Horton Journal of Canadian History [H.J.C.H.]
DaCosta - important, yet often ignored!
African-Nova Scotian History
By Lindy Isner
When we look back on Nova Scotias rich history, we often think of fishing, mining, and vast ethnic differences such as English, and Scottish. However, we do not always think of the history behind African Nova Scotian society. This may be due to the perception that Nova Scotias culture is relatively European based, not African. However, this is not the case. From the pre-Loyalist period to the present, Nova Scotia has developed an African Nova Scotian culture that is just as full and important as any other. This often forgotten culture has helped to shape and change Nova Scotia greatly and will continue to do so for many centuries to come.
Black Nova Scotians began to arrive in the province as early as 1606 when a slave from Portugal named Matthew de Costa immigrated to Port Royal, a French settlement. Before the Loyalists began to settle in Nova Scotia, slavery existed in the region. Most of the slaves were located at French Louisbourg, the English capitol of Annapolis, as well as Halifax. Not all Nova Scotians during the pre-Loyalist period were slaves, a lot of early Black settlers worked as domestics for the wealthy. (Grant, 6-7; Thomson, 1)
Between 1775 and 1783, the Loyalists began coming to Nova Scotia from the newly independent United States. Nova Scotia received around 30,000 immigrants, of which 3000 (10%) were black. The reason for the relocation was due to the fact that Nova Scotia was free and blacks would not have to be slaves. (Bridglal, Beneath the Clouds ) Many forms of racism existed. Some violence broke out and many blacks were hired for lower wages than the whites. In 1792, 1,196 Loyalists emigrated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. (Pachai, Santosh 7-9)
Around the mid to late 1700s, a group of Jamaican slaves began arriving in Halifax. This group was named "Maroons", which meant fugitive slaves taking to the woods. (Pachai Bridglal, Beneath the Clouds 56) The Maroons earned their name because they were a group of African descent slaves in Jamaica who rebelled against the system in that country. Many Maroons settled in Preston and Guysborough.
During the Maroon arrival, their services were utilized quite frequently by both the Nova Scotian government and the Loyalists. The emigration of the Black Loyalists in 1792 had forced the remaining with settlers in need of workers. The Maroons were employed in the military and by storeowners who hired these people for various labor positions. This was a vast change from the oppression experienced by the Maroons in Jamaica. (Pachai, Bridglal, Beneath the Clouds , 56-7)
In 1800 the Maroons were relocated from Nova Scotia due to many factors. The Jamaican government which was subsidizing the Maroons put an end to the subsidization. The winters were harsh for the Jamaican ethnic group. Most Maroons left Nova Scotia and settled in Sierra Leone . Those mainly left settled in Tracdie. (Henry, 24) In April 1814, a proclamation invited American slaves to "defect to the British side in return for freedom and a promise of a new home in a British Colony". ( Pachai, Bridglal, The Spirit of , 113) During the time the war between the United States and British North America was pursuing. As a result of the proclamation some 2000 slave refugees were sent to Nova Scotia.
Many problems arose for the refugees. The majority of them were left to fend for themselves, which resulted in poverty. This was a broken promise from the British, who had offered the refugees food, clothing, and shelter. However, they did not pass this on to the Nova Scotian government. Consequently, the quality of life of the black refuges from the United States became very low and a struggle for the basic necessities of life ensued. (Pachai, Bridglal, The Spirit of , 113)
The refugees who were sent to Nova Scotia were very loyal to the province. In 1821 an offer of relocation to Sierra Leone was made, however only 95 of the 2000 plus refuges signed up. (Pachai, Santosh, 12)There were and still are many primarily black communities in Nova Scotia. The largest settlement is Preston, which was established in 1815. Preston is located ten kilometers from Dartmouth. Land grants in this community were given to the American refugees. Most of the names of Preston's original inhabitants remain today: Bundy, Sparks, Boyd, and Grant among others. (Bridglal, Pachai, Beneath the Clouds , 37-39)
The community of Preston has survived many years. It is still a community today, although it has been divided, and new boundaries have been set. These divisions are: North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook, and Lake Loon. (Bridglal, Pachai, Beneath the Clouds , 30)
Another large black settlement located just outside Halifax was named Hammonds Plains. This community was settled in 1815; the same time Preston was settled. As with Preston, no actual boundaries were established; both communities were just referred to by their names Preston and Hammonds Plains. Hammonds is still a recognized black Nova Scotian community today. There were also smaller black settlements, less populated that still remain today. Refugee Hill is located in Halifax (on the North West Arm). Just after Preston is Porter's Lake, Beechville which is close to Lakeside, and Beaver Bank in Sackville are just a few of the many primarily black settlements that still remain. Most of these communities are now populated with African Nova Scotians and other ethnic groups in the province. (Bridglal, Pachai, Beneath the Clouds , 40)
One of the most controversial events in Nova Scotia history is the relocation of the residents of Africville. The first inhabitants of this community are not confirmed, however what was believed to be the first land purchase was in 1848. Africville was located in Halifax, right on the Bedford Basin. The black community was for the most part isolated from the rest of the city. (Clairmont, 37)
During this time the differences between Africville and other parts of the city were not "overwhelming". However, life in Africville was hard -- other parts of the city went through rough times as well. Africville's main notoriety was and still is their sense of community spirit. In 1849, the newly formed community established a church. A church building was finally built in 1916. The main form of religion was Baptist. (Clairmont, 41)
In the 1850s, the first form of expropriation occurred. Africville residents were relocated due to some railway construction. Around World War I, Africville was thought of as a slum, and a dangerous place to be. By that time, Africville was being neglected by the city of Halifax, and racism had branded the community. (Clairmont, 47)
In the 1950s, Africville was seen as a real problem for the city of Halifax. in 1962, a report stated that the abolishment of this community was to take place. The last building was bulldozed in 1970. 9Clairmont, 71) Most of the residents were relocated to public housing in Mulgrave Park in Halifax. The total cost of the expropriation was $800,000.00. (Clairmont, 67)
Today, what was once a spirited community is now a virtually unused park. The Africville debate goes on. many former and second generations of the bygone community have protested against the unfairness of the relocation. The effects are still being felt today. Over the years, life has brought a different perspective for different African Nova Scotians. In various interviews, memoirs have been compiled of some of Nova Scotia's black residents. Rita Mae Beals was a former housekeeper in many parts of the province. She was also a wife and mother, and lived to the age of 86. Ms. Beals states that even though she was the last surviving member of her family, she "did everything she could to survive I was never lazy". (Traditional Lifetime Stories, 1)
Walter Brown of Dartmouth was a firefighter in that city. He made between $8.00 and $10.00 a month. Mr. Brown liked to perform as a singer and was often asked to sing at the city's Natal Daly celebrations. During World War One, Mr. Brown joined the service. In 1982 Mr. Brown was the oldest surviving black man to be born in Dartmouth. As of 1986, Mr. Brown was still living in that community. (Traditional Life Stories, 3)
These two accounts are an example of the type of lifestyles African Nova Scotians lived. Although the majority were average citizens, there were some very notable black Nova Scotians were Portia White and William Hall V.C.
Portia White was born in 1910 in Truro. She was famous for her singing. She toured Canada, America, and Europe. One of her greatest accomplishments was singing for Queen Elizabeth II in 1964. Portia Whites life ended in Toronto in 1968. (Grant, 44) William Hall V.C. was descended from a black American slave who fled the United States during the War of 1812. Hall was born around Hortonville in the early 1800s. in 1857, Hall was serving in the Crimean War. During that war, Hall helped save a fleet of naval officers. For this act of bravery he received the Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria. He was the first Canadian to receive the highest award for heroism. (Grant, 41)
Through the history of the African Nova Scotian settlers, it is shown how these people were so keen on this province. Through the formation of the communities and how the majority of them still endure today, we can see how dedicated and content African Nova Scotians were with Nova Scotia. This shows that with Nova Scotias rich Black history we can look upon it with importance. Nova Scotians are very lucky to have a vast and important Black culture, which has helped develop our province and daily lives to this day.
Clairmont, Kimber, Pachai, Saunders; The Spirit of Africville; Halifax: Formac, 1992.
Grant, John N.; Black Nova Scotians; NS Museum, 1980.
Henry, Frances; Forgotten Canadians: The Blacks of Nova Scotia; Don Mills: Longmen,
Pachai, Santosh [Sonny]; The Nova Scotia Black Community and Diaspora: Models of
Upward Mobility; Role Model Report; 1994
Pachai, Bridglal; Beneath The Clouds of the Promised Land: The Survival of Nova.
Scotias Blacks Volume I: 1600-1800; Halifax: Black Educators Association of
Nova Scotia, 1987
Pachai, Bridglal; Beneath The Clouds of the Promised Land: The Survival of Nova
Scotias Blacks Volume II:1800-1989; Halifax: Black Educators Association of
Nova Scotia, 1990.
Thomson, Colin A.; Born With a Call, A Biography of Dr. William Pearly Oliver, C.M.;
Dartmouth: The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, 1986.
"Traditional Life Stories"; http://home.istar.ca/~bccns/trad1a.html.
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