Authors hope new book about slavery in Newfoundland starts a conversation

Heather Barrett stumbled upon stories of the existence of Black people in the province from hundreds of years ago.

Heather Barrett

Xaiver Michael Campbell, a writer originally from Jamaica, came to Newfoundland as a university student in 2008.

He quickly saw the parallels between Newfoundland culture and his own. 

“That curiosity of, how did my culture and things that are part of my history make their way into the Newfoundland consciousness? And how is it that there is no direct mention to my culture and how it came to be?” he said.

Barrett added: “Growing up, when we’re taught in school that we were settled by the English and Irish, that was all who ever lived here, all who really ever came here for any reason. But that’s not true,” she said.

Xaiver Michael Campbell

“There were people from many, many different places in the world that lived here, came through here, had something to do with the fishery here. Not all of them were doing it of their own volition.”

The two writers have team up to produce a groundbreaking book titled Black Harbour: Slavery and the Forgotten Histories of Black People. The partnership came about when the two writers’ independent research started overlapping.

Black Harbour reveals the history of Black slavery in the province, and the role merchant families played in promoting it.

The book explores some of the connections between Newfoundland and the Caribbean that Campbell noticed soon after arriving in Newfoundland.

“There’s a lot of salt cod in this book,” he said. “I grew up with it. It’s part of our national dish in Jamaica, but I never thought about where it came from. I know we’ve been eating it for hundreds of years, but I didn’t know there was that other connection between the two islands.”

That connection being that salt cod was what Newfoundland had to trade.

“Lower grades of salt cod went to the Caribbean, because it was cheap fuel for enslaved people,” Barrett said. 

The authors say the book is an introduction to new pieces of uncomfortable history being discovered.

“We’re storytellers,” Barrett said. “What we’re doing is telling a lay person’s introduction to this, and we’re hoping that it starts a conversation.”