The Niagara Freedom trail

Lieutenant governor John Graves Simcoe passed the anti-slavery act on June 9th 1793. However, It’s important to note that African Canadians wouldn’t come to meet their full rights until the total abolition of slavery by the crown in 1833. By the late 1700’s there were more than 4000 African Americans residing in Canada composed of both freemen and slaves. The anti-slavery act formed by Simcoe was not absolute in its allocation, although abolishing further demand for slaves, the act itself could not do anything to liberate those who were sold prior to the passing of the act in 1793. Michael Power and Nancy Butler describe how the act essentially forbade the importation of slaves in addition to granting the children of slaves born after the act freedom at 25 years of age, with the generation succeeding this group being granted freedom at birth. Furthermore, the act did not prevent masters going after runaways within their provinces or exchanging in the selling and buying of slaves, leaving many people in bondage until the Empire ultimately dissolves slavery throughout the America’s. The first person known to protest slavery in court was New Brunswick Resident Nancy Morton. Morton had escaped from her master Caleb Jones who states in his testimony to have brought her form Maryland to New Brunswick claiming it was her intent to escape once they had arrived in the north. Morton escaped with a group of fugitives, all of whom were caught by her master Caleb Jones, but Morton would not give up that easily as she responded by taking her master to court in an attempt to attain her freedom. The judges rules Nancy Morton be returned to Jones, who would later sell her back to her original master, whome she's would serve for 15 years before dissapearing from public record. Morton's case was quite significant in the cultivation of a spirit of abolotion in the North as many African Canadians were motivated by her attempt to legally obtain freedom. 

The underground Railroad consisted of a series of boarding houses and secret stops organized to transport slaves from the United States to freedom in Canada. Many of these stops had been located within the Niagara region due to its proximity to the river. Harriet Tubman is known to have aided in the migration of nearly 300 runaways to the north, crossing the Niagara river via suspension bridge.  Migration to the region became much more common following abolition in 1833, in addition to the advancement of steam boat technologies reducing the cost and time of travel. Yet it is important to note that fugitives were known to have begun migrating to Canada much earlier, with many arriving in the decade preceding abolition. Although freemen came to face similar struggles in the north, the rumours that had been circulating among communities in the south described Canada as a vague ideal, an unknown land to which they had little to no frame of reference or understanding prior to their arrival, all they knew was the promise of freedom. It was mostly between the years of 1828 and 1838 that most of the underground railroad stops had been constructed along the northern border. Following the passing of the fugitive slave act in 1850 making it possible for previous owners to go on man-hunts for runaways, the passage of fugitives into Canada increased dramatically. Prior to the initiation of the act it was not uncommon for runaways to return the states under the presumption that they had secured their freedom. After 1850 this changed significantly with much more fugitives deciding to settle in Canada upon arrival in order to avert recapture.

Fort Erie was the entry point for most Runaways entering Canada, however many were known to settle in other parts of Ontario or even outside the province. Jason Howard Silverman describes in his dissertation on the resettlement of Runaways in the North, that most remained in the region for specific reasons. Firstly, it would have been difficult to procure funds once the journey was made and many families could not afford to travel, in addition to their farming experience enabling them to stay where the soil was most like that in the south. Also, should they wish to return, remaining at the border was convenient for the runaways who had no guarantee of their security in either nation. It was also at this time that land tracts such as those purchased for North Buxton and the Wilber settlement began being secured for African Americans in the North. Ultimately, most of these communities, with a few exceptions would come to dissolve as more African Canadians gained access to labour and began leaving the region. Additionally, tensions began to rise with surrounding neighbourhoods that felt that agricultural schemes and taxation within the communities was not profitable enough, in addition to taking issue with the possibility of mingling with African Canadians. Following the dissolution of slavery in the colonies, African Canadians abandoned the settlements for the most part. However, many, such as the Shadd’s remained for generations to come building upon the histories of their forefathers and coming to love the communities they helped build.