STUART, CHARLES, soldier, magistrate, and pamphleteer; b. 1783 in Jamaica, of Scottish parents; d. 26 May 1865 at Lora Bay, Collingwood Township, Canada West.
Charles Stuart was educated in Belfast, Ireland, and at age 18 received a commission in the military service of the East India Company. He rose to the rank of captain of the 1st battalion of the 27th Regiment, but resigned in 1815, likely because of his superior officers’ uneasiness about his uncompromising position on numerous social and military matters. Stuart’s parents were Presbyterians of an extreme Calvinistic type and they deeply influenced his character.
In 1817, seeking a new life, Stuart immigrated to Upper Canada, and settled in Amherstburg. He corresponded regularly with Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland*, offering advice on how to govern the province better and expressing a desire to be ordained in the Church of England. By the fall of 1819, however, he was in England where he published The emigrant’s guide to Upper Canada, a strange mixture of geography, politics, and moral sermonizing, which Edward Allen Talbot* said should be more aptly titled “The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Celestial Regions.” Talbot felt the book provided some useful information about Upper Canada, but that it also contained “a confused medley of polemical theology, whining cant and complimentary bombast. . . .” Returning to Amherstburg in 1820 Stuart renewed his efforts to uplift the moral life of the colony through his new position as magistrate. His religious eccentricities and a propensity to meddle in the personal affairs of others led him into a heated clash with the officers of the Fort Malden garrison concerning the extent of his jurisdiction over soldiers charged with civil offences. Calm was restored only when he resigned as magistrate in 1821.
Stuart eventually found an outlet for his religious and humanitarian zeal among the black refugees who were beginning to enter the area from the United States. He set up a small black colony near Amherstburg and helped the refugees establish themselves as farmers; he was described by the British physician John Jeremiah Bigsby* as “a working Christian . . . waging successful war with the Negro slavery of the United States.” In 1822 he moved on to a new challenge as principal of Utica Academy in New York State. Here he began his life-long friendship with 15-year-old Theodore Dwight Weld who was to become one of the leading figures in the anti-slavery cause. During the late 1820s the two men were converted by revivalist Charles Grandison Finney; they joined his “Holy Band” and toured the country preaching and exhorting. In 1829 Stuart returned to England and enlisted as an agent and pamphleteer for the growing Anti-Slavery Society of the United Kingdom; he lectured incessantly and wrote some of the finest anti-slavery pamphlets of the time. English abolitionists described him as “a persevering, uncompromising friend of the cause.” In his pamphlets Stuart attacked the American Colonization Society which was encouraging the settlement of black fugitives on the West African coast, and he presented as an alternative the Wilberforce colony near London, Upper Canada. If blacks were leaving the United States, he urged them to enjoy the hospitable setting in Canada.
Stuart’s writings influenced the growth in the 1820s and early 1830s of the anti-slavery movement in the United States, and in 1834 he moved there to work again with Weld. During lecture tours in Vermont, New York, and Ohio, he was frequently the object of mob violence. A return to England in 1837 lengthened into 13 years of residence broken only by visits to the West Indies to view the results of emancipation achieved by anti-slavery forces in 1833. Stuart remained active in anti-slavery circles and in 1846–47 worked also on famine relief for Ireland. In 1840 he had been made an honorary life member of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society; he also received a promotion from the rank of retired captain to retired major and an increase in his $800 annual pension.
Back in Canada in 1850, he assisted in the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada at Toronto in February 1851, serving as its first corresponding secretary and assisting the society through his connections with abolitionists such as John Scoble in England and Lewis Tappan in the United States. However, he served for only one year before moving into semi-retirement with his new bride, a distant relative, at Lora Bay in Collingwood Township. Over the next ten years he attended a few abolitionist conventions in the United States and in 1855 and 1858 he met with John Brown, who led the abolitionist attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. However, more and more he concentrated on church work and the temperance cause in his own community near Thornbury, Canada West. By the end of the 1850s his work as an international abolitionist was over, although he continued to correspond with those active in the movement.
The first half of the 19th century saw a surge of interest in humanitarian projects throughout the English speaking world and although one could hardly expect the struggling pioneer settlers in Upper Canada to display a lively interest in such ventures, humanitarian impulses were not lacking. The outlet for these impulses was quite often to be found in societies to aid escaped slaves and other black immigrants. These Canadian societies were nurtured by the writings and speeches of abolitionists in the United States and England and in fact they were part of an international philanthropic movement, of which Charles Stuart was a tireless crusader.
Charles Stuart was the author of The emigrant’s guide to Upper Canada; or, sketches of the present state of that province, collected from a residence therein during the years 1817, 1818, 1819, interspersed with reflections (London, 1820); Is slavery defensible from Scripture? To the Rev. Dr. Hincks, Killileagh (Belfast, 1831); Remarks on the colony of Liberia and the American Colonization Society, with some account of the settlement of coloured people at Wilberforce, Upper Canada (London, 1832); and The West India question . . . (London, 1832; repr. New Haven, Conn., 1833).
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Weld-Grimké papers. J. J. Bigsby, The shoe and canoe, or, pictures of travel in the Canadas . . . with facts and opinions on emigration, state policy, and other points of public interest (2v., London, 1850), I, 263–66. Globe, 9 June 1865. Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Grimké, 1822–1844, ed. G. H. Barnes and D. L. Dumond (2v., New York, 1934; repr. Gloucester, Mass., 1965), II, 589. D. G. Simpson, “Negroes in Ontario from early times to 1870” (2v., unpublished phd thesis, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont., 1971). Fred Landon, “Captain Charles Stuart, abolitionist,” Western Ontario History Nuggets (London, Ont.), 24 (1956), 1–19.