Many local history enthusiasts are familiar with the name of Solomon Moseby, but few may know about those who were instrumental in securing his freedom during the Moseby affair in 1837.
Moseby, who was an escaped slave from Kentucky, was being held at the Niagara Courthouse jail (formerly located where Rye Park is today). Moseby had escaped bondage while delivering a message for his enslaver, David Castleman, on horseback. Instead of delivering the message, he made his way to Niagara to secure his freedom. His former enslaver found him here and requested he be extradited for trial on charges of stealing. The Niagara sheriff detained Moseby, until the extradition decision was made.
Sally Carter, along with local schoolteacher Herbert Holmes, helped to organize 200 to 300 supporters, many of them women, from Black communities across the Niagara region to take vigil outside the jail and guard against any attempt to secretly deport Moseby.
When Lt.-Gov. Francis Bond Head ordered Moseby to be returned to the U.S., into his former enslaver’s custody, hundreds of protestors, including some from the local white population, gathered at the jail. The Black women who were present also launched a series of tactics to aid his freedom. A group of women blocked the road to the Courthouse and sang hymns to act as a diversion, while others helped to make an escape possible. Some women were armed with weapons, while others had hidden stones in their stockings or aprons ready to throw.
One account described how some of the Black women put themselves in between the Black men and the White prison guards to prevent fights from breaking out. These tactics were instrumental in securing Moseby’s freedom when he was brought out from the jail to a carriage.
Carter had formerly escaped slavery in Virginia at the age of 16. At this time she was 45 years old, and lived at the corner of Anne and Simcoe Streets with her husband Samuel. In an interview around the time of the Moseby affair, she was asked whether she was happy to be living in Canada.
In response, she said “Yes — that is, I was happy here — but now — I don’t know. I thought we were safe here — I thought nothing could touch us here, on your British ground, but it seems I was mistaken, and if so, I won’t stay here — I won’t — I won’t! I’ll go find a country where they cannot reach us! I’ll go to the end of the world, I will!”
Carter knew what Moseby had gone through to obtain his freedom, and along with others at the Moseby affair, was desperate to ensure he would not have to return to a life of bondage.
She and the Black women involved in the Moseby affair boldly put their lives on the line for justice and freedom in 1837. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is carrying on the torch by continuing the fight for injustices that still exist today for many in the Black community.
Information from the above article has been derived from the research of historian Natasha Henry, who very kindly shared her research on Niagara’s Black history with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum and the Voices of Freedom Park.
Sarah Kaufman is the managing director and curator of the Niagara-