- North to Bondage: Loyalist Slavery in the Maritimes by Harvey Amani Whitfield
Harvey Amani Whitfield brings to light an aspect of North American slavery that is often neglected in more traditional analyses. Most readers will have little, if any, knowledge concerning slavery in Canada, except that the nation provided a safe haven for fugitives hoping to escape bondage. Whitfield, however, demonstrates that slavery did exist in Canada and was prevalent in the Maritimes. His research expands beyond merely stating that slavery was present, to demonstrating how it evolved as well as its legacy after slavery ended. As such, Whitfield creates an important, yet complicated overview of slavery in the Maritimes from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century.
The first two chapters discuss where slaves originated and how or why they came to Maritime Canada. In these chapters Whitfield outlines how slavery in this region was most closely aligned to urban slavery in America, especially as loyalists from the northern colonies sought refuge in Canada during the American Revolution. Rural, or agricultural, forms of slavery did exist as well, though not to the level witnessed in the southern American colonies. Overall, these chapters reveal how free and enslaved Blacks came to Maritime Canada, and how or why they settled in specific areas.
The next two chapters examine more closely the world in which Maritime slaves existed. More specifically, Whitfield highlights the work slaves performed as well as their interactions with other slaves, freed Blacks, and slave owners. Much like urban slavery in America, slavery in the Maritimes was more of a society with slaves than a slave society. Slaves in Maritime Canada performed numerous tasks that ranged from unskilled to skilled. Some slaves were domestics, others worked around town in various industries, and some were even agricultural labourers. As a society [End Page 366] with slaves, the interaction between slave and owner was often a personal one with most owners having only a small number of slaves. As such, relationships were marked with a level of negotiation and flexibility. As in most areas where slavery existed, slaves were able to resist or run away.
Chattel slavery in the Maritimes did diminish, but only with the replacement of cheap free labour. The final chapter examines how and why slavery ended in the Maritimes. Legal issues, sympathetic whites, and other forces combined to help bring an end to chattel slavery. In many ways this chapter is the most complex, as different areas used a variety of tactics to either challenge or maintain the presence of slavery. Cheap free Black labour eventually became the norm and chattel slavery no longer remained viable for most of Maritime Canada. Not surprisingly, slavery did not simply end but slowly died out as indentured servitude and cheap labour took precedence. The legacy of slavery in Maritime Canada parallels much of that found in the United States with persistent racism and marginalization. However, in the United States a series of Jim Crow laws came into effect, while in Canada inequality remained less formalized.
Whitfield presents a new avenue for understanding the complexities of slavery in Maritime Canada and opens the door for future research. Rather than expanding on traditional research that stresses the freedoms found by enslaved or escaped African-Americans, Whitfield complicates the narratives and creates a more encompassing image of life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His use of primary sources reflects the dearth of information available, and he employs these in a convincing and solid format. North to Freedom will be a welcomed addition to courses in both Canadian and American history, especially those looking to bring in new perspectives that challenge the history of slavery.