Author's Notes

A Note on Language

Terms for persons of African heritage have changed over the decades. In the 1950s, a capital N on “Negro” was considered polite; a lowercase n was implicitly racist usage, and eventually abandoned even by racists. The terms “black” and “African American/African Canadian” emerged in the 1960s and have persisted. More recently, “black” as a noun has been replaced by “Black” as an adjective, and that is the usage I try to follow in this edition. I agree with organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists who argue that “White” should also be capitalized in its adjectival sense, like “Indigenous” and “Latinx,” as describing persons sharing the same broad cultural and historical experience—whatever the colour of their skin.

Some readers may feel uncomfortable with “White”; I’m uncomfortable with it myself. On reflection, however, I hope the usage will heighten our awareness that White culture has for centuries been either loudly or silently racist. We need to feel alienated from that culture if we are ever to approach true racial equality.

Where my nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources have used grossly racist terms, I have replaced those terms with “[Black . . . ].”

A Note on “Presentism”

“Presentism” means projecting the values of today on the people of earlier times. In many cases, it’s a useful reminder that our ancestors didn’t have our advantages, or even our purpose in life, and therefore can’t be judged by our standards.

Well before the nineteenth century, many people in countries that profited from slavery considered it an abomination if not a sin. A few White Americans, British North Americans and Europeans risked their lives to help free Black Africans from slavery, even if the White majority considered slavery not only good business but divinely ordained. Organizations like the American Underground Railroad were covert operations in enemy territory, requiring secret agents, meticulous organization and plenty of money to counteract the power of a nation run by slaveowners and their bigoted supporters.

The only difference between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries on this issue is the proportion of racial bigots to egalitarians. Two centuries ago, the bigots were the vast majority; now they are a minority, but not a small one. (Then as now, hypocrites deplored racism without doing anything about it.) So when I criticize the bigots of British Columbia in the 1860s, it is because they truly should have known better.

A Note on Currency Equivalents

While it’s difficult to offer a precise equivalent in today’s Canadian dollars for the American dollars and British pounds of the 1850s and 1860s, one US dollar in 1860 would be worth, in 2020, roughly thirty US dollars and forty Canadian dollars. Bear in mind also that prices in California, Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland were exorbitantly high owing to the inflation triggered by the gold rush itself. Prices in the rest of British North America and the US would have been much lower.