“Black Refugees”: Escaping Slavery via Canada. For World Refugee Day.
It is significant that Juneteenth weekend and World Refugee Day weekend overlap. Because many decades before the Emancipation Proclamation, many decades before word of it reached Texas 2.5 years later, about 4,000 people of African heritage who had been enslaved in the United States became what were known as the “Black Refugees” — escaping slavery by entering Canada as refugees. This is very seldom taught, and today is a day we can self-educate about it.
Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day, as declared by the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. There are a wide variety of online educational opportunities, film festivals, concerts, performances, in which we can participate. Here are the graphics and links explaining events offered this month. Many have already occurred but can still be watched. Many can still be joined live. All are free. Some are in other languages.
Albeit it is now closed due to the pandemic, Nova Scotia, Canada, has a Black Loyalist Heritage Center. Beginning in 1783, Birchtown, Nova Scotia was home to the largest population of free black people in the world outside Africa, up to 2,500. The short version of a complex history is that the British Crown authorized that people of African heritage in former British colony who opted to side with the British over the colonists who had enslaved them could live free from slavery in the British stronghold in Canada. There were 2 waves: right after the Revolutionary War, and right after the War of 1812. The Black Refugees who entered Canada under the auspices of the British Crown were known as Black Loyalists.
Here are links to the museum:
Here are other very helpful links about the history:
About 4,000 people of African heritage who had been enslaved in the former British colonies opted to accept the offer of the British to repatriate as free individuals in other British colonies. About half went to Trinidad and elsewhere. About half sailed on British Naval and private vessels to Nova Scotia between 1813-1816. They largely came from the Chesapeake area and Georgia.
There also were people of African heritage who had been enslaved who escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Estimates vary between 25,000 to 100,000 escapees.
Here are some links for studying that crucial history of black refugees:
While Abolition movements were interracial and often involved white Quakers, the Underground Railroad was largely former slaves and free black Americans ushering peers to safety at risk of their lives, contrary to many portrayals of a white-led network.
Our next blog post will provide resources for self-education on modern slavery and on modern abolition.
Thank you. We love you. — Ellen for BTE NB.