February marks Black History Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the rich and diverse Black History of New Brunswick. The majority of the Black individuals living in New Brunswick can trace their ancestry to the United States and the West Indies. Their ancestors, originating from West Africa, were brought to the Americas as slaves by white settlers seeking a cheap labor force for their plantations. However, it is essential to remember that West Africa was home to great civilizations with political organization and administrative structures comparable to those in Europe long before the arrival of white settlers. These African empires traded in gold and ivory and created remarkable works of art, such as the bronze sculptures of Ghana.
A common misconception is that the first Black people arrived in New Brunswick as slaves with the Loyalists after the American Revolutionary War. In reality, Black individuals had lived in Canada and New Brunswick before the province’s establishment in 1784. Although many Black people did arrive as slaves or “servants” with the Loyalists, a significant number also came as free individuals.
The first recorded presence of a Black man in New Brunswick dates back to the late seventeenth century. This man, from Marblehead, Massachusetts, was brought to New Brunswick against his will by the French, who captured him during a raid in New England. He was freed in 1696 by Major Benjamin Church, who led an attacking force from Massachusetts to raid French settlements on the St. John River. Church later returned to Boston with the man. Although there is no recorded evidence of Black individuals in French settlements in New Brunswick before the late seventeenth century, it is highly likely that Black slaves were brought to the region since they were present in New France and present-day Nova Scotia in the early part of the seventeenth century.
These records demonstrate that Black people lived in Canada and New Brunswick long before the arrival of the Loyalists. Slavery was an accepted fact in Canada during the French Regime. However, after the Loyalists arrived, slavery became more widespread in New Brunswick, and the first free Black settlers began to establish themselves in the province.
The largest influx of Black people to New Brunswick occurred between 1783 and 1784 with the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists. Following the loss of the American colonies, 30,000 to 35,000 individuals who remained loyal to Britain moved to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In response to their arrival, the Province of New Brunswick was established in 1784 to accommodate the Loyalists who had settled near the St. John River and did not want to be governed from Halifax. Alongside the Loyalists, several thousand Black people arrived, some as slaves or indentured servants, others as free Blacks or Black Loyalists. In official documents, Loyalists often referred to their slaves as “servants”; however, the majority of those listed as “servants” were likely no different in status from those labeled as slaves.
It is difficult to determine the exact number of Black people who arrived in New Brunswick as slaves with the Loyalists. One report from 1784 lists 1,232 servants accompanying the Loyalists, while another account states that 1,578 servants arrived in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Many Loyalist officers owned one or two slaves, some had four or five, and a few even had nine or ten. Numerous other Loyalists not affiliated with the disbanded regiments also brought slaves to New Brunswick. Notable figures include Gabriel G. Ludlow, the first mayor of Saint John; Colonel Isaac Allen, a Supreme Court judge; Colonel Edward Winslow, a member of the Executive Council of New Brunswick and later a Supreme Court judge; and several Anglican Church ministers, such as Reverend James Scovil, who brought two slaves with him to Kingston.
St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Fredericton was built in 1837 by the local Black community, comprising former slaves and their descendants. From the very beginning, the level of integration between Black and White individuals at St. Peter’s was exceptional. Whites and Blacks not only worshipped together, but Blacks also served as sextons, vestry members, and made up a considerable part of the choir. In St. Peter’s cemetery, Black and White individuals are buried together without any distinction. This was in sharp contrast to other nearby churches and community cemeteries where segregation and separation were common. St. Peter’s cemetery is the only known example of integrated burial from the nineteenth century in the greater Fredericton area, and possibly throughout New Brunswick. For more information, see Black Settlement Burial Grounds.
The Wheary graveyard, located on private property in Keswick, contains gravestones that are over 100 years old and have started to crumble. The cemetery is overgrown, making it difficult to see, and the gate has fallen from its post. Some of the gravestones are barely visible through the brush and have begun to decay.
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The Mactacquac Heights cemetery was only discovered when the land around it was developed in the 1990s. Now cared for by neighbours, the tombstones of some of the first African Canadians in the area such as Wheary, O’Ree and Dymond can be found there.
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We also discovered the Black Settlement Burial Ground in Willow Grove located on highway 111. It was founded in 1831, and is the resting place of some 100 of those Black loyalists and Black refugees.
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Name Age Date of Death
Boyd, Frederick 3 months October 15, 1910
Boyd, Prince Arthur 11 months June 19, 1912
Bree, Douglas 6 years June 29, 1935
Bree, Marsha Elizabeth 76 years July 30, 1940
Cole, Donald H. 8 months August 29, 1931
Cooper, Benjamin 48 years November 30, 1927
Cooper, Francis 30 years October 22, 1903
Diggs, Alexander 52 years April 23, 1917
Charles Hall, Child of 2 days January 28, 1910
Charles Hall, Child of stillborn March 13, 1911
Charles Hall, Child of 1 day May 20, 1917
Hall, Charles T. 4 days June 07, 1921
Hall, Emily 44 years January 28, 1922
Hall, Emily 23 years May 31, 1934
Hall, Irene 17 years June 28, 1916
Harrison, Almon 48 years December 31, 1913
Harrison, Blanch 10 months May 27, 1903
Harrison, William 1 year February 09, 1910
Harrison, Willis 2 years June 04, 1903
Hector, Joseph 55 years May 09, 1912
Hill, Rachael J. 39 years March 03, 1920
Jackson, George 59 years December 12, 1892
Jackson, Mary 92 years September 07, 1926
Kennedy, George 70 years April 28, 1900
Kennedy, Georges 52 years March 17, 1935
Kennedy, William 26 years August 24, 1904
Parrot, Julia 75 years August 12, 1913
Roach, Ronald 1 month June 17, 1943
Roche, Edward 50 years June 05, 1939
Roche, William Percy 4 months November 10, 1921
Sasso, Anne 39 years July 22, 1935
Shears, Joseph W. 66 years February 23, 1941
Shears, Walter 1 year January 05, 1906
Snead, Bertha 89 years June 22, 1935
Snead, John 65 years November 18, 1922
Taylor, Daniel 50 years December 20, 1910
Thompson, James 72 years December 02, 1935
Thompson, Hannah 78 years December 21, 1940
Williams, Freda St. Clair 20 years December 18, 1919
Williams, Henry John Very Old December 31, 1925
Resource: Information for this post came from “The Blacks In New Brunswick” by W.A. Spray. Click here to view the entire article. Please note: this link takes you to a PDF.