The African americans who escaped to Canada had a voice. For a short while that voice came from the newspaper The Provinicial Freeman edited by Mary Ann Shadd Cary.


The Provincial Freeman was published from March 24, 1853 to September 20, 1857, first in Windsor, then in Toronto and Chatham. Published weekly, it advocated equality, integration and self-education for black people in Canada and the United States. The paper's tone -- toward Uncle Tom's Cabin and white America generally -- was a lot more aggressively critical than most African Americans living in the North at this time, including Frederick Douglass, allowed themselves to be. It was co-edited by, Mary Shadd Carey, the first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada, and the Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817-1867). It was published in Windsor (1853-1854), Toronto (1854-1855) and in Chatham (1855-1857). At the time therewere an estimated 30,000 escaped slaves [see The Underground Railroad] in Canada. Between 1850 and 1852 alone, five to six thousand fugitive slaves entered Canada.

From all accounts, The Provincial Freeman, with its militant editorial policy and vivid descriptions of church activities, abolitionist groups and the small business class, recording a history that would otherwise have been unavailable, was undoubtedly the community's most outstanding achievement. Although plagued by subscription and management problems, frequently voiced by its editors, it nevertheless reflected the problems, aspirations and gratitude of a new people in a strange but friendly land. Unlike the later papers of Frederick Douglass, its editor, and a board of directors were all Negro.

. The newspaper was most explicit in its reasons for existence, claiming that it wanted to: represent the 40000 Negroes, freedmen, fugitives, wealthy and poor, recently arrived in Canada; encourage "the right class" to enter Canada by publishing an account of the country and its advantages; and develop in Canada a society to deny all assertions regarding the Negro's inability to live with others in civilized society. Negroes were among the first enrolled in the University of Toronto, and others were known to have attended the local Normal School. In 1855, a Miss Emaline Shadd, "a colored lady," received top honours and the first prize of five pounds, ten shillings, along with her first class certificate at Toronto's Normal School.

An article in the paper:

Provincial Freeman
William Still , Toronto: 6 May 1854
For the Provincial Freeman.

MR. EDITOR: Dear friend,--As your interesting paper, I trust, has a wide circulation among the fugitives, as well as their friends, in Canada, it may not be uninteresting to all concerned to see a letter occasionally from this region, relating to "escapes," "arrests," etc.; Hence you are at liberty, if you see proper, to appropriate this letter to your readers.

Yesterday another poor escaping fugitive was found secreted on board the Pennsylvania, near Newcastle, Del., within sight of the land of liberty--of the place where he had doubtless so earnestly prayed that he might reach and be free.

This unfortunate man, evidently, through great peril, had succeeded in getting on board of the Pennsylvania, at Richmond, with high hopes of being able to escape his tormentors and oppressors, thereby winning for himself the inestimable prize which he had been so long robbed of--liberty. But how horrible and hopeless must he have felt when he heard the sound of infuriated voices of men armed with crow bars, clubs and other deadly weapons, searching in every corner of the boat for him, as they would have done for a mad dog. A lady who witnessed, with weeping, on board of the boat, the terrible scene connected with the arrest, described the savages who made the arrest, as being armed as above alluded to, and the poor heart-broken hero, as looking of course very dejected and friendless. I can hardly conceive how he restrained himself from utter desperation; from taking the life of his captors, or his own. Certainly it must be beyond the conception of the human mind to fathom the bitter anguish which must pervade the bosom of any one placed in the situation he was found.

The telegraph was used in BETRAYING him. A week ago four others were taken from a boat, near Richmond, who they were or what disposition was afterwards made of them I am unable to say, having heard nothing further of them than the simple fact of their having been arrested.

These tidings I am aware will fill the heart of not a few anxious fugitives amongst you, with great madness. Will it not revive in the minds of many most keenly the situation of dear friends left in bondage? The inquiring thought will go to many hearts doubtless, exciting their apprehension that the captured fugitives were the very ones they had been looking and praying for--their own blood kin!

Well, notwithstanding these brutal arrests and the ever vigilance of the slaveholder and slave-hunter, the number of fugitives escaping, and of those who are ready and willing to aid them to Canada are daily increasing, and there is not the least room to doubt but that the underground Railroad will do this year, according to what has already been done since the year set in, just double the amount of business that was done last year. In this respect that mischievous book Uncle Tom's Cabin, may be charged with helping the underground largely; for but few of the intelligent "articles" there are in the south, who have not read, or heard it read, and consequently have at once "fired up" to strike for Canada. By the way, quite recently I had the pleasure of an interview with a very intelligent "piece" of property from far South, who had Uncle Tom with him, thinking as much of the old fellow probably as any other friend living.

Since writing the above, four hearty and "likely" looking young men and women have arrived; and will soon I hope swell the goodly number who are already counted amongst her Majesty's subjects.

You are already aware that Davis the "Salt water" fugitive has been sent back to Ga. That does not end the matter, however, for the friends [illegible]. And there is some reason to hope that their efforts will not be unavailing. That Davis will stand as good a chance on trial for his freedom in Georgia, amongst the rankest slaveholders as he would be likely to do in Del., where they think themselves quite well NORTHERNIZED, cannot for a moment be doubted, since it is now a fact that he was sent back by them notwithstanding the most unqualified proof of his freedom; and that he had been illegally deprived of his liberty, by going into Maryland,

But I wish again to call your attention to "old Virginia." For some time past she has been letting off no small amount of fury on account of the "frequent escapes," from her dominion. The following specimen, taken from a Richmond paper, is about as moderate and reasonable as any thing I have seen of the sort, and I hope, therefore, you will let it have room in your paper. It reads as follows: [copy removed from paper]

According to this account from the Richmond paper, the "widow lady," "Mrs. Louisa White," "as been left penniless" by the "rascality [illegible]," of a "nest of Abolition scoundrels or by the uncommonly intelligent negroes," who had been raised with the greatest indulgence! Poor soul she is to be pitied, truly!!

The writer in the Richmond paper [illegible] or omitted to tell his readers, however, that a very indulgent Mrs. Laure White had once been in the possession of some thirty or more of the well "raised," etc., but had sold one after another until the number had been reduced to these two "uncommonly intelligent $1200 negroes," and that a mortgage of $700 was at the time of escape hanging over the head of one of them. Of course, being so "uncommonly intelligent" it was not a very hard matter for them to calculate how long it would be before their change would arrive.

Now it may be that they have been foolish enough after all, to make away to Canada, on the under-ground railroad; if so, they should see this and learn the "penniless condition of their indulgent Mistress." Will they not be moved to return, think you?

Your paper is read here with lively interest, so far as I know, and I have seen and conversed with quite a number on the subject.

Yours truly, WM. STILL.