Though present since the early seventeenth century, Canadian slavery was never as prevalent as it was in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. Instead, slavery in Canada took a domestic form as colonial elites turned to African and Indigenous labor to work as carpenters, cooks, and housemaids. As Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe began the initiative to abolish slavery in Canada. The Act Against Slavery passed on July 9, 1793, effectively beginning the gradual end of slavery in Upper Canada.
On July 1, 1839, Joseph Cinquè led a revolt against the crew of La Amistad. Cinquè spared the lives of Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro Montes so that the Spaniards could navigate the ship back to Africa, presumably to Sierra Leone. Ruiz and Montes instead steered the vessel toward the northwest, reaching Long Island, New York on August 24, 1839. Thirty-nine Mende-speaking men and women were imprisoned for murder and piracy. Their trial lasted for two years and garnered international attention. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor and on November 27, 1841 Cinquè and 34 African men and women began their voyage back to Sierra Leone.
The bloodiest single day in American history, the Battle of Antietam was fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. Though the fighting ended in a draw, the Confederate retreat was seized upon as a Union victory, enabling Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederacy’s failure to invade the North also issued a severe political cost. Lacking confidence in General Robert E. Lee’s troops, Great Britain postponed its recognition of the Confederate Government, which severely hampered the Rebels’ war effort.
On November 7, 1861, the Union attacked the strategically important South Carolina Sea Islands, and captured Port Royal Sound. Once the conflict ended, residents fled the islands for Charleston, leaving their property—and the enslaved—behind. In order to make use of the human “contrabands of war,” and to prepare the enslaved for postwar citizenship, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase instituted the Port Royal Experiment, in which black men and women would be paid for their labor, educated, and given a chance to acquire land of their own for agricultural production.
After Thornton and Ruthie Blackburn escaped from Kentucky, their former owner tried to have them recaptured in 1833. The court ruled in favor of their owners and the Blackburns were jailed in preparation to be sent back to Kentucky. Detroit’s black community devised a plan to liberate them from jail and smuggle them to Canada. The plan was successful but whites retaliated attacking black men and women and burning homes. When the jail was set on fire, Mayor Chaplin requested the aid of federal troops to restore peace to the city. He also ordered all black residents to pay a $500 bond or leave the city, causing many black Detroiters to move to Canada.
Archy Lanton was one of the only fugitives returned by Canada to U.S. officials after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Lanton was returned because he stole two horses when he fled from Michigan to Sandwich, Canada. Canadian magistrates, Adolpus Woodbridge and Wilkinson granted slave catchers a warrant for Lanton’s arrest and return to the United States.
John Brown organized the Chatham convention in Ontario to discuss his “Provisional Constitution.” The convention began on May 8, 1858 with white and black anti-slavery activists attending. It was held at a black schoolhouse to avoid interference by curious, white Chatham residents. At the convention Brown spoke about his plan to establish a military stronghold in the mountains that runaway slaves could use as a haven and choose to join his militant cause. Brown’s Provisional Constitution also mentioned his plans for an insurrection—his attack on Harpers Ferry. Though invited, national figures like Frederick Douglass and Jermain Wesley Loguen did not attend.
Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, and George and Joshua Hammond fled slavery in Maryland and settled in Christiana, a town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lancaster had several African American communities that made up a sizable, strong network for runaway slaves. Two of the runaways were recognized and a posse assembled—including Edward Gorusch, the runaways’ former owner—to capture them and return them to slavery. The black community in Lancaster refused to let them be taken. As many as 150 people armed and barricaded themselves at the home of William Parker, a former slave. When the conflict ended, Gorusch and his son were dead.
Cincinnati’s black population grew from 700 residents in 1826 to 2258 residents in 1829. The dramatic population increase frightened Cincinnati’s white citizens, and the Ohio chapter of the American Colonization Society began publishing propaganda that claimed blacks were a threat to the city. Racial tensions were so bad by 1828 that the black community began planning a mass exodus to rural Ohio where they could establish a settlement. These efforts did not come together soon enough, and on August 15, 1829 a 300-member mob attacked Cincinnati’s black neighborhoods.
On July 30, 1836 a mob attacked black residents after destroying the printing press of an abolitionist newspaper called The Philanthropist. White Cincinnatians objected to the newspaper’s message and presence. Some claimed that it inspired indignation among African American residents; others claimed that it deterred Southerners from vacationing in the city during the summer months. The riot worsened Cincinnati’s already poor race relations.