Canada Post honors the defiant Chloe Cooley on new stamp
By David Hartwig
Canada Post honored Chloe Cooley, whose act of resistance influenced legislation leading to the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada, on a stamp issued Jan. 30. This is the latest stamp in Canada’s long-running Black Heritage Month series, which began in 2009.
The nondenominated permanent domestic letter-rate (92¢) stamp presents an illustration of Cooley, who Canada Post said “had a profound impact on the history of enslavement in Canada.”
According to Canada Post, the late 1700s saw shifting attitudes toward slavery in Upper Canada (the predecessor of modern-day Ontario) despite rising levels of enslavement in the province. Some enslavers prompted by rumors of abolition sought “to sell what was legally considered their property,” Canada Post said.
On March 14, 1793, Sgt. Adam Vrooman seized the enslaved Cooley from Queenston, just north of Niagara Falls, and forcefully took her by boat to New York state to be sold.
Cooley, however, possessed a defiant personality. According to Canada Post, she had been known to challenge her enslavement by leaving Vrooman’s property without permission and refusing to do some tasks.
“She wasn’t afraid to stand up to her owner, and had done so time and again,” Sarah Kaufman, curator of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, said in Canada Post’s Details magazine for collectors.
When Vrooman abducted her on that evening in March, he violently bound her, according to Canada Post, and dragged her to the shores of the Niagara River with the help of two other men.
Cooley fought back, screaming and yelling to draw attention to her plight, but her abductors overpowered her and sold her once they arrived in New York state. Cooley’s fate remains unknown, but the influence of her resilience lived on.
“Although her brave protests didn’t save her,” Canada Post said in Details, “eyewitness accounts added impetus to the growing abolitionist movement in the late 18th century.”
Witnesses to her protests recounted what they saw to John Graves Simcoe, the avowed abolitionist and lieutenant governor of Upper Canada.
Using this testimony, Simcoe introduced new legislation, and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada was passed July 9, 1793. This set the stage for the ending of slavery in the province and created a legal refuge for those fleeing slavery in other countries.
While Cooley did not benefit from this legislation, it helped “pave the way for at least 30,000 freedom-seeking Black Americans to make the dangerous journey north to Canada over the decades to come,” Canada Post said.
Canada previously honored Cooley’s influence by naming her a person of national historic significance in 2022.
A press release announcing the recognition said, “National historic designations encourage us to acknowledge both the triumphs and the struggles that have led us to the Canada of today, and help us reflect on how to build a more inclusive society for today and future generations.”
The experts who worked with Canada Post in creating the stamp said, “Bringing the story of Chloe Cooley to life was both a challenge and an honour,” according to Details.
The stamp, designed by Lime Design using illustrations from Rick Jacobsen, shows Cooley in the foreground, but the artists were unable to reference photographs for the portrait.
“With no photographs of Chloe Cooley in existence, the illustration was painstakingly created through extensive consultation with experts in local and regional history, Black history and period fashion, as well as through the use of archival maps, paintings, illustrations and other documents,” Canada Post said.
Costume researcher Shannon Pomakov consulted period artwork, runaway slave ads, plantation archives and other sources to provide advice on Cooley’s attire.
“Her headwrap was particularly important, as it was an expression of her individuality and resilience,” Pomakov said in Details. “Showing Chloe as accurately as possible was a way of giving her the respect and dignity she wasn’t afforded in life.”
The stamp’s background shows Cooley’s abductors piloting her on a boat across the Niagara River. A similar illustration of a boat appears over a map on the first-day cover offered by Canada Post.
The cancel on the FDC pictures two oars and is from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, which includes Queenston. Canada Post produced 7,000 of these FDCs.
Lowe-Martin printed the stamp by four-color lithography in booklets of six. The quantity printed was 130,000 booklets. The stamp measures 40 millimeters by 32mm.
The booklet of six (product No. 414218111) and the FDC (414218131) are available from Canada Post, and by mail order from Canada Post Customer Service, Box 90022, 2701 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, ON K1V 1J8 Canada; or by telephone from the United States or Canada at 800-565-4362, and from other countries at 902-863-6550.
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