Let’s begin with,
The Writing of the Prologue
This section introduces the friendship of two Loyalist families, the black Benjamin and white Lockwood families. More particularly, two young people who care greatly for each other are introduced, Janie Benjamin and Alex Lockwood. This fictional relationship is inspired by the historical, generations-long inter-racial marriages of the Waters and Servos families in Upper Canada, beginning in 1795*. Nor were those two families the only instances in which racially mixed marriages occurred in Upper Canada.
Is this interracial respect and acceptance typical of the place and time period?
In studying the history of slavery and freedom in Upper Canada, I find that generalizations are impossible. So I will have to say no, it is not typical, remembering that I do not suppose any particular relationship was uniform. Please recall British history in the last half of the 18th century, a history far outside the scope of this novel. In England, parts of white society had begun to see human bondage as an abomination. That gradual change in view began prior to the American Revolution – some would argue that the prospect of slavery's eventual abolition was one of several economic causes of the Revolution. As a practical matter, the surest way to lose control of human property in the mid to late-18th century was to go to London where judges freed any slave setting foot on English soil.** Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe, an ardent abolitionist, guided enabling legislation in 1793 that eventually led to the end of slavery in Upper Canada.
(More will follow on that legislation in later sections.)
And yet, and yet, there were still a few slaves in Upper Canada in 1812, despite Simcoe’s legislation, and there were certainly previous slave owners yet alive, as well as recent American immigrants not well-disposed to abolition. So how could it be supposed that interracial relations in Upper Canada were uniformly amicable?
Who were the Loyalists?
In short, they were former inhabitants of the colonies that became the United States of America, men and families who
were driven from their homes because they supported the failed British attempt to suppress the Revolution. The American Revolution of 1776 could well be described as the First American Civil War, a vicious conflict in which brother, quite literally, fought against brother, tearing many communities and families apart by internecine warfare. By the end of the war in 1783, the remaining British colonies were populated by thousands of refugees, from all economic, social and racial groups. Loyalists in Upper Canada came principally from what became the State of New York, either during the Revolution’s seven years of warfare or shortly thereafter.***
Numerically, most Loyalists in Upper Canada were white, but the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) who came to live on the Grand River certainly count as Loyalists after being driven from their homelands in New York. And there were also black Loyalists, men who, on the promise of freedom, fled their slave masters to fight in British units such as Butler’s Rangers, a regiment based in Niagara.
Butler’s Rangers was only one of several Loyalist units that fought for the Crown. Simcoe commanded another, the Queen’s Rangers in the areas around New Jersey. With only a few exceptions, black men fought in integrated British units, side by side with whites. The well known phenomenon of comradeship in war is the basis for the relationship between the Benjamin and Lockwood families described in The Land Between Flowing Waters.
*A truly excellent source, ‘Slavery and Freedom in Niagara,’ by M. Power and Nancy Butler, published by The Niagara Historical Society, 1993.
**Two novels by Barry Unsworth are quite entertaining. 'Sacred Hunger,' the 1992 Booker Prize winner, and its sequel, 'Quality of Mercy,' a 2011 publication, show the evolution in judical sentiment against slavery in British society.
*** An informative history can be found in 'The Loyalists, Revolution, Exile and Settlement' by Christopher Moore,
published by Macmillan of Canada, 1984.