The collected documents of Mary Ann Shadd added to Canada’s national register

Mary Ann Chad

The Mary Ann Shadd records have been added to Canada’s national register. The records contain documents including letters to and from family members and prominent African American abolitionists, draft articles of Canada’s first anti-slavery newspaper, The Provincial Freeman and pages of her pamphlet, “A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West.”

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, lawyer, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, D.C.).  Shadd became the first Black woman in North America to publish and edit a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. As one of the first Black newspaperwomen in North America, Shadd promoted the abolition of slavery and the emigration of African Americans to Canada. She also advocated on behalf of women’s right.

At the tender age of 16, Shadd opened a school in Wilmington, Delaware, for Black children. In so doing, she was one of many free Black women who lent their skills and education to “uplift” their race.

By 1850, Mary Ann Shadd had been teaching for over 10 years in various towns and cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States, including Norristown, Pennsylvania; Trenton, New Jersey and New York City. Her teaching services were requested by Henry and Mary Bibb, Black newspaper publishers and activists living in Sandwich, Canada West, now part of present-day Windsor, Ontario. She moved to Windsor in 1851 and soon after opened a school on the grounds of what is now Windsor City Hall Square.

In addition to her position as a teacher, Shadd was involved in community affairs. In 1852, she published A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West, which touted Canada West (Ontario) as a desirable destination for enslaved and free African Americans experiencing increasing restrictions on their lives. Following a public feud over the question of segregated schools, Shadd was fired from her teaching position.

She wrote and lectured on the importance of freedom while living in Canada and published The Provincial Freeman.

The Provincial Freeman succumbed to financial pressure and ceased publication by the year 1860. However, despite criticism and financial troubles, the newspaper’s seven-year publication run was quite an achievement and places it among a small group of influential Black publications, including the newspapers of Frederick Douglass, a well-known African American abolitionist. In addition to providing an important voice for the Black community in Canada, it has provided an invaluable window on Canada for modern-day researchers.

With the death of her husband and the demise of The Provincial Freeman, Shadd returned to US. Mary Ann Shadd Cary died on 5 June 1893. After a lifetime of achievements and firsts, perhaps her greatest contribution was the role she carved out for herself as a Black woman in the public sphere, whether as a teacher and community activist, writer, newspaper editor, public speaker, recruiting agent for the Union Army or lawyer. By pushing the boundaries and limitations normally ascribed to her race and sex, she blazed a trail not only for Black people but for generations of women.