Black History of New Brunswick

The Blacks In New Brunswick" by W.A. Spray

Black History of New Brunswick

February is observed as Black History Month, a period dedicated to honoring and acknowledging the profound and varied history of Black individuals in New Brunswick. A significant portion of the Black population in New Brunswick has lineages linked to the United States and the West Indies. Their forebears, originally from West Africa, were forcibly transported to the Americas as enslaved people by European colonizers, who sought an inexpensive workforce for their plantations. Importantly, it’s crucial to recognize that West Africa was the cradle of advanced civilizations, boasting sophisticated political and administrative systems, which paralleled those in Europe, long before the arrival of Europeans. These African societies engaged in trade, dealing in commodities like gold and ivory, and produced extraordinary artworks, including the renowned bronze sculptures of Ghana.

There’s a prevailing yet incorrect belief that the first Black people in New Brunswick were enslaved individuals brought by the Loyalists post-American Revolutionary War. In truth, Black people were present in Canada and New Brunswick even before the formation of the province in 1784. While many did arrive as enslaved or indentured servants with the Loyalists, a notable number were free persons.

The earliest documented instance of a Black person in New Brunswick goes back to the late 17th century. This individual, originating from Marblehead, Massachusetts, was forcibly taken to New Brunswick by the French after being captured in a raid in New England. In 1696, he was liberated by Major Benjamin Church, who led a raiding party from Massachusetts against French settlements along the St. John River, subsequently returning to Boston with him. Although there’s no concrete evidence of Black people in French settlements in New Brunswick before the late 17th century, it’s quite plausible that enslaved Black individuals were present in the region, as they were already in New France and what is now Nova Scotia in the early 17th century.

These historical accounts affirm the presence of Black individuals in Canada and New Brunswick well before the Loyalists’ arrival. During the French Regime, slavery was a recognized institution in Canada. However, the arrival of the Loyalists marked a surge in slavery in New Brunswick, coinciding with the settlement of the first free Black communities in the province.

Loyalists

The most significant arrival of Black individuals to New Brunswick occurred between 1783 and 1784, coinciding with the migration of the United Empire Loyalists. After the American Revolution, approximately 30,000 to 35,000 Loyalists, who remained faithful to the British Crown, relocated to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. To better accommodate these Loyalists, many of whom had settled near the St. John River and sought governance independent of Halifax, the Province of New Brunswick was established in 1784. Among these Loyalists were several thousand Black individuals, encompassing a mix of enslaved people, indentured servants, free Blacks, and Black Loyalists. In official records, Loyalists often designated their enslaved individuals as “servants”, though in reality, many listed under this term were effectively enslaved.

Assessing the precise number of Black individuals who came to New Brunswick as slaves with the Loyalists is challenging. One 1784 report records 1,232 servants accompanying the Loyalists, while another cites that 1,578 servants arrived in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Ownership of slaves was not uncommon among Loyalist officers, with many owning one or two, some possessing four or five, and a few having as many as nine or ten slaves. Additionally, numerous Loyalists unaffiliated with disbanded regiments also brought slaves into New Brunswick. Prominent individuals who were slave owners included Gabriel G. Ludlow, Saint John’s first mayor; Colonel Isaac Allen, a Supreme Court judge; Colonel Edward Winslow, a member of New Brunswick’s Executive Council and later a Supreme Court judge; and several Anglican Church ministers like Reverend James Scovil, who brought two slaves to Kingston. 

St. Peter's Anglican Church Cemetery Fredericton

Constructed in 1837 by the local Black community, including former slaves and their descendants, St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Fredericton stands as a historical testament to racial integration. From its inception, St. Peter’s fostered an exceptional level of inclusivity, with both Black and White congregants worshipping together. African Americans actively participated in church roles as sextons, vestry members, and choir members. Unique for its time, St. Peter’s cemetery is a significant site where both Black and White individuals rest together, devoid of segregation—a stark contrast to the prevailing norms of segregation in nearby churches and cemeteries of that era. This cemetery is possibly the only example from the 19th century in the greater Fredericton area, and perhaps in all of New Brunswick, to demonstrate such integrated burial practices. For further insights, the Black Settlement Burial Grounds offer more information.

Conversely, the Wheary graveyard in Keswick, situated on private land, reveals a starkly different state. With gravestones dating back over a century, this cemetery has fallen into neglect. Overgrowth obscures the view, the entrance gate has collapsed, and the gravestones, some barely visible through the thick brush, show significant signs of deterioration and decay.

Wheary Graveyard Fredericton

Wheary Graveyard Fredericton

Wheary Graveyard Fredericton

Click on a thumbnail to see more photos

The Mactacquac Heights cemetery, a hidden historical site, came to light in the 1990s during land development in the area. Currently maintained by local residents, this cemetery is the resting place of some of the earliest African Canadian settlers in the region, with tombstones bearing the names of prominent families like Wheary, O’Ree, and Dymond.

Mactacquac Heights Black Cemetery

Mactacquac Heights Black Cemetery

Mactacquac Heights Black Cemetery

Click on a thumbnail to see more photos

The Black Settlement Burial Ground in Willow Grove, situated along Highway 111, was another significant discovery. Established in 1831, this burial site serves as the final resting place for approximately 100 Black Loyalists and Black refugees.

Elm Hill, one of Canada’s earliest black communities, was founded in 1806 by Black Loyalists from Virginia. Situated along the St. John River, it lies between Saint John and Fredericton. The Elm Hill Cemetery, a historic site within this community, is positioned 6 miles east of Highway 102, on the south side of Elm Hill Road. Over the years, this cemetery has become the final resting place for over a hundred individuals, with many of its fieldstones now worn and illegible.

Elm hill Cemetery Sign

Click on a thumbnail to see more photos. 

Here is a list of those buried in the Elm Hill Cemetery. It may be incomplete. 

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. 

Visit the New Brunswick Black History Society or the  Heritage Branch, Province of New Brunswick site to read more about NB Black History. 

 

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11 thoughts on “Black History of New Brunswick

  1. The Black history of St Andrews New Brunswick is quite interesting . Exploring this history you will find a piece of the current golf course belonging to a black family, a pottery man, a barber, a painter “bannister”, the connection to the Underground Railroad from Portland Maine to Robbinston Maine to St Andrews, the town’s grave site with the tombstones of those who passed. The big find will be a fact missed in history. The first black man in Canada was a black man whose mother was an African and father a Portuguese . He travelled with Samuel de Champlain as a translator. He also spent the winter on St Croix Island during the winter of 1610. Other facts I am sure will also surface.

  2. My black ancestors are my great grandfather Forest Wilson of half black-half English descent, son of African Canadian woman Mahalia/mahala Cole and John Wilson mahalia is child of John Cole (sackville born) and Nancy Atkinson (born in Sackville died in Dorchester). I cannot find any info on John or Nancy Cole’s parents. I cannot find any of their graves online. My DNA test also came back 3% sub Saharan African from Dad’s side so it’s def true.
    My email is selenadawnwilson@gmail.com if u have any info on them
    I don’t find much black history here in southeast NB, so any info is appreciated.

  3. Rosella Blanch McIntyre is also my great grandmother. Any information I have, I will gladly share with you
    I sent you a fried request on Facebook.

  4. Hi. My Great grandmother Rosella blanch McIntyre was born here. She married an Eatmon than my grandfathers dad Johnson. I’d love to know who her parents were and sisters and brothers. Any information would be appreciated. Thank you. Otnabog, Queens County in 1880 is when Rosella was born.
    Justina

  5. February is Black History Month. It is a time to reflect, honour and celebrate the many contributions made by Black people and all people of Caribbean and African heritage. It is a time to recognize the important role Black heritage have played in the progress and development of Canada, as well as their impact on its history. Blacks have a unique history and experience in Canada that is often ignored or seen through a colonizer’s lens. Black contributions must be recognized, and Black lives must be valued.

    (Edited for copyright material)

  6. Hello,
    My mother’s family was from Woodstock. Her name was Alice Mabel Winslow, born in 1895 and the youngest of 7 children. One of my mother’s sisters, Mary Mathilda Winslow’s likeness is currently featured on a flag in New Brunswick for black history month because Mary Mathilda was the first black and the first woman to graduate from UNB in 1905. I am very interested in talking with anyone who may have information about the Winslows’. My grandparents were Fairfax and Sarah Ann (DuBois) Winslow. I have photos.
    My name is Helene Ertha Vann and my email address is: helenevann@comcast.net. Thank you.

  7. WOW… is this my lucky day. The New Brunswick Black History Society has been looking for some information on Elm Hill for the last five years about, who was buried in the Elm Hill Burial Grounds. My two sons and I have made two trips to Elm Hill to help clean up the over growth. The Folks from that community keeps those burial grounds in Great shape!
    HI…I am Ralph Thomas …. Brother to the late Richard Thomas. I would like to talk to person that knew him. My email is: ralphthomas09@gmail.com.

    To: MyNewBrunswick.ca…. You are doing WONDERFUL WORK and thanks for including us in shearing the word on Our History to New Brunswickers as well!

  8. In doing my niece’s family history, I traced her black ancestry back to Botsford, Westmorland. Her ancestor, James Chapman Jr., his daughter, Clara, his wife Elizabethe (Arthur) were buried in Trenholm Cemetery, Bayfield, Botsford Parish, Westmorland, New Brunswick. His father is buried there also. James’ mother, Jane Chapman, was listed as Mulatto in the 1861 census for Botsford and then listed as African in the 1901 census. I do not see that cemetery listed as having blacks buried there.

  9. Richard Thomas was the business agent for local 131 international insulators union in the 1970`s. He may have been the only black man in our union. I do not think there have been many black business agents in north America for unions. he was probably the first if not the only ever here in canada. I’m surprised I’ve never heard it mentioned anywhere . I only know because my family are all 131 members.

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