Cary, Mary Ann Shadd (1823–1893)

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Cary, Mary Ann Shadd (1823–1893)

American teacher, journalist, and lawyer who championed the cause of racial integration in Canada and the U.S. Pronunciation: KAR-e. Born Mary Ann Shadd on October 9, 1823, in Wilmington, Delaware; died of cancer at her home in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 1893; daughter of black abolitionist Abraham Doros Shadd (a shoemaker) and Harriet (Parnell) Shadd; attended Price's Boarding School, 1833–39; graduated, LL.B., Howard University, 1883; married Thomas F. Cary of Toronto, in 1856; children: Sarah and Linton.

Taught school in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York (1840–51); moved to Canada (1851); wrote Notes on Canada West (1852); helped found Provincial Freeman (1853), then de facto editor (1854–58); recruiting officer for black volunteers in Indiana (1863); moved to Washington, D.C. (1869), and taught next 15 years in public schools; served as public school principal (1872–74).

In 1853, Mary Shadd helped to found the Provincial Freeman, a weekly journal devoted to bettering conditions of North Americans of African descent. The newspaper began regular publication in 1854 with Mary Shadd listed as its "publishing agent." This title, however, failed to accurately represent Shadd's role. She was, as

the Provincial Freeman itself reported in 1855, "the first colored woman on the American continent to establish and edit a weekly newspaper."

Mary Ann Shadd was the oldest of 13 children born to a free black family in Wilmington, Delaware. Her father, black abolitionist Abraham Doros Shadd, was a successful shoemaker. Her mother, Harriet (Parnell) Shadd , who like her husband had never been a slave, was born in North Carolina. In 1833, the year the Shadd family moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania, Abraham was named one of six African-American members of the board of managers of the new American Anti-Slavery Society. That same year, he became president of the national Convention for the Improvement of Free People of Color in the United States. Abraham Shadd believed that education and self-reliance would provide the key to achieving racial equality, a notion his daughter Mary would come to share. He was an agent for The Liberator and The Emancipator, whose home was a stop on the underground railroad where the Shadds "entertained and forwarded" runaways.

Though raised as a Roman Catholic, at the age of ten Mary began attending a Society of Friends school for free black children. She started teaching school at the age of 16 and ultimately held positions in segregated schools in Wilmington, West Chester, New York City, and Norristown, Pennsylvania. She also published Hints to the Colored People of the North (1849), a pamphlet that called on African-Americans to push forward independently to bring about the abolition of slavery, with or without white support. In 1851, she moved to Windsor, Canada, where she founded an integrated school with the aid of the American Missionary Association. A 40-page pamphlet promoting black migration that she wrote in 1852, Notes on Canada West, enjoyed a wide circulation in the United States.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary">

Self-reliance is the fine road to independence.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Shadd became a bitter critic of efforts that promoted racial segregation in Canada. The chief target of her wrath was the Refugee Home Society, an organization based in Detroit that sought to establish new settlements for runaway slaves and free black migrants. The society purchased land and then resold plots in organized, segregated communities. Mary Shadd accused the group, however, of charging more for land than the government did. She believed that most officers and agents were not anti-slavery men and had created the Refugee Home Society solely for their own economic benefit.

Shadd continued to attack the Refugee Home Society and to promote racial integration when the Provincial Freeman began regular publication in 1854, the year she moved to Chatham, Ontario. First published in Toronto, the Freeman was printed in Chatham beginning in 1855. In her writings for the journal, Shadd often contrasted the better life of blacks in Canada to that of African-Americans living in the United States. But her primary message was a call for full racial integration of Canadian and American societies. She was one of a very few black women who lectured extensively in North America. "Tall and slim" and possessing "an intellectual countenance," as contemporaries observed, Shadd was an effective speaker who refused to back down even in the face of the most combative audience. Inconsistent with prevailing notions of the period about feminine behavior, she could be direct, uncompromising, and abrasive.

Mary Shadd married Thomas F. Cary of Toronto in 1856, and they had two children before his death in 1860. During her marriage, Mary lived in Chatham most of the time while her husband remained in Toronto tending to his barbering and bathhouse businesses. Thomas shared his wife's commitment to achieving racial justice.

In 1858, John Brown visited Chatham, where he met with Thomas and Mary, Mary's brother Isaac Shadd, and Osborne P. Anderson. While there, the radical anti-slavery activist shared his plan for an "assault" on the evil institution. Mary Shadd supported Brown's ideas and would later write a favorable eulogy for the New York Weekly Anglo-African after his execution. Her friend Osborne Anderson was with Brown at Harper's Ferry and, as a survivor of the ordeal, recorded his experience in A Voice from Harper's Ferry, which Mary Shadd edited.

After the Provincial Freeman went under in 1858, she returned to teaching school. But in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, Shadd was appointed a recruiting officer for black volunteers in Indiana. She returned to the United States for good by 1869, when she undertook a brief stint as a teacher in a Detroit school and then moved on to Washington, D.C. Shadd continued to support herself by teaching, served as a principal of a public school in the early 1870s, and went to Howard University to study law, receiving the degree in 1883. She also wrote for the New National Era and other journals on a variety of subjects, including women's rights. Lecturing frequently throughout the country promoting racial and gender equality, she delivered a well publicized address at the National Woman's Suffrage Association's annual convention in 1878. An activist of many talents and interests, she died in Washington in 1893.


Bearden, Jim, and Linda Jean Butler. Shadd: The Life and Times of Mary Ann Shadd. Toronto: NC Press, 1977.

Silverman, Jason H. "Mary Ann Shadd and the Search for Equality," in Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988, pp. 87–100.

suggested reading:

Winks, Robin. The Blacks in Canada. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971.

Sterling, Dorothy, ed. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. NY: W.W. Norton, 1984.


Mary Ann Shadd Cary Papers, Manuscript Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Pre-Confederation Section, Manuscript Division, Public Archives of Canada. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

John Craig , Professor of History, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania