Upper Canada in the Forefront
pon being appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada in
1791, John Graves Simcoe planned to establish a
province where slavery was illegal, on the grounds that
the practice is inconsistent with a free nation.
Slavery in Upper Canada
However, Simcoe's antislavery program met resistance from
some of the people who already held slaves. Most of the
slaves in York in 1793 were owned by senior civil
servants, such as Jarvis. However, owners also included
large landowners, merchants, even some farmers.
here were probably about 100 slaves in Upper Canada in
1793, when Simcoe brought forward his legislation.
Simcoe's Anti-Slavery Law
Simcoe managed to pass only a somewhat watered-down version of his anti-slavery law. Abolition would be accomplished "so far as [it] may gradually be done without violating private property." Nevertheless, the law, passed in 1794, was the first of its kind in the British Empire.
The Anti-Slavery Act of 1793 (Archives of Ontario)
It allowed slave-owners to keep the slaves who
had been born into slavery until death. But children
of slaves born after July 9, 1793 were freed
upon reaching the age of 25. New slaves could not be brought
into the province. All slaves brought in by owners
and all reaching the province under their own
effort became free.
The Effect of the Anti-Slavery Law
These measures ensured the end of slavery in Upper
Canada. By 1810, sixteen years after the law was
enacted, only about two dozen slaves remained in
William Jarvis and His Slaves
illiam Jarvis was probably one of those trying
to put pressure on Simcoe in 1793 not to outlaw slavery
"Following the custom of the time he was a slaveholder, and in the early part of March, 1811, he complained to the court that a negro boy and girl, his slaves, had stolen silver and gold from a desk at his house and escaped from their master, and that they had been aided and advised by one Coachly, a free negro. The accused having been caught, the court ordered that the boy, named Henry, but commonly known as Prince, be committed to prison; that the girl be returned to her master, and Coachly be discharged."Is Robertson looking for excuses for Jarvis? It seems less than completely accurate to characterize slaveholding as "the custom of the time."
Another reference says that William Jarvis kept six slaves in his house on Caroline Street ("Mr. Secretary Jarvis: William Jarvis of Cornwall and York," (Eleven Exiles: Accounts of Loyalists of the American Revolution, Phyllis R. Blakely and John N. Grant, eds., Dundurn Press Limited, Toronto, 1982, ISBN 0-919670-62-8).
Where could Jarvis have picked up such a nasty practice? Perhaps the best that can be said for him is that it is possible he grew up with slavery from childhood. There were no slave plantations in New England, but in some areas household slaves were not unknown.
More stories about the history of Jarvis Collegiate, early Toronto and William and Samuel Jarvis.