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Nationally Significant - Black Loyalist Rose Fortune a beacon lighting a path forward for her descendants


ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. —

A 10-year-old girl, who was evacuated with her parents from New York to Annapolis Royal at the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1784, was named a person of national historic significance in Canada 234 years later.

On the 235th year a ceremony was held and a plaque was unveiled and another young African Nova Scotian woman summed up more than two centuries by describing what the tenacious and determined Rose Fortune means to her.

“She’s integral to the fabric of our local and national history, and it makes me so incredibly happy to see her honoured today,” said Micha Cromwell, the youngest of many speakers and a descendant of Fortune. “Growing up I heard about Rose all the time from my mother, my other relatives. My mother always instilled in me the value of history, of genealogy, of knowing your roots. And I was taught to be proud.”

“I feel today that my community, my family, my people are being recognized and seen and heard. It’s really wonderful,” she said. “For me, my ancestors have always acted as beacons lighting the way forward, and Rose Fortune’s light is bright. She has allowed her descendants to see a path forward to reconciliation, to identity, to pride, and to hope.”

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HONOURED

Cromwell spoke July 20 as a plaque was unveiled in honour of Fortune, and Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald proclaimed that a small, park-like area beside King’s Theatre at the wharf on St. George Street will be known as Rose Fortune Plaza.

The force behind petitioning for Black Loyalist Rose Fortune to be recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada was The Historical Association of Annapolis Royal. The nomination was made on behalf of the association on Nov. 10, 2014 by Alan and Durline Melanson with a letter of support from provincial Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince. On Jan. 11, 2018 Fortune’s designation as a person of national historic significance was announced by the federal government.

The 11 a.m. ceremony July 20 took place on the boardwalk behind King’s Theatre and included remarks by Rose Fortune descendants Juanita Peters and Cromwell, Acadia University historian Dr. Claudine Bonner, Dr. Nicole Neatby with the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, Ince, Dr. Geraldine Browning, MacDonald, and Melanson.

SLAVERY

Fortune was born into slavery in the British colonies that became the United States. Her family’s freedom was gained by supporting Britain during the American Revolution.

In Annapolis Royal, Fortune later started a baggage business on the waterfront and also kept order by informally policing the area. She was a woman of character respected by people in high position.

“There was something about this woman that made the people of Annapolis Royal carry on her story,” said Bonner. “Travellers passing through Annapolis Royal, military officers, and officials wrote of their encounters with her. Perhaps it was because she defied many conventions of the time in which she lived.”

“She stands as a symbol of the role of African Nova Scotian women and of Black Canadians in general in shaping and fostering their own communities and Canadian society,” Bonner said.

“History surrounds us in this community,” said MacDonald. “The depth of it is profound. We need to remember that history is the construct of one individual at a time.”

The granite rock upon which the plaque was affixed is massive.

“I love the size of that piece of stone. It’s substantial. Rose was substantial,” said MacDonald. “Substantial in her impact on history and I think that the lesson of Rose Fortune more importantly above all things is that one individual can have that kind of an impact on the lives of others and on communities.”

MacDonald also proclaimed a gathering area between King’s Theatre and the wharf as Rose Fortune Plaza.

TENACITY

“Not only did Rose serve her community, she did so with a tenacity that defied social norms and prejudices of the time,” said West Nova MP Colin Fraser. “Rose represents the struggle of Black Loyalists, and, more specifically, the unique challenges facing Black Loyalist women in colonial Nova Scotia during the 18th century.”

“African Nova Scotians have been integral in this province for generations,” said Ince. “Our history is interwoven with all other history in this province. It is a shared history. It is a history that we all need to embrace, be aware of, and know. It affects each and every one of us.”

He thanked Fortune for having the wherewithal and tenacity to accomplish what she did.

“I can’t imagine what Rose Fortune would be thinking if she saw this collection of people here today,” said Juanita Peters who spoke for the descendants of Fortune globally. “It’s just amazing.”

She praised Durline and Alan Melanson with the historical association for telling the Rose Fortune story. Alan Melanson has been telling the story during his Candlelight Graveyard Tours for almost 30 years.

“I want to say, that this is one of the most significant moments in my life,” she said. “To see the way Rose’s story and her presence on this land has been honoured.”

She referred to Fortune descendant Michael Bailey’s rendition of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ the Black national anthem that talks about ‘weary feet.’

“Rose Fortune had weary feet, but she did not stop,” Peters said. “She continued to work and she also brought people together just as we are here today.”

LETTER FROM NY

“She is the best of us,” said American playwright George Cameron Grant in a letter from New York read by Alan Melanson. His play ‘Fortune’ was performed at an Off Broadway Festival in 2014. “She represents the Power of One. The impact one person can have, and that power is immeasurable.”

The American writer first heard of Fortune on one of Melanson’s graveyard tours and kneeling over Fortune’s final resting place being emotionally impacted and motivated to both write a play about Fortune and make sure a monument to mark her grave was created. He accomplished both.

“The lantern she carried up and down St. George Street, that Alan Melanson now carries to her resting place night after night, burns brightly in all of us, every time we gather as one, in unity. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, freedom has a new name, and that name is Rose Fortune. Celebrate her. Walk in her footsteps.”

THE PLAQUE

Rose Fortune

(c. 1774-1864)

“Born into slavery in the British colonies that became the United States, Rose Fortune was one of more than 3,000 Black Loyalists who gained freedom and resettlement in Nova Scotia in 1783-1784 by supporting Britain in the American Revolution. In Annapolis Royal, where she moved with her parents and siblings, Fortune started a successful baggage-carting business and earned respect by informally policing the waterfront. Long a source of pride for African Nova Scotians, the story of Rose Fortune epitomizes the perseverance of Black Loyalists, who confronted prejudice and inequality to make a place for themselves in Canada.”

100th BIRTHDAY

The July 20 event beside the wharf was also part of 100th birthday celebration of The Historical Association of Annapolis Royal. Those present at the boardwalk later walked to nearby Fort Anne where an anniversary cake was cut and the festivities continued.

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