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.", The Question of "Begging' Fugitive Slave Relief in Canada, 1830-1865 Michael E Hembree Between 1830 and 1865, thousands of black Americans left their homeland for Canada. Free blacks sought relief from prescriptive black laws and racial prejudice; fugitive slaves sought a sanctuary beyond the reach of the slave catchers. Aiding fugitives in their search for a safe haven was an essential part of the antislavery movement. Abolitionists directed much of their effort and resources to creating an elaborate, reliable network of support to ease the fugitive's difficult journey to freedom.1 But once the fugitive slave crossed the Canadian border, the question of aid became problematic. Accounts from Canada on the condition of fugitive slaves described their destitution and helplessness. Yet other reports told a different story of the resources and opportunities that awaited all those who entered the Canadian haven. Missionaries and ministers made passionate appeals for the "Canada Mission," while others involved with fugitives in Canada emphatically denied any need for such organized relief efforts. The contradictory messages emanating from Canada baffled American abolitionists. "What is the true condition of those unfortunate people?" an exasperated reader inquired of the Liberator. Even the premier antislavery weekly could offer little to clear up the confusion.2 This essay is an elaboration of themes first presented in the introduction to The Black Abolitionist Papers: Volume 2, Canada, 1830-¡865 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1986). 1 wish to thank the staff of the Black Abolitionist Papers Project—C. Peter Ripley, Roy Finkenbine, and Donald Yacovone—for their review of the manuscript. 1 William Still, The Under-Ground Railroad (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1872), 82-83, 129-30, 190-91; Larry Gara, The Liberty Line (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1961), 42-114. For a more recent interpretation of the role of black abolitionists in the underground railroad, see C. Peter Ripley et al., Black Abolitionist Papers: Volume 3, The American Series (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1991), 37-40. 2 Liberator, Oct. 29, 1852. Civil War History, Vol. XXXVlI, No. 4, ° 1991 by the Kent State University Press FUGITIVE SLAVE RELIEF IN CANADA315 The question of fugitive slave relief in Canada was a perplexing issue— a source of both personal and philosophical conflicts. And as this controversy divided blacks in Canada, so too it revealed fundamental dilemmas facing black Americans in the years before the Civil War. What on the surface seemed simply a matter of charity was at its most profound a question of identity. Black migration from the United States to Canada during the antebellum years consisted of a modest but regular flow of settlers, punctuated by brief periods of mass movement.3 In 1830, the threatened enforcement of Ohio black laws led several hundred blacks in the Cincinnati area to establish the Wilberforce colony in Upper Canada. In the late 1850s, similar laws in California drove large numbers of blacks to settle in Victoria, Vancouver Island. Opportunities for education provided by the British-American Institute and by the Elgin settlement school attracted many blacks to Ontario in the 1840s and 1850s. By far the most intensive episode of black migration came with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. Under the new law, fugitive slaves who had settled in the North lost the legal protection they might have enjoyed. Free blacks, fearful of arbitrary seizure by slave catchers, or simply despairing of any hope for improvement in race relations, reexamined the Canadian alternative. The total number crossing over to Canada in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Law is difficult to determine. The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada reported that "four to five thousand crossed the lines within a few months" following the passage of the law. Another reliable estimate of three thousand blacks over a ninety-day period in 1850 underscores the magnitude of the exodus. By 1860, the black population of Canada West had reached at least forty thousand, and probably three-quarters of that number were fugitive slaves.4 Many Northern free blacks had the opportunity to prepare for their move to Canada. They came as families, bringing their possessions and their skills with them. For the...


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