With historical research conducted and compiled by JOHN ASHTON
Pictou County has an extensive history in which African Nova Scotian people play central, formative and integral roles. With the help of the thorough historical work of local historian John Ashton, this timeline details some of the ways in which African Nova Scotians have played an integral role in the culture of Pictou County since the late 18th century. Many of these historical excerpts also display the hardship African Nova Scotians have faced, given the historical context of some of the passages.
June 10th, 1767 — Ship Betsey arrived from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Pictou Harbour the Philadelphia Company consisted of 12 heads of families, 20 children, one convict servant, and possibly one or two black slaves.
July 29th, 1779 — Slave Abraham sold in Pictou July 29th, 1779—” Be it known to all men that I, Matthew Harris of Pictou, have bargained and sold unto Matthew Archibald of Truro, one boy Named Abram, now about 12 years of age, who was born of my (black) slave in my house in Maryland for the consideration of a sum of 50 pounds…”
1783 – Several references exist that some African Americans were given land in Pictou County for their loyalty to the British Crown after the American War of Independence 1776-1784. After the evacuation of New York in 1783, approximately 2,400 Loyalists landed at Port Mouton, Queens County. Approx. 550 of these individuals were Black Loyalists. The first winter many people died of exposure and disease. Most of the settlers agreed to leave in the spring. As they were about to leave a fire swept through the shanty town destroying all but two the dwellings. Most of the Black Loyalists living in Port Mouton moved to the Guysborough /Tracadie area in 1784.
“There were (blacks) and other servants. One hundred and seven men, sixty-nine women and fifty children…thirty-nine of them under ten years old. Somewhere between two hundred and fifty and three hundred Black Loyalists landed on the Guysborough shore that June 1784.” Several prominent African Nova Scotia families moved to Pictou County from the Guysborough during the late 19th century. And early 20th century: Borden, Bowden, Gero, Paris, Reddick.
August 26th, 1786 – Slave Sambo sold in Pictou — “Make over and sell to Dr. John Harris, one (black) man named Sambo, aged twenty-five years or thereabouts, and also one brown mare. To have and to hold the said man and mare and colt as his property for the sum of fifty pounds. If the said man, mare or colt should die before the said money should be paid, I promise to make good the deficiency.”
- The first Presbyterian Minister to Pictou County, Rev. James McGregor gave up his first-year stipend (pay), to buy the freedom of two slaves in Pictou. “Matthew Harris of Pictou, was the owner of a colored girl by the name of Die (Mingo), and a mulatto man named Martin. The question of slave trade began to agitate the public mind throughout Britain before Rev. McGregor arrived. He immediately interested himself to secure the freedom of these individuals… and agreed to pay 50 pounds for the freedom of Die.” Of the 27 pounds Rev. McGregor received the first year, 20 pounds was paid toward the release and for the next two years, a large portion was paid by his produce and next year’s stipend. Rev. McGregor baptized Isaac, an adult black in 1787.
1787-1790 — “George and Die Mingo both were in full communion with the congregation of Pictou, till their death, and esteemed as very pious and good persons,” by Rev. McGregor’s influence. “Mr. Harris was also persuaded to give Martin his freedom.” Rev. McGregor also relieved a woman who was in bondage for a term of years, paying some nine or ten pounds for or her freedom. He also paid for board and education of her daughter.
During the War of 1812 — “This war brought a number of coloured people to the county. Several families settled in the
neighborhood of the Town Gut Stream near Lyons Brook.”
1834 — The Abolition Act of Aug. 1, 1834, ended slavery in the British Empire.
1800-1850s — Historical documentation and information pertaining to the African Nova Scotia presence in Pictou County from the early 1800s to the 185’s is very scarce. The African Nova Scotian connection to Pictou County begins mainly with the Black Loyalists of Guysborough and Tracadie, migrating to the area in the 1860s-1880s. Many African Nova Scotia families moved to Pictou County from the Guysborough and other areas in Nova Scotia during the late 19th century and early 20th century, including some prominent county surnames: Borden, Prevo, Bowden, Gero, Paris, Reddick, Clyke, Williams, Sheppard, Tarbot, Parry, Dorrington, Fee, Dismal, Desmond, Izzard, Backus, Parry, Smith, Elms, Jackson, Jewell, Lee, Skinner, Lawrence, Jones, McLean.
July 1887– Unrest in New Glasgow – “the proposal to 200 blacks from Tracadie, to work on the waterworks at prices, so low, as to exclude the white men from competing made things worse.”
1890s —SECOND BABTIST CHURCH OF NEW GLASGOW ORGANIZED: “A formal council was held in the White school house, New Glasgow, looking towards the organization of a new “Baptist Church.” The following names were enrolled for organization: Mr. and Mrs. William Borden, Mr. Thomas Connolly, Mr. Norman Desmond, Mrs. Alice Backus, Mrs. Lydia Borden,
Mrs. Norman Jordon, Mrs. Della Tarbot, Mrs. James Borden, Mrs. Susan Reddick, Mr. Stanly Mintos, Mr. John Williams, Mr. John Phee, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sheppard.
1900s — “The opening years of the 20th century set the stage for the social and economic patterns which influenced the lives of Black Nova Scotians. The majority of the black population lived in a rural economy. Farming, domestic industry, and largely subsistence economy, were the mainstays in the black communities.”
Life in Pictou County for African Nova Scotians was no different in the early 20th century than any other area in the province. The black population met prejudices, discrimination, segregation and ridicule on a daily basis. Through sheer determination, pride and understanding, the struggle for racial equality became accepted in Pictou County society, albeit very slowly.
Historical timeline research was conducted and compiled for The News by John Ashton, of Bridgeville, Pictou County
SOURCES: The Second Baptist Church Archives, New Glasgow; That Lonesome Road, Dr. Carrie Best, 1977; Black Loyalists, Ruth Holmes Whitehead, 2013; The Clarion Newspaper, Nova Scotia Archives, The Pictou Antigonish Regional Library, The History of the County of Pictou, George Patterson; Beneath the Clouds of the Promised Land—The Survival of Nova Scotia’s Blacks Vol. 2 Bridglal Pachai, Lancelot Press 1990 and The Black Loyalists, James W. Walker 1976.