The Blacks, Anti-Slavery and the Underground Railway
Black slaves were bought to Canada as early as 1608. By 1759 there were more than 1000 Black slaves in the
then New France. After the fall of New France to Britain in 1763 many Loyalists immigrating from the United States
brought their slaves with them. However, most of the Blacks who settled in Nova Scotia after the American
Revolution were free. In August 1834 slavery was abolished for all the British Empire including the North American
colonies. At the outbreak of the Civil War, sentiment in British North America-- while not necessarily pro-North --
was definitely anti-slavery.
I'm on my way to Canada
That cold and distant land
The dire effects of slavery
I can no longer stand -
Farewell old master,
Don't come after me.
I'm on my way to Canada
Where coloured men are free.
A version of the song "The Free Slave,"
by the American abolitionist George W. Clark
Here the slave found freedom. Before the United
States Civil War 1861-65 Windsor was an important
terminal of the Underground Railway. Escaping from
bondage, thousands of fugitive slaves from the South,
men women and children landing near this spot found
in Canada friends, freedom, protection under the
Historical plaque, Windsor, Ontario
Canada is not merely a neighbor of negroes. Deep in
our history of struggle for freedom Canada was the
Martin Luther King, Jr., CBC Massey Lectures, 1967
The Underground Railway was a network of safe houses and individuals who helped
runaway slaves reach free states in the American North or Canada. It operated from
about 1840 to 1860. It was most effective after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in
1850, which enabled slave hunters to pursue runaways onto free soil. It is estimated that
about 30 000 Blacks reached Canada by the "railway." The best-known "conductor" was
In 1858 the famous American abolitionist John Brown visited Canada. He chose Harriet Tubman (left) with some
Chatham, in Canada West, as a safe base from which to develop his strategy, draw up a of her charges.
constitution for his planned provisional government and drum up support for the
One Canadian Black, Osborne Anderson, took part in the disastrous raid on Harpers Ferry. Of the 21 men who
fought with Brown, 10 died, 6 escaped (of whom 5 reached Canada and freedom) and 5, including Brown, were
later hanged. The Harpers Ferry raid made a big impression in Canada and many felt Brown was a hero.
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland in 1820. She escaped in 1849 and made at least 19 return trips to
the South to guide fugitives to the Northern states and freedom. In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act made it dangerous
for runaways to remain in the North. Harriet made 11 trips to Canada leading more than 300 Underground Railway
"passengers" to Canada. They moved only at night, sheltering in barns, chimneys and haystacks. She allowed no
dropping out or turning back. She drew a pistol on one discouraged fugitive, saying, "Move or die." He and the rest
of the group reached Canada in safety.
Researching the Underground Railway
Answer these questions in detailed and complete sentences. Use these
recommended online sites as your reference sources (NOT Wikipedia, please).
After completing the assignment please hand in the print version, or e-mail it directly to
* Flights to freedom; the merchandise of . . . slaves, and
souls of men
* Lest we forget; the triumph over slavery
* Secret routes to freedom
* Brothers of the Borderland
* Aboard the underground railroad
* They arrive - watch a one -minute dramatization
* Anti-slavery movement in Canada (also Refugees)
* History Channel article
* You are a slave
* Black Settlement in Early Canada
* Prejudice and Slavery (Canadian Encyclopedia)
* Black History Canada
1. What would were the lives of African American slaves in the U.S. like to make them so
desperate to risk escaping?
2. What help did escaping slaves receive from other people on the underground railway?
3. What were the various means of travel on the underground railway?
4. Identify four risks facing escaping slaves as they tried to get to Canada.
5. Identify three challenges facing the former slaves when they arrived in Canada.