Today we’re offering a new free resource brought to you by the OurDigitalWorld team:
The Abolitionist Newspapers of the 1850s digital portal.
As one of the first places for fugitives from slavery to end up after their travels on the Underground Railroad, and a place where many people called for a new black utopia, Ontario has a rich history of black publishing. This new site, built with our VITA Digital Toolkit, offers full-text searching and browsing of three publications:
- The Voice of the Fugitive
- The Provincial Freeman
- The True Royalist and Weekly Intelligencer
Along with digitized microfilm of the Provincial Freeman and the True Royalist, we are delighted to announce that, for the very first time, low-quality microfilm of the Voice of The Fugitive has been replaced with high-quality, full-colour digital photographs of each and every page still available.
The copies, held in the Detroit Public Library’s Burton Historical Collection Room, were originally microfilmed decades ago. These microfilm copies were distributed around the world, including the Archives of Ontario and several libraries in the United States.
When the ODW team first digitized these microfilm reels for the INK full-run newspaper site, they found that the microfilm was full of scratches, dirt, and contrast errors. So Walter & Diane were delighted to get permission to head over the border and digitize the original print volumes held by the DPL.
Because the quality of the new digital images is so much better, the Optical Character Recognition is much more accurate, meaning the world can text-search successfully through these issues of the Voice for the very first time. All of these new colour photographs have been processed and added to OurDigitalWorld’s Abolitionist newspaper collection, and you can download a PDF version of any page.
This publication is invaluable not just for its ongoing coverage of American slavery and Canadian responses, but for the window it gives us into everyday life for black Ontarians – advertisements for businesses that would serve black people in the face of incredible ongoing prejudice, philosophical articles about where people should move and how they should conduct themselves politically, advice on agriculture and gardening, and calls for coordinated actions towards a real home for black people in North America.
The site also includes two microfilmed issues of the True Royalist and Weekly Intelligencer, a pro-abolitionist white newspaper that’s mostly been lost to time. Learn more about the Voice and the Provincial Freeman here, in an essay we published about these newspapers in 2017.
You can also find all of these papers in the Ontario Community News collection, which spans every type of Ontario-related newspaper item (from indexes to full pages) in all of our VITA collections.
We’re so proud to be able to offer these public-domain and incredibly valuable newspapers for free online. We’d love for you to share these resources widely and find creative uses for them. We’d especially love to hear from teachers using these materials in classrooms, to give students a first-hand look at how free and fugitive black Ontarians during the 1850s felt about a variety of issues.
You can complement a searching and research activity in the Abolitionist site by pointing students to our virtual exhibit about black history in Ontario, from the 1600s to the 20th century, including a wide variety of photographs, maps, letters, articles, and first-hand accounts. These materials came from over 50 contributing heritage organizations across the province.
You can also use our curriculum resources around Ontario’s multicultural history in your classrooms or as homework assignments. We offer two activity packages, with higher and lower grade level or time-commitment options:
- Abolitionists of Ontario: Fugitives & Freemen, featuring nine transcribed articles from the Voice and the Freeman, along with question sheets and answer rubrics
- Vanguards of Science & Society, with profiles of four Ontario women, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, publisher of the Provincial Freeman, along with questions and answers for students
You can leave comments on the educational packages, the grade-level groups, or on individual readings or activity sheets. We’d appreciate your feedback on the use of these educational materials, and what we can do to improve them!