Black History Month – The poor land development and housing of Black Refugees in early 1800’s Nova Scotia
In the early 1880’s, Black Refugees from the United States came to Nova Scotia in search of freedom and land. At least they were promised as much. However, their financial circumstances were so dire that their freedom was reduced to becoming indentured workers and the land that was given to them was not suitable for the harsh Nova Scotian winters.
Black Refugees to Nova Scotia settled in small towns such as Hammonds Plains and Preston, on land that was promised to be suitable and large enough for farming to feed a family. What they were given by the Nova Scotian government was land with poor soil for agriculture far from the major cities. White settlers to the colony of Nova Scotia were given 100 acres of good quality land, a quantity that was promised to “each man on his arrival if he wishes it” and varied depending on the size of the family. In contrast, Black Refugees were only given 10 acres, regardless of the size of the family and it was usually the worst land available. As a result of such racist land allocation policies, it was difficult for Black Refugees to support themselves by cultivating unproductive land covered with rocks and trees. Many of them left their lands to work in the larger cities as indentured workers or left Nova Scotia altogether. This only gave the government and the white majority a reason to claim that Blacks were unproductive members of society who could not be depended on. This subterfuge was also used to justify the racist land allocation policies.
The Black Refugees who stayed had to clear away rocks and cut down trees in order to cultivate the land. They would use the wood from the trees on their land to build houses, but they could not use all of the trees for housing because they needed to use some as fire wood. This resulted in inadequate housing, such huts with no floors and porous walls. Not the type of housing one would want to have in Nova Scotia in the middle of the winter.
If you want to learn more about Black Refugees and their stuggle to build new lives and communities in Nova Scotia, we suggest reading Blacks on the Border: The Black Refugees in British North American 1815-1860 by Harvey Amani Whitfield.