The Colored Refugees in Canada - Are They in a Worse Condition in Canada Than in Slavery?
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.
A few days ago my attention was called to the voluminous report of your correspondent commissioned to explore the condition of the colored people in Canada. Presuming that yourself and the readers of the HERALD desire a “more perfect knowledge” of the facts in the care than your correspondent was able to collect in his brief visit, and knowing positively that his informants have led him into great errors in many important particulars, I crave a hearing in your columns. You will [illegible] more readily grant this request when informed that for eight years my time has been almost exclusively devoted to the moral, intellectual and physical elevation of these refugees. The things that I affirm, therefore, are things that I know.
And first of all, let me correct an error not confined to the HERALD, respecting the Underground Railroad. North and South the impression has gone abroad that the fugitives in Canada have been enticed away from their masters by abolitionists, and that there is a regular organization for this purpose. Now, I have the means for knowing that neither of these impressions is correct. I mean this: that of the forty thousand colored persons in Canada, not one in a hundred has been enticed from his master by white persons. This is not saying that no white man has ever tempted a slave from the South, for it is well-known that this has been done. I know, personally, the son of a slaveholder who ferreted away nearly all his father’s slaves, then his uncle’s, and then others. I could name one or two other cases; but these cases, like all other angels’ visits, are few and far between. Nor do I mean to say that these fugitives are not fed, and clothes, and sheltered by abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, while on their way to Canada, for they are; and I have not a doubt that the editor of the HERALD would give a load of bread to one of these runaways, should he find him “faint yet pursuing” his way to Canada. I have been told by slaveholders that if they should find a slave fleeing from a cruel master they would not only not stop him, but would help him along.
This leads me to reveal the secret causes that impel the slaves to seek a home in Canada. A large class run away to avoid being sold down South, a second class to escape from cruel masters, and a third purely from a love of freedom. I could give hundreds of cases from each of these classes that have come under my own observation. None of these I have narrated to slaveholders, and they have justified their escape. I will not omit to say that sometimes a man finds his way to Canada, leaving his wife or children behind, and that his love for these renders him successful in efforts for their rescue. This, then, is the secret of that wonderful institution called “the underground railroad.” Next we come to the condition of these people in Canada; the means for their elevation, and their ability to care for themselves. I will reverse this order, and ask why can they not, with a proper start, provide for their own wants? Has slavery so dwarfed their powers as thus to disable them? If so, why not devise means for relieving them from these disabilities? It is not generally known to the world that full one half of the arrivals from the South are children of white fathers. Startling as this declaration may be, it is nevertheless true. And some of them are men known and distinguished in our national councils. Is it not a slander upon these illustrious sires to say they have begotten a race that cannot take care of themselves.
I have known whole families to arrive in Canada from the South with scarcely a particle of African blood visible in their faces. The philosophy o the case is, therefore, clearly on the side of the runaways. Let us look, then, for the facts.
That any one who chooses can find materials in Canada for writing a sad history, is not to be denied; but it is ever to be remembered that these people are what slavery has made them. If they arrive in Canada with dwarfed or perverted moral natures, in profound ignorance and poverty, as most of them do, this is to be placed to the account of the school from which, after a protracted pupilage, they have graduated. To case the blame of their condition at their door, is equivalent to depriving a man of bread, and then hanging him for being hungry. Now, while this much is true, I enter this complaint against your correspondent, that he has committed the two fold error of rendering too intense the dark side, and concealing the bright side of the picture.
I do not say this was intentional, for, from the brevity of his story most of his information was second handed. It is affirmed that they are too lazy to work, and that they prefer to steal their living rather than to earn it. Now, from many years intercourse with the people in Canada, black and white, I affirm that there is more hard work performed by the former than by the latter, in proportion to their numbers. There are but few white families that do not employ colored laborers, in door and out. They clear up the lands; they chop the wood, and get it into the market; they assist in planting and gathering the crops; and, if there are idlers among them, they but follow the example of their white brethren. There are also thieves among them, but these are exceptions to the general rule.
There is equal ground for complaint on the other side of this question. If these people make depredations upon their neighbors, they do but re-enact the greater frauds committed upon them by the Canadians. I will give you first two cases out of multitudes that might be named, which will offset all the “sheep stealing” ever inflicted upon the Canadians. A man now on the lands of the Refugee Home Society contracted with one of his white neighbors to deliver at the Bella river depot two thousand cords of wool. When the work was nearly accomplished the man “broke down,” leaving his colored brethren unpaid—thus inflicting want and sorrow upon the families of a score men who had assisted in getting out the wood. A railroad contractor employed a large number of colored men, and when pay day came he absconded with the money, leaving them to reflect upon the superior honesty of white men.
All the year long these people are coming to me with similar complains, only on a smaller scale. These cases do not prove the Canadians to be worse, but like the rest of mankind. I will not omit to say, however, that the majority of the Canadians are entirely kind to these people, and do much to relieve the destitute.
Let us turn now to the means and outlays for their elevation. On their arrival to Canada not one in a hundred can read a word; they have not a shilling in their pockets, nor a blanket for the first night, nor a shelter for their heads. Now, if people in such a plight are not proper subjects of charity, then charity should come to an end.
How princely are the charities of the American people. They have just given to Father Chiniquy, for the relief of his little colony at Kankakee, many thousands of dollars. They have sent forty thousand dollars for the relief of the sufferers at Lawrence. They have sent fifty thousand dollars for evangelizing Ireland. (I write from memory.)
Noble charity! May the dew of Heaven rest upon the doners. But neither of these classes were in a more needy condition than the fugitives on their arrival in Canada; and yet the sum expended on the few hundred sufferers at Lawrence exceeds all the money even received for the relief of the forty thousand fugitives in Canada. In this statement I do not include the lands of the Ees colony, as the purchase money returns to the stockholders; but I do include the lands of the Refuge Home Society, every dollar of whose funds is appropriated to the interests of the fugitives.
This Society, besides furnishing an outfit for newcomers, has established and assisted several schools, and provided permanent homes for a large number of families.
These families are most of them now independent livers. They have supplanted the native forests by cornfields, meadows, orchards and gardens. Many of them have a cow or two, a yoke of oxen, or horses, pigs, poultry, and other domestic comforts.
The most of them are constantly though gradually improving in condition.
The statements and opinions of the Detroit Free Press concerning this society are not reliable, as the editor that sheet has but one eye, and that is an “evil eye,” hence his whole body (the Free Press) is full of darkness.
In illustration of this statement, a few years ago the Free Press assured the South that, such was the misery of the fugitives in Canada, that if their masters would come for them, hundreds would rejoice to return with them. This report was effectual upon the credulity of a single slaveholder, who had three fine boys in Canada. He came all the way to Detroit, and, crossing the river, found the objects of hopeful pursuit. He filled their ears with flattering promises, but it was “no go.” He was decoyed into a by-place by these same boys, sealed, fastened, and plied with a hundred lashes from a slave whip. On being released from this salutary lesson, he hastened to a barrister for redress, but was politely informed that his designs for kidnapping the Queen’s and Majesty’s dominations a severer ordeal would await him. Poor Mr. Paine (our adventurer) returned to the South no wiser if not a better man.
But the curses he invoked upon the Free Press for the [illegible] misrepresentations, are still garnered in the troubled memory of its editor.
Of the Refuge Home Society, I have to say that its officers and friends embrace most of the leading ministers, and some of the best men of Detroit and vicinity. Instead of being a land speculating concern, but one of the officers receives any pecuniary compensation; and during the past fall and winter one of its friends has spent months of unsuspended toil, walking from five to fifteen miles a day, soliciting aid for these people, and receiving no other compensation than the consciousness of good doing.
Before closing this article I will correct a few miscellaneous statements.
1. In reference to the depreciation of property in Windsor. Soon after the completion of the Great Western Railroad, real estate ran up in this town to fabulous prices, and remained so, notwithstanding the presence of the colored population, until the great financial revolution rolled over the West; then everything was down, and has been down ever since. But this cheapening was no more affected by the colored people than are the tides.
2. Report has gone abroad that the Canadian government threaten action for the exclusion of there people. What are the facts? A few years ago Colonel Prince was elected to the Canadian House of Lords; but the colonial people found justifiable reasons, in their own eyes, for dangerously swelling the vote of his competitor. On taking big seat this “foe of the English gentleman,” under the various inspirations too took occasion to make reprisals for this vote by a speech reflecting severely upon the colored people, and this was the only speech made in Parliament on that side of this question. So much for the threatened action of the government—now for the sequel. On the first day of that August the Colonel threw open his beautiful groves at Sandwich and invited the colored people to hold there their anniversary celebration; and there, in the presence of congregated thousands, he revoked his Parliament speech, affirming that the papers had not correctly reported him; that he did not wish to be held responsible for things uttered in the head of debate, and…wished to live in friendship with the colored…might be uncharitable to say that the…to this retraction by the presence of a…family, whose future elevation to his…require the votes of the people whose…wooed.
3. Of all misrepresentations of the…cruel and untruthful is the charge that…safe from their assault.” Were I…
on the other side of the question, facts would be…that would mantle the cheeks of their traducers for shame and confusion. This is only [intelligible] that unprincipled men find a home in as well as out of Canada. For years I have attended the aseizes for Essex county…have I known or heard of a trial for [intelligible] in that county, where the parties were not opposed to white; and I will venture the affirmation of a search of the records of the Court of Queen’s Bench of that county, for a period of twenty years past, will not [intelligible] two convictions for that crime by colored persons…white ones.
It is affirmed that from the rigor of the climate these men die rapidly with the consumption. Out of the “very families” mentioned by your correspondent, on the Refuge Home lands, but two have died of that disease in seven years. One of these was over fifty, and the other seventy years old. Consumption is, therefore, not peculiar to the colored people in Canada.
Here leaving this subject let me say, I have aimed more at noting the facts as they are than at giving a consecutive review of the HERALD’s article; hence I have passed every statements that would have been noticed. For that I have confined myself to that part of Canada more immediately and constantly under my observation. Men as noble and philanthropic as Mr. John Scoble and Rev. Mr. King need no justification from my pen. The name of that Canadian apostle, Hiram Wilson, will be embalmed in the gratitude of unborn generations. Let those sit in [intelligible] on his measures who have excelled him in lament and self-denial.
Finally, let these Canadian refugees receive the special sympathy of the Christian and philanthropist, as they may yet become an unspeakable blessing to Africa, to Free Justice, and to their brethren yet to be accepted in the South.
General Agent of the Refuge Home Society.