N.B. community first in British North America to forbid slavery
Along the shores of the Bay of Fundy sits the first community in British North America where slavery was forbidden.
Beaver Harbour, N.B. was founded by Quakers, a religious sect that fled persecution in England, establishing the colony of Pennsylvannia under the leadership of William Penn.
However, after the American Revolution, the pacifist Quakers again fled persecution, though this time, they headed for the present-day Maritimes.
Jimmy Hawkins has collected countless documents and artifacts which are housed at the Beaver Harbour Archives and Museum.
The museum houses bits of local history that tell the story of the rugged coastal community, established by settlers who sailed into the Bay of Fundy more than 200 years ago.
“1783, but it was way late in September, so they had to get somewhere quick. So they come back to Beaver, took on supplies in Saint John and come back to Beaver and set up here in Beaver,” says Hawkins.
Those original Quaker settlers sailed into Beaver Harbour aboard a ship called The Camel. On board were all the livestock and supplies they would need to survive the harsh conditions, but it is more important to note what was not on board, there were no slaves and no slave masters.
The names of 49 families are attached to a founding document. Clearly written at the top is one of the colony's abiding principles, no slave master admitted.
Deborah Coleman is a direct descendant of Benjamin Brown, one of those original settlers.
“You were not only told not to own slaves, but you couldn't attend slave auctions or profit in any way from slavery,” says Coleman. “There was a large wooden sign erected at the edge of town as well that stated, no slave master admitted. You couldn't even come on their property if you were a slave catcher, or a slave master, or whatever and to the Quakers, it just made good common sense that slavery is wrong.”
A stone decdicated to the colony leader, Joshua Knight, is located in Beaver Harbour, in a corner of the village where many of the original colonists lay buried, without gravestones, which was the Quaker tradition at the time.
Within just a few years of being established, the colony had 15 streets and 800 people.
It became known as Penn's Field, in honour of William Penn.
Today, a monument stands in the nearby village of Pennfield, honouring the unique settlement.
“The Pennfield Colony was the only place in British North America at the time, where slavery was not permitted,” says Coleman.
Ralph Thomas is a member of the New Brunswick Black History Society. He says the Quakers and early black settlers had a close relationship, based on common experience.
“Don't forget, the Quakers suffered the same way as if you were black,” says Thomas. “Because they stood up, they had their homes burned and they had to go through some of the things the black folks would have gone through.”
Hawkins says the people who settled his village were ahead of their time, though today, few people in this community, or elsewhere, are aware of the principled stand that the Quakers took.
“They were the first religious society that spoke out against slavery,” says Hawkins. “Very few people know it and like we often say, that it's Beaver's big secret and we gotta get it out.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron