Month: February 2010

“Maria Campbell was born during a spring blizzard in April of 1940, on an impoverished Road Allowance community in the province of Saskatchewan.” Half-breed is an acclaimed autobiographical account of her early years. This autobiography is an important manuscript towards the understanding of the social history of the Métis people living in Canada. Maria Campbell’s autobiography is story telling from the woman’s point of view. It depicts the reality of poverty and the path to a downward spiral of oblivion and degradation for the women of the Métis and First Nations Reserves. This autobiography is an understanding of the Métis dilemma but more importantly a woman’s fight for equality within a male egalitarian society.
The writer’s explanation of the racism within her community is riveting and powerful. The reader develops an admiration for this woman, because she as overcome so much pain and suffering. Campbell’s manuscript is an excellent analysis of physical and mental pain within the Métis community. She describes the physical pain from a racial fight. Though painful, this type of conflict was rewarding because the wounds could heal. On the contrary, racism in relation to social and cultural classes; this caused inner pain that could never be treated. Many of these women turned to alcohol and drugs to escape to ease the pain.
Maria Campbell was one of these women who shunned her people because of the inner pain of having to be subordinated to the white culture as a child. This autobiography is an inspiration for all Métis women, because Maria Campbell encourages these women to set higher standards for themselves and to avoid the mistakes she made as a youth. There were other forms of emotional pain. Maria Campbell mentions the emotional pain she felt as a child due to the knowledge of the infamous history of her people. ”She states in the autobiography that she never witnessed her father talk back to a white man unless he was drunk.” She never saw any of these Métis men walk with their heads high before white people. When they were drunk, they became violent and aggressive; however this aggression was spent on beating their wives. These episodes and other incidents in her past offer reasons for this woman becoming a determined feminist writer.
Feminism is a movement that has been around since the 18th century. The first feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, published the treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). This treatise actively recognizes the need for freedom and equality for women. Maria Campbell also recognized the need for freedom for all Métis women. These women were victims because they were abused, they were ostracized by other groups of women, they were subjected to a cruel caste system, they were not given the proper respect by their spouses and they were not properly educated. Maria Campbell saw a need for change. The essay will provide an analysis of the social history of the Métis people, moreover, an explanation for scholars to consider this woman, the first Métis feminist.
The autobiography begins with the story of the Métis migration to Western Canada. “In the early 1700s, the Métis came here from Ontario and Manitoba to escape the prejudice and hate that comes with the opening of new land.” With the decline of the fur trade and the purchasing of the land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, by the Canadian government, the Métis feared that their land rights would not be respected. This led to the Red River Rebellion of 1869, where Louis Riel established a provisional government at Fort Garry, Manitoba, but escaped to the United States in 1870 when troops arrived from eastern Canada. Louis Riel was defeated at the Battle of Batoche in 1884 and he was hanged in November of 1885. “By the 1920s the lakes were drying up and the fur and game had almost disappeared. To keep their lands, the Métis decided to try farming. The Métis were not farmers and the government soon reclaimed their lands and offered the lands to immigrants.” The Half-breeds then became squatters. So began the miserable life of poverty which held no hope for the future.
Because of poverty, Métis women experience gender-based, violence at a higher rate than any other group of women living in Canada. Gender violence happens behind closed doors. Moreover, legal systems and cultural norms often do not treat it as a crime, but rather as a “private” family matter or behaviour natural to society. Throughout her novel Maria Campbell mentions the physical abuse heaped on women of the Métis communities. “An example of this abuse dealt with the story of her Great Grandpa Campbell, who had beaten his half-breed wife throughout their marriage. He was a jealous man who was sure that his wife was having affairs with all the Métis in the area. He once beat her so cruelly she was scarred for life.” Women were unable to address the problem of abuse in the early twentieth century because there were no government institutions or feminist unions that recognized the plight of native women.
Not all of the Métis men were alcoholics who went home to beat their wives. Maria Campbell’s parents loved and respected each other. “The writer mentions that her parents taught them to dance and to make music on the guitars and fiddles.” The parents would also take them on long trips to visit relatives. Many of the relatives were Indians who lived on the reserves. There was never much love lost between Indians and Métis. They were invited to the Indian festivals and gatherings but somehow they never fit in. ‘They were always considered the poor relatives, the {awp-pee-tow-koosons}. They laughed and scorned us. “They had land and security and we had no pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.”
The new immigrants who came and homesteaded the land were predominantly Germans and Swedes. “As a young girl Maria believed these people to be the richest and most beautiful people in the world.” She soon realized how cruel white people could be. “During Christmas they would drive by all the Half-breed homes and drop boxes off at each path. Her father would destroy the contents in the box.” After the holidays the white girls would laugh because some of the Métis girls would wear the tainted gifts that they had donated to them. Maria Campbell’s parents never let her accept any of these gifts. Maria was ashamed at how these people viewed and looked at her community. The Métis were considered nothing more than a desperate group of people who survived of creek water, maple syrup, wild meat and gophers.
Being poor was tough, however being a half breed was more difficult. The author reminisces about her younger days. Sometimes, she would pretend to be famous people from the past. Maria had always wanted to be Cleopatra, but her brothers figured she was too black to be Cleopatra. “They said, Maria, you’re too black and your hair is like a nigger’s. Only her white skinned cousin could play Cleopatra.” These women were made to feel inferior at a young age. This is a very important statement because the Métis are a distinct culture that is not Indian or European. Moreover, the white bloodline provided all the freedom of being an equal individual, within society. A majority of the Métis of a fairer complexion would certainly move away from the community to live amongst white people. The dark skinned Métis could not change their skin colour. They were trapped between two societies who did not want them. This caste system was based on colour and hair. One can imagine the pain living in a society so unforgiving of colour. In today’s society, millions of Métis legally claim to be of European or white blood. Many have not spoken to family members who may be considered too dark to pass as white.
The caste system was especially difficult for women. Where there was no division of colour amongst Indians and Métis, the separation was formulated to money and land. This social caste system was predominant, in the European communities as well as the Métis community. During the colonial period, the majority of women did not have any property tights. When a woman got married, all her land, possessions and assets were turned over to her husband. It was important that families found suitable husbands for their daughters. In Maria’s autobiography we come to understand that initially her grandfather was not happy that his daughter was going to marry a poor Métis. She had many suitors, some of them were white, and they all would have been rich. The grandfather realized that his daughter would have had the opportunity to ascend to a higher culture or society. Marriage to someone of her kind who was dark and poor, this only equated pain and oppression.
Throughout their lives, women were subjugated by male patriarchy. In the early 20th century, white women were fighting for the right to vote and to control their property and own lives. Métis women had no protection or rights within the law. Evidence of these women not earning the respect of their men could be found in the war stories of the Métis people. Many of the men brought home Scottish and English wives, which of course didn’t go over very well with the Métis people. “Campbell describes a proper Englishwoman, who had married a handsome half-breed soldier in England believing he was French. He owned nothing, not even the shack where a woman and two children were waiting for him. When they arrived, his woman promptly beat the English lady.” This was the respect given to the Métis and Indian mothers and young wives.
From the standpoint of the ideology of technology, we have seen that motherhood is perceived as work and children as a product produced by the labour of mothering. In the early twentieth century, white women were benefitting from capitalism and the World Wars. They were now attending university and working fulltime in the job sector. The war ended and women refused to give up this new found freedom. This was not the case for Métis woman. The only work available to them was house cleaning and menial jobs on the farms. Education was not important to this group. No full blooded Indian or Métis would have been expected to attend university. They were expected to produce children who in turn would take over the menial jobs or live a destitute life. “Babies, at least healthy white babies, were very precious products these days.”
Growing up in Northern Saskatchewan, the author gives you a perception of how hard life was for the Métis. When her mother died, Maria became the mother to the younger children and siblings. By the age of fifteen, she was married to a man she believed would have had enough money to take care of the younger siblings and not break up the family. Her marriage was a disaster because her husband would abuse her. She had never loved her husband who was called Darryl. Eventually she left Darryl and migrated to Vancouver where she became a high class call girl and drug addict with a baby to support. This is the story of a woman caught between two worlds.
The autobiography of Maria Campbell is a sad and tragic tale with a positive ending and meaning. It was the colonial system that enslaved African people, Indians and Métis. The woman’s movement fought against the cruel aspects of slavery and colonialism in the 19th century. The African American people’s long struggle for equality soon came to the forefront in the 1960s. On the contrary, this novel was published in 1970 and prior to that the Métis population did not have a definite woman’s leader. In this essay, I have laid out a general history of the Métis people but more importantly, the great effort of women to keep their families together. Maria Campbell is a woman to be admired by all women, including the upper echelons of white society who are rightfully regarded as the true compatriots of feminism.
In conclusion, “Half breed” is an autobiography that should be educational reading for historians, social science students, humanities students and English majors. This essay was written to acknowledge the anti-colonial sentiment and to make believers of feminism understand that for this movement to grow, feminism should become one of the most important educational issues. As a man I realize that this is an important movement. If we are to ever improve on our social and ethical skills then the need is for feminism to be studied on a mandatory basis. For example, most students need a science oriented credit to graduate, so why not a feminist oriented credit for all male students to take before graduation. There are so many countries and cultures that to this day still ignore the pains of their female society. Feminism is a word with such character, elegance and beauty. I believe Maria Campbell has earned those qualities as a woman. More important young Indian and Métis women writer today realize that they do have heroines they can be proud.

Courtney Duncan


Runaway Slaves

Note the graphs have been deducted from the essay.

Every student knows, even if not studied at school, the importance of slavery within the Colonial communities of the Americas. African slaves offered the only viable labour force for plantations, as they were relatively resilient and accessible. “In the northern colonies, slavery was able to establish itself, again as in the West Indies, because its economic attractions were so obvious and so clearly superior to the alternatives.” Work for plantation slaves rarely ceased. They had to tend crops in the field, dig trenches, and mend fences. The life of a slave was very challenging. The death rate was high because of diseases, such as yellow fever, scurvy, consumption, and malaria. Nevertheless, plantation slave communities were able to grow and as a result, slave villages formed on enormous plantations where blacks would congregate. The slaves had to walk great distances in order to visit relatives and friends. Life seemed peaceful for slaves who were not beaten and had enough to eat, but the tremendous physical activities took a toll in the end.
This perceptible steadiness of slave society should not deceive readers of this essay. Plantation slaves everywhere lived in meagre depraved circumstances. Their masters or overseers frequently raped or beat the woman and tortured or lashed the men with horsewhips or twigs. Many slaves tried to runaway, because of the brutal beatings inflicted on them by cruel masters or overseers. “Many thought it is better to die than to be a slave. Running away was very difficult, because they could not take supplies and they often went without food for days.” Most slave women and older men did not run away because of family obligations and community bonds. More importantly, the older men may have been broken from the hardship of slavery because the penalty would have been anywhere from 200 lashes and upwards for a runaway slave caught by the patrollers. Runaway slaves could also face the indignation of having a body part castrated or mutilated.
Domestic work provided by female house servants allowed them less time to socialize with other workers on the plantation. Many factors came into place when determining a slave’s decision to escape as well as their experiences during their getaway. The main factors that contributed to a successful escape or a slave running away were ethnicity, knowledge of the region, age or sex and skin colour and education.
In order to explore my topic and try to answer my research question, I began by reading old newspapers from the antebellum period. I then conducted research in scholarly sources, such as JSTOR journals. Lastly, I have analysed the writings of Benjamin Drew, John W. Blassingame and Kent Anderson Leslie. Benjamin Drew was an American abolitionist from Boston who, in the mid-1850s, travelled throughout Upper Canada interviewing refugees from the American slave states. He wrote their narratives and published them in 1856 in a book entitled The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada. All these sources gave me a better understanding of my topic. I was able to make graphs, which established an excellent hypothetical analysis on the various groups of runaway slaves. I learned a lot and narrowed my subject for the next paper assignment dealing with slavery.
“When studying the ancestry of black Canadian, we find that out of the thirty thousand, in1852, nearly all the adults, and many of the children; had been fugitive slaves from the United States.” The research also shows that a great percentage of these fugitive slaves were from the Carolina’s territory. South Carolina was the home to rice cultivation and a slave society, which were pure African or very dark skinned. North Carolina and Virginia had a larger percentage of American black slaves and mixed breed slaves. “In the fifty years between 1732 and 1782, there were an estimated 5600 ads in South Carolina newspapers for runaway slaves. Between 1732 and 1782, the local population in South Carolina was 40000 people.”
The pure African people tried to runaway because they were foreigners in this region. All of the African people would have resented slavery because they had known what it was to be free. On the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, many of the captured Africans tried to take their lives by jumping into the Ocean. The other group that always attempted to escape the abuse of slavery was the field hands. The field hands were usually the big strong robust people who worked from sunrise to sunset. These people suffered cruel indignations such as cruel whippings, brandings on their body, rape, and mutilation of body parts.

“Runaway African slaves would sometimes make a vain search for their distant homelands. When five Angolans ran away in, 1761 they were supposed to have gone on an eastern course as long as they could. These Angolans believed that they could return to their country that way.” The largest group of African runaways were black males between the age of 13 and 35. The research of old newspaper reveals that many of these men had recently made the voyage over from the African continent. “One particular article in the Baltimore Sun, dated September 12th 1849. This article states that a Negro man named Charles Thomas, 20 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall; wears black ear-rings, and had on a black coat and pants.” This advertisement gave me the indication that the runaway Charles Thomas was a dark skinned man, from Africa. In this period, the African would have been the only slave to wear ear and nose rings.
Many people believe that the fugitive slave made his or her way to the North. Hypothetically, the largest groups of runaway slaves in the south headed for other plantations and the rest headed for the towns and bushes. Many of the people who headed for towns had hoped to blend in with the free blacks living and working in the towns. Others had also migrated into the dense everglades and bushes where they raised stolen chickens and hunted for wild meat. The runaway slaves that had resorted to this plan were usually slaves with good knowledge of the vicinity. These slaves were smart enough to work for cheap labour in the cities and to blend in with the free population of the southern cities. Other runaways would go deep into the interior. It was dangerous to live in the interior. People could succumb to malnutrition, consumption, yellow fever, and malaria. Nevertheless, the swamps did provide a natural protection from the slave catchers. The swamps were home to poisonous snakes, quick sands, and extreme temperatures. The Europeans had a great fear of the swamps and the diseases it harboured. The runaways who lived in the swamps would eventually band together with other runaways or join up with Indian tribes such as the Seminole people of Florida. These bands of runaways would survive by raiding neighbouring communities for food and supplies. Other runaways who knew the territory would follow the North Star at night and sleep in the days. The North Star pointed in the direction of freedom. It seemed more precarious to travel to the North than to establish a secret community in the dense swamps.
If you were in flight to the North or into the bushes, most runaways tended to escape with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was rough and dangerous, so a majority of the runaways were young and sturdy. Youth and physical stamina was an ideal quality for the runaway slave. The men and women who possessed this quality stood a better chance to cope with the harsh elements of nature. Sex also played an important role on who became a fugitive slave. The younger field hand, blacksmith, or cotton picker would have been able to deal with the elements much better than a house servant would. More women tended to be house servants and cooks. You had to have been physically strong and you had to have been able to out run dogs and men on horseback. The younger man would have feared better than a woman, older man or a woman with child. For example, a runaway slave was finally “caught” after 9 months because she went into labour. Henry Bibb also wrote in his autobiography that it was “one of the most self-denying acts of my whole life, to take leave of an affectionate wife, who stood before me on my departure, with dear little Frances in her arms, and with tears of sorrow in her eyes as she bid me a long farewell.” Henry Bibb, realized that is only chance for freedom was to go alone.
A variety of slaves became fugitives. A greater percentage of slaves that had just come from Africa were usually easier to catch than the American born slave who could have been dark or light-skinned Mulattoes, Quadroon, and Octoroon. The Quadroon and Octoroon people could have passed for European. Our research of old newspapers depicts a runaway in the paper titled the Alabama Beacon. “The advertisement states that a .Negro woman that is white as most white women, with straight light hair, and blue eyes. This woman can read and write and forge passes for herself.” The reward for these people was extremely high. Octoroon slaves could not only read and write, they could also blend into the white community. “For example, Mrs Colman is a refugee who tells her story in the Benjamin Drew manuscript. She states that her father was a quadroon and her mother was a mulatto. Her father had fought the British in the Revolution.”
This graph is an analysis of the runaway slaves who migrated to Canada. The statistics was taken from the runaway slaves interviewed for the novel titled The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada, written by Benjamin Drew. 54.75% indicate males, 24.75% Indicates males over the age of 45, 18.75% indicate females, 0.75% indicate females, 1% indicate family. This pie graph is used to proof our thesis that runaway slaves stood a bettor chance if they were young-energetic and males.
Physical appearance and feature would have been important. The Octoroon slave could have been the concubine child of the slave master. This offspring could have been the coupling between one of the house servants. Many of these plantation owners would have tried to make it easier for their own offspring’s. These mixed blood people were sometimes granted freedom. Mixed breed slaves “were sometimes treated” better than the other slaves because they were related to the master. Life would have been much easier for them. The light skinned slave who was the offspring of a visiting white man or the overseer. This slave may not have been as fortunate. The males from this group could have been field hands or drivers. The females were, sometimes sold into prostitution at the famous bordellos houses in New Orleans and Natchez Mississippi.
The most important attribute to the quadroon and octoroon was education. A former slave tells his story to the writer Benjamin Drew. “I came from Savannah, Georgia. I am as white as my master is, but I was born a slave. This white slave was able to get some education and a trade. After the death of his master, the doctor’s bill of three hundred dollars had to be satisfied out of the estate.” This man escaped to Niagara Falls where he worked in a bar. He eventually escaped to Canada after beating a court case, where he was on trial for murder. The people of a fairer complexion would use their education and skills to secure good jobs and to obtain a good lawyer.

Teaching and editorial jobs were available to the runaways who were educated. The educated slaves who escaped were extremely resourceful men. Some could have been house slaves or artisan. It was important for an artisan to understand measurements and to read diagrams or instructions. The educated slave would have been able to write his own pass. If he saw a white man, he would have been composed. For example, if an ignorant white man surprised him, he flashed any piece of paper with writing on it in front of his face and usually succeeded in deceiving his adversary. An intelligent fugitive not only meant a slave who could read or write. This fugitive was very cunning, brave, and villainous. This intelligent rogue often stole large sums of money, a warm jacket, boots, and a “nice short gun.”
The Graph below groups the runaway slave in categories derived from ethnicity.
This chart graph tells the story of America and a caste system that to some degree is still alive in our society. Octoroon, Quadroons stood a bettor chance of escape because they could pass as white or free people of colour-Africans usually stood out because of their ethnicity and inexperience in travelling in a new world. American Black had to use much of their wits. This graph will also indicate to you that many African and American black slaves may have made their homes in the swamp or banded with Indians. The number of refugees who escaped to the swamps during 3 centuries of slavery could have been as high as 50000.
“The black rebels and runaways “curdled” the blood of many Southern whites. The ubiquitous runaway was the “bogey man” for young whites, “worrisome property” for his master, and a hero in the quarters. Symbolic of black resistance to slavery, the rebel and runaway indicate quite clearly that the rebel was a leader in the black community.” The information is limited, but it is possible to draw a portrait of the antebellum black rebel leaders. “For the most part, they were young, literate, married, charismatic men. They found sanctions in the Bible, inspiring all white and black who stood against the Southern slave trader.” These people were trusted slaves who were able to gain much knowledge of the territory. Many realized that in order to escape you had to prepare to spend as much as 3 months as a fugitive hiding and living in the bush. As mentioned earlier freedom for these men was not always a desperate flight to Canada West or some free state in America. Freedom meant choosing a time to wake or die.
Many of these people chose to stay and fight or form powerful maroon communities. “By 1836 there were probably about 1,200 maroons living in the Seminole towns. Better acquainted with whites than the Indians were, the maroons and slaves often acted as interpreters for their red masters.” During the War of 1812 between America and Britain, Seminole and runaway African slaves had been trading weapons with the British. “During the War of 1812, the British built a fort on the eastern side of the Apalachicola River for themselves and their black and red allies. Abandoning the fort in 1816 but leaving behind guns and cannon for their allies, the British inadvertently aided in the First Seminole War.” One of the best-known stories connected with the Seminole War is the story of Osceola. The wife of Osceola had a mother who was a mulatto runaway slave. The Second Seminole War started because the Americans kidnapped Osceola wife and sold her into slavery. “In December 1835 the Indians, after being informed by a Negro guide of the route of a company of American soldiers, massacred about 100 troops.”
The most famous black warrior in the Seminole tribe was a man named Abraham. He was a runaway slave from Georgia. He served in the British army during the War of 1812. “He lived in an African town in Florida called Pilaklinkaha, or Many Ponds, and was adopted as a member of the Seminole Nation. He became the Prime Minister of the Cow keeper Dynasty and a chief adviser to Micanopy, principle chief of the Alachua Seminole.”
From the 1600s, the runaway slaves had escaped to Florida. These African slaves had fled from plantations in the Carolinas. This was the first Underground Railroad. The Spanish would deem these men and women free. They would baptize them as Catholics. The escaped slaves protected the borders from invasion. Black history is a proud, sad, rich, and beautiful history. Slavery was a terrible thing. However, many people tried to runaway to the North. This essay as identified the groups of people that may have stood a stronger chance of escaping bondage. Hypothetically, I have tried to deduct other routes of escape. They were many slave revolts not documented. The most famous being that of Nat Turner. More important refugee slaves established villages in the south and many even migrated to Texas and into Mexico.
With the help of the Underground Railroad, many females and older people escaped north to freedom. Nevertheless, in the early days of slavery it would have been a tumultuous journey for older men and females to travel. The slave would make many attempts to runaway. The punishment would have been at least 150 lashes. When caught and tortured many of the older slaves would have succumbed to their wounds. The swamps provided a safer refuge from plantations owners. Canada would was the Shangri La for enslaved people, but the further south you were provided a much more difficult task of reaching this promised land.
In conclusion, slaves used their wits to escape from work and punishment, “preserved his manhood in the quarters, feigned humility, identified with masters, and worked industriously only when was treated humanely, simulated deference, was hostilely submissive and occasionally obstinate, ungovernable, and rebellious.” The effort of the black people to pick themselves up from the drudgery of slavery is a fascinating and remarkable story. We owe it to our ancestors to remember their plight. More important this social, political, and economical evolution is something for all people of African ancestry to be proud.
Courtney Duncan.