The Naming of Fundy Rose

Naming a ship is a rare honour, a true privilege for all of us here at Bay Ferries. So when it came time to determining what the new Bay of Fundy ferry should be called, we researched hundreds of options and asked our fellow Maritimers for even more ideas. There was one very special name that we kept hearing time and time again.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose…”

The Early Years

A child during the American Revolution, Rose Fortune was born around 1774 in Philadelphia, reportedly to slaves belonging to a Devone family. Like thousands of other Blacks at this time, she fled from the United States (presumably with her parents) and crossed over to the British lines on the promise of freedom.

Following the end of the war in 1783, Rose does not appear by name in any of the extensive ships’ logs of Blacks leaving American ports. She is, however, likely to be the only child aged “over 10 years of parents ‘Fortune and wife’” who were listed as “Free Negroes” in the muster roll taken at Annapolis Royal in June of 1783.

Details of her early life in Annapolis Royal remain a mystery. Despite comprehensive documentation for other Black Loyalists of her generation in the St. Luke’s Church of England records, there is no mention of her parents—and the only record of Rose is her burial on February 20, 1864, “age unknown, supposed about 90.”

There are no baptismal records locally for any of Rose’s children, although their marriages are recorded in St. Luke’s register. This would seem to suggest that her early years were spent elsewhere, perhaps in a centre like Saint John, New Brunswick, where a number of Blacks from Digby had settled. She appears neither in the deeds record nor the early census returns—yet Rose Fortune went on to make her own considerable mark in Nova Scotia.

Life in Annapolis Valley

During the first half of the 19th century, Rose Fortune was one of Annapolis Royal’s most notable and respected figures, and for very good reason. She was a Black Loyalist born into slavery who came to Nova Scotia in search of freedom. She was a wife, mother, entrepreneur, and successful businesswoman. She was the first female police officer in Canada—and in fact, her great-great-great granddaughter would go on to become Canada’s first Black female mayor.

A well-known image of her from a watercolour of about 1830 depicts her in middle age. Wearing men’s boots, a man’s overcoat over a dress and apron, and a straw hat on top of the lace cap tied under her chin, she carries a straw basket, and is every bit the picture of firm resolve. Some 20 years later, a Lieutenant-Colonel Sleigh of the 77th Regiment wrote of a chance encounter with Rose in 1852:

“I was aided in my hasty efforts to quit the abominable inn by a curious old Negro woman, rather stunted in growth…and dressed in a man’s coat and felt hat; she had a small stick in her hand which she applied lustily to the backs of all who did not jump instantly out of the way. Poor old dame! She was evidently a privileged character.”

That strength of character elevated Rose to a special position within Annapolis Royal. By the time her portrait was painted, Rose had carved a role for herself as a luggage carrier. Using a wheelbarrow, she started a delivery service for ferryboat passengers, transporting luggage and provisions between the town’s busy wharves and hotels and homes.

She was soon entrusted with maintaining order on Annapolis Royal’s wharves and warehouses and safeguarding property. As a direct result, Rose Fortune is often considered Canada’s first female police officer.

A lasting Legacy

According to local records, Rose had at least three children. Daughter Jane Fortune married Isaac Godfrey, son of Black Loyalist Edward Godfrey, on December 21, 1830. Isaac and Jane Godfrey had no children and are buried in the Garrison cemetery at Fort Anne. (Their tombstones stand near the entrance to the Court House and are perhaps an indication of Rose’s final resting place.)

Rose’s son John Fortune married Hester Godfrey, sister of Isaac, on January 13, 1838, and lived in the Annapolis Royal area. On February 27, 1862, daughter Joanna Fortune married George Moses, who was the grandson of Rose’s contemporaries, Aesop Moses and John Prior. George and Joanna had four sons and two daughters, and although the Moses surname is no longer found in the area, their descendants include some members of the local Burrill, Currie, Bailey, and Stevenson families.

Rose’s daughter Margaret Fortune married John Francis of Digby. John and Margaret Francis had at least six children baptized at Trinity Church of England in Digby: Rosina (1842), Charlotte (1844), John (1846), Amelia (1848), Margaret (1852), and Louisa (1856). Of these six children, son John Albert Francis married Melissa Jane Jarvis of Weymouth on April 1, 1867, and left descendants in that community.

The two elder Francis girls married and settled in Annapolis Royal. Rosina married William Henry Moses, a first cousin of George Moses, on August 17, 1865. William Henry and Rosina Moses had six children, a number of whom moved to the United States. Charlotte Amazie Francis, known as Amberzene, married Albert Lewis of Annapolis Royal and had 12 children. Their descendants include members of the Lewis, Francis, and Peters families.

After Rose’s death in 1864, her delivery business was carried on by Albert Lewis, who transformed Rose’s baggage-handling business by the 1870s. Instead of wheelbarrows, horse-drawn coaches and wagons were on hand at the railway station and wharves to transport passengers and freight. Upon the death of Albert Lewis in 1882, the business was carried on by his son, James, and was renamed James Lewis & Son.

Under Albert’s grandson, James Lewis Jr., the firm bought its first truck. As Lewis Transfer, the company survived as a Black-owned business until the death of James Lewis in 1960. James’ daughter Daurene Lewis went on to become the first Black mayor in Canada when she was elected Mayor of Annapolis Royal in the 1980s. In “Ghosts of the Past,” a unique interpretive video presentation at the Sinclair Inn Museum in Annapolis, she plays her ancestor.

To this day, there are still descendants of Rose Fortune who work in the shipping and trucking business.

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