Chloe Cooley National Historic Person
Chloe Cooley was designated as a national historic person in 2022.
Commemorative plaque:Footnote 1
Chloe Cooley was an enslaved woman of African descent living in Queenston, Upper Canada. Her courageous resistance against her violent and forced transportation to New York in 1793 became a well-known example of the everyday acts of resistance of enslaved women of African descent in Upper Canada.
In March 1793, Loyalist enslaver Adam Vrooman arranged to sell Cooley to an American without her consent. Cooley screamed and resisted and, in response, Vrooman bound her with rope to prevent her escape and gagged her to silence her cries. With the help of his brother, Isaac Vrooman, and one of the five sons of Loyalist McGregory Van Every, Vrooman forced Cooley into a small boat, “violently and forcibly” transporting her across the Niagara River. Once they arrived at the American shore, Cooley screamed and struggled to get loose from her binds. She was ultimately unable to escape.
Though Cooley’s resistance did not result in her freedom, it left a strong impression on Peter Martin, a free man of African descent and veteran of the American Revolutionary War, and William Grisley (Crisley), a white employee of Vrooman. On March 21, 1793, the two men came before Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe and two members of the Executive Council of the Province of Upper Canada. Though Attorney General John White was instructed to prosecute Vrooman, no charges were laid as he was acting within his legal right in selling Cooley. However, the event received considerable public attention and provided Lieutenant Governor Simcoe with the political capital necessary to impose limits on the importation of enslaved people with An Act to Prevent the Further Introduction of Slaves and to Limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this province. Introduced in 1793, the legislation faced pushback as several members of the House of Assembly and Legislative Council were themselves enslavers.
Ultimately the act passed into law. It did not abolish enslavement in Upper Canada or free those already enslaved. In fact, it forced any enslaver who freed an enslaved person to post a bond, so as to not create a financial burden on the province. However, it placed limits on indentures (contracts for labour), and also declared that children born after July 3, 1793, would be freed at age 25 and that their children would be free at birth. Further, it banned the importation of new enslaved people into the province, encouraging African American freedom seekers to travel north to Upper Canada. This, coupled with further legal precedent set by Attorney General John Beverley Robinson in 1819, helped extend the Underground Railroad into Upper Canada.
This press backgrounder was prepared at the time of the Ministerial announcement in 2022.
The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
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