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Local educators’ project organizing students to write letters to Black Loyalists partners with the Maritime Museum

The project has collected 953 letters, 243 short of their goal of 1,196

The #1792 Project: 15 Ships to Sierra Leone partnered with the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to display a collection of letters written by community members to long-deceased Black Loyalists. 

Organizers and educators Karen Hudson and Kathrin Winkler gave a presentation on the project at the Maritime Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 27, while attendees sat listening in the shadows of real sailboats. The project started when Winkler met Hudson and asked her if she would write a letter to the Black Loyalists.

“When I asked Karen whether she would write a letter, I did not expect that unequivocal yes,” Winkler said in the presentation. “To be honest, that really was the wind in the sails for the #1792 Project.”

Hudson is an African Nova Scotian and the principal of Auburn Drive High School in Dartmouth. The project took off when Hudson asked Auburn students to write letters to the Black Loyalists from the students’ present-day perspectives on the exodus. 

“We really encourage our students to write letters or do artwork or poems for the Book of Letters,” Hudson said in the presentation. “We’re documenting their names and the date and that will become history and that history will live at the Maritime Museum.”

Hudson and Winkler have collected 953 letters, just shy of their goal of 1,196 letters; one to commemorate each of the Black Loyalists who journeyed to Sierra Leone. When the letters are finished they will be compiled into a collection called the Book of Letters and displayed at the museum. 

The #1792 Project invites students and community members to write letters in commemoration of the mass exodus of Black Loyalists who departed Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone at the height of the transatlantic slave trade in 1792. 

The 15 ships that left the Halifax Harbour were filled with 1,196 Black Loyalists and represented the largest single return of African descendants to the continent of Africa in history. This part of Canadian history is not taught in schools, and the project seeks to change that. 

“As a newcomer to the province in 2016 I quickly learned how ignorant I was of African Nova Scotian history, which is in fact Nova Scotian history,” Winkler said in the presentation. “This is what erasure means, when history is erased, and names, individuals and their stories are hidden. Their stories are not told, they are overshadowed and ignored.”

Vanessa Jones attended the event with her two daughters and her husband Desmond Jones who is an immigrant from Sierra Leone. 

“There’s quite a vibrant community of people from Sierra Leone in Halifax,” Jones said. “Many of these people are Creole, so they’re descended from Black Loyalists who went back to found Freetown. They’re almost like displaced people. When they come here, they’re considered immigrants, even though many of them actually left Nova Scotia to go to Sierra Leone. So they’re almost like a people without a home.” 

The #1792 Project encourages community members who want to participate in the letter writing project to send the letters marked #1792Project to Auburn Drive H.S., 300 Auburn Drive, Dartmouth, NS B2W 6E9.

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