Born in Philadelphia in 1774 to two runaway slaves, Rose Fortune moved to Nova Scotia in 1783 at the age of 10 with her parents, as a reward for supporting the British during the American Revolution. It was during her long life in Annapolis Royal Nova Scotia that Rose, through her business savvy, filled the role that has gained her the credit by many as the first female police officer not just in Canada, but North America as well.
Fortune started her own business somewhere around 1822, transporting passenger’s luggage from the Saint John-Digby-Annapolis ferry docks and the homes. She did not simply stop there however, she also met the ferry from Boston, making herself into a trusted figure for travelers who would help people coming in find lodgings, accommodations and make sure that people would make their connections to schooners and steamships. Part of this service would include waking people up to ensure that they got to their ships on time.
Through her hard work, determination and respectable reputation, Fortune turned herself into a trusted figure, well known by community leaders and gained a certain sort of authority in the town’s wharf and waterfront area. By taking on roles of protecting the property and businesses in the waterfront, enforcing curfews and ensuring that there was ‘law and order’ in the area, she became, by definition a police officer for the area – for a time one of the only people enforcing law and order – making her, by some’s records, the first woman police officer in North America.
Whether it was for her status as a police officer, or her keen enterprenual skill – in a time when neither women nor people of colour were encouraged to do either – Rose created a legacy that lived on well past her. Her business, becoming known as The Lewis Transfer Company, carried on through her descendants into the mid-1900s (somewhere between 1960-1980). Several memorials have been erected in her name including “The Rose Fortune Gate” in Bedford, Nova Scotia, a Ferry named after her, and being named a National Historic Person in 2018.