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Annapolis River - Steal away

Destination on the Underground Railway

More on the Annapolis River:
Annapolis River:
Land of Evangeline

Apple Core:
Orchard blossoms in the valley

Fourteenth Colony:
An extension of New England

First Colony:
The beginning of European settlement in Canada

Grand Dérangement:
Deportation of the Acadians

For peat’s sake:
The ecology of peat bogs

Slippery business:
Eels and other catches of the Annapolis

Steal away:
Destination on the underground railway

Waste water is cleansed by the sun

A man named Mattieu da Costa is believed to have been the first Black to arrive on Canadian soil. He accompanied Pierre de Gua, Sieur de Monts, who was founder of Port Royal in 1605.

The first large influx of Blacks into the Annapolis River valley were among the United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. Some were called ‘servants-for-life,’ or slaves brought by their masters. Others were free Loyalists.

During the American War of Independence, many enslaved Blacks escaped their masters and made their way to British military lines. The British freed any slaves who joined their cause. When the revolutionaries won the war, many of these Blacks fled to Canada as refugees.

Today, there are families living in the Annapolis Valley who trace their ancestry to Black Loyalists. The Black Loyalists who arrived in the Annapolis Valley and elsewhere in Nova Scotia often found their new lives to be impoverished and grim. Prior to 1783, there were more than 1,200 enslaved Blacks in Nova Scotia. Black Loyalists arriving after that time added 3,000 more to the Black population.

At first, Blacks were denied equal economic and social status. Even in their new home, Blacks were bought and sold as property. In the face of such hardship, most clung to strong spiritual traditions. They found comfort and strength in communal prayer meetings and in the building of new churches in the valley.

In 1791, 1,200 of the free Blacks sailed on 15 British ships to Sierra Leone, determined to start anew in Africa, the place from which their ancestors had been taken into slavery.

In the 19th century, Nova Scotia continued to attract Black refugees from slavery. They travelled by night on the so-called Underground Railroad, an organization devoted to helping fugitives from slavery reach freedom in Canada. Many Americans broke the law and risked their own safety by hiding the runaways in barns, basements, wagons, and aboard ships. Deathly afraid of being discovered by reward hunters, the runaways sometimes communicated by secret codes hidden in spiritual songs.

One such song, ‘Steal Away,’ was a clear invitation to still enslaved Blacks to steal away to freedom:

Steal away, steal away,
Steal away to Jesus.
Steal away, steal away,
I ain't got long to stay here.

An act passed by British Parliament on August 28 in 1833 brought an end to slavery in the British Colonies. Nova Scotian Blacks could finally begin the slow and arduous survival task of rebuilding their lives.

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