Here is a little bit of history of which I knew nothing. All right, I’ll admit that I do not know everything – yet.
For those unfamiliar with Canada’s geography, we live in Nova Scotia, a funny-shaped province almost entirely surrounded by water, the Atlantic Ocean. Look carefully on the left hand side and find ‘Digby’.
Digby is the port from which a car ferry sails across the Bay of Fundy (also marked on the map) to Saint John, New Brunswick, our sister province. It is a voyage of just over two hours in length and, on a good day, you may see whales, sea birds and, frequently, dolphins.
The name of the vessel is MS Fundy Rose. And this is where the history lesson starts.
It is obvious, of course, from whence came the name ‘Fundy’, as the ship crosses the Bay of Fundy on every trip to and from Digby and Saint John. But where did the second part of the name, ‘Rose’ come from?
On 13th March 1774, Rose Fortune was born into a family of slaves in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but her family was later relocated to Virginia by the Devones family. Her family were Black Loyalists: slaves who gained their freedom for supporting the British in the American Revolutionary War, and were resettled in British territory. During 1783 and 1784 some three thousand Black Loyalists came to Nova Scotia. The family settled in Annapolis Royal, some 35 kilometres north of Digby.
In 1825, Rose started her own business, something very rare for a woman, and a black woman as well, to do. She used a wheelbarrow to cart people’s luggage from the wharf to wherever they were staying in the town and, additionally, Rose started a ‘wake-up’ business, whereby she would notify people if their boat was about to sail. She became very well known, not only locally, but all over Nova Scotia and even as far as London, England, as a result of many letters and accounts which have survived to provide the record. They described her carrying bags, rousing her clients to catch their boats, and disciplining local boys who might get in her way. Rose became a very popular person in the docks and around the town and residents of Annapolis Royal remembered her with great affection as an iconic representative of their town and a determined keeper of order on not only the wharves, but also the town streets. Her baggage business fared so well that she was able to buy a horse and wagon to replace the wheelbarrow. Eventually, her grandson-in-law, Albert Lewis, took over the business from her under the name ‘Lewis TransferCompany’ and his descendants continued it until 1980.
As mentioned, she kept the docks and streets in order and became the self-appointed first woman police officer in North America – or anywhere.
There are very few pictures of Black Loyalists, but an anonymous person made a watercolour of Rose Fortune, and it has survived. Rose certainly left her legacy firmly imprinted in the history of, not only Black Loyalists, but simply as a wonderful person. Rose Fortune died on February 20, 1864, in the small house she owned at the engineer’s lot near Fort Anne, a fort built to protect Annapolis Royal harbour. In 1999, a plaque in her honour was installed near the location of her house in the Petit Parc on the Annapolis Royal waterfront and she was acclaimed as a National Historic Person on 12 January, 2018.