One of Burlington’s most famous early settlers, Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, owned a kidnapped, black, slave girl and other human chattel.
Sophia Pooley was the girl’s name. She was born to slave parents at Fishkill, N.Y., on the Hudson River in perhaps the mid-1760s. At the age of 12 or 13 — dates are sketchy — she was snatched away.
The kidnappers sold Pooley to Brant on the U.S. side of the border near Niagara. When he moved to Burlington in 1784, he brought her and his other slaves with him.
“(He) probably owned over 30 slaves,” says a panel from Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada, created by the archives department and showing until Feb. 26 at Toronto’s First Post Office.
Paul Stone, curator at Burlington’s Joseph Brant Museum, confirms the archival record.
Brant ranks as one of Greater Toronto’s most powerful historical figures.
He made his name as a warrior chief for the British side in the American Revolutionary War of 1775 to 1783, and later as political leader of the Six Nations people who settled in southwestern Ontario.
Burlington’s museum makes no reference to slave ownership, but the record is clear: Five years before arriving in Canada, he began collecting unpaid black workers.
Sometimes the exhibition’s Pooley segment contradicts itself, saying Brant bought Pooley when she was seven and sold her when she was 12, and also saying she lived with Brant for seven years. Other sources agree that Brant bought her when she was 12 or 13 and sold her seven years later at 20 to English settler Samuel Hatt of nearby Ancaster.
In any case, John Graves Simcoe arrived as Upper Canada’s first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada in 1793 and immediately campaigned to end slave ownership by Brant and others.