Black people had lived in Canada since before the American Revolutionary War. They lived in New Brunswick before this province was established in 1784. Many Black people did come to this province with the loyalists as slaves or “servants” but at the same time many came as free Blacks. 

…a large number of Black people were brought to New France in the last decade of the seventeenth century. Both Indian and Black slaves continued to work in New France until the fall of the French Regime. 

By the agreement signed when New France was surrendered in 1760, it was stated that Indians and Blacks who were slaves under the French would continue to be slaves under the British. 

There is no doubt that the French settlers who lived in Acadia, of which the French considered New Brunswick to be a part, also owned slaves. 

The first New England settlers to come to what is now New Brunswick began to settle on the St. John River as early as 1763. Some of these settlers brought slaves with them. The first documentary evidence of Black people living in these new settlements formed after 1763 dates from 1767. In that year James Simonds, who settled at the mouth of the St. John River, mentions a Black servant named West. In a census of the settlements at the mouth of the St. John River, taken in 1775, there is no mention of Black people. However, this does not necessarily mean that there were no Black slaves in the area. Quite often the slaves were not considered important enough to be listed in a census return. They were considered property, and as such were often included in inventories with horses, cows, oxen, and other chattels. 

The largest number of Black people ever to come to New Brunswick arrived in the years 1783-84 with the United Empire Loyalists…With the Loyalists were several thousand Black people. Some came as slaves or indentured servants, others as free Blacks or Black loyalists. In documents, the loyalists always preferred to refer to their slaves as “servants.” However, the status of the majority of Blacks who were listed as “servants” was certainly no different than that of those listed as slaves. In a report of 1784 the number of servants listed as having come with the loyalists is 1,232. A second list states that 1,578 servants came to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with the Loyalists. It is safe to assume that the majority of these servants were Black people. 

Among the prominent loyalists who brought slaves to New Brunswick were : Gabriel G. Ludlow, the first mayor of Saint John; Col. Isaac Allen, a judge of the Supreme Court; Col. Edward Winslow, a member of the Executive Council of New Brunswick and later a judge of the Supreme Court; and a number of ministers of the Anglican church such as the Rev. James Scovil, who brought two slaves with him to Kingston.

There was one settlement in New Brunswick where those who owned slaves found they were not welcome. This was the Quaker settlement at Beaver Harbour in Charlotte County. The founders of this settlement, all members of the Quaker faith, banded together in 1783 and agreed to form a settlement where no slaveowners were to be allowed to settle. At the top of their agreement in large letters were the words, “No Slave Masters Admitted”. Also, no person belonging to the settlement was allowed to traffic in slaves under any pretence. Unfortunately, this was only one small settlement and their policy certainly did not find acceptance in any other settlements in the Province. In 1784, this Quaker settlement was probably the only settlement in British North America where slaves were not allowed. 

In addition to the large number of slaves or servants who came to this province with the loyalists, there were also a number of Black indentured servants. These were people who had bound themselves to serve White masters not for life, but for a specific period of time as labourers and servants. These indentured servants were mostly Black people who had escaped from slavery during the American Revolutionary War and who had found themselves destitute in New York on the conclusion of the war. They were able to leave New York with the loyalists, but in order to obtain necessities not provided by the British, they signed away their newly acquired freedom for a period of time in return for wages or other concessions.
It is impossible to determine the number of indentured servants who came to New Brunswick with the loyalists. Occasionally the indentured servant found that his master had no intention of living up to his obligations and there are cases where masters later sold their indentured servants as slaves. 

Although there is little information concerning Black indentured servants, the county records offices contain ample evidence that slavery was widespread in New Brunswick, particularly in the last fifteen years of the eighteenth century. Since slaves were considered property like land, household furniture, tools and utensils, the transfer of slaves from one master to another was usually recorded. Also many wills record the fate of many slaves. In Saint John in 1799, Munson Jarvis, a leading merchant of the city, sold to Abraham DePeyster, “one negro man named Abraham and one negro woman named Lucy”. The same year George Harding of Maugerville sold to his son James for the sum of $15 a Black boy named Sippio.

Although no laws were ever passed in New Brunswick which legalized slavery, it was considered legal simply because it was recognized in other British colonies. 

- excerpts from W.A. Spray, The Blacks in New Brunswick (Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1972)

W.A. Spray
1760 - 1840
New Brunswick, CANADA
© W.A Spray, St. Thomas University. All Rights Reserved.

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