Jan. 9, 2013 – Inconsistencies that Fail to Support my Theory

I have spent time over the past few weeks looking at journal articles in the hopes of finding corroboration of my theories.  You may recall that I had found that the messages in works about black history in Canada remained fairly consistent from 1750 until around 1960:  i.e., that Canada was a relatively good destination for blacks seeking to make a home, and while it had racism and a harsh climate, it offered, starting early on, protections under the law that improved with time.  However, the style of that writing changed.  You may recall that I had drawn linkages between the writing style in works about Black history in Canada when compared to the Enlightenment, the Romantic and the Realism movements.  I had also drawn style linkages to religious movements, such as the three Great Awakenings.  However, what I found was not encouraging and didn’t always support my theories cleanly.

First of all, there isn’t much to be found pre-1800.  JSTOR had 5-10 items from 1744-1793, but a couple were just indices.  The rest support my theory and coincide with the Enlightenment movement being scientific or statistical, and egalitarian.  None made allusions to Christianity despite the fact that the period overlapped with the New Light and Allenite religious movements.

In the 1800-1850 period, JSTOR contains 100-150 articles with keywords ‘blacks’ or ‘negro’ or ‘african’ and ‘canada’ or ‘canadian’ or ‘nova scotia’ or ‘new france’.  Many were scientific or statistical reports.  This may indicate that the Enlightenment ideas of the 1700s resulted in scientific or statistical government agencies that continued on into the 1800s and that these agencies continued to expect scientific and statistical reporting since many of these JSTOR items looked like reports to agencies rather than articles in magazines.

But there is also in this period an emergence of the travelog as a narrative form.  Often these items were written by British travellers on extended visits around North America.  Most spoke negatively about slavery, but in virtually every case this criticism was pointed at the United States.  These travellers may have been biased by the fact that Canada and Nova Scotia were still British.  Or they may have found that either slaves were fewer in number in BNA than in the U.S. or that they were treated more like regular servants, such as indentured servants.  Also, slavery in Canada was declining through this period and abolished in 1834. The best item I found was dated 1814, and is a very short anecdote.  It describes the role of British Lt. John Clarkson who was organizing the blacks of Birchtown NS to resettle in Sierre Leone in 1791, and it describes a heart-wrenching story of a black enslaved man.  This story with its tragic, personal narrative is indicative of the Romantic movement, and coincides, again, with my theory.  In this 1800-1850 period I still found nothing to support the parallel religious movements.  Also, the overlap of the Enlightenment-style of writing that runs into the 1800s runs contrary to my theory but may be explainable as a style that continues even to today, while Romantic writing emerged in parallel.

When I tried other databases looking for relevant articles, I found that most don’t go back in history very far.  One that does is the Periodicals Archive Online (PAO).  One PAO article published in 1832 is specifically about blacks in Canada.  It is by the American Colonization Society.  The most noteworthy thing about this American article is that it is much less glowing about Canada’s response to, and reception of, blacks in Upper Canada.  It reprints a couple of resolutions that were raised in the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly that show a negative attitude of whites towards black fugitives in Canada.    The article also highlights the fact that the fugitives were not succeeding in the difficult climate to the extent that Canadian reports on this subject seem to imply.  The tone of the article is positive and supportive of black fugitives and does not bear any relationship to Enlightenment, Romanticism, or any of the religious movements.  It is neither personal nor scientific.  Despite being published in 1832, it seems more Realist in tone.

All this indicates that the tone and style of writing about black history in Canada was not consistent and does not line up neatly with my theory.  As well, even the messages contained in the writing about black Canadian history are not as consistent as I had thought, although the inconsistency emerges more as I look at views of Canada from outside Canada.  I plan to spend time this coming week going through more articles in the hopes that with more data, I will come to a clearer understanding.  I have begun to tabulate my results in a spreadsheet to try to track the changes in style and message over time.


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