Monday, August 13, 2012

Black history uncovered in Luminato art installation: The untold stories

Black history uncovered in Luminato art installation: The untold stories

12 June 2012 No Comments

Josiah Henson and second wife Nancy
By Anya Wassenberg
Black History: The War of 1812 at The Encampment
An art installation by Thom Sokoloski and
Jenny-Anne McCowan
Fort York grounds, Toronto, June 8 to 24
The Encampment is an art installation project covering the grounds of Fort York with 200 white tents. Inside each one, a collection of objects and text elements depict a life as it existed in and around the War of 1812. The stories of the black Upper Canadians in the installation illustrate the varied roles and positions they held in their society and illuminate facets of Canadian history that are more often unexplored. The following lives are featured in the installation:

Sophie Pooley (nee Burthen) left a written first person account of her life that was recorded by Benjamin Drew (1812-1903) and published in 1856. It was one of 117 stories documented in A North-Side View of Slavery. The Refugee: Or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada. Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada.

Pooley came to Canada at the age of 7 when her New York based slave masters sold her to Mohawk chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea). The following quotes are her words:

“I guess I was the first coloured girl brought into Canada. The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king.”

“Brant had two coloured men for slaves… There was but one other Indian that I knew, who owned a slave. I had no care to get my freedom.”

Later she was sold again. “I was sold by Brant to an Englishman in Ancaster, for one hundred dollars — his name was Samuel Hatt.”

Freedom, in fact, when it finally came with emancipation in 1834, brought with it poverty. She was left with nothing to fend for herself in a harsh world. “I am now unable to work, and am entirely dependent on others for subsistence.  But I find plenty of people in the bush to help me a good deal.” Despite everything, she had the strength of body and spirit to live beyond the age of 90.

Josiah Henson was a fugitive slave from Maryland who became a Methodist preacher, author and founder of a settlement in western Ontario. Like many kidnapped Africans, he served for many masters before the age of 18 and suffered for it, including bones broken by white overseers. He became a preacher and toured to raise money to purchase his freedom; however he was double-crossed by his master and decided to escape to Upper Canada with his wife and four children, where he arrived in 1830. His memoirs served as the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Almany Malwise was a tribal princess from Ghana who was sent to England by her family to avoid being kidnapped and sold into slavery. She became a servant to a British officer, eventually working for General Sir Isaac Brock. She came to Upper Canada when he was stationed here for the war. According to oral histories gathered and recorded, Almany was considered a great beauty and had a romantic affair with 43-year old Sir Isaac, the storied general whose life ended on the battlefield at Queenston Heights. She bore him a daughter after his death, and there are families in the Windsor region today who claim her ancestry.

Richard Pierpoint was kidnapped in Senegal and sold to a British officer. During the American Revolution, slaves were offered their freedom in exchange for enlisting in the British Army and he took advantage of the offer, later settling in Upper Canada. During the War of 1812 – at over 65 years of age – he joined and helped organize the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada which saw action at many of the significant events of the conflict, including the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Stoney Creek.

John “Daddy” Hall arrived in Upper Canada with his wife as a runaway slave and became the first black settler in Sydenham. A black settlement of about ten families grew around him on squatted land and he became the town crier, announcing events and news twice a day. A colourful character, he fathered more than 20 children with three wives and died in Sydenham at the ripe old age of 117.

Lit up at dusk each evening the 200 tents will make a dramatic and very atmospheric visual statement and a fascinating way to explore history. The Encampment is open (and free of charge) from June 8 to 24 and from 7:30 pm – 11:00 PM. During Luminato (June 8 – 17) between 5:00 pm and  7:30 pm there are daily events listed here — The Encampment

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