Courtesy of the Archives of Ontario

Buxton School, 1910. Courtesy of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum.


Mary Ann Shadd Cary wrote and spoke her way into the Colored Conventions movement well before she was officially named a delegate to the 1855 National Convention. Her publications and speeches staged the terms for convention delegates to debate issues around education, emigration, and more. Shadd Cary was keenly aware of the power of the Black press over these debates, and she expertly navigated its streams of influence in ways that secured acknowledgement from the formidable leaders of her time, during a time and within a political movement where women were often sidelined. In her widely circulated pamphlet “A Plea for Emigration, or Notes of Canada West” she presented herself as a central thinker and organizer for the larger questions around emigration and the project Black nationalism that gripped the Colored Conventions and the pages of Black newspapers in the 1850s.[1] Her Canada-based newspaper The Provincial Freeman offers another site in which she promoted herself as an authority on the wide range of topics. And her experience and expertise was substantial, amassed over years of teaching literacy to African Americans who fled to Canada, and fundraising for resettlement communities’ homes and farms in her travels across Canada and the US. Shadd Cary’s critiques of convention leaders and other opponents were strongest when they refused to adequately engage the needs or issues important to her and her communities, such as economic development and labor organizing for Black women and Black Canadians. She knew that her own struggles as a Black woman were inextricably linked to those of her race and gender in both nations, and that her work was both self-advocacy and collective empowerment. The next page features a StoryMap visualization highlighting Provincial Freeman clippings that speak to the debates in and surrounding the Conventions movement. 


Map of Canada West, 1860. Courtesy of the University of Toronto Map and Data Library.



[1] Shadd, Mary Ann. A Plea for Emigration, or, Notes of Canada West: in Its Moral, Social, and Political Aspect: with Suggestions Respecting Mexico, West Indies, and Vancouver’s Island, for the Information of Colored Emigrants. Detroit, MI, 1852.