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U.S. Slave Who Escaped To Canada But Was Sent Back. He Is The Only Slave Canada Sent Back To Bondage – Nelson Hackett

U.S. Slave Who Escaped To Canada But Was Sent Back. He Is The Only Slave Canada Sent Back To Bondage

“Nelson Hackett was an enslaved man whose escape to Canada and subsequent extradition sparked off an international debate that ensured Canada remained a safe haven for individuals fleeing bondage from the United States,” his proposed marker test states.

Hackett battled for the right to be free. And, while he didn’t achieve it for himself, he did for others, as his story demonstrates. Hackett, a 30-year-old enslaved man held by Alfred Wallace, a wealthy Washington County plantation owner, and storekeeper, was described as “a Negro dandy.”

Hackett departed Fayetteville on horseback on July 16, 1841, while serving as Wallace’s valet and butler in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He headed off for Canada with a gold watch, chain, and a beaver coat in addition to the horse. According to historians, he went 360 miles through a slave state, Missouri, and 600 miles through free states before arriving in Canada, which was under British sovereignty at the time. Canada was also emerging as a safe haven for enslaved persons fleeing slavery.

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Six weeks after his escape, Hackett traveled into Canada and arrived in the southwestern Ontario town of Sandwich. Wallace, his owner, swiftly found him out and sought his arrest and extradition. Wallace accused Hackett of taking several items before fleeing Fayetteville, knowing that Canada would not return him for simply fleeing slavery. Wallace claimed Hackett had stolen the horse, $500, and other valuables.

In the midst of these accusations, Arkansas Gov. Archibald Yell issued a letter to the provincial governor of Canada, begging that Hackett be returned. Hackett was sent back to Fayetteville to face charges when the colonial governor of Canada granted his request.

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

Hackett returned to Fayetteville in June 1842. He was publicly whipped a number of times before being sold into slavery in Texas. He fled once more, but no one knows where he went after that. What is known is that abolitionists attempted to thwart his extradition, believing that it would set a precedent because no enslaved person who escaped to Canada had ever been transported back to bondage in the United States.

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Slave owners could exploit accusations of theft or other crimes, abolitionists contended, to reclaim enslaved individuals. As abolitionists increased their pressure on the British government, the latter enacted legislation to prevent such extradition. In other words, the abolitionists’ campaign to guarantee that Hackett was the last freedom seeker returned to the U.S. was successful.

“Through his agency, Nelson Hackett set in motion the events that ensured that Canada would remain a safe haven for those fleeing slavery in the United States,” Pierce said.

A historical memorial for Hackett’s history is being planned for the downtown square in Fayetteville, over 180 years after he was taken back to slavery in the United States. In collaboration with the University of Arkansas Humanities Center, the city’s Black Heritage Preservation Commission, a resident advisory body, has begun work on a marker commemorating Hackett.

In the 1840s, Fayetteville had a population of around 425 people. There were 120 enslaved individuals in the town, accounting for 28% of the population. Enslaved men and women, like Hackett, generally worked on small farms, in construction, or as workers or domestic slaves.

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Wallace owned a food store on the downtown square, just south of the Bank of Fayetteville. Wallace’s personal servant, Hackett, worked there. The original structure burned down during the Civil War, and the Black Heritage Preservation Commission is aiming to have Hackett’s plaque placed near that location on the plaza.

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