According to James W. St. G. Walker, author of The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone 1783-1870, the passage of Black loyalists to Nova Scotia was “not merely an escape from slavery,” but an entry into a new world “where the dignity and independence that came of equal citizenship were to be his.” Yet, although some Black loyalists came to Nova Scotia in the eighteenth-century as free men and women, many others arrived in bondage. In fact, according to Amani Whitfield, “the difference between free and enslaved blacks was remarkably fluid.”  While the largest community of free blacks that arrived in Nova Scotia by 1783 resided at Birchtown, near Shelburne, there were other primarily black loyalist communities, such as Brindley Town (near Digby) and Little Tracadie (Guysborough County).

There were large numbers of blacks in this period that chose to reside in the Halifax area. One of the largest black settlements was Preston (northeast of Dartmouth), which was both close to the garrison town’s market, and also near to the water and decent timber stands. Black familes, some unable to find land elsewhere, also resided within Halifax itself, and like the Irish emigrees, many erned a living as labourers or tradesmen. By 1791, Blacks comprised almost twelve per cent of the Halifax population (422/4897).

Unquestionably the African-Nova Scotian community had to overcome many trials and prejudices as it forged a place in society. According to Greg Marquis, “two-thirds of black families acquired no title to land, and those who did received small holdings more fitting peasants than yeoman farmers.” By 1816, some 2000 “refugees” freed by the British Army during the War of 1812 were sent to Halifax and built a community at Hammonds Plains. As was the case with the earlier loyalists, the land was poor and gaining title was difficult.

One of the most important means of dealing with these problems was religion. For the most part, the black community worshiped in an evangelical style most closely resembling the practices of Henry Alline and the “New Light Movement.” According to one historian, unlike the Irish Roman Catholics that were sacramentally based, in the black community “inspiration came directly from God to the preacher and his congregation through visions, dreams, and the physiological experiences of the prayer-meeting.” In other words, it was a reliance on faith as opposed to the sacraments or scripture.

[ Untitled portrait of a black youth (Nova Scotia), National Archives of Canada]

In the nineteenth-century very few Black Nova Scotians were active members of Roman Catholic congregations. Yet, there were exceptions. In St. Peter’s Roman Catholic cemetery, located next to St. Mary’s Church (now Basilica), which served the Halifax Catholic community until 1843, Tiobas Aoke “a Blackman” was buried on 7 May 1817. In Holy Cross Cemetery, the archival records indicate that thirty-eight individuals of African descent were interred in the nineteenth-century. The first, the ninety-one-year-old Winnifred Jackson, was laid to rest in December of 1843. Interestingly, she was the thirteenth individual buried in the new cemetery. Other than her name, date of birth (1752), the notation “colored”, and the fact that she was born in Virginia, we have no other knowledge about her life (She is buried in Plot B6). Yet, due to her Virginia birth, we can speculate that she came to Nova Scotia as a freed “refugee” during the War of 1812 when the British liberated a number of slaves from the Chesapeake Bay area.

List of individuals of African descent buried in Holy Cross:

Winnifred Jackson, Buried December 19 1843, (Aged 91),Born in Virginia

Anne Plater, Buried March 27 1844, (Aged 2), Born in Halifax

James Saunders, Buried June 14 1844, (Aged 51), Born in West Indies

Esther Wright, Buried May 30 1845, (Aged 4), Born in Halifax

George Williams, Buried March 30 1846, (Aged 26), Born in Halifax

Elizabeth Provo, Buried April 8 1846, (Aged 21), Born in Halifax

George Donovan, Buried February 15 1847, (Aged 40), Born in Halifax

Isabelle Provo, Buried March 29 1847, (Aged 15), Born in Halifax

Agnes Thomas, Buried April 12 1847, (Aged 2), Born in Halifax

Charlotte Munroe, Buried August 2 1847, (Aged 15), Born in Halifax

Ann Plate, Buried November 12 1847, (Aged 100), Born in the United States

Jane Frances, Buried December 14 1847, (Aged 40), Born in West Indies

George Baker,  Buried April 16 1848,  (Aged 18), Born in West Indies

Mary Provo, Buried April 26 1848, (Aged 2), Born in Halifax

Maria Marshall, Buried May 4 1848, (Aged 70), Born in the United States

Jerret Munroe, Buried May 18 1848, (Aged 6), Born in North West Arm

Stephen Cosie, Buried June 18 1848, (Aged 86), Born in the United States

Mary-Ann Sheldon, Buried July 28 1848, (Aged 61), Born in Halifax

Isiac Peters, Buried August 9 1848, (Aged 33), Born Annapolis

Ann Mangus, Buried May 5 1850, (Aged 20), Born in Halifax

James Paul, Buried March 17 1851, (Aged 40), Born in Stewiacke

James Boyle, Buried April 1 1852, (Aged 2), Born in Halifax

Isobel Winner, Buried July 3 1852, (Aged 4), Born in Halifax

Thomas Comnas,  Buried July 4 1852, (Aged 17), Born in Halifax

Mary Smith, Buried March 22 1853, (Aged 47), Born in Ketch Harbour

Catherine Young, Buried April 11 1853, (Aged 64), Born in the United States

Catherine Williams, Buried June 26 1853, (Aged 78), Born in the United States

Catherine Cummer, Buried September 18 1853, (Aged 52), Born in Halifax

Charles Shots, Buried April 17 1854, (Aged 22), Born in Halifax

Robert Smith, Buried August 14 1854, (Aged 57), Born in Saint John

Joseph Silver, Buried October 21 1854, (Aged 25), Born in Valpariso, SP. Maine

Joseph Kummings, Buried August 14 1855, (Aged 42), Born in Halifax

Thomas Hill, Buried May 10 1858, (Aged 40), Born in the United States

Edmund J. Andrews, Buried October 3 1858, (Aged 2), Born in Halifax

Joseph Teenan, Buried October 24 1858, (Aged 35), Born in Cuba

Alice Jane Brown, Buried March 13 1859, (Aged 6), Born in Halifax

Ann Brown, Buried March 22 1859, (Aged 3), Born in Halifax

Jeremiah Wright, Buried October 16 1859, (Aged 60), Born in Nova Scotia

Sophia Munro, Buried October 21 1859, (Aged 9), Born in North West Arm

Rebecca Munroe,. Buried April 24 1860, (Aged 4), Born in Halifax

Henry Doucey, Buried 24 January 1866, (Aged 40), Born in Nova Scotia

Henry Killam, Buried June 8 1892, (Aged 6), Born in Halifax


Further Reading:

Sheridan Hay, "Black Protest Tradition in Nova Scotia, 1783-1964," (MA Thesis, Saint Maryt's University, 1997). View Hay Thesis Here

James D. Lockett, “The Deportations of the Maroons of Trelawny Town to Nova Scotia, Then Back to Africa,” Journal of Black Studies, 30, 1, (September 1999): 5-14. View Lockett Article Here

James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone 1783-1870 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992).

Amani Whitfield, “Slavery in English Nova Scotia, 1750-1810,” Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society (2010): 23-40. View Whitfield Paper Here

Amani Whitfield, “‘We Can Do As We Like Here’: An Analysis of Self Assertion and Agency Among Black Refugees in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1813-1821,” Acadiensis, 32 (2002): 29-49. View Whitfield Article Here