John Graves Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. In addition to founding York, the second capital of Upper Canada – now known as Toronto - Simcoe is remembered for a number of significant deeds during his tenure between 1791 and 1796. He was instrumental in introducing institutions such as courts of law, trial by jury, English common law, and freehold land tenure. But perhaps most significant was the passage of legislation leading to the abolition of slavery in Canada.
"During the 1790's, John Graves Simcoe, first Lt. Governor of Upper Canada, transferred many British laws to Canada including; legalised marriages, the civil law system of Great Britain and our court system. Unlike Great Britain, Upper Canada supported the practise of keeping human property or slaves. Simcoe found slavery incomprehensible and proposed the abolition (removal) of it from Upper Canada. He received considerable opposition from slave owners. Simcoe struck a deal with the slave owners who sat on the government by phasing out slavery over many years and forbidding the importation of any more slaves into Canada. Wealthy citizens of Upper Canada could therefore keep their free nannies, housekeepers, child and adult labour, while at the same time agreeing to the abolition of the ownership of human beings as property."
- John Black (2009), p.3
Though the legislation was imperfect, and though it would be decades before the institution of slavery was completely abolished, Simcoe's 1793 Act to Abolish Slavery was the first such legislation in the British Empire, and led the way for similar laws around the world – including the Slavery Abolition Act in the United Kingdom in 1833, and – seven decades later - the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, in the United States.
About 1793, Laura Secord's father, Thomas Ingersoll, met Joseph Brant of the Mohawks.Brant indicated he would show Ingersoll some fertile areas for settling. With this, Ingersoll came to Upper Canada and submitted a request, a petition, for a land grant to Simcoe. This 27,000 ha (66,000 acre) settlement on the Thames River came to be known as Ingersoll.By 1795, the Ingersoll family had moved to Upper Canada.
If Laura Secord and John Graves Simcoe ever met, is unclear. Whether they met or not, Secord's later outreach for help helped to define the nascent country he governed some twenty years earlier.
John Graves Simcoe may have been an abolitionist who went on to become a British army officer. Sent to the Thirteen Colonies, he was involved in many battles. He also was motivated to work with the free Blacks he encountered. By 1777, he had attempted to set up a cadre of Black Loyalist troops but was instead joined with the Queen's Rangers for the remainder of the War.
With the Constitution Act, there was a need to set up a government of chosen and elected officials. John Graves Simcoe was appointed Upper Canada's first Lieutenant Governor to oversee the process. Simcoe is responsible for creating the first government structures and institutions of Upper Canada.
He soon learned of the plight of an enslaved African woman named Chloe Cooley as reported to him by Peter Martin, a Black Loyalist, and William Grisely. Chloe, forcibly bound and conveyed across the Niagara River by her owner, was sold to American slave agents.Fearing the beginning of a trend, this raised community angst. Simcoe attempted to eradicate slavery so that this could not occur again.However, given many of those he was in government with were slave owners and unwilling to divest themselves of their property, his effort resulted in compromise legislation.The slave-owning members were able to keep their slaves.
Simcoe stated that:
"The principles of the British Constitution do not admit of that slavery which Christianity condemns. The moment I assume the Government of Upper Canada under no modification will I assent to a law that discriminates by dishonest policy between natives of Africa, America or Europe."
The 1793 Act Against Slavery provided freedom to indentured servants (European Canadians) but provided for the gradual freedom of African Canadians after they reached the aged of 25. This compromise legislation led the way for the end of enslavement in Canada, and was the first such law of its kind - first British colony to do so. It made it illegal to bring enslaved Africans into Upper Canada.
Simcoe also sought to create clear distance between the Americans and the Canadians through supporting a 'buffer zone' of Six Nations. Additionally, he may have felt that this would help to address the concerns of the Six Nations about the European settlements growing west of the Appalachians and south of the Great Lakes. While this buffer did not take place, it shows how he tried to approach the diversity of his time.
About 1793, Laura Secord's father, Thomas Ingersoll, met Joseph Brant of the Mohawks.Brant indicated he would show Ingersoll some fertile areas for settling. With this, Ingersoll came to Upper Canada and submitted a request, a petition, for a land grant to Simcoe. This 27,000 ha (66,000 acre) settlement on the Thames River came to be known as Ingersoll. By 1795, the Ingersoll family had moved to Upper Canada.
This is the environment that Laura Ingersoll had entered. One marked by an awareness and a sometimes uneasy connection with Six Nations and one marked by slave holding in various affluent households. It is Queenston where she remained after her marriage to wealthy James Secord about 1797.
However, the centre of government had moved from the Niagara area to Toronto, renamed York. If Secord and Simcoe ever met, is unclear. Whether they met or not, Secord's later outreach for help helped to define the country.
Black, James A. 2009. Standing Up For Freedom. Our Stories - Remembering Niagara's Proud Black History
Opposite (east of) 165 King Street, Niagara on the Lake. Follow steps which descend from sidewalk on the east side of King Street into Simcoe Park.