Wednesday, 30 January 2013



          At the beginning of the last century, a sort of semi-slavery was permitted by law in Upper Canada, known as the apprentice slavery system. Negroes were not bought and sold as in the United States, but a sort of settled condition existed that did not allow the negro to own himself. Human slavery has existed since the foundation of the world. Homer tells us that in his day the male slaves were I employed in the tillage of the land and the tending of cattle and the females in domestic work and household manufactures. The females were in the more pitiable condition, for they had to submit to the brutality of their masters. By the original Roman law, the master was clothed with absolute Dominion over the slave, extending to the power of life and death. The slave could not possess property of any kind; whatever he acquired was legally his master’s. The union of a male and female slave had not the legal character of a marriage, and it might be terminated at will by the master. Down to 1442, the conquering armies made slaves of the conquered armies, and it was not till that year that negroes, as a race, became slaves. When the Portuguese, under Prince Henry, the navigator, were exploring the Atlantic coast of Africa, one of his officers, who had captured some Moors, was directed by the prince to carry them back to Africa. He received from the Moors in exchange for them ten blacks and a quantity of gold dust. This excited the cupidity of his fellow countrymen and they fitted out a large number of ships for the trade, and built several forts on the African coast. Many negroes were brought into Spain from these Portuguese settlements and the colonial slave trade first appears in the form of the introduction into the newly-discovered western world of children or descendants of these negroes. So far as we can gather from history this was the beginning of the slavery. The first Englishman who engaged in the African slave traffic was Capt. John Hawkins. The English slave traders were at first altogether occupied in supplying the Spanish settlements. In 1620, a Dutch ship from the coast of Guinea visited Jamestown in Virginia, and sold a part of her cargo of negroes to the tobacco planters. This was the first beginning of slavery in British America; the number of negroes was afterwards continually increased by importation, and the field labor was more and more performed by slave labor, so that in 1790 the State of Virginia contained 200,000 negroes. The question of the legal existence of slavery in Great Britain and Ireland was raised in 1729, to the effect that a slave by coming into those countries did not become free, and might be compelled by his master to return to the plantations. It was decided by Lord Mansfield, on June 22, 1792, that as soon as a slave set foot on the soil of British islands, he became free. The question of slavery became a live one in the British parliament in 1788 in consequence of the numerous petitions presented by the people against it. Mr. Pitt moved that the House of Commons should early in the next session take the subject into consideration. On March 19, 1789, Wilberforce, after an admirable speech, laid on the table twelve resolutions which were intended as the basis of a future motion for the abolition of the trade. In 1806, a bill was passed in both houses to put an end to the British slave trade for foreign supply and to forbid the importation into the colonies won by the British arms in the course of the war. In 1807, a bill was enacted that no slave vessel should clear from any port within the British dominions and that no slave should be landed in the British colonies after March 1, 1808. The British parliament had a long and bitter struggle in its humane efforts to remove the blot of slavery from its history. In 1811 a bill was passed through parliament declaring the traffic to be a felony punishable with transportation. Some years later, another act was passed making it’s a capital offense. There was so much profit in the slave trade that if one voyage in three was successful, they were abundantly remunerated for the risk. England was not the first European power to abolish the slave trade; that honor belongs to Denmark. The United States had, in 1794, forbidden any participation by American citizens in the slave trade to foreign countries; they now prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa into their Dominion. This act was passed in 1807. In 1807, there were 800,000 slaves in the West Indies; three years later, they were reduced to 700,000, and in 1823, England abolished slavery in the West Indies, paying the owners an indemnity of $100,000,000.


          Slavery was far from being approved by the most eminent fathers of the American union. Washington in his will provided for the emancipation of his own slaves. The words, “slave,” and “slavery,” were excluded from the constitution because they did not choose to admit the right of property in man, and it was at the same time provided that congress might interdict the foreign slave after twenty years. Soon after the formation of the Northern States in 1777, Vermont abolished slavery, and in 1804, New Jersey adopted measures for its final abolition within its boundaries. This simply transferred the northern slaves to southern markets. The pioneer of the abolition movement in the United States was Benjamin Lundy, and he was followed by William Lloyd Garrison, Elijah P. Lovejoy, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner and John Brown, the latter being hanged at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. The election of President Lincoln in 1860 was the signal for the rising of the south. The north at first took up arms to maintain the union, but soon the whole nation saw that the real issue with the south was the continued existence of slavery. The war closed at  Appomattox on April 9, 1865, but slavery in the territories had been abolished by congress in 1862. On the 22nd of April, 1862, President Lincoln issued his proclamation of freedom to the slaves, and in 1864, a constitutional amendment was passed abolishing and forever prohibiting slavery in the United States.


                                       SLAVES IN HAMILTON
          How many of the ancient Hamiltonians remember the time when slavery existed in this city, though in a very mild form. It was known as the apprentice slave system, which bound the colored man or woman to his or her master, but at the same time protected the slave from injustice or cruel treatment. In a box of legal papers that were removed many years ago to Toronto by the owner, much interesting history might be found that would be well worth writing up. That box would be valuable to the archivist of Ontario, and it will be a misfortune to some future historian should it be lost. A part of its contents is legal papers  relating to the sale and transfer of negroes who were owned in this city when it was known as the Head of the Lake. The only record the writer of these Musings had access to, and it is very brief, is of two household servants that were owned by early settlers. The older citizens of Hamilton whose memory will carry them back to the days before the American war, will remember an aged negro named Jackson, who lived in a very ancient frame cottage near the Delta. Jackson was a house servant in the family of Col. Henry Beasley, grandfather of A. C. Beasley. Where he came from is beyond the knowledge of Mr. Beasley. All that he can remember of the old man is that he used to nurse the father of Thomas C. Beasley, former city clerk, and that he performed the same kindly office for him. Jackson lived for almost one hundred years, dying about the year 1868. He was a kindly old soul, and everybody who knew him was always ready to add to his comfort. He was bent with age and his head was covered with thick, white hair, as fine and wavy as a fleece of wool. If he ever had a family, it was not known even to the Beasleys. That he had been a runaway slave from the south there was no doubt; but he never talked about his early life, not even to those with whom he was most intimate. Jackson, for he was never known by a Christian name, had a little patch of ground surrounding his cabin near the Delta, on which he raised vegetables, chickens and some fruits, so that his wants, which were few, were well-supplied. During the latter part of his life, Thomas C. Beasley saw to it that the old man was well-supplied with comfortable clothing and with money sufficient to make him independent. One day he was missed from his usual haunts; his chimney was smokeless, his door closed and locked, and his chickens squawking around, looking for the kindly hand that fed them. A neighbor went over to see what was the matter, and in looking through the window he saw the ancient colored man sitting bolt upright on a chair. The alarm was given, the door broken open, and it was seen that the old man had passed away, a sweet smile resting on his face, evidencing that his closing hours were free from suffering. Mr. Beasley took charge of the house and paid the expenses of the funeral. There was a large gathering at the house during the ceremonies, and the aged slave was followed to the grave in the city cemetery by nearly the whole neighborhood in which he lived. Jackson was the first apprenticed slave of whom we have any record.


          When James Durand, in 1805, came to Hamilton from Norfolk, he brough with him a colored woman, who was his apprenticed slave. Mr. Durand kept a general store in Norfolk, and Peter Desjardins, the builder of the Desjardins canal, worked for him as a clerk, and he came with his employer. Mr. Durand bought  the fine farm of 100 acres located between Main street and south to the mountain top, and bounded by a line running through the center of the block between Walnut and Catharine streets on the east and Hughson street on the west.  In coming down the then dangerous mountainside, and almost in sight of her new home, Mrs. Durand was thrown from her carriage, and lived but a few days afterward, dying from the injuries received. She was attended by Dr. William Case, the grandfather of Miss Case, whose home is on Queen street. There were no graveyards in those early days, the settlers burying their loved ones on their farms. Mrs. Durand was buried on the side of the mountain on her husband’s farm, and, strange to say, Dr. Case was buried in the same lot nearly fifty years later. We have told the story before, but history will always stand repeating for the benefit of the later generations. When Dr. Case died in 1854, although Hamilton cemetery was then opened, but did not belong to the city, the church that then controlled the property refused to sell a lot to the Case family unless some orthodox minister would perform the burial service at the grave. The good old doctor had the misfortune, if it might be so called, not to be affiliated with any church, and this was considered to be an unpardonable sin in Hamilton in those bucolic days. It mattered not that the old doctor was one of the kindest men that ever stood by a sick bed, and that he rarely ever got a copper from the poorer class  of patients, yet there was one thing lacking, he did not bow before the altar in “our” church, therefore he could not be buried in consecrated ground. Geo. Hamilton, who succeeded Mr. Durand in ownership of the farm, tendered a burial spot to the family in the original Durand burial ground, and there the body of the good old doctor rests as peacefully as though it had been consigned to the grave by the pomps and ceremonies of every minister in the then holy city. The day of the doctor’s funeral was bright sunshine, and a large company had assembled to do honor to the memory of one of the kindest souls that ever lived in the town, and the chief mourners at that grave on the mountain side were the poor in purse, whose families had been nursed back to health and life by the free ministrations of their dead benefactor. When the pallbearers were about to lower the coffin into the grave a terrific thunderstorm broke from the clear sky and the rain poured down in torrents. This brought the burial service to a close, the large audience seeking shelter as best they could under the trees, the coffin being left by the side of the grave. The storm soon broke, and the sun shone out bright and clear as it did a half an hour before. Then a few who remained completed the burial. How many are still living who attended Dr. William Case’s funeral. The doctor’s body was never moved to the cemetery. It would have been sacrilege to disturb his peaceful rest. The grave can yet be seen on the mountain side as one walks up or down the hill at the head of John street.


          Well, there is nothing more to be told about the slave woman who came to Hamilton in 1805 with James Durand’s family and Peter Desjardins, the French boy who afterwards built the Desjardins canal. The faithful old slave remained in the Durand family during her lifetime, and was nurse to a generation by the second wife. The Durand farm was afterward bought by George Hamilton for $3,000 and was the first surveyed of the present city that has grown in population from less than two thousand in the year 1813 to over one hundred thousand in the year 1916. In the early days, Hamilton was the mecca for the runaway slaves from the southern states. While many of them stopped in the race from slavery to freedom at the village of St. Catharines, yet they never felt safe till they reached Hamilton, the haven of rest and safety. The runaway slaves were fearful that St. Catharines was too close to the border, and that their masters would sneak in upon them in the silent night and kidnap them back to slavery. Chatham was also a paradise for runaway slaves, and that town has yet many relics of the slave days before “Massa Linkum” issued his celebrated proclamation in 1862 declaring freedom to very black faced son and daughter. One by one the slave-born who sought refuge in Hamilton have passed to the home of freedom that is fairer than this. Back in the early days of the year 1840, there was quite a settlement of colored people in this old town. You, my old Hamiltonian, will remember John Burns, dark, fat and fifty, who kept a restaurant on King street west, in the building adjoining the C. P. R. ticket office. John was not overrun with business during the day, but when night came, and it was time for everybody  to be pointing their noses homeward, then was John’s harvest. The old man was a chef of no mean order and his pastries and sandwiches and delicious coffee makes one’s mouth water even in these days sixty years after. O for the halcyon days of youth! Then there was Peleg (sic) Brown, whose clanging hand bell and stentorian voice could be heard crying ales, things lost or stolen, lost children, concerts and lectures, in fact, everything that is now advertised in the daily papers. Hamilton had no daily paper then, and old Peleg (sic) was a first class substitute. Then there was cheerful old Taffy Mary, who was the banker for all of the children’s coppers, for which she exchanged her delicious taffy. An old Hamiltonian was talking about her the other day to the Muser, and the remembrance of that taffy was so vivid that he began licking his fingers. You remember Henry Pease, who died about six years ago? He came from Tennessee about the year 1850 and stopped to take a rest in London; but that sleepy old town was too slow for a man of his energy and skill, and he bought a ticket for Hamilton, and here he made his home. Henry Brazier died the other day, aged 92 years. He had a kind master and an easy job in the south, but his soul panted for freedom, and he crossed the river and came to Hamilton. He came long before the war, and was a decent citizen, and lived here 66 years. We might extend the roll; there are not many left of the old slavery stock. Julia Diggs, an old colored woman, who has lived so long that she has forgotten where she was born. She remembers, however, that she was born a slave in Maryland more than ninety years ago, and that she came to Hamilton nearly seventy years ago, and was united in marriage by Dean Geddes to her husband, also a runaway slave. When the American war broke out, Aunt Julia’s husband went from Hamilton to the United States and did his best to help President Lincoln free the slaves of the south. He died shortly after the war, and Aunt Julia is still drawing $12 a month pension from the United States government, which keeps the good old woman from being an object of charity. Some of these people who indulge in sneers about the United States forget that as a nation it provide generously for the men who did its fighting, and also takes care of the surviving widows of the veteran soldiers. There is one more colored man who spent his young life in slavery, and who is now drawing a pension from Uncle Sam for three years’ service on the fighting line. His name is William Moore. The old man has passed beyond the days of hard work, but his wants are all provided for while he lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment