Richard Preston spent most his adult life on the move, travelling for hours and days through the forest or along the rocky coastline of Nova Scotia. His purpose was to make contact with poor, struggling Blacks in the province and to help them organize – both within their communities and through connections with the larger Black community.  In the 45 years or so that Preston spent in Canada after buying his freedom from a Virginia plantation-owner in 1816, he founded 11 Baptist churches. They were more than churches: they were schools, community halls and a focus of identity for people just learning to think of themselves as people and citizens.

When Preston was 25 and serving as an apprentice minister in Halifax, the Black community raised money to send him to school in England. While studying there, he came into contact with the abolitionist movement. He returned to Canada determined not only to help his people, but to show them how to help each other. To do that, he founded the Anglo-African Mutual Improvement and Aid Society, the African Abolition Society and – most importantly in 1854 – the African United Baptist Association. Everything Preston did had a single purpose – to bring Africans together to work for their mutual freedom and support.

Richard Preston died in 1861 – the year that the American Civil War began. Though he lived free in Canada for most of his 70 years, he never saw the end of slavery in North America. He did create institutions, however, that were strong enough to survive his death. The African United Baptist Association continues to serve the Black community of Nova Scotia to this day.


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

Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans