On April 14, 1858, the Black community of San Francisco gathered in Zion Church to listen to Captain Jeremiah Nagle, captain of a British ship, The Commodore. These men and women were free, but they had no civil rights in California, and they were the victims of increasingly violent discrimination. Having decided to move on, they were now looking at several destinations, including Mexico and Panama. Nagle had come with orders from the Governor of British Columbia to persuade them to come north.

Governor James Douglas was an extraordinary man. Born in the 1790s in South America to a Scottish father and Black mother, he was apprenticed in youth to the Canadian fur trade, lived a life of adventure in the wilderness and married a Metis wife. Eventually, he founded Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island and in 1858 became the first British governor of the united provinces of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. One of the goals he set for himself was “Abolition of slavery within our limits.”

The Blacks of San Francisco listened attentively to Nagle, examined the maps he had brought and asked many questions. Before the meeting ended, they had decided to send a commission of 35 members back with Nagle on The Commodore to have a look at Victoria. When the news came back that land was cheap and that Blacks in British Columbia had the same rights as white citizens, they decided. Some 800 Black Americans packed up and headed north.


BLACK PIONEERS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA. NATIONAL HISTORIC EVENT OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1997. PLAQUE: SAANICHTON, BRITISH COLUMBIA.
Janet Uren (WordImage Inc.)
Maggie Fawcett, Claire Brodie, Parks Canada Agency, Multiculturalism Branch / Department of Canadian Heritage

British Columbia, CANADA
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

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