The story of Black Nova Scotians is a rich tapestry. It’s a story of many diverse groups – Loyalists, Maroons, Caribbeans, Refugees and others – sewn together through a common African ancestry and the search for a better life in Nova Scotia. That tapestry is strengthened by proud communities with centuries of history, highlighted by men and women such as Boston King, Viola Desmond, William Hall and Portia White.
African Nova Scotian History
As one of our founding cultures, African Nova Scotians have called the province a home since its earliest days. The very first to arrive was explorer Mathieu de Costa, who acted as the translator for Samuel de Champlain at Port Royal in 1608. While a small population of French and English Black settlers arrived in the century and half after that, helping grow important colonial towns such as Louisburg and Annapolis Royal, it wasn’t until the 1780s that their numbers really started to grow.
More than 3,500 Black Loyalists, escaping the chaos of the colonies at the close of the American War of Independence, were quickly followed by Jamaican Maroons in 1796 – a proudly independent group who helped to build Nova Scotia’s Government House, worked on new fortifications at the Halifax Citadel and served in the local militia. Refugees followed them from the War of 1812 and, later that century, the American Civil War, as Blacks escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad.
The African Nova Scotian Experience
Today, the story of African Nova Scotians is told through their descendants, historical landmarks and numerous Black cultural festivals. The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia in Cherry Brook and the Black Loyalist Heritage Museum at historic Birchtown offer opportunities to explore both the struggles and triumphs of African Nova Scotians. For anyone who has traced their ancestry through the now-famous Book of Negroes, Birchtown can be a particularly special place to visit, having once been the largest settlement of free Blacks outside of Africa. Many of the original settlers are noted in the Book of Negroes and visitors to the historic site can follow their ancestors’ journey through the Black Loyalist Heritage Society’s records, by browsing the many artifacts in the museum, visiting the burial ground and strolling the well-maintained Black Heritage Trail.
Today, the legacy of African Nova Scotians can be found throughout the province in places such as North and East Preston, Shelburne, New Glasgow, Glace Bay, Tracadie, Hammonds Plains and Beechville.
To learn more about Nova Scotia's African founding culture, including upcoming events, visit the African Nova Scotian Affairs (ANSA) website.