Joe the Slave

Perhaps Quebec City’s most famous slave was Joe, born in Africa, one of three slaves qui operated the printing presses of the Quebec Gazette, edited by Thomas Gilmore and William Brown.

The editors of the Quebec Gazette found that their Canadian employees, once trained, demanded large salaries and became insolent (all depend from the vintage point, of course). Thus fifteen-year Joe was cheap labour and more reliable. After Gilmore’s death Joe’s relationship with Brown became rather complicated and tumultuous.

The slave ran away eight times in twelve years. Brown accused Joe of robbing him and published announcements offering rewards for his capture. He even had Joe imprisoned at his own expense.

Brown even paid the hangman to whip Joe in the market place. At the time any of these instances of theft and desertion could have resulted in Joe’s execution, but William Brown valued his employee and slave highly enough to punish him privately. Brown complained that he couldn’t understand why Joe was so eager to flee… Indeed, the owner bought him numerous new outfits of clothes and smart pair of shoes, fed his slave well and even gave him silver at New Year.

During the siege of Quebec City by the Americans, in 1775, Brown was enlisted as a militiaman (compulsory service in those years). Joe sometimes took his place on guard duty.

And when the slave came back in the morning, the generous master gave him a shilling. After Brown’s death, Joe was given to Samuel Nielson, and he once again ran away.

Nelson however didn’t bother to get him back. Joe never came back. But some people will never understand why a man preferred to run away many times and be punished for this to his annual pair of new shoes and a piece of silver at New Year.

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