New Canada Post Stamp Honours Chloe Cooley and Her Resistance Against Enslavement
Canada Post's new Black History Month stamp pays tribute to Chloe Cooley, a Black woman whose brave resistance to her own enslavement in the late 18th century was a key catalyst in the abolitionist movement. Photo: Courtesy of Canada Post
Canada Post has unveiled a new Black History Month stamp in honour of Chloe Cooley, a Black woman whose brave resistance to her own enslavement in Queenston, Upper Canada in the 18th century sowed the seeds for the abolishment of slavery in the region.
Canada Post Magazine noted that the Crown corporation wanted to recognize “the life and the legacy of Cooley, along with all those who were enslaved in this country until 1833.”
At the time of Cooley’s captivity, enslavement in Upper Canada was on the rise, but attitudes toward it were shifting as the abolitionist movement was gaining traction.
Cooley, who was also featured in a Historica Heritage Minute segment last year, was known to resist her plight in her own small ways — from leaving the property of her captor, Sergeant Adam Vrooman, without permission to refusing to do certain tasks — but it was her harrowing fight on a frigid night in March of 1793 that would become an important catalyst for change.
Vrooman, like many slave holders during that time, feared that he would soon lose out on what he deemed an investment. So, on that night he and two other men violently bound Cooley and dragged her to the shores of the Niagara River, where she was forced onto a boat and transported to the U.S. to be sold.
Cooley, however, didn’t go quietly. Her screams and violent struggle would attract the attention of bystanders who would later recount the incident to Lt. – Gov. John Graves Simcoe, an avowed abolitionist.
Simcoe would use their testimony to introduce new legislation, including a bill to abolish slavery in Upper Canada. Although it was rejected, he would settle for a compromise with the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, which was passed on July 9, 1793.
The new law was the first to restrict the slave trade in British colonies.
“Cooley herself did not benefit from the legislation, but it opened a pathway to freedom for others, as it set the stage for the gradual ending of enslavement in Upper Canada,” reads a press release from Canada Post announcing the stamp. “It also created a legal refuge for those fleeing enslavement in other countries — helping to pave the way for at least 30,000 freedom-seeking Black Americans to make the dangerous journey north to Canada over the decades to come.”
While nothing is known of Cooley’s life beyond that fateful night, her ultimate impact is clear. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed on Aug. 1, 1834, abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire, including British North America.
“As an enslaved person she did not write and leave her own records. And slavery was an institution that sought to remove and rob the personhood and the humanity of those who were enslaved,” Natasha Henry-Dixon, assistant professor of African Canadian History at York University told Canada Post Magazine. “And so how she even shows up in the records that do exist is primarily as the property — the chattel — of those who enslaved her.”
Because no photos or historical illustrations of Cooley exist, Canada Post underwent a “painstaking” process in the stamps creation, consulting experts in local and regional history, Black history and period fashion.
“It’s important for us to remember that those who were enslaved were still people, that they had humanity, that they had their personhood. We should see them as more than their condition,” said Henry-Dixon. “And we should continue to improve our recognition of the history of slavery and the way the legacy of it continues to impact people of African descent today.”
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