History March 29, 2022 at 04:30 pm

This U.S. slave escaped to Canada but was sent back. He is the only slave Canada sent back to bondage

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor March 29, 2022 at 04:30 pm

March 29, 2022 at 04:30 pm | History

Image via The Nelson Hackett Project - University of Arkansas

His proposed marker test reads: “Nelson Hackett was an enslaved man whose escape to Canada and subsequent extradition set off an international dispute that ensured Canada remained a safe refuge for those escaping bondage from the United States.”

Hackett fought for freedom. And even though he didn’t achieve it for himself, he did achieve it for others as his story shows. Described as “a Negro dandy” of about 30 years of age, Hackett was an enslaved man owned by Alfred Wallace, a wealthy Washington County plantation owner and a storekeeper.

While serving as Wallace’s valet and butler in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Hackett, around July 16, 1841, fled Fayetteville on horseback seeking freedom. Besides the horse, he took with him a gold watch, chain, and a beaver coat, and set off for Canada. Historians say that he traveled 360 miles through Missouri, which was a slave state, and another 600 miles through free states before reaching Canada, which was under British rule at the time. Canada was also becoming a safe asylum for enslaved people fleeing from bondage.

Hackett crossed into Canada and soon reached the southwestern Ontario town of Sandwich six weeks after his escape. But soon his owner Wallace tracked him and demanded that he be arrested and extradited. Knowing that Canada would not return Hackett for simply escaping slavery, Wallace accused Hackett of stealing several items before fleeing Fayetteville. Wallace alleged that Hackett stole the horse, $500 and other items.

Amid these accusations, with Hackett being arrested and jailed at Sandwich, Arkansas Gov. Archibald Yell also wrote a letter to the colonial governor of Canada requesting that Hackett be returned. The colonial governor of Canada granted the request, sending Hackett back to Fayetteville to face changes.

“He is the first and only enslaved person who Canada sends back to slavery,” Michael Pierce, associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas, told Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

By June 1842, Hackett was back in Fayetteville. He was publicly whipped several times and later sold back into slavery in Texas. He escaped again, but no one knows what happened to him after that. What is known is that during his extradition, abolitionists tried to stop the process, fearing that extradition would set a precedent since no enslaved person who escaped to Canada had ever been sent back to bondage in the U.S.

Abolitionists argued that slave owners could use accusations of theft or other crimes to get back enslaved people. And as the abolitionists piled pressure on the British government, the latter made laws to prevent such extradition. In other words, the campaign started by the abolitionists to ensure Hackett would be the last freedom seeker returned by Canada was successful.

“Nelson Hackett set in motion, through his agency, the events that made sure that Canada would remain a safe haven for those who were escaping slavery in the United States,” Pierce said.

Nearly 180 years after Hackett was sent back to slavery in the U.S., a historical marker is being planned for the downtown square in Fayetteville to tell his story. The city’s Black Heritage Preservation Commission, a resident advisory panel, has begun a project to create a marker for Hackett in partnership with the University of Arkansas Humanities Center.

Fayetteville was in the 1840s home to about 425 people. The town had 120 enslaved people, making up 28 percent of the population. Enslaved men and women mostly worked on small farms, in the construction trades, or as laborers or domestic servants, like Hackett.

Wallace had a grocery store south of where the Bank of Fayetteville is at the downtown square. Hackett worked there as Wallace’s personal servant. During the Civil War, the original building burned down, and the Black Heritage Preservation Commission is now hoping to have Hackett’s marker near that spot on the square.

Conversations

Must Read