In late July 1796, on a “glorious day of warmth and sunshine,” three large
The civil and military leaders of Nova Scotia—Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth, the British commanding officer; Prince Edward Augustus, who at the time was commander in chief of the British forces in Canada and was later to become the father of Queen Victoria; and Admiral John Murrah—disembarked the Trelawny Town Maroons without waiting to hear from London. In meeting the prince, the Maroons, the deported enemies of Jamaica, became the first group of Blacks to directly encounter royalty. Neither Wentworth nor the prince had reason to fear the Maroons’ military background: unarmed and weary families, many of whom were sick and enfeebled from being imprisoned in transport ships for four months, hardly posed a danger in an environment alien to them. Two-thirds were women and children. Halifax was a garrison and could answer misbehaviour with military force.
The Maroons’ arrival during the harvest season made them particularly valuable to the colony. They could take the place of the white workers labouring on the fortification, who clamoured to return to their farms. In a colony where families grew food for subsistence and the growing season was short, the absence of men from farms, especially between April and July, could mean dire results. The Maroons’ availability would save white families from wrenching scarcity in the winter.
No one suggested re-enslaving the Maroons, although the hardships of a northern climate had not prevented African slavery in Nova Scotia. Slave ads in newspapers and wills showed the wide acceptance of the institution among the populace and the elite. Britain also legally protected slavery in British North America in 1790, encouraging the importation not only of household utensils and farming
Yet white Nova Scotians imagined themselves as a people apart from West Indian planters. Criticism of slavery and the slave trade appeared in Nova Scotia’s magazines and newspapers. Antislavery debates in the House of Commons also circulated widely. Long essays delineated the disposal of slaves in the West Indies in minute detail. Slave buyers, the essayists declared, eyed slaves at auctions, seized them with their hands and used handkerchiefs and sometimes ropes to tie them together. When some slaves fled the scene
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