Jim Hornby guest speaker at 2021 PEIGS AGM held on April 24

The Prince Edward Island Genealogical Society 2021 Annual General Meeting was held at The Carriage House, 2 Kent Street, Charlottetown on Saturday 24th April 2021 from 2 to 4 p.m.

The guest speaker was Mr. James Hornby, folklorist, historian, and author who spoke on “Black History on PEI”.  Mr. Hornby is author of Black Islanders: Prince Edward Island’s Historical Black Community. 

Some of the highlights as recorded by PEIGS Recording Secretary included: 

During the French regime, in the earlier 1700s slaves were here, but they were gone by 1745. Jean Paul Roma, for example, had 12 slaves.

The slaves that came in the 1780s and 1790s were part of historical events beginning in 1619 including the time of the American Revolution. Most came with soldiers and with United Empire Loyalists. 

With the beginning of the British Colonial period PEI’s first Governor, Walter Patterson, was aware that the United States would win against the British and was aware that some of the Loyalists would move to British territories. Some of the early blacks came first to Shelburne and Port Medway on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Patterson invited them to come to PEI. Slaves even though baptized were not considered equals. Patterson himself had three slaves and his Lieutenant Governor had brought three slave couples. A number of loyalists had come from Rhode Island which was at the centre of African slave trade in the US. The slaves that were baptized are listed as such in the baptism records of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Charlottetown. Some slaves were buried from there.

The main slavery period on PEI was between 1781 and 1809 when the last known identification of a slave was recorded. Mr. Hornby reported that we had people sold, born into slavery, even one that was killed. About 50 slaves were here on the Island. The ending of slavery came on an individual basis. Following the end of slavery, one such person was William Creed of Georgetown who signed an indenture, a seven-year contractual agreement for a piece of land in Georgetown. He and his children farmed in Montague. His children were still here late in the 19th century. Another was Isaiah Shepherd who died about 1803-1810. There were many connections among the early families. 

One of the main sources of information is the 1881 census which gives the origins of the father, 170 of whom were of African descent. They were predominantly farmers. They lived in The Bog, the west end of Charlottetown. Samuel Martin, for example, made application for a piece of government land on Government Pond. Black Sam’s Bridge was named after him. Government Pond covered a big area. In winter it was used for skating and hockey, etc. In the summer, it stank. Samuel lived to be about 110. He died in 1863. 

The main black family was the Byers family. John and Amelia had three sons each with the same name. He mentioned the names of Richard Byers, Robert Byers and William Byers. Robert was convicted of stealing a cow and was given seven months at hard labor plus 39 lashes. He ended up being deported from the Island. When The Bog ended, some left while some moved elsewhere on the Island. About 1900 some of the land of The Bog was sold for sewage disposal.  

In the field of sports George Godfrey became a bare-knuckle prize fighter and was heavy weight Champion between 1883 and 1888. He operated a boxing school. John L. Sullivan declined to fight him. The West End Rangers was formed by Thomas Mill who started the Athletic Association. There was as well a Maritime African League from 1899-1904.

In Prince County, one black family from New Brunswick, John Provert’s family, moved to Western PEI. He was a violin and fiddle player. John did an interview with Parnell Cosgrove as he had taken part in a 1926 fiddle contest. Their family in 1881 represented 7% of black families in Prince County.

n Lot 52, there were two children of Fred Shepherd. By 1881, two sons had gone to Maine and moved out to Seattle. They also went up to the Klondike where they made a lot of money. They moved to Fairbanks, Alaska and then back to Seattle. They were entrepreneurs. There was little black immigration in the 1800s. In 1910, the US Consul did an article on The Negro in the North. The 1911 census showed 81 blacks on the Island while 1921 census shows 43. They had The Bog School in West End Charlottetown.

Mr. Hornby concluded by saying he planned to publish a book on black Islanders, second volume. Louise Morris, President, thanked him for this presentation.