Black Abolitionists: Emigrationist Mary Ann Shadd


By Lestey Gist, The Gist of Freedom

Emigrationist – Mary Ann Shadd

Shadd’s newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, was first issued at Windsor on 24 March 1854 as a specimen. Shadd is thought to be the first black woman editor and publisher of a newspaper in North America. The Provincial Freeman was devoted to Anti-Slavery, Temperance, and General Literature, and was affiliated with no particular Political Party.

Shadd was a pioneer, abolitionist, a writer, teacher, school founder and principal, a newspaper publisher and editor, the first woman to tour the country giving lectures, the only woman to hold the post of recruitment officer in the American Civil War and the first woman to enroll at Howard University.

“it will open its columns to the views of men of different political opinions, reserving the right, as an independent Journal, of full expression on all questions or projects affecting the people in a political way; and reserving, also, the right to express emphatic condemnation of all projects, having for their object in a great or remote degree, the subversion of the principles of the British Constitution, or of British rule in the Provinces.”

She wrote for many newspapers including Fredrick Douglas’s North Star and worked as a subscription agent for his New National Era. In the debate on how to respond to the Fugitive Slave Act, she led the debate in favor of emigration to Canada – a case made by her in the book A Plea for Emigration. She became a practicing lawyer at the age of 60 and was a leading figure in the woman’s suffrage movement in the final twenty years of her life.

She was born in Wilmington, Delaware, America, in 1823, as a free black person. Her well-off family was active in the abolitionist movement and their home was a stop on the fledgling Underground Railroad. Her parents Abraham and Harriet were in a perilous position: they were free Blacks in a slave state. By sheltering fugitive slaves, they took their lives in their hands every day.

National Negro Convention

Shadd attended the National Negro Convention in Philadelphia in 1855 and was the first Black woman admitted as a corresponding member. She made a deep impression on those present including Fredrick Douglas. This was reflected in a special benefit organized in her honor. At this point, she seems to have swayed the majority opinion at the Convention in favor of the argument of emigration, including Douglas, who through his Northern Star had led the opposing argument in favor of staying in America and fighting to change the law. Shadd’s father, Abraham, became the first Black person elected to public office in Canada in 1858, as a councilor on Raleigh Township Council.

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1 Comment

  • Patricia Kayden March 8, 2021 - 11:13 am

    Fascinating. Growing up in Ontario, I’ve read a lot about Ms. Shadd. She was such an accomplished woman.