Remembering Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia
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The Story

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Previous: African Nova Scotian Settlement

Slavery in the Black Loyalists' Story

he original homeland of most Nova Scotian peoples of African descent is West Africa. The area has a varied heritage going back thousands of years. From about 500 until the 1600s, the three West African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were rich and powerful, their economic life revolving around agriculture, manufacturing, and the international trade of gold.

By the 1400s, maritime technology in Europe had developed enough for European ships to navigate to more distant places, including Africa. European merchants had new markets for goods. They also had new sources of goods to sell in Europe and the Americas.

European countries began to establish colonies in the Americas in the 1600s and 1700s. When the British established rice, indigo, and tobacco plantations in the southern part of North America, plantation owners first used native Indians as slave labour but then mostly used African slaves because they were able to withstand the heat and malaria.

Gordon, American slave  
Scarred Back of Gordon, an
American slave c.1863, Louisiana
© CORBIS, New York
 

In the 1700s, quite a few European countries, including Great Britain, had slave-trading companies on the west coast of Africa, in the present-day countries of Gambia, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Dahomey, and Nigeria. These companies built fortified towns, with full-time European and African staff who maintained diplomatic relations with African kings and chiefs, and traded textiles, weapons, ceramics, liquor, and raw iron to them in exchange for slaves.

Men, women and children were captured inland and brought to the coast by African dealers, then sold and held in the European "slave factories" where they might wait weeks for a slave ship to arrive to transport them across the ocean. They might spend more months in the hold of a vessel, waiting for a full cargo of slaves. Some would die crossing the Atlantic Ocean, from dehydration caused by heat, lack of water and severe diarrhea - the result of unhealthy crowded conditions.

In the Americas and the Caribbean, the Africans were sold for cash. This money purchased sugar, rum, spices, cotton, tobacco, coffee, rice, indigo, and molasses for sale in Europe. The trans-Atlantic trade between Africa, the Americas, and Europe, known as the Triangular Trade, created immense wealth for European nations.

It is estimated that more than 10 million people were brought across the Atlantic Ocean to North America during the three hundred years of active slave trading. It was a cruel commerce in human lives, carried on by both Blacks and Whites, with no regard for anything except profit and power.

  John Farmer, c. 1920
  John Farmer, descendent of Jupiter
and Venus Farmer, escaped slaves.
c.1920
Photo by Clara Dennis.
Nova Scotia Archives &
Records Management

The British colonies of the 1700s passed laws to control slaves. A slave was not free to marry, vote, move about freely, or meet with friends. A slave legally could be whipped, starved, tortured, mutilated, or branded. A slave could be forced to have children or to work eighteen hours a day. A slave could be abused or murdered or sold at any time. A slave was regarded as a piece of property. In spite of the strict laws and punishments, slaves did rebel against this treatment. From the 1500s to the 1800s, there were more than 250 known slave revolts.

England made the slave trade illegal in 1807, but did not outlaw slavery itself until 1834. In the United States, the institution of slavery and the selling of slaves continued until 1863. To protect the price of their domestic slaves, in 1808 the United States made it illegal to import slaves from Africa. Slavery is a denial of basic human rights.

Related: Runaway slave ad.


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