. They published a newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive, which reached out with argument, advice and comfort to slaves and abolitionists alike. In its heyday, it was the most important Abolitionist paper in Canada. They also founded the Refugee Home Society to help refugees to settle, become self-sufficient and learn the rules of freedom.

It was a life of feverish activity, as feverish as the arsonist’s fire that destroyed their newspaper in 1853. Henry Bibb died of a fever the next year. Mary continued to teach in Canada until 1865, after which she returned to the United States.

MARY AND HENRY BIBB. NATIONAL HISTORIC PERSONS OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 2002. PLAQUE: WINDSOR, ONTARIO
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canadas. All Rights Reserved.

Mary Ann Shadd was a teacher, a publisher and an activist in the cause of abolition.

Mary Ann Shadd, a free Black American, came to Canada in 1851 to open a school. She stayed on to co-found a newspaper and to become the first woman publisher in this country. She was famously passionate in her views and argumentative in style. She pushed the debate on freedom – and what freedom should look like – to new levels.

David Shadd Collection, Library and Archives Canada
c. 1850
Photograph
1960-092 / C-029977
© 2008, Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


For a few days in 1851, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto was the centre of the Abolitionist world. There, under the sparkling lights of the Great Hall, hundreds gathered for the North American Convention of Colored Freemen. At this historic meeting – for Blacks only – the community took ownership of its own struggle. Here also, two factions of the movement came face to face for the first time.

One of the voices in a famous argument belonged to Mary Ann Shadd. She was a bright, articulate young American and the indulged daughter of prosperous free Blacks. She had none of the scars, mental and physical, of abolitionist and former slave Henry Bibb – whom she met for the first time at this conference. Not long afterwards, Shadd moved to Canada and opened a school with the full support of Mary and Henry Bibb.

The peace was short-lived. Shadd was an uncomfortable colleague, as the Bibbs soon discovered. She accused them of trying to isolate the Blacks and of making them dependent on white charity. In 1853, she founded her own newspaper – The Provincial Freeman – as a place to argue against the “superstitious” Black clergy, to at Read More

For a few days in 1851, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto was the centre of the Abolitionist world. There, under the sparkling lights of the Great Hall, hundreds gathered for the North American Convention of Colored Freemen. At this historic meeting – for Blacks only – the community took ownership of its own struggle. Here also, two factions of the movement came face to face for the first time.

One of the voices in a famous argument belonged to Mary Ann Shadd. She was a bright, articulate young American and the indulged daughter of prosperous free Blacks. She had none of the scars, mental and physical, of abolitionist and former slave Henry Bibb – whom she met for the first time at this conference. Not long afterwards, Shadd moved to Canada and opened a school with the full support of Mary and Henry Bibb.

The peace was short-lived. Shadd was an uncomfortable colleague, as the Bibbs soon discovered. She accused them of trying to isolate the Blacks and of making them dependent on white charity. In 1853, she founded her own newspaper – The Provincial Freeman – as a place to argue against the “superstitious” Black clergy, to attack the Bibbs’ Refugee Home Society for creating dependency, and to push for racial integration. It was a useful debate, though sadly bitter in tone, and it continued in one form or another for much of the 20th century.

MARY ANN SHADD. NATIONAL HISTORIC PERSON OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1994. PLAQUE: CHATHAM, ONTARIO
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

After reading, viewing and listening to media files in the Learning Object, students will be able to:

• identify key persons who advocated abolition and helped new black refugees settle in Canada;

• examine the activities and accomplishments of Canada’s abolitionists;

• discover the brave and bold actions that abolitionists in Canada and the United States took to promote their cause; and

• compare the different visions that abolitionists in Canada had for Black refugees.


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