Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Cary, Mary Ann Shadd 1823–1893
Mary Ann Shadd Cary 1823–1893
She was something of a rarity in the antebellum period, a free and well-educated African-American woman who openly challenged the emigration policies and gender conventions of her time. A teacher, journalist, and abolitionist, Mary Ann Shadd Cary promoted black emigration to Canada and became one of the best-known and most prolific black writers of her generation. She left the country of her birth to live for 11 years in Ontario, Canada, where she taught fugitive slaves and was the first African-American woman to edit a newspaper. Cary was a leader in struggles led mostly by people unlike herself: black liberation, led mainly by men, and women’s rights, led mainly by whites.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 9, 1823, the oldest of 13 children. Her parents, Abraham Doras and Harriet Parnell Shadd, were elite free black activists. Her shoemaker father, an abolitionist, often hid runaway slaves in the family’s home. In 1832, Abraham was a state representative to the National Convention for the Improvement of Free People of Color in Philadelphia. Abraham and Harriet Shadd believed racial equality could be achieved through education and hard work. However, Delaware, still a slave state in 1832, forbid education for blacks. So at age ten Mary Ann was sent Price’s Boarding School, founded by Quakers, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Six years later, her education finished, she returned to Delaware where she devoted herself to teaching and ministering to those African Americans who were less fortunate than she.
In 1850, eleven years before the start of the Civil War, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Opposed by many northern states, this new law denied runaway slaves the right to a trial by jury and the opportunity to testify on their own behalf. Those who aided in the escape of slaves or refused to enforce the law were subjected to heavy fines. In her widely circulated pamphlet, “A Plea for Emigration or Notes of Canada West,” Cary stated that the act jeopardized all blacks residing in the United States and justified their moving to Canada or other countries. Instead of reenforcing slavery in the South, the Fugitive Slave Act heightened the work of abolitionists and the Underground Railroad and increased emigration to Canada by African Americans. By the end of the 1850s, more than 15,000 had fled across the northern border. Cary went north with them in 1851, along with her brother, Isaac, and his wife, Amelia Freeman Shadd.
Cary pursued a teaching career in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, across the river from Detroit, Michigan. There Cary immediately voiced her objection to segregation in schools and other institutions. As Shirley J. Yee stated in Frontiers, Cary “was ‘utterly opposed’ to what she called the ‘spirit of caste,’ which she referred to as any form of racial separation, whether it was legally sanctioned segregation in public facilities…or black-initiated separatism symbolized by black schools and churches.” Yee pointed out that when Cary and her sister-in-law advertised their new school, they specified
At a Glance…
Born Mary Ann Shadd on October 9, 1823, in Wilmington, DE; died June 5, 1893, in Washington, D.C.; daughter of Abraham Doras and Harriet Parnell Shadd; married Thomas Cary, 1856; children: Sally, Education: Price’s Boarding School, Chester, PA, 1932-1939; B.A. in law, Howard University, 1860s.
Career: School teacher, Delaware and Windsor, Ontario, Canada; wrote “A Plea for Emigration or Notes of Canada West in its Moral, Social, and Political Aspect: Suggestions Respecting Mexico, W Indies and Vancouver’s Island, For the Information of Colored Emigrants,” 1852; established Provincial Freeman, 1853-1860; antislavery lecture circuit, 1855-1856; school teacher, Detroit and Washington, D.C, postwar. Testified for Women’s Suffrage, Judiciary Committee, 1870s.
that “no complexional distinctions” would be made. The fact is Cary’s commitment to integration placed her at odds with many black male separatists, most notably Henry Bibb and Martin Delany.
Soon the rest of the Shadd family relocated to Canada, first to Windsor and then to Chatham, the terminal point of the Underground Railroad. In 1853 in Chatham, Cary established her own newspaper, the Provincial Freeman, in which she advocated emigration and published strong opinions about internal politics in the black community in Canada. Typical of papers of that era, the Provincial Freeman disseminated its editor’s opinions and served as one of her means for shaping African-American belief and action. Primarily, she urged free blacks and fugitives to emigrate and settle permanently in Canada; she argued for full integration and racial and sexual equality.
In 1854, the newspaper headquarters were moved to Toronto, probably because several well-to-do black businessmen were there, and it became a weekly publication. However, money remained the issue in keeping the paper running. Besides receiving donations, Cary gave lectures and teas and ran bazaars to raise funds. Even so, the Provincial Freeman had only about a seven-year run. In 1855, Cary moved the newspaper back to Chatham where most free blacks and fugitives were living.
Mary Ann Shadd married Thomas Cary of Toronto in 1856, and they had a daughter named Sally. Theirs was an unconventional union. They had separate homes, his in Toronto and hers in Chatham. Moreover, before and after his untimely death in 1860, Cary depended on her extended family for childcare support. Being a wife and mother did not slow Cary’s activism.
Cary’s views brought her into sharp conflict with the escaped slave Henry Bibb, who, along with his wife Mary, published The Voice of the Fugitive. Bibb argued that blacks were merely temporary residents in Canada and should be preparing for their return to their homeland. Ironically, the Bibbs, who advocated returning to the United States, lived out their lives in Canada and Cary, who sought Canada as a permanent refuge, returned to her American roots. Martin Delany, who had led an African expedition in 1859, argued for an economically independent and self-reliant black community which he believed could not be achieved in Canada.
During 1855 and 1856, Cary returned to the United States and joined the antislavery lecture circuit, speaking in several midwestern states. Other antislavery, feminist lecturers included Lucy Stone, who called for the first national women’s convention in 1850, and Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister. All women lecturers put themselves in danger when they spoke on these issues, but Cary took particular risk because she was a black woman who made her home in Canada and openly urged fugitive slaves to flee the United States.
During the forties and fifties, black conventions met to discuss suffrage; these meetings excluded women until 1848. At an 1855 convention of African Americans in Philadelphia, Cary became the first black woman to be admitted as a corresponding member, in part because of her work as a lecturer placed her at the center of this important discussion. Her lecture tours, both well received and disrupted by anti-abolitionist heckling, took her across the country and gave her information about African-American conditions which she then published in the Provincial Freeman.
Early in 1858, John Brown visited Cary’s brother Isacc at his home in Chatham. A militant abolitionist, Brown led the 1859 raid on a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He failed to start a general uprising among American slaves and was hanged. In the process he was perceived to be a martyr to the freedom cause and a spark that helped ignite the Civil War. Cary became so interested in Brown’s cause that, after his death, she published Voice from Harper’s Ferry, a compilation of the notes of Osborne P. Anderson, the only survivor of Brown’s group.
Cary was teaching in Michigan in 1861 when the North and South went to war. She returned to Canada two years later and became a naturalized British citizen. After the great losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, President Lincoln sent out a call for thousands of men to join the Union Army. Cary went to Indiana in the summer of 1863 where she became a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers. After the Civil War ended in 1865, Cary obtained a teaching certificate and taught first in Detroit and then in Washington, D.C. Then in her forties, she taught school and obtained a bachelor of law degree from the newly opened Howard University.
During the late sixties and throughout the seventies, Cary fought for women’s rights. A staunch suffragette, she testified in the 1870s before the House Judiciary Committee, arguing that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution gave the right to vote to good citizens and taxpayers and that right should be extended to women as bona fide members of these two groups. In 1878, she spoke to the convention of the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Sometime later she founded the short-lived Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association.
Throughout the 1880s, Cary continued her fight for voting rights and black freedom. In 1887, she and Frances Watkins were the only blacks included at the Annual Congress of the Association for the Advancement of Women in New York. Once Cary returned to Canada to speak at a Votes for Women rally. Her message was so inflammatory, however, that she was threatened physically and had to flee over the border into Detroit.
Cary never gave up the fight for equality, but she became disillusioned with empty promises by the government to improve the lives of black Americans and with the failure of African Americans themselves to act as a group on their own behalf. Activist, reformer, journalist, teacher, and promoter of black emigration, Mary Ann Shadd Cary died in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 1893. Cary was an attractive, witty, and sharp-tongued speaker, praised for her intellect and original ideas. In her world, there were few choices either for women or for African Americans. She challenged restrictions by whatever means she could. She welcomed debate, even with black male leaders. In a world which oppressed blacks and placed black women beneath black men, Cary found her voice and left a record of her influence.
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed.; Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992.
Journal of American History, March 2000.
Journal of the Early Republic, Summer 1999.
Journal of American History, March 2000.
Journalism History, Autumn 1999.
—Rose Blue and Melodie Monahan
Cary, Mary Ann Shadd
Cary, Mary Ann Shadd
October 9, 1823
June 5, 1893
Teacher and journalist Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of free blacks Abraham and Harriet Parnell Shadd. After attending a Quaker school in West Chester, Pennsylvania, she returned to Wilmington, where at age sixteen she opened a school, the first of several she was to establish during the following decades. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Mary and her brother Isaac went to Windsor, Canada, where she founded a school for both black and white pupils. In 1856 she married Thomas F. Cary of Toronto. She resumed teaching in Chatham (1859–1864) under the auspices of the American Missionary Association.
Cary's most noteworthy achievements center on the Provincial Freeman, a weekly Canadian newspaper, published with varying regularity between 1853 and 1859. Although men (Samuel Ringgold War and the Rev. William P. Newman) served as titular editors, Cary's contemporaries recognized her as the real editor. She is generally acknowledged to be the first woman publisher of a newspaper in Canada and the first black newspaperwoman in North America. A crusading journalist, Cary became embroiled in particularly bitter quarrels—notably with Henry Bibb—over the issue of integration (the question of whether blacks were exiles or new citizens of Canada) and about the activities of the Refugee Home Society, whose land-purchase scheme, she claimed, offered no advantage over the Canadian government's offers and was sometimes more costly.
During the Civil War, Cary returned to the United States to recruit for the Union army, working in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. From 1869 to 1874 she taught public school in Detroit and in Washington, D.C., where she also served as a principal (1872–1874). An activist for women's suffrage, Cary addressed the annual convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1878 and was founder of the Colored Women's Progressive Association (Washington, D.C.). She received her LL.B. degree from Howard University Law School in 1883; she was the first woman to receive the degree from that school and only the second black woman to earn a law degree.
In addition to her work for the Provincial Freeman, Cary was the author of an advisory pamphlet, Hints to the Colored People of the North (1849), espousing her ideals of self-help; of A Plea for Emigration, or Notes on Canada West, in Its Moral, Social, and Political Aspect (1852), a booklet describing opportunities for blacks in Canada; and (with Osborne Anderson, one of the five survivors of John Brown's raid) of A Voice from Harpers Ferry (1873). She contributed to Frederick Douglass's New National Era and John Wesley Cromwell's Advocate as well.
Rhodes, Jane. Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
Silverman, Jason H. "Mary Ann Shadd and the Search for Equality." In Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier, pp. 87–100. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
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