The Provincial Freeman (Windsor)

  • Mar. 24, 1853 to Jan. 3, 1876
  • # of Issues scanned: 137
  • # of Pages scanned: 540
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    Scanned from microfilm.

    Publication Dates

    1853 : March 24th - 1860

    1853: March 24th (Windsor)
    1854 : March 25th - 1855 : June 30th (Toronto)
    1855 : August 22nd - 1860 (Chatham)

    Title Variations

    Provincial Freeman And Weekly Advertiser: 1855 : March 3rd? - 1858?
    Provincial Freeman And Semi-Monthly Advertiser: 1859? - 1860?


    Weekly (Irregular): 1853 - 1859?
    Bi-Weekly: 1859? - 1860?


    The first issue of the Provincial Freeman was published in Windsor on March 24th, 1853. It was intended as a prototype, to be used to solicit financial support for a new weekly newspaper which would present alternative viewpoints to the other black, Canada West, newspaper, the Voice Of The Fugitive. Although Samuel R. Ward and Alexander McArthur were nominally listed as the editors, it was Mary Ann Shadd (Cary) who was the driving force behind the Provincial Freeman.

    Mary Ann Shadd was born in Delaware in 1823 to free, black parents. She received a relatively good education and was active in the anti-slavery movement from a young age. In 1851, with the encouragement of Henry Bibb, owner and editor of the Voice Of The Fugitive, she moved to Windsor and started a school.

    Henry Bibb and Mary Ann Shadd held many beliefs in common. They were both active abolitionists and enthusiastic promoters of emigration to Canada by fugitive slaves. They had similar views on religion, they did not align themselves with any particular political party, and they both championed temperance and education as the means to “elevate” the black population. Nevertheless, by 1852 there was a serious falling out between the two of them.

    Most of their disagreements centered on the Refugee Home Society, of which Henry Bibb was a founding director. The Society helped escaped slaves with their immediate needs and also bought land to create separate black settlements. These he felt would help provide better support systems for the new arrivals, and would also help preserve their identity and culture. Mary Ann Shadd, on the other hand, firmly believed that African Americans should integrate into the local society. She felt that they must be independent and was vehemently opposed to their accepting any form of charity. She also accused the Society of mismanagement and corruption. These ideological differences and personal animosities led to her decision to start the Provincial Freeman, a newspaper that would reflect her own views of the situation in Canada West.

    By March 25th, 1854, Shadd had secured enough financial backing and subscriptions to continue publishing. The 4 page paper now appeared in Toronto, with “Self-reliance is the true road to independence” as its motto. It was distributed throughout Canada West and the northern U.S. states. As well as articles on abolition, racism, emigration to Canada, temperance, education, and women’s rights, there were many other international news stories, fiction, letters from readers, and advertisements. After Henry Bibb’s death in August 1854, the Provincial Freeman became the pre-eminent black newspaper in Canada West. Shadd’s editorial style tended to be blunt and abrasive; she was very critical of anyone, of any race, who disagreed with her views. Although she was very passionate, her lack of political astuteness, likely did not help subscribership.

    Initially, Shadd hid her gender, usually signing off as M. A. Shadd, Publishing Agent. However, eventually it was revealed that she was a woman, and that she was running the newspaper. Due to the gender prejudice of the times, and concerned about the economic repercussions for the paper, she felt obliged to hire a “gentleman editor”, William P. Newman. He became the public editorial face, but she continued to be involved behind the scenes.

    Like most small nineteenth century newspapers, the Provincial Freeman was constantly experiencing financial difficulties. In the summer of 1855, Shadd made the decision to move the paper to Chatham, a thriving town with a growing black population. Her own parents had moved nearby, and her brother Isaac became the official publisher. The newspaper continued to appear for about another 5 years. The latest extant issue is June 18th, 1859 (Cornell University), although it likely ceased in Spring 1860, judging from advertisements for the newspaper that were carried in the Weekly Anglo-African, a New York publication (The Provincial Freeman / Ontario Heritage Trust, 2008, page 5).

    After the Civil War, Mary Ann Shadd (Cary) obtained teaching credentials and also earned a law degree from Howard University in Washington DC in 1883. She continued to be involved in the civil rights movement until her death in 1893.