The year was 1790. Thomas Peters of Birchtown stood on the deck of a ship and watched the coast of Nova Scotia disappear in the distance. He had a mission. Peters was on his way to England with orders to contact the directors of the Sierra Leone Company and say to them: “The Black people of Nova Scotia want to go home.”

Somewhere in their blood, their music and in a dozen half-forgotten languages, American slaves – even illiterate, third- or fourth-generation slaves – had always remembered Africa. They had heard about a group of well-meaning British abolitionists – the Sierra Leone Company – that had set up a colony for former slaves on the coast of Africa. They did not know how troubled that colony was, plagued by the resentment of local peoples, bullied by the company and situated next door to slave traders who were continuing their inhuman work. To many Canadian Blacks, Africa seemed to offer a possible future.

Peters came back from England with an invitation, but the Black community of Nova Scotia split on whether to accept it or not. In the end, a third of them decided to leave Canada. In 1791, 1,196 former slaves – around half from Birchtown – set sail from Halifax. Sadly, that group included most of Birchtown’s leaders, and the settlement was much weakened as a result. As for the African colonists, once again there was no happy ending.

Janet Uren (WordImage Inc.)
Maggie Fawcett, Claire Brodie, Parks Canada Agency, Multiculturalism Program / Department of Canadian Heritage

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