Black Halifax: Four Centuries, One Community, Fourteen Stories
Compiled by Dr. Afua Cooper
1604 to 1608
Linguist and Explorer the African Portuguese Mathieu DaCosta is in Nova Scotia. An ‘unknown Negro’ also dies at Port Royal.
Enslaved Africans are in the possession of the Acadians.
The first Africans to make Halifax their home arrived from England in June 1749.
The first Africans to make Halifax their home arrived with Edward Cornwallis, the first English governor of Nova Scotia, who founded colonial Halifax. Cornwallis arrived from England in June 1749 with a flotilla of ships, loaded with 2,500 would-be settlers and colonizers. Among this mass of humanity, were several Blacks. It is not known if these persons were free or enslaved. What is known is that they provided their labour, skills, and talents in helping to found and settle Halifax.
1750 to 1777
By 1752, merchant and slavetrader Joshua Mauger were trading enslaved Africans from the West Indies to Halifax.
As colonial settlement took root in Halifax, there began an active commerce in the buying and selling of enslaved Blacks between Halifax, Boston, other New England sites, and New York, and between Halifax and the West Indies. By 1752, merchant and slavetrader Joshua Mauger were trading enslaved Africans from the West Indies to Halifax, as the Halifax Gazette of 30 May 1752 reveals. The Planter dispensation in Nova Scotian history also led to increased migration of Black slaves to Halifax. Between 1759 and 1763, the colonial government expelled the Nova Scotian Acadians to various points in the world. The Acadian farms and properties were taken by the New England Planters whom the colonial government invited to Nova Scotia as settlers.
New England Planters brought hundreds of enslaved Africans with them.
The New England Planters brought hundreds of enslaved Africans with them, and coerced their labour in the production of their wealth. In 1760, one local White, government surveyor, John Rider, was also selling and buying enslaved Africans. However, not all the Blacks who lived in Halifax and Nova Scotia during the Planter era were enslaved. A free African Nova Scotian was Barbara Cuffee, from the well-known Cuffee family of New England. She and members of her family lived in Liverpool, owned property, and sailing vessels that entered the coastal trade between Nova Scotia and New England.
1776 to 1783
The Halifax Black population was augmented between 1776 and 1783 with the arrival of the Black Loyalists.
The Halifax Black population was augmented between 1776 and 1783 with the arrival of the Black Loyalists from the 13 American colonies. The Loyalists had sided with the British during the War, and at its outbreak and end, the British transported upwards of 40,000 to Eastern Canada. Of the 40,000 at least 3,500 were freed slaves, known as Black Loyalists, who had served the British during the war. White Loyalists brought their enslaved property with them, who numbered approximately 1,500. In Halifax and Nova Scotia then, free Blacks mingled with their enslaved brethren.
In Dec. 1791, Halifax experienced a massive overnight growth of its Black population, when over a thousand Black Loyalists gathered there to board 15 ships bound for Sierra Leone, West Africa. These Black Loyalists led by Thomas Peters, had grown weary of life in Nova Scotia.
On 16 January 1792, led by Thomas Peters and John Clarkson, close to 1200 Black Loyalists left Halifax Harbour on 15 ships and sailed away for a better life in Africa.
In 1783, the majority of them had been transported to Nova Scotia by the British government. The British had promised the Black Loyalists free land, provisions, tools, and supplies for upward of two years. The British also promised the citizenship rights. However, these Loyalists faced a virulent racism in the province as Whites were determined to give the Blacks very little rights and opportunities. Some Blacks experienced near re-enslavement; others were actually kidnapped by Whites and sold into slavery in the West Indies and the American South. By and large, British promises were not fulfilled. Instead of living a life of broken promises, these Black Loyalists chose instead to go to Sierra Leone, West Africa. On 16 January 1792, led by Thomas Peters and John Clarkson, close to 1200 Black Loyalists left Halifax Harbour on 15 ships and sailed away from that city, and from Canada, for a better life in Africa.
1796 to 1800
The Maroons arrived in Halifax in July of 1796 because of British betrayal
The Jamaican Trelawny Maroons spent a few years in Halifax but they nonetheless occupy an important place in its history. The Maroons arrived in Halifax in July of 1796 because of British betrayal. The Maroons were free Africans who lived in the interior and mountainous regions of Jamaica. Yet Jamaica was a slave society colonized by Britain. In 1734, the British fought a war with all the Maroons communities to deprive them of their freedom. This war ended with a truce. Yet again, in 1795, the British fought another war with the Maroons, but this time, only the Trelawny Town Maroons were involved. As with the first war, this ended too with a truce, but the British betrayed the treaty, and transported over 500 Maroon men, women, and children off the island to exile in Nova Scotia.
In 1800, unhappy with life in Nova Scotia, the majority of the Maroon community left Halifax and sailed for Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Living in such places as Preston, Boydville, Beech Hill (Beechville), and Spryfield, the Maroons filled a colonial labour niche left vacant by the departure of the Black Loyalists. The Jamaicans built roads and highways, worked on the third iteration of the Citadel fortress, and also helped to build Province House, the home of the governor. Maroon women also grew fruits and vegetables, and made handicrafts, which they sold in the Halifax market. In Halifax, despite pressures from the colonial government and church, the Maroons refused to assimilate into Western culture. They kept up their African-Jamaican traditions, such as African burial rites, African religious traditions, and cultural and social norms such as polygamy. In 1800, unhappy with life in Nova Scotia, the majority of the Maroon community left Halifax and, like their Loyalist predecessors, sailed for Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Maroons have left a legacy of pride, determination, and spiritual strength for Black Halifax. The Colley family of Preston is one Halifax-area Black families with Maroon roots.
1814 to 1816
This community of Africans that arrived in Halifax as a result of the War of 1812 became known as the Black Refugees.
14 years later, Halifax would experience another influx of thousands of Black settlers. Between 1812 and 1814, Britain/Canada and the United States fought the War of 1812. As in the Revolutionary War, the British promised African American slaves their freedom, if they fled their American masters, and joined the British standard. In the Chesapeake and Coastal Georgia regions, thousands of Africans fled the farms and plantations of their owners and joined the British. Peace between the belligerents was signed in December of 1814. As a result, the British Navy transported thousands of former enslaved African Americans who had sided with them. Some went to Bermuda, Trinidad, Jamaica, but the vast majority of them, some two thousand, came to Nova Scotia, in particular Halifax and its environs. They established such Halifax suburban communities as Beechville, Lucasville, Preston, and Hammonds Plains. Africville, which had been established from the time of the Black Loyalists had its population increased with the arrival of Black Refugees to that community. This community of Africans that arrived in Halifax as a result of the War of 1812 became known as the Black Refugees. James Robinson Johnston, William Hall, and Viola Desmond are three personalities who descended from this community of African Haligonians. Today, the majority of Halifax Blacks trace their descent to the Black Refugees.
1880 to 1930
In Cape Breton, an African Nova Scotian Caribbean community took shape by the beginning of the 20th century. Composed of steelworkers, coal miners, professionals, and entrepreneurs, this community also contributed to the building of Black Halifax, as many Black Cape Bretoners settled there.
By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, other Blacks from the Caribbean—merchant seamen, students, businessmen, and professionals—were settling in Halifax.
By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, other Blacks from the Caribbean—merchant seamen, students, businessmen, and professionals—were settling in Halifax. Among these were Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, who began studying law at Dalhousie University. However, Williams completed his law degree in the United Kingdom. He later went on to become one of the founders of the Pan African movement. There was also the Jamaican-born Reverend Henry B. Brown, who pastored the Halifax African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church between 1893 and 1896. By the middle of the 20th century, a veritable Black Caribbean Nova Scotian community had taken shape in Halifax.
1950 to present
In the past 60 years, Black Halifax witnessed the arrival and settlement of hundreds of Africans.
In the past 60 years, Black Halifax witnessed the arrival and settlement of hundreds of Africans from such places as the Sudan (both political entities), Egypt, the Congo, Sierra Leone, South Africa, the Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Uganda, and other countries on the African continent. The Mutale family is one of the prominent African families that have made Halifax home. Migratory streams from the Caribbean and the United States have continued.
All the various communities of African Haligonians from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have added to the rich tapestry of Black Halifax, and laid the foundations of and contributed to its rich and vibrant heritage, culture, and history.