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Charmaine Nelson
BGC Fields of the Future Fellow; NSCAD University

Justice, Property, and Punishment: The Role of Montreal Sheriff Edward William Gray in Eighteenth-Century Quebec Slavery

The institution of Transatlantic Slavery was premised upon slave owner control and enacted through systematized violence, surveillance, and prohibitions imposed by slave owners and their surrogates. While white male overseers and slave patrols and black male slave drivers became normal aspects of tropical and semi-tropical plantation slavery, in Canada where cold winters made year-round mono-crop agriculture impossible, male adjuncts to slave owner power took other forms. This talk explores the role of the sheriff in eighteenth-century British slavery in the province of Quebec to understand the significant ways that the work of this British colonial official served to justify, sustain, and support slavery.

Nelson writes, “In this talk, I shall draw from the extant business papers of the eighteenth-century Montreal sheriff, Edward William Gray, business associate of the slave owners and co-founders of the Quebec Gazette, William Brown and Thomas Gilmore. Specifically, I will analyze how Gray’s service consistently engaged him in the inner workings of slavery, and importantly, helped to sustain and protect the interests of white slave owners in the colony. This case study is a pathway for me to better understand the broader context of the experiences, life, and labor of the person upon whom my larger research project is focused, the enslaved man called Joe. Enslaved by Brown and Gilmore and forced to work in their printing office in Quebec City, the African-born man called Joe was named in six sets of Quebec fugitive slave advertisements across nine years (1777–1786). Although based in Montreal, Gray’s correspondence with Brown and Gilmore (in Quebec City) demonstrates his concern for the success of their business, his commitment to upholding slave owner rights to their ‘human property,’ and his desire to distance Quebec’s white citizenry from the more debased forms of British justice.”

Thursday, October 21, 12:15–1:15 pm

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Charmaine Nelson will be completing her fellowship at BGC, which began in the 2020-21 academic year, this fall. Nelson is Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at NSCAD University. She received her PhD in art history from the University of Manchester (UK) in 2001. Her research and teaching interests include postcolonial and Black feminist scholarship, transatlantic slavery studies, and Black diaspora studies. She has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the visual culture of slavery, race, and representation, and Black Canadian studies. Nelson has published six books including the edited book Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010), and the single-authored books The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2016). Her seventh book, Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (Captus Press, 2018), is the first to consolidate the field of African Canadian art history. Her current research project juxtaposes fugitive slave advertisements, portraiture, and genre studies from Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Jamaica to examine differences in the visual dimensions of creolization between slave minority and slave majority sites of the British Atlantic world. She has garnered several prestigious fellowships and appointments including a Caird Senior Research Fellowship, National Maritime Museum, UK (2007) and a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of California – Santa Barbara (2010). In 2016, she was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists and in 2017–18 she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University. Prior to joining NSCAD University she was professor of art history at McGill University.

This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 10 am on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.