It was in 1792 that nearly 1,200 Black Loyalists left Nova Scotia and headed for West Africa in search of a better life.
The British had promised to give them freedom, land and jobs in Nova Scotia in return for their support during the American Revolution.
However, these promises have not been kept. Black loyalists were free, but given small, barren land and menial jobs, while white settlers had better opportunities.
By the 1790s, Black Loyalists had given up hope of fair treatment in Nova Scotia.
It was then that the Sierra Leone Company began recruiting for a new colony in this West African country. In a few days, 79 families had registered.
According to Nova Scotia Black Loyalist Heritage Center, a group of 1,196 black loyalists “decided that an uncertain future was better than some misery.”
The group, made up mainly of ministers, teachers, soldiers, artisans and their families, set sail for Sierra Leone aboard 15 ships.
A new art installation at the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax explores their history and what people think of the exodus almost 230 years later.
Main Street NS15:49Nova Scotia art installation features letters to black worshipers who immigrated to Sierra Leone
“It’s the greatest story ever told from my perspective,” Kathrin Winkler, who coordinated the installation, told CBC Radio. Main Street Thursday.
Winkler said that the installation, called Message in a Bottle: 15 Ships to Sierra Leone, is a letter-writing project designed to create a personal bond between Nova Scotians today and the sailors who left centuries later.
She said it gives people the opportunity to learn history, while also reflecting on why the black loyalists left.
“This is really the story of a community of resilience and a community of failure, and it was a bureaucratic failure,” Winkler said.
So far, she has received 92 letters from politicians, community members, educators and students across Canada.
Karen Hudson, principal of Auburn Drive High School in Cole Harbor, asked her students to write letters to sailors.
She also wrote a letter. His ancestors were living in Preston at the time of the exodus.
“I wanted people to know that there is a story we haven’t talked about,” Hudson said. Main Street Thursday. “There is a story of injustice that exists. Things have been left out.”
In her letter, Hudson says she understands why Black Loyalists left Nova Scotia, but she also reassures the reader that those who remained persevered.
“To see us now as we live, you would be impressed, even if we still encounter racism and other inequalities. We are all free. The tenacity of our elders is formidable,” the letter read.
She goes on to describe what black life is like in Nova Scotia today.
“No matter where we live, there is a sense of community and personal wealth among people, even when there are setbacks or obstacles in our path. Even in 2021, we are still not as far along as you might think, having appointed our first blacks in several areas of leadership, ”it read.
“We recently made significant milestones in history with the appointment of our first black female lieutenant governor and our first black MP. I hope it won’t take another 50 years. “
Hudson said this will require the support of all politicians and community leaders.
“This is an opportunity for politicians to say, ‘These are some of the wrongs, but let’s try to change those wrongs. Let’s make them no longer acceptable. Let’s change that.’”
A copy of Hudson’s full letter, and others, will be on display at the museum through Saturday as part of the Nocturne: Art at Night festival. The original letters are placed in 15 bottles – representing the 15 ships bound for Sierra Leone – at the facility.
Winkler said once the installation is complete, the letters will be included in a book and the public can continue to submit them.
She hopes to collect 1,196 letters, one for each passenger.
For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.