Coordinate: 46.144757, -66.624241
I came to these lands from Africa where I had a name, but I’ve forgotten what it was. To use it was pain and it was better to forget. The name they gave me was a cruel joke, “Liberty”. Captain George Dunbar brought me to up the Saint John, and I thought I was at the end of the world… On the banks of the Nashwaak I learned to weave baskets from ash trees from the people who lived there.
But I was not to remain there, little did I know, up the Nashwaak waited for me. In the pool of the falls on Dunbar, named for my captor, I washed my sweat, my blood and my tears. My tears. My Tears. The current carried them away. Back to Africa. Does any of my spirit live there now, I wonder? My bones hide in this stony ground. My name forgotten. My soul feels trapped, never to be reborn. Forgotten…
Dunbar Falls carries the name of Captain George Dunbar, who is marked in the Book of Negroes as accompanying an enslaved person named Liberty. The myth of Canada is that we look at ourselves as the land of freedom. That is part of the story. But in the 1780’s and for the following three decades, New Brunswick was a society with slaves, even in a remote spot like the Dunbar. The loyalist provincial military leadership were already heavily invested in the slave economy. Furthermore, when the loyalist provincial troops served in the thirteen colonies, bargains were entered with the Black fugitives they encountered to secure labour for passage to New York City and then what would be Canada.
Roughly a thousand Blacks landed at the mouth of the River Saint John, settling as early as 1782. Liberty arrived a year later and like so many other loyalist era Blacks and Black Loyalists, we know next to nothing other than an entry in the Book of Negroes. It is these breadcrumbs that shape my research into Black history in the Maritime Provinces. Is there a document elsewhere that will illuminate Liberty’s later life? Unlike the scenario above, perhaps Liberty achieved true freedom and made his way to a reasonably comfortable life. In the near future, I will add Dunbar Falls to the Hidden History Geotour project that acknowledges our hidden Black past.
Already present as part of the tour is the 42nd Highland Cemetery cairn in Pleasant Valley. To my surprise, my own family line ties to the story of the Black Watch. First, elements of the Black Watch attempted to re enforce Lord Dunmore in Virginia and his mixed band of troops, including the Ethiopian Regiment of Black Militia. Unfortunately, the Scots were intercepted by the Patriots. But in 1779, the Scots raided the Chesapeake, allowing for my ancestors to free themselves, join the British and raise hell, instilling fear in the hearts of Patriot farmers all around the bay. If one looks at a map of the Scot’s land grants, and those of Black Loyalists, it isn’t difficult to identify that neither group was getting a fair shake. My philosophy toward history is looking more at what connects us, as the negotiations between groups gives us a better idea of the dynamics that shape our collective history.