The History of Long and Brier Islands

A Black Community in Freeport

by | Jun 14, 2021 | Freeport, graveyards | 1 comment

This is one of the hardest subjects to research. Early historians didn’t write a lot about the Blacks. I am sure as time goes on there will be more information to add.

            Black Loyalists, (escaped slaves and free Blacks who joined the British army during the American Revolution) . The British army promised any slave freedom in return for their loyalty.

There was 3,000 Black Loyalists who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1783-84. They earned their freedom and were resettled here because of their support of the British during the American Revolution.

In the book “History of Freeport  Nova Scotia” Greenwood writes about the early settlers to Freeport ; he writes , in 1783 Bartholomew Haines a soldier in the Kings army came to Freeport with six members in his family. It is probable that he had been, if not at the time, a man of considerable means, as there is a tradition that he brought two servants , that is slaves, with him.

The Famine of 1787-1789 was severe across Nova Scotia. Many died from starvation. The Blacks were the hardest hit. Some sold themselves as slaves. Some went to different parts of Nova Scotia to find work. Some ended up down here at Grand Passage (Freeport). It was at this time some of the white people of Nova Scotia unable to supply food for their own family members, turned out their Black slaves, giving them “ freedom”.

In 1790 the Government of Nova scotia began to evacuate most Black settlements in Nova Scotia by forming  a company call “The Sierra Leone Company. This would give Blacks free passage to the coast of Africa. It took almost half of the Black population of Nova Scotia away.

Some Black’s came to Freeport after the exodus of African-Nova Scotians to Sierra Leone. They came from Annapolis, Shelburne, and other communities where free-slaves lived as they needed work to survive .

One of these Black loyalist came to Freeport in 1793, her name was Rose. She had been living in Brinley Town just outside of Digby for a number of years. When she arrived here there was already  a Black community here. Some were servants (slaves) and some were of the 3,000 Black loyalist that had come here in 1783-84 that had found work in order to survive.

Grand Passage (Freeport), Long Island was becoming a busy shipbuilding community, which also had a busy fishing industry. There would have been jobs for manual laborers, what most of Black people were hired to be.

They handled fish-stringing it up, drying it, salting it and packing it up to put on ships to be taken to other parts of Nova Scotia or even beyond to the world. They worked hard in all sorts of weather-freezing rain, snow, boiling hot sun. They lived in a hut on the shore with other black people, where they froze in the winter and baked in the summer. They were free to go where they wanted but mostly they couldn’t afford to travel. From My research I found they lived in small shacks along the shore at Cow Ledge, Freeport.

As slaves in the American colonies the Blacks were discouraged, and sometimes prevented from embracing the religion of their owners. In their new liberty, however, many Blacks looked to religion for themselves and for their families for community support, for faith, for ease of anxiety and depression, for relationship and hope for the future.  

When Reverend Roger Viets arrived in 1786  to his new church in Digby, he found that of the 49 regular communicants, 31 of them were Blacks. This changed over the course of a few years, and the Blacks turned from Viets church to the preaching of Joseph Leonard in Brinley Town.

Rose had a baby in 1795 and named it Jane. So when Rev. Roger Veits travelled to Freeport in 1795 to perform baptisms and other church duties, he baptized little baby Jane. It is recorded in Rev. Walter Greenwoods book “ History of Freeport ”a  list of Baptismal and Marriage Records of Rev. Rodger Veits 1786-1810.

( this is only the Blacks )

A male Black child of Rachel Lanton, named Jacob Joshua.    September 1791

A Black female child of Jane, a black woman, named Rose .    Aug. 1795

Then in Rev. Greenwoods book page 11 he writes: There was a negro child baptized at Grand Passage (Freeport) , Long Island, in 1795, of one Rose, a colored woman.

Rev. Greenwood mentions a community of Black people in his 1934 book but does not pay any particular attention. Then he writes “There was a negro burying ground near Ed Walker’s house. The presence of a “ negro graveyard” means that Black people were in Grand Passage (Freeport) in some numbers, living and dying there, but not having their presence recorded by white, Eurocentric historians.

It was during her long life in Annapolis Royal Nova Scotia that Rose, through her business savvy, filled the role that has gained her the credit by many as the first female police officer not just in Canada, but North America as well.

Rose created a legacy that lived on well past her. Her business, becoming known as The Lewis Transfer Company, carried on through her descendants into the mid-1900s (somewhere between 1960-1980). Several memorials have been erected in her name including “The Rose Fortune Gate” in Bedford, Nova Scotia, a Ferry named after her ( the “Fundy Rose” marine vehicle ferry[ between Saint John & Digby ] named after Rose Fortune), and being named a National Historic Person in 2018.

May 1896

Digby Weekly Courier

Mr. John Churchill arrived home last week from his trip to the West Indies, bringing with him a colored boy for Mr. Paysons, the Collector of Customs. Mr. Churchill’s health is quite improved by his sea voyage.

Slavery was still going strong in 1896 as indicated in this article of Slavery: Digby Courier May, 1896

Slavery in the Land of Freedom

The element of slavery appears to have entered to an extent into Halifax life. Although our country is generally supposed to have been from this evil. In January 21st there was advertised to be sold an able negro winch, about 21 years of age, who is capable of performing both town and country work. She is an exceeding good cook. In the same year a reward of twenty dollars was offered for the capture of a runaway man-slave. In 1800 slavery was not done away with and a Halifax Minister advertised “For Sale” for a number of years, as may be agreed upon, a likely stout negro girl aged 18 years, good natured, fond of children and accustomed to both Town and Country work.

This picture of a Black woman was clipped from another photo of a newly constructed house in Freeport around 1918

The only known image of Rose Fortune 1830

Motor Vehicle Ferry “ Fundy Rose “ Named after Rose Fortune in May 2015

Rose Fortune was named a National Historic Person in 1999 at Annapolis Royal

These last two pics represent that Rose Fortune is buried in the Garrison Burial Grounds at Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal. I asked Parks Canada where Rose is buried and they think she is buried with her Grand Daughter near the Court House.

Now to the “ Black Graveyard” as told to us by Rev. Walter Greenwood in his book “ The History of Freeport Nova Scotia”. He said it was near Mr. Ed Walkers house.  Mr. Walkers full name was Edward Ainsley Walker and he passed in Aug. 1941 at the age of 66 years. His wife was Emily (Finigan) Walker who passed in May 1952. I haven’t been able to find the house location because of not being able searching deeds under this covid lockdown. I have an Idea of where it is but can’t verify the location. If any of you readers seeing this and knows of where they lived in 1934 please let me know.

I have now located this”Black Graveyard”, to find the location of it go to my “Blog ” Marked and Unmarked Graves.

I too believe there was a Black community of significant numbers living and dying here at Freeport. The Blacks didn’t own land so they would have had to of been buried together.

Rev. Walter Greenwood wrote in his book about cemeteries. In the old days people buried their dead in their own fields. The Moore’s buried across the cove, the Roney’s at Roney’s Point, Granny Todd was buried on the Pearl Place, and no doubt many more not known to us. Nathaniel Bates is buried on lot 10, others near Mrs. Tillie Crocker’s barn, and there was a negro burying ground near Ed. Walkers house. Later about fifty people were buried immediately west of Lloyd Blackford’s house.

1 Comment

  1. Don Flatt

    Fascinating history! Thank you for this. We were in Freeport for a moment while travelling a couple of years ago. We were rushing for the ferry to get to Brier Island, our final destination. I hope to visit again and experience a little bit of Freeport.

    Reply

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