FLOYD, HENRY, known as Black Harry; b. on the west coast of Africa; d. 5 Nov. 1830 in Brockville, Upper Canada.
Blacks were among Upper Canada’s earliest settlers. The total numbers were small and the greatest concentrations were at Detroit and in the Niagara peninsula. Most blacks were ex-slaves who had received their freedom in return for military service during the American revolution; a small number were slaves, brought to the new land by loyalist masters. Occasionally a criminal trial such as that of Jack York* or a petition such as that of Richard Pierpoint* gives a glimpse of black lives in early Upper Canada. Most blacks in this period, however, never emerge from the historical shadows; quite simply, the conditions of their lives offered few opportunities for exposure. By 1830 circumstances had changed: increased migration from the American slave states combined with the growth of the anti-slavery movement to bring the black population into public view. The post-1830 period thus witnessed the rise of black leaders such as Paola Brown* in Hamilton.
There were few blacks in the loyalist settlements along the St Lawrence River. In 1808, for instance, the census of Elizabethtown (Brockville) revealed only 4 slaves in a total population of 1,643. Many years later, in 1868, Sheriff Adiel Sherwood* could remember only two or three slaves who had settled in the Johnstown District. There were also ex-slaves in towns such as Brockville, whose most noted black resident was Henry Floyd. Black Harry, as he was usually called, is known only from a lengthy obituary in William Buell*’s Brockville Recorder.
When he was quite young and still under the care of his parents, Floyd was captured by slavers and sold in the West Indies. He was later purchased by a Mr Floyd of New London, Conn., “from whom he absconded and came to Canada after its first settlement.” The obituary refers to Floyd’s presence at the burning of New London by Benedict Arnold* in September 1781. Floyd may have belonged to a loyalist corps, but there is no record of it. Nor did he apply for a grant of land in Upper Canada for which he would have been eligible as a loyalist. It is possible he had some connection with the Arnold family, since one of Benedict’s sons had settled in Elizabethtown by 1808. How Floyd provided for himself is not known. He reached a great age; towards the end of his life he claimed to be almost 100. He was “for a long time supported by the benevolence of the gentlemen of Brockville.”
For several reasons Black Harry was a distinctive individual in Brockville. He was “very highly tattooed both on his breast and on his face.” Claiming to be the son of a native prince, he insisted that the tattooes were “evidence of his royal descent.” More important, he was a pagan who refused to embrace Christianity. “Pious individuals,” no doubt concerned about the state of his soul, attempted for a time to “instruct him in the nature of the true God” without success. Later in life, however, he “would listen with more attention and patience on subjects of this sort.” Floyd’s religion consisted of “some kind of incantations” and “some kind of orisons the meaning of which he [could] not himself seem to understand.” Shortly before Floyd died, the local Presbyterian clergyman, William Smart*, delivered a sermon on the evils of slavery from the house in which the ex-slave lived. Smart was an ardent opponent of slavery and urged on his flock the “duty of commiseration to the unfortunate & afflicted.”
Although his life was characterized by upheaval of the most profound sort, Floyd, like Pierpoint, still retained vestiges of, and an attachment to, the society into which he was born. Upper Canada was his haven; it never became his home.
AO, RG 21, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Elizabethtown Township, census records, 1808. Brockville Recorder, and the Eastern, Johnstown, and Bathurst Districts Advertiser (Brockville, [Ont.]), 9 Nov. 1830. T. W. H. Leavitt, History of Leeds and Grenville, Ontario, from 1749 to 1879 . . . (Brockville, 1879; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 20–21. Ian MacPherson, Matters of loyalty: the Buells of Brockville, 1830–1850 (Belleville, 1981), 98–99. J. W. St G. Walker, A history of blacks in Canada (Hull, Que., 1980).