Published in 1802, Opinions of Several Gentlemen of the Law, on the Subject of Negro Servitude, in the Province of Nova Scotia, is a small surviving piece of the history of slavery in Canada. The pamphlet does not attempt to debate the morality of slavery but rather to answer questions regarding the legality of "Trover" (a term which defined a slave as property) in one single case in Annapolis, Nova Scotia.

The dispute under discussion arose between two men: a Colonel James Delancey, and a well-to-do merchant named Mr. Wooden, somewhere around the year 1800.

Jack, one of Delancey's slaves, had run away "without leave" to a location outside of Annapolis where he found paid employment with Wooden. Under the advice of his laywer, Wooden refused to return Jack to Delancey on the grounds that Jack was considered a "Freeman" in Nova Scotia. (See the Biography page for more information).

Due to the legal ambiguity of slavery in Nova Scotia at this time, the pamphlet is a case study in the very human problems arrising from this lack of legal definition. Jack's situation appeared just as Britain's North American colonies were making the transition to abolish slavery. It was a contentious issue to say the least: another thematic thrust of Opinions of Several Gentlemen of the Law is to address whether there is legal precedent in the Colonial acts of parliament to define all blacks as being naturally condemmned to a life of "servitude."

The holdings of UVic's Special Collections include several other items pertaining to slavery in Canada and the British Colonies (see Bibliography for some of these titles) which scholars will find both historically and culturally valuable. See the Contacts page for more information about any of these items.


Kerry Mogg

July, 2004