BC Black History Timeline
About This Timeline
Some events occurred on a specific date and others took place over a period of time.
Why Timelines Matter …
- Make connections between individual events and people and their relation to an era as a whole
- Grasp the overlapping or concurrency of seemingly unrelated events
- Notice patterns played out in history
- Identify cause and effect relationships surrounding historical events
- Improve recollection of events, people and places and their relationship to each other
1834-08-01 Abolition of Slavery Act in the British Empire/Canada
The Abolition of Slavery Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1833, came into force on August 1, 1834.
The fine print: As an imperial statute, the Slavery Abolition Act liberated less than 50 enslaved Africans in British North America. For most enslaved people in British North America, however, the Act resulted only in partial liberation, as it only emancipated children under the age of six, while others were to be retained for four to six years as apprentices.
Legalized slavery continued in the United States until the 13th Amendment was passed on January 1, 1865.
March 11, 1850: Vancouver Island becomes a British Colony
The Imperial Government of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island was created on March 11, 1850. Richard Blanshard formally assumed office as Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island.
1851-1864: James Douglas was Governor of Vancouver Island (1851–64) and British Columbia (1858–64)
In 1851 Douglas was Chief Factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company operating from Fort Victoria and the Governor of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island, succeeding Richard Blanshard.
This colony remained as a separate British Colony from the mainland until 1866. Meanwhile, the mainland functioned under the defacto administration of the HBC, whose chief executive was James Douglas.
In 1858 the mainland area became the Colony of British Columbia, Douglas was named Governor and he continued as Governor of Vancouver Island. It was Douglas who invited the San Francisco Black community to settle here. Read more
1851 – 1898: The BC gold rush period lasted for about 50 years
These dates and places of gold finds in BC, considered the most significant, have been compiled from various sources. The 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush, 1859 Cariboo Gold Rush and the 1864 Leech River Gold Rush are the ones that are most significant for the Black settlers.
1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush
1858 Fraser River Gold Rush
1859 Cariboo Gold Rush
1864 Leech River (Vancouver Island) Gold Rush
1865 Big Bend Gold Rush
1873 Cassiar Gold Rush
1885 Granite Creek Gold Rush
1898 Atlin Gold Rush
April 14, 1858: Douglas’s “emissary” Captain Jeremiah Nagle meets with the San Francisco Black community
On the evening of April 14,1858 at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in San Francisco, the Black community were celebrating the release of fugitive slave Archy Lee.
In the midst of these celebrations Jeremiah Nagle, captain of the steamship Commodore which sailed regularly between San Francisco and Victoria, arrived at the meeting. It is said that Nagle came well-prepared to the meeting with maps of Vancouver Island and a letter from “a gentleman in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company of undoubted veracity” giving details about the colony and inviting the Black community to come to the Colony of Vancouver Island.
The Pioneer Committee arrived in Victoria on April 25, 1858.
April 25, 1858: The Pioneer Committee from San Francisco arrives in Victoria
“In commemoration of the arrival in 1858 of the first group of Black settlers to the Colony of Vancouver Island” On April 25th,1858 the Steamship Commodore sailed into Victoria harbour from San Francisco. On board were 450 gold seekers; and 35 Black people, the Pioneer Committee to meet with Governor Douglas. The delegation of three that met with Douglas included Fortune Richard, Wellington Delaney Moses and Mr. Mercier.
This plaque was installed by the City of Victoria on August 18, 1978.
The Colony of British Columbia is established on August 2, 1858
This colony is the territory referred to today as “The Mainland” It was named by Queen Victoria, is separate from the Colony of Vancouver Island. It is said that Douglas agreed to sever his ties to the Hudson’s Bay Company when he became Governor of both the Colony of Vancouver Island and the Colony of British Columbia. New Westminster is named as the Capital.
Applications for Citizenship
In September 1858, 52 Black men applied for Citizenship. (The Victoria Gazette). Their occupations were also reported. Baker, Barber, Blacksmith, Carman, Carpenter, Carrier, Contractor, Cook, Cooper, Drayman, Farmer, Fruiterer, Gardener, Grocer, Hairdresser, Laundryman, Merchant, Messenger, Miner, Painter, Plasterer, Porter, Restaurant keeper, Saloon keeper, Ships carpenter, Ships caulker, Tailor, Teamster, Water carrier.
Salt Spring Island settlers beginning in the summer 1859
The first pre-empters on Salt Spring from California arrived in the summer of 1859. They included E.A. Booth, Armstead Buckner, William Isaacs, and Fielding Spotts.
Later in the year settlers included Abraham Copeland, Levi Davis, W.L. Harrison, William Isaacs, the Jones brothers (John Craven, William, and Elias), William Robinson, and Hiram Whims. Daniel Fredison, a Black man from Hawaii, also settled on the island.
On this map the Salt Spring Island Archives has documented 26 Black homesteads
John Craven Jones: first Black teacher in the Province and the only teacher on Salt Spring Island circa 1859 to 1875
John Craven Jones graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 and taught for two years in a one-room school for Black students in Xenia, Ohio. When he moved to Salt Spring Island in 1859, he pre-empted 100 acres for his home; and with the support of the community, he resumed teaching.
There were 2 schools in rough buildings, hardly more than sheds, 1 in Vesuvius and 1 in Fernwood.
In total John had 25 students. In 1869 when public funding began, Jones’ salary was $40.00 per month.
The Religious Feud and the “Negro’s Corner”
This is an excerpt from an editorial published by the Daily Colonist on October 21,1859.
“We have received a circular addressed to all Impartial Men and Lovers of Right. It is issued by the Rev. W.F. Clarke. It appears a serious difference of opinion exists between him and his religious colleague the Rev. M. MacFie, respecting the propriety of mixing, promiscuously, colored with white Christians in church during Divine service.
Both gentlemen were sent here as missionaries by the English Congregational Missionary Society. Mr. Clark holds that Christianity knows no difference between the white and colored man; and therefore he will not suit the prejudices of anyone by creating a “negro’s corner” in his church. As a matter of ‘taste’ Mr. MacFie prefers separating them.”
- The issue was finally settled about 10 months later at a meeting on August 14,1860 when The Colonial Missionary Society, based in England passed a resolution “That this committee never have sanctioned and never will sanction in Churches wholly or in part sustained by the funds of the Colonial Missionary Society, the compulsory separation, in places of worship, of the colored races from the white population.”
1860-1864 Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps
By the spring of 1860, 40 to 50 Black men were enrolled in the VPRC and were officially sworn in July, 1861. The Royal Navy supplied drill sergeants and the Corps financed and built a drill house.
“First Victoria Directory” is published, based on recognized names 27 Black men named in the directory of citizens
The “First Victoria Directory” was first published in March 1860.
This Directory is “comprised of a general directory of citizens, also, an Officials list, list of voters, postal arrangements and notices of trades and professions; preceded by a preface and synopsis of the commercial progress of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Illustrated”
In the general directory of citizens’ an estimated 27 Black men (based on name recognition) are listed.
On British Soil He was Free: The case of Charles Mitchell
Charles Mitchell, enslaved since boyhood, on September 1860 was a stowaway aboard the SS Eliza Anderson sailing from Olympia Washington to Victoria. When the steamer arrived in Victoria word soon spread that a slave was being detained on board. “As many as 700 people gathered dockside on September 25th, 1860 calling for his release.” Royal BC Museum and Archives. The case was taken immediately to the BC Supreme Court; who declared Charles Mitchell a free man because he was on British soil. Watch the video produced by the Royal BC Museum in a series “This Week in History: Charles Mitchell, from slavery to freedom.
April 12, 1861 the American Civil War begins
On April 12, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln declared war between the Union and Confederate states.
At the start of the war it is estimated there were four million enslaved in 15 states and territories, “owned” by 52,128 slaveholders.
Estimates in some states of enslaved persons: Virginia: 490,865; Maryland: 87,189; Washington: 3,181; Delaware: 1,798; Nebraska: 15; Kansas: 2.
It is also estimated there were about 400,000 free African Americans.
The War ended on April 9, 1865.
Victoria, BC: Black patrons only permitted in theatre gallery seating
Reported incidents of discrimination in Victoria’s theatres date back to 1860. In all the incidents, the newspapers received numerous letters from readers both supporting and condemning the Black community. The most noted incident occurred on Wednesday evening, September 25, 1861.
- Mifflin Gibbs, his wife Maria and family friend Nathan Pointer and Pointer’s daughter attended a hospital benefit at the Victoria Theatre. Maria was due to give birth to their first child in October. Both families were seated in the dress circle. At the end of the performance they were doused with flour.
- A melee broke out; charges were filed against all involved but at the trial the judge acquitted the four whites charged in the incident, Gibbs admitted assaulting one man, Ryckman, and was fined five pounds, the charge of assault against Nathan Pointer was dropped for lack of evidence.
Theatres now began publicly stating Black patrons could only be seated in the gallery. Black residents petitioned both Douglas and later Kennedy but no remedy was made.
Jacob Francis nominated for a seat in the Legislative Assembly
In 1861 there was a by-election in Victoria for two vacant seats in the Legislative Assembly.
On November 15, 1861 Jacob Francis was nominated by James Thorne and J.D. Carroll as a candidate.
One other nominee, Joseph Trutch who was not in the colony at the time; and an objection to his nomination was raised on the grounds that he was not present to swear the oath of allegiance required of all candidates. Nevertheless, his nomination was accepted.
There were four candidates for the two vacant seats and the results of the voting were: Trimble – 38, Trutch – 36, Francis – 11, and Young – 4. Trimble and Trutch were sworn into office.
Despite Francis’ 3rd place, there was public debate and support for Francis’ claim to the seat because of Trutch’s earlier absence. Francis’s petition failed; Trutch’s election stood.
Dandridge House is constructed
John and Charlotte Dandridge arrived in Victoria in 1858. John Dandridge is one of the men who applied for citizenship in 1858.
In 1860 they were joined by their daughter, Sydna Edmonia Robella, her husband Abner Hunt Francis and their daughter Theodosia, age about 16.
John, with most of the financing from his daughter and son-in-law built this house. Original location was on Johnson Street; then circa 1897-98 moved to Rudlin Street.
Following a major restoration project, the home received heritage designation in 2003. More about “The House That John Built” and what the current owners have to say.
“Shall a Coloured Man drink in a white man’s bar?”
Jacob Francis fought discrimination by suing two bar owners who refused to serve him. He was not successful in April 1860, but in July 1862 the outcome of his second case affected liquor service establishments and practices generally.
Gazette, April 23, 1860. “Refusing Drinks to Colored Men – Jacob Francis vs. Milotich”. In this case involving the refusal of Milotich to serve Jacob Francis a drink, Judge Cameron classified the saloon as an inn and ruled that since Mr. Francis was not a guest, he was not entitled to be served. Therefore, “no injuries were sustained” by Francis nor could “damages be given”.
Colonist, June 26, 1862. “Wouldn’t Let Him Drink”. Notice is given that Jacob Francis had a summons served on the proprietor of the Bank Exchange, Mr. Lovett, who refused to give Francis a drink in his saloon. Evidence is heard in court over the next few weeks.
Colonist, July 5, 1862. “Shall a Colored Man Drink at a White Man’s Bar” In the conclusion of the case Francis v. Lovett, the magistrate ruled that any barkeeper refusing service to Black men would not be given a license or would be find five pounds sterling and their license would not be renewed.
John Giscome and Henry McDame begin their northern B.C. exploration
On December 14,1863 the Daily Colonist published a detailed account from Giscome of their explorations. They had spent about a year trekking and travelled about 330 miles.
In 1898 one of the creeks they had explored was named McDame Creek in the 1st Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, previous to this the locals referred this creek as Nigger Creek.
The origin of what is today called Giscome Portage Trail is with the Lheidli T’enneh peoples who used this trail as one of their trade routes. They named this trail Lhdesti or “the shortcut”. The “Giscome Portage Trail Protected Area” was designated an official Heritage Site July 17th, 1997. BC Parks took over management of the trail when it was designated a Protected Area in the year 2000.
Image Courtesy of Kevin Creamore, Prince George
January 1, 1863: United States Emancipation Proclamation
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln went into effect, however it did not abolish slavery. The Proclamation, written the previous September, declared free all enslaved people in the Confederate States (or portions of those states) who resided in territory still in rebellion against the United States. As the Union Army captured more Confederate territory it would also liberate enslaved people living in that territory.
It was only through the Thirteenth Amendment that emancipation/abolishment of slavery in the United States become national policy. It was passed by the US Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865.
July 1, 1863: Business Tax Assessments for 22 Black businesses
Government Gazette lists “Persons liable to pay taxes under the provision of the ‘Trade Licenses Amendment Act, 1862’ for the half-year commencing July 1, 1863”. Based on recognized names, 22 Black businesses are listed. Most were assessed between $300 and $600.00. Nathan Pointer’s clothing store had the highest assessment of the Black businesses at $2,600.00.
“Committee of Colored Ladies of the British Colony of Victoria (V.I.)” support Black soldiers fighting in the American civil war
These colored forces were called “contrabands”.
Early in the war, enslaved men and women began offering to fight for the Union forces. In August (1861), the US Congress passed the Confiscation Act of 1861 making legal the status of runaway slaves. It declared that any “property” used by the Confederate military, which included enslaved people, could be confiscated by Union forces. To further strengthen this Act, Congress passed a law in March 1862 prohibiting the return of slaves.
On April 13, 1864 this Vancouver Island committee sent a donation with a letter to the then vice-president of the United States, Hannibal Hamlin.
”… and though many miles divide us from those who have the burden to bear in this great struggle for human liberty, our hearts are with you unto death.”
August 1864: Gold Discovery at Leech River on Vancouver Island
The Industry Company: In the summer of 1864, four men, Samuel Booth, George Munro, John Tyrel and William Dyer discovered gold on the Leech River, about 40 miles west of Victoria. On August 4, 1864 the local newspaper reported “This splendid specimen of gold appears to be entirely pure. On being weighed it was declared to contain 4 ounces, 6 dwts, or $73.20!!” The 4 men formed the Industry Company.
Unlike the distant Fraser and Caribou gold finds, prospectors could travel from Victoria overland by trail or by steamer within a day. Stores, hotels and other mining-related businesses were quickly established but within 18 months were abandoned.