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People, Locations, Episodes

Thu, 03.24.1853

The Provincial Freeman is published

*On this date in 1853, the Provincial Freeman published its first edition.  This was a Black Canadian progressive newspaper.  

Active for four and a half years, it was published weekly.   The Provincial Freeman advocated equality, integration and self-education for Black people in Canada and the United States. The paper's tone toward any stereotype of  Uncle Tom's Cabin and white America generally was a lot more aggressively critical than many Blacks living in the North, including Frederick Douglass, allowed themselves to be.

It was co-edited by, Mary Shadd Carey, the first Black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada, and the Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward.  It was published in Windsor (1853-1854), Toronto (1854-1855) and in Chatham (1855-1857). At the time there were an estimated 30,000 escaped slaves in Canada. Between 1850 and 1852 alone, five to six thousand fugitive slaves entered Canada. From all accounts, The Provincial Freeman, with its unapologetic editorial policy and vivid descriptions of church activities, abolitionist groups and the small business class, recording a history that would otherwise have been unavailable, was the community's most outstanding achievement.

Although plagued by subscription and management problems, frequently voiced by its editors, it reflected the problems, aspirations and gratitude of a new people in a peculiar but friendly land. Unlike the later American papers, its editor, and a board of directors were all Black.  The newspaper was most explicit in its reasons for existence, claiming that it wanted to: represent the 40000 Negroes, freedmen, fugitives, wealthy and poor, recently arrived in Canada; encourage "the right class" to enter Canada.  And do this by publishing an account of the country and its advantages to develop in Canada a society to deny all assertions regarding the Negro's inability to live with others in civilized society.

Negroes were among the first enrolled in the University of Toronto, and other Blacks were known to have attended the local Normal School.  Cary disguised her gender and role by listing herself as "publishing agent" with just her first two initials, a longtime publishing practice that some women continue to use, wrote the articles and distributed the paper. When, in 1854, she finally dropped the men's names from the masthead, revealed herself, and hired her sister, Amelia, to help edit The Freeman, the public outrage was so great she had to resign the following year. Before leaving, she made this parting opinion on June 30, 1855: "To Colored women, we have a word—we have 'broken the Editorial ice,' whether willingly or not, for your class in America; so go to Editing, as many of you as are willing, and as soon as you may, if you think you are ready". The papers last publication was September 20, 1857.  

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