The Meaning of Fugitive Slave Freedom in Canada West: Politics, Law, British Free Soil Diplomacy, and Black Agency “North of Erie”

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 4:30 PM
Grand Hall C (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Gordon Barker, Bishop's University
This paper will explore the meaning of fugitive slave freedom in Canada West during the antebellum and Civil War era by examining the legal framework relating to slavery and race that emerged in what is now modern-day Ontario.  Changes in statutory law, jurisprudence, and British free soil diplomacy will be addressed revealing the evolution of Canada West as a safe haven from which few fugitive slaves were taken by slave catchers or state-sanctioned extradition.  The paper will discuss what freedom on-the-ground meant for early Black Canadians in terms of political rights, access to courts, education, landownership, employment, religious worship, participation in the militia, and the enjoyment of public places and services.  Particular attention will be given to agency exercised by fugitive slaves and other Black Canadians in shaping their own freedom and building new lives for themselves and their children, in sustaining Canada West as a beacon of freedom for their brothers and sisters still enslaved in the American South, and in combatting race prejudice, which at times differed little from that prevailing south of the border.
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