Nancy, or Anne

The "Black woman Ann otherwise called Nancy" was the slave around whom the 1800 case (R v. Jones) centred. There are scant resources available from which to piece together a picture of Nancy's life, but an image does emerge from various newspaper articles and court records of the time.

Caleb Jones, Nancy's owner, claimed in his return to the writ of habeas corpus that Nancy had been a slave since birth. According to Jones, Nancy was born in Maryland to an African female slave, and she left Maryland for New Brunswick with Jones in 1785. A few articles pertaining to Nancy's life appeared in the Saint John newspaper, the Royal Gazette, before the trial in 1800. On September 19, 1786, Jones reported in the Gazette that Nancy had escaped from his estate in Nashwaaksis, along with a young Black boy and three other adult slaves. He described her as "NANCY about 24 years old, who took with her a Negro child about 4 years old called LIDGE." Jones offered a reward of six dollars each for the return of Nancy and the other female slave, and of two guineas for each of the men. This same announcement appeared in the Gazette in July and September 1786, indicating that Jones had some difficulty reclaiming his slaves:

From the subscriber living at the Nashwakshis, the county of York, between the 15th and 21st days of this instant July, the following bound Negro slaves, viz. ISAAC about thirty years old, born on Long Island near New York, had on when he went away, a short blue coat, round hat and white trousers. BEN, about 35 years old, had on a Devonshire Kersey jacket lined with Scotch plaid, corduroy breeches, and a round hat. FLORA, a wench about 27 years old, much pitted with the small pox, she had on a white cotton jacket and petticoat. Also NANCY about 24 years old, who took with her a Negro child about four years old called LIDGE. The four last mentioned Negroes were born in Maryland, and lately brought to this country.

All persons are hereby forbid to harbour any of the above Negroes, and all masters of vessels are forbid to take them on board their vessels as they shall answer the consequences. A reward of TWO GUINEAS, will be paid for each of the men and SIX DOLLARS for each Negro woman, by Mr. THOMAS JENNINGS, if taken and deliver'd to him at the city of Saint John, at York Point, or if taken and delivered to the said JENNINGS or to the subscriber in York County, the like reward with all reasonable charges will be paid by the said JENNINGS or the subcriber.

25th July, 1786.

When the judges' decision split in R. v. Jones, Nancy was returned to Caleb Jones, who in turn sent her back to her previous owner, William Bailey. Turn-of-the-century historian I. Allen Jack has dismissively described Nancy's fate following the trial: "She bound herself to [Bailey] for fifteen years and disappeared from history"

It has been difficult to trace Nancy's life before and after the trial, partly because of the dearth of records left behind about New Brunswick's slave population, but also because of the uncertainty of Nancy's full name. A few items appeared in the Gazette several years after the trial that could have related to the Nancy involved in R v. Jones, but it is impossible to make any certain connections. In 1806, for example, a black woman, Nancy Richards, was acquitted for the murder of a bastard child and sent to the House of Correction for six months (GazetteSept. 10, 1806). Three years later, a Mr. D. Brown advertised "A Negro Wench, named Nancy" for sale in the Gazette(Oct. 16, 1809). Despite the uncertainty surrounding Nancy's life after the trial, she undoubtedly played an important role in R v. Jones as the slave around whom the battle to declare slavery illegal was fought.

Archives & Special Collections, Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick
c. 1800
Fredericton, New Brunswick, CANADA
© Archives & Special Collections, Harriet irving Library, UNB. All Rights Reserved.

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