In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The African Diaspora in Atlantic Canada:History, Historians, and Historiography
  • Harvey Amani Whitfield (bio)

BLACK MIGRATION IS ONE OF THE HALLMARKS of Atlantic Canadian history. These migrations, forced and voluntary, connected the Atlantic region with Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. Between 1750 and 1820, thousands of black people migrated to the Atlantic colonies.1 The intricacies and complexities of these black migrations are captured in several documents. An exploration of slave for sale notices, runaway advertisements, and other sources highlight the multifaceted migrations of people of African descent to and from Atlantic Canada. This essay highlights several primary source documents–the sale of Halifax slaves in Boston in 1751, Joshua Mauger's 1752 slave sale in Halifax, Hector and Peter's runaway notices, and opposing letters about race and immigration from two Nova Scotian writers–that are part of my research into slavery, the Black Loyalists, and the War of 1812 Black Refugees. Taken together, they prompt a reflection on the historiography of the African Diaspora in Atlantic Canada. Since the late 19th century, there has been an outpouring of scholarship about people of African descent in the Atlantic Region. This essay explores the trends and patterns that have emerged in the historiography and highlights the role that migration and various historical contexts–especially the local, national/continental, and imperial–have had on the black population.2

Regional history is intimately related to the wider African Diaspora through immigration, emigration, enslavement, freedom, commerce, and family [End Page 213] connections. For example, in 1751 a Boston merchant offered several slaves for sale in the Boston Post Boy: "JUST arriv'd from Hallifax, and to be sold, Ten Hearty Strong Negro Men, mostly Tradesmen, such as Caulkers, Carpenters, Sailmakers, Ropemakers: Any Person inclining to purchase may enquire of Benjamin Hallowell of Boston."3 One year later, after returning from a trip to the Caribbean, Joshua Mauger attempted to sell several slaves in Halifax. These people included men, women, and young teenagers with a variety of skills, traditions, and backgrounds. They might have been family or completely unrelated:

Just imported, and to be sold by Joshua Mauger, at Major Lockman's store in Halifax, several Negro slaves, viz. A likely Negro Wench, of about thirty five years of Age, a Creole born, has been brought up in a Gentleman's family, and capable of doing all sorts of work belonging thereto, as Needle-Work of all sorts, and in the best Manner; also Washing, Ironing, Cookery, and every other Thing that can be expected from Such a Slave. Also, 2 Negro boys of about 12 or 13 Years old, likely, healthy . . . likewise 2 healthy Negro slaves of about 18 Years of Age, of agreeable tempers, and fit for any kind of business; and also a healthy Negro Man of about 30 years of age.4

It is telling that Mauger decided to sell these slaves in Halifax. He could easily have unloaded them in Charleston, Philadelphia, or Boston. But Mauger brought the slaves back to Halifax because a local market clearly existed for them. These two for sale advertisements illuminate one of the less understood forms of migration–the trade in slaves–between Nova Scotia and the Atlantic littoral that connected Nova Scotia with New England and the Caribbean.

In addition to this trade in slaves, black people also migrated to Île Royale (Cape Breton) and alongside the New England Planters to various parts of mainland Nova Scotia. For Île Royale, historian Ken Donovan has illuminated the lives of over 400 slaves between 1713 and 1815.5 After the founding of Halifax in 1749, the British government wanted to encourage the settlement of Protestants and this resulted in an influx of New England Planters who brought slaves to various parts of the Maritimes. Although the numbers of slaves in the region were not large, there were several basic trends among slaves and slaveholders that would be greatly expanded after the Loyalist settlement. In both Île Royale and New England Planter settlements, slavery was defined by close interactions between owners and slaves due to the small number of slaves per household, multi-occupational slaves who worked with their owners in a mixed economy, and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 213-232
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.