Black his­tory lives in­side peo­ple

Fes­ti­val hon­ours di­verse Char­lot­te­town neigh­bour­hood cre­ated by for­mer slaves in the 19th cen­tury

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MITCH MACDON­ALD

A group of Is­lan­ders took a step back in time this week­end to ex­plore an of­ten-over­looked as­pect of Char­lot­te­town’s his­tory.

More than 250 peo­ple took part on a walk­ing tour of “the bog”, a di­verse com­mu­nity in Char­lot­te­town’s old west end that was founded by for­mer slaves, dur­ing the first “Fes­ti­val of the Bog” on Satur­day.

Is­land his­to­rian Jim Hornby, who led the walk­ing tour, said he felt it was time to rec­og­nize the neigh­bour­hood as a his­tor­i­cal and di­verse pop­u­la­tion that lived in the area for about a cen­tury be­gin­ning around 1810.

“They’ve been com­pletely for­got­ten and ig­nored,” said Hornby.

“They’ve been here for over 200 years so it’s time to ac­cept and ac­knowl­edge them.”

The com­mu­nity was founded by for­mer slaves who were brought to P.E.I. in the 1780s and later “cast off” by their own­ers.

Around 1810, Samuel Martin, who is re­ferred to in his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments as “Black Sam,” had lob­bied gov­ern­ment on be­half of a group of fam­ily mem­bers and for­mer slaves to re­ceive a piece of land in the boggy area.

Al­though he never of­fi­cially re­ceived the land, a com­mu­nity did form in the area.

Hornby noted that since there were few black im­mi­grants to P.E.I., the area saw black and white in­di­vid­u­als marry with “the bog” even­tu­ally be­com­ing a mixed-race area with a dis­tinct African her­itage.

“What united them was not so much race as much as poverty,” said Hornby, who noted that it was far from the only “poor area” in town. “They had the same prob­lems that other poor com­mu­ni­ties in the city had, ex­cept with the ad­di­tion of racism.”

Traf­fic was blocked as Hornby led the group down Rochford Street to Pow­nal Square while shar­ing anec­dotes about those who lived in the area.

Linda Hen­nessey, a di­rect de­scen­dant of for­mer slaves David and Ke­siah Shep­pard, said the com­mu­nity was also in­te­gral to the sur­vival of other groups in the city.

“The loy­al­ists hired my fam­ily to get up in the morn­ing and start the fires, then go hunt­ing in Vic­to­ria Park… with­out our fam­ily, the rich peo­ple would have had a very dif­fi­cult time liv­ing here,” she said. “They were very re­silient and had a lot of things in their way… but they did a good job at ev­ery­thing.”

The event, which was held in part­ner­ship with the Black Cul­tural So­ci­ety of P.E.I., ended with mu­sic and art in Pow­nal Square cel­e­brat­ing the com­mu­nity.

Scott Par­sons, pres­i­dent of the so­ci­ety, said he felt the cel­e­bra­tion was a long time com­ing and thanked Hornby for ad­vo­cat­ing on be­half of the area.

“It’s re­ally nice to see this hap­pen­ing,” said Par­sons, not­ing that the fam­i­lies from “the bog” stayed in P.E.I.

Be­cause of this, he said there are some Is­lan­ders who are un­aware of their black an­ces­try.

“As I said in one of my songs, ‘the colour has been washed out of me, but the his­tory lives in­side,’” said Par­sons.

“And a lot of them didn’t know (they had black her­itage) un­til re­cent years be­cause it was kind of kept hid­den. But this is 2017 and it’s time we start cel­e­brat­ing this.”

The event also re­ceived fund­ing and as­sis­tance from Canada 150 and the City of Char­lot­te­town.

MITCH MACDON­ALD/THE GUARDIAN

Is­land his­to­rian Jim Hornby leads a group of more than 250 peo­ple through a walk­ing tour in the area of Char­lot­te­town’s west end that was known as “the bog” in the 1800s. The of­ten-over­looked piece of his­tory saw a group of for­mer slaves form a com­mu­nity in the area, which grad­u­ally be­came a di­verse neigh­bour­hood with a dis­tinct African her­itage.

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