Many people may know the story of Solomon Moseby, a Black man who escaped slavery in Kentucky by stealing his slaveowner’s horse and came to Canada. But few may be familiar with those who put their lives on the line to keep him free after his escape. Sally Carter led a group of Black women in a vigil outside a courthouse that lasted three weeks just to prevent the extradition of Moseby whose owner in Kentucky had located him in Canada.
Moseby was being held at the Niagara Courthouse jail, formerly located where Rye Park is today. He had escaped slavery in 1837 while delivering a message for his enslaver, David Castleman, on horseback, according to a report by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Local newspaper. Moseby, from Kentucky, was expected to deliver the message. Instead, he escaped to Niagara to secure his freedom.
When his former enslaver found him in Niagara, he asked that he be extradited for trial on charges of stealing. Authorities in Niagara subsequently detained Moseby until the extradition decision was made, the report by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Local newspaper said. That was when Carter stepped in.
Having escaped slavery herself at the age of 16, she knew what Moseby had gone through just to get his freedom. Thus, she wouldn’t want him to go back into a life of bondage. To prevent Moseby from being secretly deported, Carter, then 45 years old, spoke with local schoolteacher Herbert Holmes and the two organized about 300 supporters, the majority being women, from Black communities across the Niagara region to take vigil outside the jail.
On the day Lt.-Gov. Francis Bond Head ordered Moseby to be returned to his former enslaver’s custody in the U.S., hundreds of protestors, including some local White people, gathered at the jail. The Black women who were there came up with various tactics to prevent Moseby from being deported. According to the newspaper report, some Black women blocked the road to the courthouse and sang hymns “to act as a diversion.”
Others held weapons or had stones hidden in their aprons or stockings that they were ready to throw at officials. Some of the Black women even put themselves in between the Black men and White prison officials to avoid fights. “These tactics were instrumental in securing Moseby’s freedom when he was brought out from the jail to a carriage,” the Niagara-on-the-Lake Local newspaper writes.
During Moseby’s case, Carter was living at the corner of Anne and Simcoe Streets with her husband. She was asked if she was happy living in Canada.
“Yes — that is, I was happy here — but now — I don’t know,” she said, according to the newspaper report. “I thought we were safe here — I thought nothing could touch us here, on your British ground, but it seems I was mistaken, and if so, I won’t stay here — I won’t — I won’t! I’ll go find a country where they cannot reach us! I’ll go to the end of the world, I will!”
Carter’s remarkable story was brought to light in August this year after she was featured in a new book called Making Her Mark by the Niagara Historical Society.
“It’s such a fascinating perspective of the Solomon Moseby affair,” Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society and author of the chapter on Carter, told CBC News.
“We know that stories of agency, of action during colonial times, often focused on white men. But here we have Sally Carter and these other Black women with her who were leading the charge in ensuring that Solomon Moseby would be able to maintain his very tenuous freedom.”
According to CBC News, Henry got to “actually hear from” Carter in documents that recorded her memories of what occured in 1837.
“It’s a significant event in Ontario history —Canadian history and Black women were right there front and centre, and so that is for me what makes it significant for people to learn more about that.
“For me, writing this piece contributes to ensuring that the story would always be remembered,” Henry said.
The book features 27 authors’ stories of other amazing Black women history forgot.