History of Blacks in Big Tracadie by Hugh Clarke

Photo: RH Whitehead History Collections, Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax.

For “loyalist Blacks” who settled in Nova Scotia after the American Revolution war, leaving their former homes was a traumatic experience.

The extreme difficulties in establishing themselves in Nova Scotia was only the first of such problems.

In the following years the blacks throughout Nova Scotia were to be plagued by the combined disappointments of poverty, crop failure, ignorance and prejudice in their areas.

Upper Big Tracadie,located in Guysborough county N.S. .Is one of the many self-supporting black communities within the province the result that now exists is proof of black emergency and survival in Guysborough county.

After the American revolution a group of loyalist Negroes consisting of 71 men ,50 women and some 51 children were settled at Tracadie. There Thomas Brownspriggs and 74 others were given a grant of 3,000 acres of land at “Tracadie 1787. For a time the S.P.G. (society for the propagation of the gospel)maintained a Negro school at Tracadie. Thomas Brownspriggs acted as schoolmaster there from about 1788 to 1790.”

“The Rev Charles Weeks,Anglican missionary,reported that they were twenty three Negro families at Tracadie in 1808. Mr. Dempsey Jordan who was appointed as S.P.G. schoolmaster there in 1818 willfully gave religious instructions to the children, read prayers and printed sermons to the inhabitants.

The Roman Catholic bishop Plessis who visited the Tracadie region in 1813 noted in his diary “Another reason why he, the local priest is not suited to this place, Tracadie is that there are twenty five families of Protestant Negroes there, who have been abandoned by the ministers of their Belief, and who, to become Catholics, are awaiting only the presence of a priest able to preach to them in English. It would be difficult to express the sorrow of the Bishop of Quebec when he saw so fine a priest separated from his flock, with so little needed to procure for them a knowledge of the true religion. The Negroes refrained from appearing in the neighborhood for the two days of the visitation, thinking that they were not in the good graces of the Catholic clergy, because they had been mistakenly told they would be sent away if they showed themselves there.

In 1890 Captain W. Morrison, a British traveler, visited Guysborough County. He noted that the condition of the Blacks in that area was far superior to those existing in any other area of Nova Scotia. He said that though the condition of these detached families of Negroes, was still miserably poor, the Blacks of Guysborough living conditions were far superior to their brethren near Halifax. The nearest approach to comfort he had observed among the Black race was a few families who occupied the back lands of Great Tracadie. They were descendants of some slaves who came with refugee loyalists, and consequently had only experienced the demoralizing effect of slavery by inheritance. Morrison also stated that the only livery stable in the Guysborough area was managed by a Negro , whose fame was widespread and according to some “county jockeys” could breed cattle far better than those owned by the governor Under the circumstances this first step in black initiative was amazing. However, it should be noted that this was restricted to only a few blacks, such as Mr. Campbell, Thomas Brownspriggs and Demsey Jordan. Brownspriggs and Jordan both played a very important role in the religious and educational life in the Tracadie Black community as well as providing a link between the white and Negro worlds. Brownspriggs, being quite educated, acted as leader of this community in Guysborough from the very start. By early 1787, he became fully dissatisfied with the condition of the Chedabucto Bay community, presently called Guysborough County. He demanded from Lieutenant Governor Parr a grant of land for Negroes who wanted to become independent farmers. On Sept. 1787, Governor ordered the surveyor-General to lay out a parcel of land, 3,000 acres under Thomas Brownspriggs and seventy-three others at Tracadie.

In 1788 Bishop Charles Inglis appointed Brownsspriggs a teacher for the society for the propagation of the gospel S.P.G. at Tracadie. In 1790 it was reported that “the Negro school at Tracadie goes on well, the master teaches 23 black children.” However, it was later reported that he had abandoned the school.

Dempsy Jordan tended to be specially active in the Tracadie area during the first two decades of the 19th century. In 1808 Reverend Weeks, the S.P.G. Missionary at Guysborough,reported that Jordan was giving religious instructions to the children and reading prayers and printing sermons to the inhabitants on Sundays, in 1818, Jordan was appointed S.P.G. schoolmaster Jordan like Brownspriggs earlier, had become employed to do all kinds of work in the Negro communities made contact in Tracadie.

Despite Jordan’s missionary work, many blacks wanted to worship in the nearby Roman Catholic Church. They were greeted with hostility and unchristian charity. On October 15,1815 Father Marceau requested to Bishop Pessis that a gallery be constructed where the blacks could hold service-refused by the Roman Catholic and forgotten by the churches of England, the Tracadie Negroes in 1801 turned to the Baptist Church.

In 1821 Rev. Elder Davis Nutter,a Baptist Evangelist, visited Tracadie and began preaching to the Negroes. A year later,1822, Rev Nutter constituted the United Baptist Church that happens to be the oldest African Baptist Church in Nova Scotia. Nutter originally from Kidderminister, England, found the Tracadie Negroes in comfortable homes and was very pleased with the eagerness of the Blacks to follow him in his mission Nutter once said “The spirit came upon them like rain upon the mowed grass, and showers that water the earth.”

Interest arose concerning the question of Negro education. One concern outsider was Inspector Samuel Russell. In 1867 he observed in Tracadie: “A section of colored people with seventy(70) schoolable children-very poor and for want of good men for trustees nothing has been done. The colored people adjoining Tracadie are not only poor, but careless-will not keep the school supplied with fuel-even when everything else is done for them. This is the only log school house in the county

In 1872 a striking change took place in Tracadie and at Manchester schools were built. In 1874 the new inspector William Hartshorne reported

“In the colored section No.34 Tracadie, School had been in operation during the summer term for the first time. there were sixty-seven registered pupils, average attendance 39. The progress made in their school had been satisfactory and the pupils were very well supplied with books, etc.

It has been further recorded that up until 1930 few Negroes were educated at even an elementary level.. In 1932 a new school for the Negro children of Guysborough road was opened with an enrollment of seventeen (17) pupils. Funds for the support of the school were raised by suppers church picnics, etc. and grants from the department. By 1936 children from Upper Big Tracadie Guysborough Road, Prospect and Birchtown were being educated. Most of the teachers had “permissive Licenses” and were poorly qualified. They were usually Negroes since it was felt that no respectable white teacher would teach under such primitive conditions. The schools in the 1930 and 40s were usually in a destructive state.

In the early 1900 s Rear Monastery was known as the Back Settlement of Tracadie, and became known as the Avonside School district. This was soon made a border section with Guysborough County. Many of the pupils were Negroes from the old Tracadie Road district. It was consolidated with Tracadie in 1959. By the 1940 s the quality of Negro education left much to be desired. At that time most Negro parents were not interested in obtaining educational facilities for their children. At the middle of the 20th century Guysborough Negroes found themselves in extremely depressed conditions. Religion provided some escape from the hard realities of life. Many escaped by going to Cape Breton, New Glascow, Halifax and Ontario. Those who stayed were forced to struggle with the problems of survival. Today, the Upper Big Tracadie Black settlement is progressing moderately. The area is fortunate to have a church and community center. It is to be hoped that, over the years the progress of this small but slowly advancing community will produce and offer more for its people.


Names and places of Nova Scotia
The P.A.N.S. Halifax 1967
Volume 3c2
By Charles Bruce Ferguson
Pg. 679

Historical: The Guysborough Negroes
A Study In Isolation
C.B. Ferguson
Ibid Pg. 14,15,16,17,18,19.
Names and Places of Nova Scotia The )P.A.N.S. Halifax, 1967
By Charles Bruce Ferguson
Pg. 680.:”

Also read The History of the Black Community at Tracadie, N. S. by the Nova Scotia Museum.

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