Stamps of 2023: Canada (January 2023)

Jan. 30, 2023

Chloe Cooley

Canada Post will release its first stamp of 2023 later today, January 30, as the latest entry in its annual series marking Black History Month. The single stamp portrays Chloe Cooley who was a young black woman held as a slave in Fort Erie and Queenston, Upper Canada in the late 1700s, as the area was being settled by Loyalists from the United States. Her owner forced her into a boat on the evening of March 14, 1793, in order to sell her across the Niagara River in the United States.

This incident was observed by several witnesses, who petitioned the Executive Council of Upper Canada. Although charges were dropped against Cooley’s owner, the incident is believed to “have ushered in legislation that would lead to the gradual abolition of enslavement in Upper Canada and provide a refuge for freedom-seekers from abroad,” according to the press release by Canada Post.

At the time of the incident, Cooley was held by Loyalist Adam Vrooman, a white farmer and former sergeant with Butler’s Rangers who fled to Canada from New York after the American Revolution. He had purchased her several months before from Benjamin Hardison, another Loyalist who lived nearby at what is now Fort Erie, Ontario.

Under the Imperial Act of 1790, the Crown had explicitly allowed Loyalists to bring their slaves to Canada. An estimated 2000 slaves had been brought into Canada following the Revolutionary War with an estimated 500 to 700 brought to Upper Canada. After the war, the Crown encouraged settlement in Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces making land grants to compensate for property lost by Loyalists in the new United States. It wanted to develop these areas with English speakers.

Rumours were growing that enslavement could soon be banned. Fear of losing their investments prompted some enslavers to sell what was legally considered their property. Some Black Loyalists, African-American slaves who had been freed by the British after leaving their rebel masters and joining the battle, had settled in Upper Canada but most went to Nova Scotia. The existence of slavery in the new provinces seemed a contradiction to the other rights which were protected for most residents.

The slaves were legally treated as chattel, and slaveowners began sellling them off rather than losing their property rights in them. Fearing that he would be forced to free Cooley, Vrooman arranged a sale, against her will, to an American across the Niagara River. On March 14, 1793, Vrooman beat Cooley, tied her up and forced her into a small boat, aided by two other men.

“Queenstown, Upper Canada on the Niagara” [Now known as Queenston, Ontario] by Edward Walsh. Image dates from between 1803 and 1807. This watercolor shows the village of Queenston, in the Canadian province of Ontario, known as “Upper Canada” prior to 1841. Travelers on horseback, cart, and foot traverse the wide dirt road, while houses are near the shore of the Niagara River. Queenston is just north of Niagara Falls and the site of the battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812, in the War of 1812, when the Canadians and British defeated the American forces that invaded the town. Edward Walsh was a surgeon to the 49th Regiment and served in Canada from 1803-1807. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.01656.

Cooley fought back. While being rowed across the river, she screamed, yelling for help as she struggled to get free. Her protests were so loud that they drew the attention of those nearby, including Peter Martin, a Black Loyalist of Butler’s Rangers. He brought William Grisely, a white man who had also witnessed the abduction, to make a report to the Executive Council of Upper Canada. Others saw the incident but took no action. Cooley’s fate after she was taken across the river remains unknown.

The Executive Council of Upper Canada brought charges against Sergeant Vrooman for disturbing the peace. However, he petitioned against the charges, which were eventually dropped, because Chloe Cooley was considered property.

Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe was outraged by the incident and decided to act to prohibit slavery. While at least 12 members of the 25-person government owned slaves or were members of slave-owning families, they offered little opposition to the bill. The Chloe Cooley incident was considered a catalyst in the passage of Canada’s first and only anti-slavery legislation: “An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude (also known as the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada)”. Commonly called the Act Against Slavery, Simcoe gave it Royal Assent on July 9, 1793.

Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe – Painting by George Theodore Berthon, circa 1891 (from Archives of Ontario)

The Act prohibited the importation of slaves into the province of Upper Canada. It allowed the sale of slaves within the province and across the border into the United States, stipulating three classes of persons: those held in slavery at the time of enactment would continue to be the property of their masters for life unless freed; persons born to slave mothers would be granted freedom at age 25 (at that age they were judged able to support themselves), and masters were encouraged to employ them as indentured servants, for maximum terms up to nine years, which were renewable. Persons born to free blacks would be free from birth.

Act to Limit Slavery (Archives of Ontario – Statutes of Upper Canada, 3 George III, Cap. 7)

In 1799 New York State passed a similar law to gradually abolish slavery and forbid any more sales of slaves within its borders. The last slave sale known in Upper Canada took place in 1824. The last slaves in New York were freed in 1827. Other northern states, such as Vermont and Massachusetts, ended the institution earlier.

The Act opened a pathway to freedom by setting the stage for the gradual ending of enslavement in Upper Canada. It also created a legal refuge for those fleeing enslavement in other countries – helping to pave the way for at least 30,000 freedom-seeking Black Americans to make the dangerous journey north to Canada over the decades to come.

In 1833, enslavement was officially abolished throughout the British Empire and the last remaining enslaved persons in Upper Canada would finally be freed.

In 2007, the Ontario Heritage Trust, an agency of the Government of Ontario, erected an historical marker remembering Chloe Cooley and the incident of March 14, 1793. The marker is near Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, on Niagara Parkway just north of York Road (County Route 81). This area is a compact rural community and unincorporated place 5 km north of Niagara Falls known as Queenston (spelled Queenstown prior to the early 19th century). The village of Lewiston, New York, is just across the river here.

In 2016, a documentary called The Echoes of Chloe Cooley by Andrea Conte was entered in a contest for short works and in 2022, a Heritage Minute was released featuring her story. For her courageous act of resistance, Chloe Cooley was designated a Person of National Historic Significance by the Government of Canada on April 27, 2022.

The 2023 stamp features an illustration based on consultation with experts in local and regional history, Black history, and period fashion since there are no images of Chloe Cooley in existence. Archival maps, paintings, illustrations, and other documents were used by Lime Design in creating the stamp featuring illustrative work by Rick Jacobsen. The booklets of six self-adhesive stamps with die-cut perforations were printed by Lowe-Martin using four-color offset lithography in a total quantity of 130,000 stamps. Each stamp measures 40 x 32 mm and have the non-value indicator “P” for the Permanent™ domestic rate which currently have a face value of 92 Canadian cents. The first day of issue cancellation is from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Canada Post created 7,000 copies of the official first day cover.

Niagara-on-the-Lake served as the first capital of the province of Upper Canada, the predecessor of Ontario, and was called Newark from 1792 to 1797. During the War of 1812, the town, the two former villages of St. David’s and Queenston, and Fort George were the sites of numerous battles following the American invasion of Upper Canada, and the town was razed. Today, Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to the oldest Catholic church and the second-oldest Anglican church in Ontario and the oldest surviving golf course in North America. It is also the only town in Canada that has a lord mayor.

Flag of Niagara-On-The -Lake, Ontario

One thought on “Stamps of 2023: Canada (January 2023)

  1. Pingback: Stamps of 2023: Monthly Wrap-Up (January) | Mark Joseph Jochim

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