Narrators: Deby Nash & Tim Andrew
Sound & Edit: Mitra Bakhtiar & Alan Edwards
Script: Cynthia Wallace & Jennifer Dow
Courtesy of Fredericton Region Museum, 2021.
Nancy tells of her slavery trial that took place in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1800.
Transcription (Nancy is narrated by Deby Nash)
[Text on screen]
We would like to acknowledge that the land on which this exhibit was created is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725.
African drumming music commences
Wordmark of the Fredericton Region Museum
[Title on screen] The Slavery Trial of Nancy, February, 1800
[Fade in to artist’s closeup of Nancy’s face]
[Nancy speaks] What price do you place on the head of another human being? That is the question.
What is my worth?
Am I not a woman and a sister?
[Slavery plantation scene; music continues]
My story begins in 1762, when I was born a slave to Caleb Jones. That is where my bondage commenced: on a tobacco plantation near the shores of Chesapeake Bay, Somerset County, Maryland.
[Scrolling 1788 map of the river St. John]
I was brought to this wretched place in 1785 – one of seven slaves Master Jones left here to work his 900 acres of wilderness. His dream was to establish a vast plantation just like the one he left behind in Maryland.
The people who have lived here since time immemorial call this place “Nashwaaksis”. [Scrolling ends where Nancy lived at Nashwaaksis]
[Scrolling document showing a listing of people settled between the Nashwaak and the Madam Keswick rivers, 29 July 1785 – including Caleb Jones]
Loyalist. Ha! He’s no Loyalist. They say he ran away from there, in the cover of dark, with his tail between his legs. Owed too many debts I hear… and the neighbours did not like him. Made too many enemies. If it weren’t for his wife Elizabeth, he’d be poor as a pauper by now…
[Scrolling artist’s illustration showing Nancy and Lidge running away at night]
Well, back to my story. Soon after I arrived in this place, me and some others, we ran away. I took my son Lidge with me, and we RAN as hard as we could. Where were we running? I’m not sure. We just ran.
It took Jones six days to figure out we were gone; [Spin in of The Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser newspaper]
four days later, our names were printed in The Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser – there on page 3; [Closeup of newspaper header]
between the shipping news and property ads: [Scrolling closeup of the Ran Away notice]
[Anonymous male voice with text on screen] RAN AWAY – from the subscriber living at the Nashwakshis [sic], in the county of York, between the 15th and 21st days of this instant July, the following bound slaves, viz. ISAAC about 30 years, born on Long island near New York, had on when he went away, a short blue coat, round hat and white trousers. BEN, about 35 years old, had on a Devonshire kersey jacket lined with Scotch plad [sic], corduroy breeches, and round hat. FLORA, a Wench about 27 years old, much pitted with the small-pox, she had on a white cotton jacket and petticoat. Also NANCY about 24 years old, who took with her a child about four years old called LIDGE. The four last mentioned were born in Maryland, and lately brought to this country.
All persons are hereby forbid to harbour any of the above, and all masters of vessels are forbid to take any of them onboard their vessel as they shall answer the consequences. A reward of Two Guineas will be paid for each of the men and six dollars for each woman, by Mr Thomas Jennings, if taken and delivered to him at the City of Saint John, at York Point…
CALEB JONES, 24th June, 1786.
[Artist’s close up of Nancy’s face]
[Nancy] So that was that. Me and Lidge, we were brought back to Jones, and here we’ve been ever since. For another thirteen long hard years – we worked for that man and his wife…
But then there arrived a little ray of hope.
You see, Caleb Jones has a great deal of enemies here in Nashwaaksis. It seems that two abolitionist lawyers, across the river in Fredericton, took up my cause.
[Scroll in images of Ward Chipman and Samuel Denny Street]
Ward Chipman and Samuel Denny Street are their names. Both are good lawyers I’m told. Ward Chipman, he’s a Harvard graduate: “A volunteer for the right of human nature” so he says; Samuel Denny Street, he’s a self-professed Abolitionist: “a regular game-cock… one who will brook no slight from any man”. They accepted my case pro bono! (since I have not a farthing to my name).
[Fade in illustration of Nancy standing on trial in a court room]
So it came to pass, that on July 17, 1799, I was summoned here to court.
Old Jones was ordered to bring me here; and he was none to happy about it either – I’ll tell you that!
[Fade in of the Ward Chipman court trial manuscript]
The old fool stated his case boldly: “His property” – meaning me (as if I was a piece of furniture, or cattle, or something) – had begun life as a “slave for life”, and so I would remain.
During my trial Ward Chipman skillfully pointed out that New Brunswick has never actually legalised slavery in this colony – and the laws of England do not recognise the rebel laws of Maryland. “Property” be damned… the war with the American colonies put an end to all of that – don’t you think?
[Fade in of Benjamin West’s painting of the Loyalist Dream]
The problem here is that too many Loyalists brought their ways from the southern colonies with them. They speak of “the most gentleman-like government on earth” – but there are limits to their gentleman ways, I’ll tell you that.
[Petition to Governor Carleton regarding the conduct of Caleb Jones]
Take Jones for example. He calls himself a Loyalist; an Esquire; a County Magistrate; yet speaks in such a disloyal manner to the other magistrates. No wonder he’s made so many enemies!
[Highlighted text: “The undersigned magistrates therefore most humbly pray that your Excellency will spare them the mortification of meeting Caleb Jones, Esq.”]
So now I wait.
[Fade in to a closeup of Nancy blindfolded, holding the scales of justice]
My fate rests with the court. “Lend a while thine ear to me… set this noble mother free”.
[Anonymous male voice with text on screen] In the end, no judgement was returned on Nancy’s case because the court became divided. Chief Justice Ludlow and Judge Upham ruled in support of Caleb Jones; while Judge Isaac Allen and Judge Saunders ruled against. With no decision being reached, Nancy was returned to her owner, and her case was relegated to a modest account buried within the same provincial newspaper that had reported her run-away notice fourteen years before. She thus disappeared from the written record.
Although Nancy did not gain her freedom, her trial served as a catalyst in the fight against slavery in this province. Her trial also led to freedom for others, since one of the judges who ruled in Nancy’s favour was Isaac Allen. Like Caleb Jones, Judge Allen also depended upon slaves to operate his 2,000-acre estate on the outskirts of Fredericton, at Springhill. Following Nancy’s trial, Judge Allen acted upon his conscious and granted freedom to his own slaves.
Although slavery became illegal in New Brunswick on August 1, 1834, the binds of racial injustice continue in Canada to this day.
Although Nancy did not gain her freedom that day, she nevertheless secured a place in Canada’s history for her courage and confidence to speak up – stand up – and bring about change.
African music recommences