Narrator: Graham Nickerson
Sound & Edit: Mitra Bakhtiar & Alan Edwards
Script: Cynthia Wallace, Graham Nickerson, & Jennifer Dow
Courtesy of Fredericton Region Museum, 2021.
Nathaniel Lad tells of his long journey from Fredericton, to join the Sierra Leone fleet in Halifax (Nova Scotia) during the winter of 1791.
Transcription (narrated by Graham Nickerson)
[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] Nathaniel Lad’s Long Walk to Sierra Leone: December, 1791
[Fade in to artist’s closeup of a face with flowing hair and a ship]
[Nathaniel Lad speaks] Let me tell you ‘bout my long walk to freedom.
We Free Blacks from New Brunswick wait here on the shores of Halifax, ready to begin our return to Africa… to Sierra Leone… to the promised land.
[Scroll in to close up of ship]
Long it has been since those promises were made – Let me tell you.
My story begins in 1783, when I fled the American colonies with so many. [Fade in image of Inspection Roll of Negroes] You’ll not find my name in them pages of the Book of Negroes though.
[Fade in image of certificate of freedom]
To get in the book you needed to be free for a year and had a certificate of freedom. All the while, slave catchers taken people. Wilmington, Charleston, New York, if you got a chance to get away, you took it. [Scrolling illustration of George Washington entering New York, 1783] You put your family on a boat and you got away. Sometimes free, sometimes bonded… but you were a slave no more.
[Scrolling up, Robert Campbell’s Map of the River St John, 1788, stopping at “Ste Ann’s or Frederick’s Town”]
Thomas Peters though has assisted myself and my brothers and sisters greatly these past few years. You see, when I came to Nova Scotia during the Loyalist evacuation, I made my way to Fredericton.
[Scrolling, Thomas Peter’s Petition on Behalf of the free Blacks of New Brunswick, 1790]
It was there that I first petitioned Governor Carleton for provisions of land. I was not asking for much – I tell you that – but as I soon found out, the promised land of freedom does not rest here in British North America.
[Highlighted text: “Blacks are not provided with land”]
Thomas Peters was the one who first spoke on our behalf to Governor Carleton. [Scrolling signature page of petition, with the name of Nathaniel Lad highlighted] There were 15 of us, including Bob Stafford. Thomas Peters asked on our behalf for land in the back of Kingsclear. [Returning to Thomas Peter’s Petition on Behalf of the free Blacks of New Brunswick, 1790] In 1789 we even signed a declaration to show them how sober we were to better ourselves. It went like this:
[Reading Thomas Peter’s petition as it scrolls on screen] “We the Free Blacks of the Province of New Brunswick, having received information by a Letter from the Reverend W Joshua Weeks directed to the Free Blacks of Brinley Town in Nova Scotia, that charitable collections have been made in England for the purpose of erecting and supporting free schools, where the children of free Blacks may be instructed without expense in learning and religion;
Being filled with gratitude to the said charitable society and sensible of the great blessings and benefits we shall experience, by being brought from a state of ignorance and darkness, to an enlightened understanding and rectified heart;
Do hereby solemnly and sacredly, lend ourselves each to the others that we will, to the best of our knowledge and ability, strictly adhere to the rules and regulations of the Episcopal Church of England, as established by law;
That as Christians we will be quiet and chaste in our demeanor, peaceable and obedient to the ruling process, and submissive to all the dispensations of Providence ~”
Back in Fredericton, we waited… But nothing came of it.
[Scrolling John Rezel’s land petition of 1791, highlighting the names] So then in 1791, there was me, John Rezel, Moses Simpson, Jack Patterson, Sam Wright, Meney Allen, John Brown, William Taylor, and Jerry Davies. John wrote our petition himself to His Excellency Thomas Carleton, Esquire, Captain General & Commander in Chief in & over the Province of New Brunswick &c: &c: &c:
Again – we tried to show our respect for this new province. John, he wrote an excellent letter to Governor Carleton. It went like this:
[Reading John Rezel’s land petition] “We most respectfully sheweth
That your Memorialists with, all deference to your Excellency’s wisdom & goodness humble offers themselves to your Excellency’s consideration for such proportion of land as may be thought proper to your memorialists individually;
The land we humbly pray for is in the rear of the lower end or commencement of the Parish of Kingsclear.”
We stated our case clearly and politely, because we wanted to let him know just how difficult life really was for us. We explained:
[Reading John Rezel’s land petition, with text highlighted] “that in their present mode of life, we are of little use to our families and less to the community, but if we were so fortunate as to obtain lands, we would immediately settle down and so become useful & industrious settlers.”
[Fade in to painting of Chief Justice Ludlow’s house on the river St. John] Now you’d think that would have made a difference – our humble request. We were not asking for any fertile land along the river – No! That land had already been taken up by the Whites – like that devil George Ludlow – and Lt. Col Isaac Allen – with their estates of thousands of acres.
No! We was not asking for much. Just a piece of land to call our own… where we could be useful and industrious settlers.
But nothing came of it.
[John Singleton Copely painting of a fighting Black soldier]
Now, that Thomas Peters is a good man. He was a prince back in Africa and a leader in the Pioneers, right from the start of the war.
[Three petitions appear on the screen] When we didn’t get our land, he wrote, and he wrote, and he wrote. Then he hopped on a ship to England to see Captain Martin, the commander of the Pioneers. He passed it on to General Clinton and before long Thomas Peters was speaking to Lord Grenville himself.
[Fade in portrait of William Grenville]
In London Peters heard of a colony in Sierra Leone, and by now we knew that there would be no freedom for us here in New Brunswick, so Peters agree to get people to go to Sierra Leone, to live like kings.
[Scrolling watercolour painting of Freetown, Sierra Leone] But do you know what they did? [Fade in left portrait of Governor Thomas Carleton] Governor Carleton, in all his wisdom, appointed that spider [Fade in right portrait of Rev Jonathan Odell] Jonathan Odell as the agent in charge of the Sierra Leone expedition in New Brunswick! That’s like asking a fox to guard the henhouse!
Jonathan Odell made it difficult for people like me to leave Fredericton. There was a ship docked in Saint John, ready and waiting to take anyone who wished to depart to Halifax, where we could join the Sierra Leone expedition.
But Odell made it impossible for people like me to board that ship. We had to show our papers as proof of being Free Blacks. A little piece of paper! In the end, the ship sailed without we!
[Scrolling over Hibbert Binney painting of Halifax harbour, 1791, showing people walking on the shore]
But there were five of us. You know what we did? We walked from Saint John to Halifax. Brother it was cold! Walking all that way in November, it was harsh. We walked 340 miles on foot. Took us 15 days.
But we made it! [Fade in left portrait of Lt John Clarkson] You should have heard what Lt John Clarkson had to say when we arrive (he’s one of the people working with Thomas Peters to organise the Sierra Leone expedition). Clarkson was none too happy, I tell you that! I heard him talking to the ship captains at dinner, because we arrived just as they were readying themselves to dine. Clarkson was amazed at our temerity to quit this land – “whose inhabitants treat us with so much barbarity”. Those were his exact words. [Fade in right portrait of Jonathan Odell]
So, now, here I rest with some 800 other souls, ready to board ship for Sierra Leone. [Return to painting of Freetown, Sierra Leone] When we get there, god willing, we’ll finally get the land that was promised to us. We’ll live like the masters and we’ll show the world what free Blacks can do if left alone. Like the Israelites, Sierra Leone is the promised land!
The pathway to freedom leads back to Africa.
African drumming music recommences.
[Text] Nathaniel Lad was one of many Free Blacks in New Brunswick who were denied basic human rights of shelter and freedom. In their struggle against racism and oppression, they chose to establish their own colony in Sierra Leone.