Photo courtesy Philippe Ruel
Webster, special Collaboration
Saturday, February 10, 2018 05:00
Saturday, February 10, 2018 05:00
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February is the Month of Black History ; since 1926 in the United States, 1995 in Canada and 2006 in Quebec. This month was chosen in honor of two heroes of the struggles of abolitionists in the south of our border : Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both born in February.
What are the links between the history of black american and ours ? There are several of them ; Quebec and Canada are much closer to this story than we think. In the 19th century, nearly 30,000 slaves fled the plantations us to come take refuge in what was then called british North America. Several of them settled in Upper Canada, in Montreal and in the Maritimes.
These black communities bourgeonnantes will be a fertile ground for many of the characters who will illustrate both sides of the border : Harriet Tubman, the Moses of the black people, will live for some time at St. Catharines, Ontario ; Anderson Ruffin Abbott, a native of Toronto and the first canadian doctor to be black, will participate in the Civil war ; Mary Ann Shadd, an American-Canadian, will be the first woman in Canada to publish a newspaper ; Alexander Grant, the first activist black of Lower Canada, was also born in the United States before settling in Montreal.
However, beyond the United States, the history of the presence of black here has its roots deeply entrenched in the beginnings of the French colony. Think of Mathieu Da Costa, the interpreter to Samuel de Champlain. Da Costa, a free man, was in charge of the means (translation) between the Natives and the Europeans at Port-Royal in the early 1600s.
It is twenty years later came the first resident african Canadian and first slave Olivier Lejeune. The latter, a native of Madagascar, was taken by the Kirke brothers at the taking of Quebec in 1629. In addition to his status as a slave, he will be one of our first students in the academic history of canada ; it will remain in Quebec all his life, until his death in 1654.
Slavery aboriginal and black in the valley of the St. Lawrence river
Slavery has indeed taken place on our soil : 4185 slaves are listed in our history, two-thirds were Aboriginal, most from the Great Lakes region, and the other one-third, of Black, purchased in the Thirteen colonies or the west Indies. These last being sold two times more expensive than its counterpart in native, they will become a symbol of wealth and social status. The nature of slavery in Quebec was firmly in the home ; not having the large agricultural plantations as in the rest of the Americas (sugar, cotton, tobacco), the slave attends especially to the household chores.
Taking the leak in February, 1798, Charlotte, a slave of Jane Cook, was far from suspecting that she was going to contribute to the end of slavery in Lower Canada. Actually, citing a lack of clarity of laws in this regard, justice James Monk refused to condemn and reiterated this position for each runaway slave brought before him. Given the limited number of these on our territory, a few years were enough to make this practice obsolete. The british Empire emboîta in 1834, France in 1848 and the United States in 1865.
But where have they gone ?
What is the black history that seems to have disappeared with the time (certainly from our history books) ? Several refugees who have fled the United States in the 19th century will return after the end of the Civil war ; some of them will leave the Quebec to Ontario ; and, through intermarriages, subsequent generations will become quite white. This is the case, among others, of the descendants of John Trim, and William Wright, both former slaves in Montreal.
The genetic code of quebec is dotted with notes aboriginal, French, british, irish, and scottish (and many others today), we can also add accents of black through the United States, the west Indies, or Africa, and this, for centuries. Talk to them, and especially remember, slavery in Quebec is not an exercise of blame, but rather of reflection on the plurality of our identity and of our history, especially at a time when these issues are pervasive in the public square.
The Month of Black History is the opportunity to remember these facts unknown to our past, but, ultimately, it will be necessary to remove the month of February in order to consider them as being simply part of our common history, and collective.
Aly Ndiaye, alias Webster, is a rapper, historian, and activist. He created the tour in QC History X ” to know the history of the presence black to Quebec. He was born and has grown up in the neighbourhood of Limoilou.