Mary Ann Shadd : Born Abolitionist
Mary Ann Shadd was an American-born abolitionist, editor, author and educator. She persuasively promoted emigration to Canada as a means of refuge for not only escaped slaves but also for those who were free yet ever fearing for their liberty in America. She was the first sole black female newspaper editor in North America and later obtained her law degree in 1883, becoming one of the first black women to do so. Shadd is most notably known for her integration efforts during the abolitionist movement, although she is almost as equally known for her beauty. Shadd radically differed in her views from those of other abolitionists, creating further tension in what was already a hostile environment. Had her opponents accepted her opinion without hostility, they could have possibly furthered the movement by focusing their combined energies on the slavery issue.
In 1823, Shadd was born into a family of free African-Americans in Wilmington, Delaware, which was a slave state at the time. Her father was an abolitionist who dedicated his home to the movement by turning it into a station for escaped slaves travelling the Underground Railroad. Her father was almost certainly her greatest inspiration in her future endeavours as an abolitionist. He believed education was the key to achieving racial equality. The Shadd Family moved to Pennsylvania during Mary Ann’s adolescence in order for the children to obtain a better education. Shadd became a school teacher at the age of 16 and travelled back to Delaware and then throughout New Jersey and New York, teaching at ‘all-black schools’ for ten years. She would then emigrate to Canada.
Canada symbolized true freedom for many ‘free blacks’ who were concerned for their liberty, especially after the passing of the Fugitives Slaves Act. Under this law, self-emancipated slaves could be easily returned to the South. However, once across the border to Canada, they could not be forcibly returned and, as Bearden and Butler explained, “a black – man, woman or child – was miraculously a free human being with all the rights of any other immigrant”. Canada additionally offered schools, albeit segregated ones, as well as the ability to vote. For these reasons, Shadd pleaded with her fellow black Americans to emigrate.
Shadd emigrated north to Canada in 1850, amidst a mass exodus. Her reasons were essentially three-fold. Firstly, like most black people in America at that time, she feared for her liberty even though she was a free woman. Secondly, she had previously been to Canada to scout the north land so as to assess its potential as a refuge for others needing an escape. In 1842, she wrote Notes of Canada West in an attempt to persuade others to emigrate. Of course, she followed her own advice some years later. Thirdly, she went as a call to duty. She had attended the Convention of Colored Freeman in Toronto in 1851 where she met Henry and Mary Bibb, who were already established leaders of the abolitionist movement in Canada. They requested that she relocate to Windsor where the need for education of black children was the greatest.
The Bibbs believed in separate racial spheres. In direct contrast, Shadd believed it was necessary for blacks to integrate into the white sphere and make oneself as independent as possible. Shadd is well-known for her determination and radical thinking on this issue. Her belief was that the only way for her people to gain equal footing with the whites was to be incorporated into their society. She was therefore constantly in opposition to the Bibbs. Henry Bibb was a former slave and the editor of the Voice of the Fugitive. His wife Mary was a schoolteacher who was critical in influencing Shadd to settle down in Windsor. Contrary to the Bibbs’ liking, Shadd was very vocal about refusing the caste system in a free country. She fought to open her own school, which was one of the first non-segregated schools in Canada.
The feud between Shadd and the Bibbs did have one positive outcome: it actually contributed to Shadd organizing her own newspaper, thus becoming the first black woman in North America to do so. Henry Bibb habitually slandered Shadd in his newspaper, comparing her to their shared enemy. She desired the sort of platform that Bibb had in order to defend herself against his allegations and further promote her views. This desire fuelled her to “[publish] the first edition of the Provincial Freeman” in 1853, changing history.
Mary Ann Shadd was born into her role as abolitionist, continuing a legacy, already well established by her father. She showed courage during a time of extremely high tensions in society. She demonstrated great self-respect while having her character attacked. It is alarming that although the Bibbs and Shadd were striving for the same goal, they were unable to unite their forces for the better cause due to differences in their views. As units are always stronger than individuals, it is possible that their goals may have been reached in a more expedient manner had they worked in harmony. Instead, their actions served only to remove the focus from the real issue of slavery and turn it towards personal feuds.
Jason H. Silverman, Mary Ann Shadd and the Search for Equality. A Nation of Immigrants: Women, Workers, and Communities in Canadian History, 1840s-1960s. (Ed. Draper, Iacovetta, Ventresca, 2007.) 112.
 Bearden, Butler. Shadd. The Life and Times of Mary Shadd Cary, (NC Press Ltd. Toronto, 1977). 11.
Glass, Kathy L. Courting Communities: Black Female Nationalism and ‘Syncre-Nationalism’ in the Nineteenth-Century North, (Routledge, New York, 2006.) 58.
Silverman, Mary Ann Shadd. 102.
Bearden, Butler, Shadd. 22.
Mary A. Shadd. “A plea for emigration: or, notes of Canada West, in its moral, social, and political aspect…for the information of colored emigrants.” In Early Voices: Portraits of Canada by Women Writers, 1639-1914. Edited by Downie, Errington, Robertson. Dundurn Press, 2010. 137.
 Adrienne Shadd. Mary Ann Shadd Cary : Pioneer Newspaper Woman, Antislavery Activist, and Leader of the Emigration Movement to Canad. January 2, 2008. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/northern-star/033005-2201-e.html
Mary Ann Shadd. November 6, 2013. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd/
 Silverman, Mary Ann Shadd. 106.