Henry and Mary Bibb: Abolitionism Through Newspapers
Today, Canada prides itself as being a country full of liberty, equality, and justice. Yet the road to this country full of modern democratic values is a dark one. The enslavement of black people in Canada was introduced by French colonists in New France in the 1600s, and lasted until August 1, 1834, when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, effectively abolishing enslavement, and freeing all black people1. Yet, issues remained. In the United States, slavery would not be abolished for another 30 years2. Enticed by the offer of freedom in Canada, American slaves attempted escaping bondage through the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that led to Canada. Many Canadian abolitionists assisted in this network, with figures such as Mary Ann Shadd and Josiah Henson representing some of the most famous Canadian contributors. Yet it is impossible to ignore the achievements made by Henry and Mary Bibb. Mary and Henry Bibb were activists, publishers, and editors but above all they were abolitionists. Together, Mary and Henry Bib were instrumental in spreading the Canadian values of liberty and equality across North America, inspiring many to escape their enslavement through the Underground Railroad.
Henry Bibb was born in 1815 as a slave, expected to serve every wish and whim of his master William Gatewood. Bibb endured this life for 22 lives, eventually marrying Malinda Bibb, although their relationship ended after his successful escape from slavery without her. Following his escape from slavery, Henry Bibb became a lecturer on abolitionist movements, traveling across the North-Eastern states to implore people to oppose the institution of slavery. Bibb became a supporter of the newly formed Liberty Party, which sought to run antislavery politicians for office. In 1847, Bibb attended an antislavery gathering in New York, where he met Mary Elizabeth Miles.
Before meeting Henry Bibb, Mary Miles was a teacher, an anti-slavery activist and a champion of women’s rights. Born into a free Black family in 18203, Mary already had many more opportunities available to her than other black people. Mary became one of the first black women teachers in North America, under Principal Reverend Samuel J. May, a renowned black activist. Mary Miles took an interest in the abolitionist cause, as well as women’s rights movements, supporting both of them in her free time. Mary Miles was a leader in women’s rights movements, as these movements had just started to emerge across North America, and she was very involved in them. Miles attended a variety of anti-slavery meetings while teaching in various locations in North-Eastern states, where she would eventually meet Henry Bibb in 1847.
Mary Miles and Henry Bibb married in June 1848, eventually settling in Sandwich, Canada West, now known as Windsor, Ontario. Once in Canada, the Bibbs set up the first African Canadian antislavery newspaper, the Voice of the Fugitive4. This newspaper was instrumental for members of the Underground Railroad, who used it to communicate with other members, and to assist Black people with settling in Canada. The Voice of the Fugitive was distributed across North America, helping enslaved African-Americans to view Canada as the country it is today, one where liberty and equality was granted to all, inspiring them to escape their enslavement.
Tragically, Henry Bibb passed away in the summer of 1854, at the age of 39. Mary Bibb opened a school teaching both white and black children, inspiring them to continue the beliefs of her husband, that both races should be treated equally. It is this principle that clearly guided both Mary and Henry throughout their lives. This principle of equality for all continues to define Canada today, as Canadians strive to ensure that people across the world have equal chances in life.
In conclusion, Mary and Henry Bibb were abolitionists whose antislavery newspaper was a critical part of the Underground Railroad. The Bibbs have undoubtedly contributed greatly to modern-day Canada, making it a country known for its values of liberty and equality. These values continue to be in the hearts of Canadians today, as we are known for peacekeeping across the world, and our involvement in assisting others escaping from their difficult lives. The courage that Mary and Henry Bibb embodied in their newspaper publishing’s continues to inspire Canadians today, teaching us about what is means to stand up for others, and support them through their difficult journeys.
1 Henry, Natasha L. "Black Enslavement in Canada." The Canadian Encyclopedia. June 16, 2016. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/black-enslavement.
2 National Archives. "13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery." National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/13th-amendment.
3 Harriet Tubman Institute. "Henry and Mary Bibb Report." Harriet Tubman Institute. Accessed December 6, 2018. http://breakingthechains.tubmaninstitute.ca/sites/breakingthechains.tubmaninstitute.ca/files/Henry and Mary Bibb Report.pdf.
4 Yarhi, Eli, and Thomas Walkom. "Newspapers in Canada: 1800s–1900s." The Canadian Encyclopedia. October 24, 2017. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/newspapers-in-canada-1800s1900s.
Harriet Tubman Institute. "Henry and Mary Bibb Report." Harriet Tubman Institute. Accessed December 6, 2018. http://breakingthechains.tubmaninstitute.ca/sites/breakingthechains.tubmaninstitute.ca/files/Henry and Mary Bibb Report.pdf.
Henry, Natasha L. "Black Enslavement in Canada." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed June 16, 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/black-enslavement.
National Archives. "13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery." National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/13th-amendment.
Yarhi, Eli, and Thomas Walkom. "Newspapers in Canada: 1800s–1900s." The Canadian Encyclopedia. October 24, 2017. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/newspapers-in-canada-1800s1900s.