Black History Month Highlight – Cornelius Sparrow

February 25, 2021

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Black History Month Highlight – Cornelius Sparrow

Throughout February, Crandall University is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting some of the men and women who have been part of the growth of diversity and equality in Atlantic Canada. As a Christian university founded by Baptists, some of the stories will also give a nod to that Baptist heritage. 

This highlight looks at Cornelius Sparrow. 

Freed Slave Turned Canadian Businessman Cornelius Sparrow (1824-1880s) 

Born in Norfolk Virginia in 1824, much of Cornelius’s young life went unrecorded, until, that is, he escaped from Virginia to the then free state of Massachusetts sometime before the year 1850. Once in Boston, Sparrow sought a group of abolitionists to help free his still enslaved wife, and once freed, the pair escaped to Canada for safety. 

However, 1850s Saint John was still far from paradise for those of African heritage. The city charter of 1785 had for years prevented people of African descent from practicing a trade, selling goods, or fishing, and while these restrictions were relaxing by the 1850s, most of the Black community still struggled to make ends meet. Nevertheless, Sparrow worked hard to improve his fortunes and in 1862 he and his brother George managed to open a hair dressing saloon, and a few years later, in 1873dining saloon, featuring Bouctouche and Prince Edward Island oysters.  

After several years as a successful businessman, Sparrow was made a trustee of the Calvin Church. He remained active in the city’s business and entrepreneurial scene until his death and remains a symbol of the benefits of hard work and dedication to this day. 

The unlikely life of an escaped slave in Saint John | CBC News  

Cornelius Sparrow is also one of the featured individuals in We Were Here: Stories of lesser-known legendary Black members of our community. Created and directed by Clyde A. Wray. 

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