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19th century


After the passage of the 1793 Act to limit slavery in Upper Canada, enslaved African Americans flee to Canada. By the 1840s, an organized system of underground assistance evolves – which eventually becomes known as the Underground Railroad. It is run by abolitionists and Quakers and is a loosely constructed network of escape routes that originates in the southern United States, winding its way to the less restrictive North, and eventually to Canada.


Britain abolishes the transatlantic slave trade.


The United States Congress passes a law prohibiting the importation of slaves from Africa.


Black volunteers fight under the British flag in a separate "Colored Corps" in the War of 1812 to defend their home in Canada and prevent a return to slavery.


The Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada offers land grants in Oro Township to Black veterans of the War of 1812, creating an early Black settlement in the province.


The Amherstburg First African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) is erected.


The enforcement of oppressive Black Codes in Ohio leads former residents of Cincinnati to found the Wilberforce Settlement near present-day Lucan, Ontario.


Josiah Henson escapes Kentucky with his wife and four children and settled near Fort Erie, Ontario. Henson goes on to become a leading Black abolitionist and important community leader.


Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher, leads the most significant slave revolt in American history. Dozens of whites are murdered and Turner is captured and hanged. In response, Virginia enacts even more oppressive laws against Blacks.


Upper Canada refuses to extradite the fugitive slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn. The case serves as a precedent in the extradition of fugitive slaves from Upper Canada. The Blackburns are allowed to remain in Canada because to return them would ensure their re-enslavement.


Slavery is officially abolished throughout the British Empire on August 1. Emancipation Day celebrations begin to take place in Black communities across Ontario and are still observed today.


An escaped slave, Solomon Moseby, is arrested in Niagara for stealing a horse to affect his getaway. During his transportation back to Kentucky, one of the first race riots in Canada breaks out in opposition to his extradition. Two men are killed and Moseby escapes.


The 1837 Rebellion breaks out in Upper Canada, led by William Lyon Mackenzie. Black volunteers, including Josiah Henson, form a number of "Colored Corps" to defend the government and support Black rights in the province.


Thornton Blackburn starts the first cab company in Toronto, a red and yellow carriage drawn by a single horse.


The Dawn Settlement near Dresden, Ontario is founded by Josiah Henson and Hiram Wilson.


The British American Institute opens at the Dawn Settlement. It attracts hundreds of Blacks who settle in the area.


The Elgin Settlement and Buxton Mission are founded by Rev. William King on 9,000 acres (3,642 hectares) in Kent County. The settlement is an important terminus of the Underground Railroad that attracts hundreds of free Blacks.


Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and repeatedly returns to the southern United States to assist enslaved people in their escape to freedom.


Josiah Henson publishes his biography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself.


The second Fugitive Slave Law is enacted by United States Congress. The severity of the new law results in a flood of enslaved and free Blacks escaping to the safety of Canada.


The Common Schools Act, enacted by Egerton Ryerson, forces Black children to attend segregated schools in many communities across the province.


Henry and Mary Bibb begin publication of the first Black Canadian anti-slavery newspaper – the Voice of the Fugitive – out of Sandwich (Windsor) in Canada West.


The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada is formed in Toronto.


A North American convention is held at St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto with anti-slavery leaders from across the United States and Canada West to discuss emigration and other related issues.


Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin is published and becomes an international bestseller, drawing attention from all over the world to the horrors of slavery.


The Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper, is established by Mary Ann and Isaac Shadd. Mary Ann Shadd becomes the first Black woman to own and publish a newspaper in North America.


The British Methodist Episcopal Church is founded in Canada West when some AME branches choose to separate from their parent body. The name change is partially an expression of acknowledgement and gratitude for the freedom found in the British colony.


The ruling in the Dred Scott case in Missouri states that enslaved people in the United States are not humans but property and that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states.


John Brown holds a convention in Chatham to form a constitution and lay plans to overthrow slavery in the United States, building on secret meetings held in various centres in Canada West to recruit followers to join his cause.


John Brown and 21 followers, including Osborne Anderson from Chatham, raid and capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown's attempt to overthrow slavery in the United States fails and he is tried and hanged.


John Anderson (from the Brantford area) is arrested seven years after he fled from Missouri, where he had killed a man who tried to prevent his escape. There is international interest in the case as the United States seeks to have him extradited. The case is dismissed on a technicality.


The American Civil War begins. After the ban on Black soldiers is rescinded in 1862, nearly 1,000 African Canadian men join the Union Army in different Black regiments.


The Emancipation Proclamation is issued by President Abraham Lincoln, declaring all slaves to be free.


The United States Freemen's Inquiry Commission tours Black settlements throughout Ontario to conduct interviews and to make recommendations to assist in planning for the transition from slavery to freedom.


The Civil War ends and President Lincoln is assassinated.


The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishes slavery in the United States.


Josiah Henson dies on May 5.


Chatham schools are finally desegregated following a well-organized campaign led by the Kent County Civil Rights League.


R. Nathaniel Dett becomes the organist at the British Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel, in his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario. He goes on to become an award-winning composer, scholar and choral director.

17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

Come to the cabin!

Come to the cabin!

Learn about Josiah Henson, recognized for his contributions to the abolition movement and for his work in the Underground Railroad, at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden
Online exhibits

Online exhibits

Ontario’s stories are compelling and informative. Explore some of them through our online exhibits