STRATEGIES USED BY EX-SLAVES IN UPPER CANADA IN ADJUSTING THE ENCOUNTERED CONDITIONS

STRATEGIES USED BY EX-SLAVES IN UPPER CANADA IN ADJUSTING THEENCOUNTERED CONDITIONS

One of the earliest practices among the western nations is the act ofslavery, not only for the Africans, but also for the aboriginalgroups in the region. The region in question is the Upper Canada,which is today known as Ontario1.Issues of slaves and slavery in the region (Upper Canada) weresomewhat not known widely like it was the case in other regions likethe United States. Upper Canada was inhabited by a large group ofcolored population, most of whom were slaves from the United States.Slaveryin Upper Canada had long been a neglected area ofhistorical study. Different and numerous cases have been thecontributing factor to the exact conditions as well as thecorrectness through which the slaves experienced in the region.Canada was less known to slave trade and slavery acts and in turn thereason why slaves opted to run away to the region2.This paper looks into different strategies that were deployed by theex-slaves in Upper Canada as they adjusted to the conditions facingthem in the region. In addition the paper looks into the mostappropriate strategies used by the ex-slaves.

Slavery in Upper Canada was marked by the movement of the coloredpeople from the United States. Slavery of African Canadians and theaborigines had been in practice since the commencement of Europeansettlement. By the year 1772, the number of slaves in upper Canadawasn’t as large as it later came to be3.The main influx of slaves was experienced in the region in 1780s,with the arrival of the loyalist refugees, who themselves brought intheir slave servants4.Despite the low profile of slavery in Upper Canada, the practice ofslavery was widely and rampant in the United States whereby it widelypracticed. The enactment of the Slave Trade Bill in bothUnited States and the regions around, led to the minimization of theslavery activities. However, the act continued to be practiced in theUnited States, and in turn the slaves who were lucky to escape fromthe United States went to Upper Canada, where the practice of slavewas less practiced. One major reason of why slaves chose Upper Canadais that, the chance of being recaptured and returned to their masterwere much less.

Conditions Encountered By Ex-Slaves in Upper Canada

Different stories has been narrated about Canada’s proud heritage as a home for fugitive slaves, which led to the incoming of more than400005slaves running away from their masters in the united states. However,little is told of their experiences once they made it to UpperCanada. Little information has been given in the discussion to theexperiences that the ex-slaves underwent once they got to Canada. Thediscrimination they confronted in their day-to-day lives and their‘marginalization’ from social institutes such as schools andchurches is for the most part ignored or misrepresented6.

The ex-slaves went through different experiences in the hands oftheir masters. The encounters were different and diverse. Theex-slaves who choose to relocate to Canada had different experiencesand encounters. One of the major experiences that encountered theex-slaves, is discrimination, prejudice and racism. The Canadiangovernment used the black slaves in road construction, but thepayment offered to them was very little. The blacks were unable tobuy assets such as land, and in turn had to do farming in otherpeoples farms, especially the natives. According to7,this beautiful farming town (Lake Erie), contained numerous coloredpersons. In spite of legal prohibition that was enacted againstdiscrimination based on religion, race, or language, however, manywhite Canadians opposed the settlement of black people in or neartheir societies and also denied them admission into communityschools8.

These aspects were a common thing in Upper Canada, but compared toother regions like the United States, black settlers enjoyed morefreedom than in the United States. In reference to one of theex-slaves to arrive in Canada, he said when he arrived in Canada, hewas ragged, homeless, lonely and penniless’9.This is one indication, that the ex-slaves suffered from lack ofbasic needs such as homes, and in turn homelessness was one encounterthat faced the fugitive slaves, as well as suffering and hardships ontheir way to Canada, lack of definite transport system as well asfear of being caught and returned to the United States. According toone of the ex-slaves (J. Brown), he said, there was no need to fearany of the white men. This would help, their children grow in anentirely different environment from their fathers10.This led to the establishment of settlements such as Amherstburgsettlement which was an important development for many runawayslaves. The settlements served as refuge to ex-slaves as in thesesettlement they would get improved housing, food and care.

Another major condition that the fugitive slaves is the lack ofadequate education background, to allow them to participate in thebusiness activities in the new region. Despite being accepted inUpper Canada, through settlements, the black ex-slaves were mostlytricked by the white farmers, whom at some point they borrowed moneyfrom to buy their own land from the Canadian government. In addition,there was an aspect or the emergence of segregation in schools, andother public places. At some point this was seen as a request by theblacks to be separated from the rest (whites).On the other hand, thesegregations practice was a form of racial discrimination ineducation. This is due to the fact that, the blacks were supposed toattend their own schools and not the same to the ones attended by thenatives.

Strategies Used By Ex-Slaves in Adjusting To the ConditionsEncountered

Thedifferent encounters experienced by the ex-slaves led to differentapproaches to adjust to the conditions encountered. The fugitiveslaves deployed different strategies in order fit into the communityin Upper Canada. Some of the strategies used by ex-salves to adjustto their new environment include working hard in the farms/farming aswell as in the few employment chances they got, practicing religion,forming communities, and also gaining education. These strategieswere meant to achieve the ex-salves own goals in their new ‘home’.

One of the key and most effective strategy that was adopted by thefugitive slaves was seeking employment and working hard on thenative’s farms as well as other forms of employment that camealong. These included working whites houses, construction sites etc.According to Mr. John Little11,every turn and every place in Canada was inhibited with black peopleor African race. They were either in groups or single, and every timehe came along than they were in different occupations. Some werepainting and building of houses. Working in mills, and participatedin every handicraft employment available. (At every turn, he meetsmembers of the African race, singly or in groups he sees thembuilding and painting houses, working in mills, engaged in everyhandicraft employment: here he notices a street occupied by coloredshopkeepers and clerks: if he steps into the environs, he finds theblacks in every quarter, busy upon their gardens and farms)12.This strategy was used to introduce and gel the ex-slaves with thenative Canadians and in turn becoming part of the community. Despitesuffering racial abuse and sometimes, employment was seen as the bestway to buy their freedom when they were back in the united. On theother hand, the limited types of employment chances available formost black women in Canada displayed them as poor immigrantshowever, this didn’t prevent them from working in differentunskilled domestic-related labor13.Employment gave the ex-slaves the finances required to pay for theireducation, improve their lives through better homes as well asimproved living standards.

Another strategy that was deployed was the gaining of educationof the ex-slaves. Despite the practice of the segregation in terms ofschools, the blacks and the colored fugitives were eager to gaineducation and in turn be able to get better and improved employment. The settlement at Buxton was led by King William reverend, and heargued that despite many people seeing the colored as only fit forslave work, if they ex-slaves can be given good education as well aschance, they can be equally successful just like the natives.Education was seen as the channel to fight for their rights as wellas power to express their rights among the natives. Education wouldhave served as the channel to bring along equality among the nativesand the ex-slaves. This is due to the fact that, once the ex-slaveswere educated, they gained more respect, and in turn becoming equalto the natives. Gaining of education, helped fight the aspect ofracial discrimination that the ex-slaves were subjected to. Afterthey gained education, it proved to the natives, that the ex-slaveswere equally good when given the chances. A good example is the HenryBibb14,who was the founder of the1st black Canadian newspaper.

According to Philip Younger (an ex-slave)15,after passing of the fugitive bill, he moves to Canada, despite goingthrough hardships at first, he felt better to be free from slavery inthe United States. However, he denotes, he is suffering from need foreducation. This would enable him to have the adequate skills andexperience to work in industries as he fights his way from the darktime in slavery. Education is taken as the only channel to better andimproves lives for the ex-slaves. Education helped to adjust toconditions faced such as fight racial abuse, better payment, andbetter representation as well as improve their lives through farming,and business activities. It was used to bring equality between thenatives, and the ex-slaves.

The church played an important role in helping the fugitive slavesovercome their encountered conditions. The fugitive slavesaffiliated themselves with the church and practiced differentreligions in Upper Canada. Practicing religion was seen as an optionto practicing military services. One of the occupations that theex-slaves were involved is being recruited into the Canadian militaryforces. An alternative to this they opted to join the churches, whichin a way acted as a refuge to them. The church helped the ex-slavesthrough the supply of different basic needs such as homes and food.For example, the Presbyterian Church formed a group that was referredas the ElginAssociation. the association looked for money from private investorsand buy land given to the fugitive slaves coming from the UnitedStates. The ex-slaves used the church and the religion as the channelto access different public facilities such as education, employmentwhich were key requirements for the ex-slaves to settle in UpperCanada16.

Through religion/churches, theex-slaves managed to establish communities/societies, that wereidentified to fight for the rights of the ex-slaves. This in turnmade it possible for them to fight for their rights. The communitiesbrought together the colored people, which led to the establishmentof settlements and in turn becomes easier to access school and alsopractice farming on their own (unclear, example to support). Thiscontributed to the growing of towns, and in turn the development ofthe community at large. Lastly, the incoming ex-salves werehardworking both in different jobs they would secure, such as roadconstructions, farming, and household jobs among others they couldmanage in their new homes. This dedication to their work greatlycontributed to them improving their lives. Despite the numerouschallenges they faced in adjusting to their new homes, the ex-slavesmanaged to navigate through them. And the different strategiesdeployed in one way or the other helped them to acclimatize to theirnew homes17.

Effective Strategies

Despite the numerous strategiesthat were used to adjust to the conditions of the ex-slaves, gainingof education and employment were the most effective strategies.Despite the practice of segregated schools, the employment andeducation helped elevate the ex-slaves to almost the equal level withthe natives. Employment served as sources of income to the fugitiveslaves, which greatly helped uplift their lives in their new ‘homes’.Freedom from slavery, improve income and access to education, whichin turn gave the new settlers an almost equal play field with thenatives. This in turn propelled their contribution to the making ofCanada and in turn recognized among the Canadians. This was throughtheir contribution towards industrialization of Canada through theprovision of labor as well as a market for the local products.

The loyal ex-slaves were held insmall numbers by their different employers. They were employed asdomestic servants, skilled artisans and farm hands. Their employeesprovided them with improved housing and access to other improvedfacility in Upper Canada. Through the employment, the ex-slavesmanaged to improve their income and in turn improving their lives atlarge18.According to Henry Wiliamson, one of the ex-slaves to be interviewed,by the author, theyhave to do the best they can. I went to work on a railroad to whichI was wholly unused, having been a waiter. I worked at it till Ifound something I could do better. I enjoy better health here than Iever did before in my life”19.This shows that, through employment, the ex-slaves accessed improvedservices such as health.

In conclusion, despite thedifferent and numerous challenges that affected the ex-slaves, whenthey moved to Upper Canada, the fugitive slaves deployed differentstrategies to help themselves adjust to the conditions they faced intheir new region (Upper Canada). Such strategies included seekingeducation, following religion, seeking employment, as well as workinghard in their different employment or occupations, among others.These strategies were mainly deployed to help them achieve theirgoals and overcome the numerous conditions they faced. Some of theconditions they were fighting to overcome include poor livingconditions, racial discrimination, unemployment as well as lack ofaccess to public facilities, such as schools. Even though thestrategies used to overcome the conditions, were numerous, thestrategies that proved effective for the ex-slaves are the educationand employment of the ex-slaves.

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