The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview
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56.
Speech by Samuel Ringgold Ward Delivered at Freemasons' Hall, London, England 21 June 1853

During the early 1850s, many black lecturers--especially Samuel Ringgold Ward, William Wells Brown, and Josiah Henson--explained to their British audiences why Canada West was a "sanctuary" for fugitives fleeing from slavery. Ward's presentations were the most authoritative; he was a former slave, had lived in Canada for two years, and was the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada's agent in Great Britain. Ward was the featured speaker at a public meeting held in Freemasons' Hall on 21 June to consider the plight of fugitive slaves in Canada. His lecture provoked a wide-ranging discussion of how best to provide for blacks escaping to Canada and led to the formation of a committee of assistance headed by the earl of Shaftesbury (the meeting's chairman), clergyman Thomas Angell, George Smith, and J. C. Gallaway, and George Alexander and Louis Alexis Chamerovzow of the British and Foreign Anti- Slavery Society. PtL, 27 June 1853.

The Rev. S. R. WARD said, he had for nearly two years been employed in Canada by a Society, 1 whose general object was very similar to that of every Anti-Slavery Society, but whose operations consisted especially in hiding fugitive slaves when they had escaped from their masters, and arrived in the colony. In 1772 it was, by a decree of the highest court of this realm, declared that the moment a slave touched British soil he became a free man. 2 That decision was pronounced by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, who thus rendered his name immortal. Somehow or other it was soon communicated to the slave population in America, who at the same time got hold of another fact--an astronomical one- that by following the north star they would ultimately arrive at the land of freedom. These were two very important facts in slave education- facts which had been learnt with great facility, and had wonderfully vexed many slave-owners. From 1772 to 1832 the people of this country held slaves themselves in the West Indies; 3 and, as a slave belonging to another country the moment he came upon British soil was free, during the whole of that time they presented to the world the anomalous spectacle of doing better by other people's slaves than by their own. Now for many years past a large number of slaves had annually escaped from the United States to Canada, being repelled by slavery on the one hand, and attracted by freedom on the other; so that at length the entire negro population in Canada was said to amount to from thirty to thirty-five thousand. It was to be observed that during their flight slaves were con

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