Anti-Slavery Sympathies: Negotiating Difference in Upper Canada
Image 4.1: The testimony of Ashton Warner, an emancipated slave, transcribed by Susanna.
The Anti-Slavery Movement in Britain
In England, Susanna joined the anti-slavery movement after meeting Thomas Pringle. Thomas was secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society and introduced John and Susanna to each other. The Slave Trade Act was abolished in England in 1807, outlawing the slave trade throughout the British Empire. Susanna transcribed the testimonies of former slaves Ashton Warner and Mary Prince, which were published in London and Edinburgh in 1831 and widely distributed. Slavery continued to be legal in Canada and throughout the British Empire for several more years.
Susanna carried her anti-slavery convictions to Upper Canada, which shaped her encounters with Black Canadian neighbours in Belleville. In Life in the Clearings versus the Bush, Susanna recounts how a young son of a Black settler in Belleville drowned in the Moira river. She sympathizes with the father’s grief, remembering how she lost her son John in the same river. In her retelling, she criticizes the apparent indifference of her “white companions” by remarking: “What a dreadful thing is this prejudice against race and colour! How it hardens the heart, and locks up all the avenues of pity!” (Moodie, 2010, 42).
Race Relations in Upper Canada
Her observations about discrimination show the 19th century sympathies and biases of English society. She repeats a popular theory of the day, saying, “The African race… are the descendants of Ham, and to many of their tribes the curse pronounced against him seems to cling” (Moodie, 1989, 215). Susanna’s sympathies with the anti-slavery movement contrasts with her understanding of race. She worked against slavery while perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
“What a dreadful thing is this prejudice against race and colour! How it hardens the heart, and locks up all the avenues of pity!” (Moodie, 2010, 42).
How are Susanna’s feelings towards the anti-slavery movement in Canada complicated by her personal experiences while also shaped by Britain’s anti-slavery ideology?