The Commander-in-Chief for the British at Halifax was Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent (later on, the father of Queen Victoria). Edward was impressed by the proud bearing and military skills of the Maroons. He was pleased to see them join Nova Scotia militia units and he had them work on building projects such as the third Halifax Citadel and Government House (residence of the lieutenant-governor). Lt. Gov. Sir John Wentworth was also impressed by the Maroons. He thought they would be good colonist and selected the Preston area for them to settle. Thanks to a large subsidy from the government of Jamaica, arrangements were made for limited schooling and religious services.
The Maroons, however, rejected the idea of low-paid physical labour. Only a few became farmers: a small number who became Christians and who settled in Boydville in the Sackville area, where there is still a Maroon Hill. Most of the rest of the Maroons, like nearly half of the Black Loyalists a few years earlier, began to wonder if Nova Scotia was a good choice for their new home.
Later in late nineteenth century, Maroon Hill would be the site for a school for the Black inhabitants in the region. Decendents of the Maroons, or other Black settlers that had called the area home for a century by that time.
“The Maroon Hill Children Education Story
In 1796 approximately five hundred black residents of Jamaica known as Maroons arrived in Halifax. Not having had a school, the Black population who settled in Sackville bought a condemned schoolhouse from Lower Beaver Bank and moved it down in sections and rebuilt the building on a new plot of land in Middle Sackville in 1890.
The school year in the 1890’s had two terms. One term ran from May 1st to October 30th. The other term began on November 1st and ended on April 30th. The first school term lasted only six weeks, as the school was not ready for the scheduled May 1st opening; the school opened near the first of June. Mrs. Ester Oland taught the initial six-week term of study.
It would seem that according to the information still available, the school sat vacant after Mrs. Oland taught, until the wife of a missionary volunteered to teach the Maroon Hill children. The wife of Rev. C.S. Freeman taught the white children in the area earlier in the day and spent the late afternoon educating the black children at Maroon Hill School. This lasted from about 1906 to 1909. A short time after Mrs. Freeman worked with the area children, a young lady of the age of fourteen, Ms. Mable Fenerty, instructed students for two years on a permit only.
A school had been built years earlier for black children in Sackville, on land belonging to a black family for one hundred and fifty years. But over the years the influential white citizens wanted no Maroon settlement children attending school with their children, leaving the black students without a school in which to attend. The black students were treated so poorly that they no longer bothered to be present at the school site. With no black children attending school in the area, it gave the white majority the right to deny entry for subsequent generations of black families to be educated.
After the Maroon Hill School was no longer in use by the black children, a fourteen-year-old boy wandered onto the property of a Mrs. Pleasah Coldwell. There he asked if her son was home, and she informed the child that her son was at school in Bedford. The boy remarked that he wished he could go to school. Mrs. Coldwell could not believe the young man when he informed her that he was not allowed to attend school.
Mrs. Coldwell had just returned from Western Canada after having lived there for twenty-eight years. She had returned to live in her grandfather’s house, which happened to be situated next to the local school building. Taking to heart what the child had mentioned to her, she offered to instruct the young teen; he was an eager student and quickly learned to read. The mother of the child in question spoke to Mrs. Coldwell to see if she would teach her daughter as well. The Black residents spoke to her about taking in more students, and to become a teacher of the province in 1942.
By 1942 Mrs. Coldwell had nineteen pupils. Mrs. Coldwell housed classes in her dining room and kitchen, referred to as a kitchen school. At that time there were two sections of the first grade and one section each of the grades four, six and eight. The students proceeded to learn with great speed and comprehension, and many went home to even teach their parents how to read!
One of the charming stories of Mrs. Coldwell’s school was when she had four students, just one girl and three boys; they asked if they could have a Christmas concert. The children enlisted the help of fellow family and friends from the ages of five down to three-and-a-half, and proceeded to learn four carols. The children and their parents had heard about such concerts, but never actually saw one. Mrs. Coldwell’s kitchen was turned into a concert venue, and a Christmas tree decorated the room. What a splendid Kitchen Concert it was during the war years.
Over the years that Mrs. Coldwell worked with the Maroon Hill children in the 1940’s, a number of her students won prizes in contests and competitions. One little girl in 1947 won at a public speaking engagement in 1947. By 1949 the children won three first place positions in musical festivals. Mrs. Coldwell’s students were an eclectic group of fine young men and women.
B.C. Silver, the inspector of schools for the province once remarked that Mrs. Coldwell’s children spoke beautiful English, and that the standard of education in her school were extremely high. She was always pleased at the performance of her students, and flatly dismissed comments that they had no brains.
Mrs. Coldwell taught at a time when presumably children were entitled to a free and accessible education system, regardless of gender, ethnicity or cultural background.
The community of Sackville can never forget Mrs. Coldwell, as she was a pioneer in this community; she contributed enormously to the education of Sackville youths. A price cannot be put on the amount of work she did, when bigotry and exclusion was an acceptable practice in educational circles. She was such a fine upstanding citizen to work with children and families in helping black residents to enjoy the rich pleasure of the written word. It is as a result of Mrs. Coldwell work and the determination of her students that Sackville is a little more tolerant, as residents should always be mindful of what was taken away from a group of children years ago. A cycle of history whereby certain groups of people do not receive an adequate, free and accessible education should never repeat itself; the education system to work properly needs to be accessible to each person in the community.