Fugitive Voices: Black-run periodicals in Abolition-era Canada

165 years ago, on February 12th, 1852, Henry Bibb published an announcement in his newspaper, The Voice of the Fugitive, calling for donations to his Homes For Refugees Fund. This was the latest in a long line of advocacy and activism by Bibb; his most notable was the founding of the Voice in 1851.642px-Henry_Bibb.png

Henry Bibb was born in 1815, in Louisville, Kentucky, into slavery. He married a free black woman named Mary Miles in 1848. He escaped when he was 22 and made it to Cincinnati, but returned for his wife Mary and was recaptured. He escaped again – with Mary this time – and they made their way to Detroit, crossing over to Windsor after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. They immediately began taking in refugees who had arrived in Canada through the Underground Railroad.

On January 1st, 1851, the first issue of the
Voice was published in Sandwich (now Amherstburg). Bibb had also self-published his autobiography by this time – Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave. The Bibbs’ Refugee Home Society was also set up in 1851, and during its tenure settled refugees of slavery in approximately 2,000 acres in the Sandwich area. The Bibbs were often available to greet and settle newcomers personally. 

The Voice ended abruptly in 1853 when the offices were burnt to the ground. Bibb did not live to see another project start in its place; he died suddenly in 1854, when he was 39 years of age. Mary continued to provide settlement services and teach both children and adults, remarried, and opened a store in Windsor.

When I started working at OurDigitalWorld, one of the first things I was told about was the amazing newspaper collections we have been able to digitize and share with the world – especially The Voice of the Fugitive and Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s Provincial Freeman. Mary Bibb often gets credit for being Canada’s first black female journalist; Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Canada’s first female publisher.

Mary Ann Shadd was born in 1823 in Delaware; her family moved to Pennsylvania when Delaware made it illegal to school black children. Shadd founded a school for black children just over the border in West Chester, and was persuaded in the early 1850s to move to Essex County by Bibb and start a school.

mary-ann-shadd-caryShadd believed in integrated schools; Bibb, in segregated education. This and other ideological clashes between the two led Shadd to found what was essentially a competing newspaper. The Freeman was arguably the more politically astute, but also more controversial. Shadd was careful to hide her involvement by hiding behind her initials, or using a male contributor’s name as Editor, but these ruses barely worked and most letters were addressed to the “Editress.”

Letters received by both the Freeman and the Voice attest to the black community’s appreciation for representative periodicals, containing “cogent reasoning, logical arguments, earnest appeals, and faithful exposures, relating to the colored man’s rights and wrongs, coming fresh and forcibly from the hearts and hands of the sufferers themselves.”

After the Provincial Freeman closed and Shadd moved back to the States, she recruited black people for the Union army during the Civil War, went to law school, and was the first black woman to cast a vote in a national election. Shadd’s other accomplishments include founding a racially integrated school; at one point, she took to travelling the country giving speeches and handing out vanity pamphlets about Abolition and emigration to Canada for free black people in America (one such pamphlet’s title: A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West, in Its Moral, Social and Political Aspect: with Suggestions respecting Mexico, West Indies and Vancouver’s Island for the Information of Colored Emigrants).

The Provincial Freeman ran from 1853 to 1860. It was thought lost for almost 100 years, before a partial set of issues was found at the University of Pennsylvania. Most likely William Still (who was all of contributor, subscriber, and distributor south of the border) donated his copies at some point. Microfilm copies began to make their way north to academic collections, and we are grateful to have been able to digitize and share this reel from the University of Windsor’s collection. We encourage you to browse these invaluable resources and share your thoughts with us and others.


Brant County’s VITA collections get lots of press!

Back in 2010, Brant County‘s use of VITA in their local-history digitization projects was featured in an amazing anthology: Digitization In The Real World. This book (free in PDF and other formats from the Internet Archive) is “written by practitioners for practitioners on lessons learned from small to medium-sized digitization projects.” Brant County is the only Canadian organization that contributed to the book, and does a great job of representing the process for small organizations. Archivist Misty de Meo wrote about the challenges of small budgets, the clever tactics used to circumvent it, and the importance of collaboration and partnerships with local organizations. And, of course, we love hearing people talk about their positive experiences with our VITA tools:

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Join us for the #1Lib1Ref campaign in Ontario!

1 Librarian, 1 Reference (#1Lib1Ref) started when someone realized how many claims on Wikipedia were missing citations. Participating is easy:

  1. Find an article that needs a citation (you can even use this handy randomizer!)
  2. Do some research to back up or debunk the claim
  3. Insert the reference, or edit the article to make a factual statement
  4. Add the #1Lib1Ref hashtag to your edit, in the Wikipedia Edit Summary
  5. Save the article – you’re done!

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What we’re up to at ODW!

2c5658ba-2a52-4ace-acfd-9b72c04cbb32National Digital Strategy

ODW Director Loren Fantin joined leaders from the National Library of the Netherlands, Library & Archives Canada and others at the Canadian National Heritage Digitization Strategy Foundational Assembly in October, to discuss the global digital collaboration strategies and to strike a National Steering Committee to guide Canada in implementing a much-needed national digital strategy.


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Digital Library Developer Intern Position: Deadline Extended to November 29, 2016

OurDigitalWorld (ODW) is seeking a Digital Library Developer for a paid internship opportunity (500 hours, full-time). The intern will be assisting on a pilot project, Phase 2 (ODW, in collaboration with the British Columbia Provincial Digital Library Initiative) to develop and test solutions for a digital library platform, mainly the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) platform, for use initially in Ontario and BC. Working in a collaborative, virtual environment the intern will help assess, create and modify tools, scripts and applications for access to digital cultural heritage collections from multiple jurisdictions.

Continue reading Digital Library Developer Intern Position: Deadline Extended to November 29, 2016

Social Media/Web Projects Intern Position: Deadline Nov 20

OurDigitalWorld (ODW) is seeking a Social Media/Web Projects Designer (Intern) for a paid internship opportunity (500 hours to March 24, 2016). OurDigitalWorld provides access and discovery to our digital cultural heritage via a number of tools and platforms. Working in a collaborative environment, the intern will help develop a social media strategy and plans to support community engagement and increase awareness of ODW, as well as increase reach and use of ODW initiatives for access to digital cultural heritage collections.

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A Canadian National Heritage Digitization Strategy (Redux?)

On June 3, 2016, LAC launched work on the National Heritage Digitization Strategy: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/Pages/national-heritage-digitization-strategy.aspx.

We’re excited to have the opportunity to discuss collaborative digital strategies at the foundational assembly being held on October 14, 2016 at Library and Archives Canada.

More to follow…


New, open VITA Toolkit help site

After 7 years of wonderful service and support from the team at Orion, the O3 platform that supported our VITA Toolkit Network group space is being discontinued. This has offered ODW an opportunity to migrate all our support documentation, tips, discussions, and training materials to a new platform and open our support space to the public.

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