The Simcoe Compromise bill of July 1793 did not free any slaves in then-Upper Canada, but did forbid the importation of slaves into that Province. Ironically, once Michigan was incorporated as a US territory in 1805, slaves escaping from Upper Canada were fleeing across the border – by 1806 there were sufficient free blacks in Detroit to form their own militia unit, as would be the case in New Orleans and its all-black Louisiana Native Guards. Mustered into State service in May 1861, the latter was the first black unit to serve in the American Civil War.
Slavery Way Up North
“The history of legalized slavery in [Canada] stretches back to 1628, when the English adventurer David Kirke brought to New France a native of Madagascar. Kirke disposed of him quickly for a handsome profit, making him Canada’s first slave. [It is believed] that by 1760 there were approximately 1,100 slaves residing in New France, most of who lived near Montreal and were either house servants or farm hands.
In the treaty of capitulation [to Britain], 8 September 1760, clause 47 guaranteed the continued servitude of all slaves to their respective masters. This same clause was included in the Treaty of Paris, 1763, and it was left in force when French civil law was restored by the Quebec Act of 1774.
By 1784 there were more than 4,000 blacks living in the British colonies north of the United States, and among them could be counted at least 1,800 slaves. To encourage settlement in British North America, the home government passed the Imperial Act of 1790, which applied to all British subjects still resident in the United States. It allowed them to import “Negroes, household furniture . . . duty free” into the Bahamas, Bermuda, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and any other British territory in North America. [Author] Robin Winks claims that free blacks were discouraged from settling.
Slave owning was widespread among the emerging political and social elite of Upper Canada. Peter Russell, a senior member of the Executive and Legislative councils and the province’s administrator in the absence of [Lt. Governor John Graves] Simcoe, was reputed to be the owner of ninety-nine slaves. Matthew Elliot, Russell’s close friend, may have owned upwards of fifty slaves, many of whom were war trophies taken in border clashes with the Americans.
(Slavery and Freedom in Niagara, Power & Butler, Niagara Historical Society, 2000, excerpts pp. 11-12; 18; 24-25)