Mary Ann Shadd Cary – An American-Canadian Hero. “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence”


October 9, 1823 – June 5, 1893

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She was the first Black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada.



Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 9, 1823, the eldest of 13 children to Abraham Doras Shadd (1801–1882) and Harriet Burton Parnell, who were free African-Americans.


Shadd Cary was an abolitionist who became the first female African-American newspaper editor in North America when she edited The Provincial Freeman in 1853.


She attempted to participate in the 1855 Philadelphia Colored Convention, but the assembly debated whether to even let her sit as a delegate.


In 1856, she married Thomas F. Cary, a Toronto barber who was also involved with the Provincial Freeman.


She wrote for the newspapers National Era and The People’s Advocate and in 1880, organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise.


She died in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 1893 from stomach cancer.

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Mary Ann implored blacks to take the initiative in anti-slavery reform without waiting for whites to provide beneficence or support. Shadd, only in her mid 20s, had thus gained considerable recognition by articulating what would become her perennial themes: black independence and self-respect.

Shadd’s prominence was truly established, however, when she became a leader and spokesperson for the black refugees who had fled from the United States to Upper Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Believing that she could help these black emigrants, in the fall of 1851 Shadd moved to Windsor, where she opened a school with the support of the American Missionary Association.

In the summer of 1852 she had published A plea for emigration, a pamphlet in which she sought to encourage American blacks to immigrate to Canada and simultaneously attacked the growing separatist philosophy of Canadian blacks. Despite the widespread circulation of this pamphlet, Shadd desired a continuing medium through which she could disseminate her beliefs. In early 1853, with the timely help of fellow black abolitionist Samuel Ringgold Ward, Shadd published the first edition of the Provincial Freeman.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary Put Out The Word: Confront.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary Put Out The Word: Confront.

By March 1854 she had found sufficient support for the Provincial Freeman to resume publication. With the motto “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence,” the Freeman, now based in Toronto, began appearing on a regular basis. Shadd used her newspaper to comment on all aspects of black life in Canada, but she focused especially on problems of racial discrimination and segregation. She assailed anyone, blacks and whites alike, who sought to compromise with slavery, and she particularly castigated her fellow blacks who were prepared to accept second-class status. She reserved her greatest vituperation, however, for self-segregated black settlements: to her, these settlements only fostered discrimination, and she urged blacks to seek assimilation into Canadian society. John Scoble and Josiah Henson* of the Dawn settlement were pilloried almost as exhaustively as Bibb, while grudging approval was granted to the Elgin settlement under William King.

Regular publication of the Freeman was interrupted several times because of financial problems. On 30 June 1855 William P. Newman became editor, though Shadd may well have remained a powerful background force, and the paper was moved to Chatham. In January 1856 Shadd married black businessman Thomas Cary and that May she returned to the Freeman as one of its three editors. After 1856, however, it appeared only sporadically and by 1859, when the financial burden had become too debilitating, publication ceased entirely.

In the wake of the Freeman’s demise, Shadd remained in Chatham and returned to teaching. Yet she watched with great interest as the sectional crisis intensified in the United States. Her hope for the destruction of slavery in the impending conflict had been heightened by John Brown’s arrival in Canada in the spring of 1858. Part of a group that met with Brown, Shadd became privy to the visionary’s intended plans. Another member of the group, Osborne Perry Anderson, a young black, was so taken with Brown that he joined him at Harpers Ferry in October 1859 and survived the raid to record his memoirs in A voicefrom Harper’s Ferry, edited and prepared for publication by Shadd in 1861.

Through the early years of the Civil War, Shadd continued to teach in an interracial school in Chatham. But she soon grew tired of watching the conflict from a distance. Anxious to assist in the Northern war effort, in late 1863 she accepted an invitation from Martin Robinson Delany to serve as an enlistment recruiter; she returned to the United States to participate in the recruitment programs of several states. Shadd agonized over whether to remain in the United States after Appomattox. She finally concluded that she could best serve her people by remaining to help with the education and assimilation of the millions of newly emancipated blacks. Toward this end, in July 1868 she obtained an American teaching certificate and taught briefly in Detroit before relocating in Washington, D.C. Supporting herself by teaching, she would eventually receive a law degree from Howard University in 1883.

Shadd continued to participate in both civil rights and equal rights movements in the United States, returning to Canada only briefly, in 1881, to organize a suffragist rally. Enfeebled by rheumatism and cancer, she died in the summer of 1893.

The Canadian Encyclopedia


Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
black bar3


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Jen Goldie

"Life is made up of small comings and goings and for everything we take with us, we leave a part of ourselves behind" - Summer of 42

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