“WHEREAS it is Unjust . . .”
Presentation by Jean Rae Baxter
As the title of this presentation I have used the opening words of the Preamble to “An Act to prevent the further introduction of SLAVES and to limit the Term of Contracts for SERVITUDE within the Province.” The focus of my talk is this legislation, introduced on the initiative of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe to the Upper Canada House of Assembly on May 31, 1793. I look at the conditions leading up to it and to its lasting consequences. This involves a critical look at a time when individuals from almost all levels of society in Upper Canada owned slaves. Finally, it points ahead to the role which the people of Canada would play during the last decades of slavery in the United States.
Jean Rae Baxter is the descendant of settlers who arrived in New France in the 17th century, Loyalists who came here in the 1780s, and immigrants from Germany in the 19th century. There were many family stories to awaken her interest in Canada’s history.
During her career as a Secondary School English teacher, she was appalled by the dearth of historical fiction to tell the story of the Loyalists from a Canadian point of view. Determined to fill the need, she wrote her first historical novel, The Way Lies North (2007) telling the story of a Loyalist family driven from their home by the violence of the American Revolution. This book was followed by others focusing on the issues facing the native people at this time and on the plight of the enslaved Black population. The Knotted Rope, the sixth and final book in what has become known as the “Forging a Nation” series, is set in 1793 during the last days of slavery in Upper Canada. It returns to the subject of her third historical novel, Freedom Bound (2012) in which she told the story of the Black Loyalists. In this final book Baxter unravels yet another strand of the complicated history of the fight to end slavery. The Knotted Rope will be published this Fall.