It has stood at 83 Essex Street Guelph since its base stones were set in late June 1880. Its cornerstone was set on September 17 1880 as recorded in the Guelph Mercury and Advertiser. The contents of the cornerstone were described in that article, "Copy of the Holy Scriptures, Hymn Book of the BME Church, copy of the Missionary Messenger - the organ of the church; and copies of the Mercury and Herald." Presumably, the contents had already been placed inside a tin box, hermetically sealed and then painted over before being placed in a carved-out section of the cornerstone, then covered with sand and mortared under the stone above it. The Mercury report noted that the structure was already twelve feet high, with half the basement four feet in the ground and the other four feet above it. The base stones of the church could well be mortared directly onto the same ridge of limestone that extends across the road to where the ground drops behind the southside homes and into a remnant of the quarry from which many of the nearby stone houses had also come. The Guelph BME was, by the 1880's, one of the last stone structures erected in the neighbourhood. The quarry had been owned by the man who had been awarded the contract to raise the church, William Slater, listed in the 1881 city directory as a stone cutter.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

New book now on sale.

This is the third and final book in my series on the underground railroad/anti-slavery activities in Southern Ontario/Wellington County.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Will The Real Junius B Roberts Please Stand Up?

In a document produced for the Ministry of Heritage by Professor Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa in 2001 entitled The Historical Construction of Racial Identity and Implications for Reconciliation, she writes about a man named Ira Johnson, who was confronted by the KKK in Oakville, Ontario in 1930

“In 1925," Backhouse wrote "there were estimates of eight thousand Klan members in Toronto and one thousand in both Woodstock and Dorchester. By 1927, ten thousand watched hooded Klansmen burn a six-foot cross in Moose Jaw, and subsequent reports credited the western wing of the KKK with having signed up 25,000 members. Alberta membership peaked between 5,000 and 7,000, but the Klan newspaper produced out of Edmonton purported to maintain a circulation of 250,000." [Backhouse p. 181-193]

"On the night of 28 February 1930," Backhouse rephrased the Toronto Star "75 KKK members, clad in white gowns and hoods, marched through the town of Oakville, planted a massive cross in the centre of the main street, and set a torch to the oil-soaked rags tied around it. They then proceeded to the home of Ira Johnson, a man they believed to be a “Negro” who was engaged to be married to a “white girl” named Isabel Jones. They pounded on the door, demanded that the two come out, and then spirited Isabel away to the custody of the Salvation Army. The Klansmen burned a second cross on the front yard, and threatened Ira Johnson that if he was “ever seen walking down the street with a white girl again 'the Klan' would attend to him. "

Prof. Backhouse continued:
The Toronto Star indicated that Johnson’s mother, described by the reporter as “a refined and intelligent woman,” was the daughter of Rev. Junius Roberts, a “white” who “preached for many years to negro congregations at Guelph, Hamilton and Oakville more than forty years ago.” Ira Johnson told the paper that the reason his grandfather preached in a “church for negroes” as because Ira's-half Cherokee grandmother "was so dark that some objections had been taken to her by members of the white congregations.”
       Johnson then proceeded to provide The Star with a half dozen photos meant to prove that his account was true.

Number 1 is supposed to be Rev. JB Roberts, number 2 Ira is the man in the middle, Isabel is offset beside him Ira's father Mundy is in the bottom left.

The Star believed him, Professor Backhouse believed them, and I believed her: until I checked the 1881 census for the Roberts family, who were living in Guelph while Junius oversaw the construction of this church: the 81 census lists them and their children as being of African descent.

Ira's mother, Ida Leon Roberts, was one of a set of twins, born in Chatham, Ontario in 1871. Chatham was one of the most important towns to both the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and its Canadian 'daughter' The British ME church. In the 1870s, Reverend Roberts was a rising star in the denomination, but his calling wasn't much older than his daughter.

On September 28 1887, Ida married "Mundy" John Alexander Johnson, she was sixteen years old, so who knows what the reverend Roberts thought about that. Mundy Johnson was born in Maryland and farmed on the edge of the village of Oakville with his parents and siblings.

Mundy's mother's maiden name was Shepley, a name to which we will return.
Professor Backhouse, notes that The Toronto Globe learned that Johnson had been “refused liquor because he was an Indian,” but the paper recounted that “reliable sources” among the Black community insisted that he had “coloured blood in his veins.”

The fact is, all Halton Johnsons in the sphere of Ida Roberts were of recent African descent.

The number of escaped slaves from Maryland in Ontario is hard to state for certain, but it is probably one of the top two places of origin.

Oakville has three abolitionist heroes, two of whom commanded lake ships.

Captain Robert Wilson carried hundreds of fugitive slaves across Lake Erie from Ashtapula Ohio through the Welland Canal and then to Oakville, while the second captain, an escaped slave himself, James Wesley Hill – Canada Jim – led hundreds of freedom seekers to Ontario from Montgomery County, Maryland. Canada Jim also happened to be married to a woman named Adeline Shipley, a spelling variation of Mundy's mother's last name, Shepley. All were from Maryland.

The third abolitionist from Oakville was the Rev. James Nesbit of the Presbyterian Church. Nesbit, as noted in my book Exodus & Arrival, was the post-1850s Vice President of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society representing Oakville.

The Klan itself that day in Oakville in 1930, was not the southern Klan, but was connected to Indiana, the birth – and death place – of Reverend Junius B. Roberts.

Police Chief Kerr was reported as saying that he had first come across the men as their motorcade was crossing the Sixteen Mile Creek bridge on their way home to Hamilton. The Chief knew many of them, and thought them all respectable businessmen.
Kerr also noted how orderly they had been and that he had done nothing to interfere with their leaving town. He was impressed with reports of their silent, non-violent vigil and for cooperating with him by explaining what they had done and why.

What they had done, besides burn the two crosses, was to drive Ira's white fiancee, Isabel Jones to the home of Captain Brome of the Salvation Army, the church attended by both their mothers. Ida Roberts Johnson and Mrs. Jones were friends.

Ira and Isabel had been living together for a month, but his father's sister Viola, and her Mississauga husband, Joseph Sault had been staying with them. That relationship may be why Ira thought he could get away with the Cherokee story. The Saults are still on the Mississauga of the New Credit reserve. However, since Ira was the one paying the rent, when he asked them to leave, they did.

The month before, Ira had asked Mrs. Jones for Isabel's hand before he asked Isabel: Mrs. Jones had consented, so officially, Ira and Isabel were engaged.
They had only been alone together for 'two or three days in the house, after Ira's aunt and uncle left, but neighbours weren't happy that they were living in sin.

When unknown men showed up in a car wanting to speak with Ira, he went out to hear what they had to say, when he got out of their car, they went to the door of his house to talk to Isabel, who went to the car with them, and drove off with them. The cross was burned on the lawn after Ira went looking for her.

What they said to Isabel was never reported, but it may have no more than to explain how they came to be there. And since it was Mrs. Jones who had written to the Klan in the first place, on the advice of a friend who had given her the address, presumably, the Klan may have done no more than show Isabel the letter from her mother.

They took her to the home of the leader of the local Salvation Army, Captain Brome, because Mrs. Jones had asked the Bromes to look after her daughter, presumably mother and daughter weren't talking to one another at that point.

When asked by reporters, Mrs Jones admitted to having given her consent to the marriage, but said she'd changed her mind because of "certain things" she'd been told about Ira Johnson. Ira admitted there was some truth to some of those things, so clearly her problem with Ira had more to do with his reputation than his ancestry.

Captain Brome would not tell the press whether it was him that gave Mrs Jones the Klan's address, but he did say that he was not happy that he was being associated with the KKK (because belonging to secret societies was forbidden to the Army.) The morning after Isabel was dropped off, Brome had phoned the head office in Toronto to explain that he was acting on behalf of Mrs. Jones, presumably knowing it might blow up in his face.

It took complaints from the black community to rouse the provincial government into action against the Klan. Mayor Moat of Oakville, like the police, thought the Klan "had behaved properly." The Mayor also noted that the town's black population had been decreasing for some time and that there were only about 40 left, including children. One can only imagine how welcome they felt in Oakville if the Mayor and the police Chief supported the Klan.

The Star interviewed members of the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Hamilton, who denied their involvement. The only public event they had been involved in, they claimed, had been the previous summer when thousands had rallied near Stoney Creek and "increased their membership by several hundred."

The hard to read notes below the photo family-tree published in The Star, show the father of Rev. JB Roberts as “a white man” who was allegedly an Irish preacher named Reverend John Roberts and who had lived in Noblesville, Indiana. Junius' mother was supposedly a Scot. About the only thing accurate in that tree, is that Junius B. Roberts had been raised in Noblesville township Indiana.

Junius is at the bottom centre of this tree, his wife Frances McGowan below him.
The tree is from Stephen A. Vincent (see text below)

In the second week of March, three Klansmen from the Invisible Empire of Knights were charged with 'unlawfully masking”: which carried a five year penitentiary stay as a penalty: Dr. W.A. Phillips a Hamilton chiropractor was fined $50 and costs or 30 days in jail for the offense, the other two were released. That result did not please the majority of the province, white or black, because a majority opposed the Klan and it's racist agenda: a rabbi took up the cause because he regarded the issue as an attempt to violate the constitutional rights of Canadians.

Ira's 'love nest with Isabel', where they had been living together, was burnt to the ground on March 18, a blaze which the Fire department and police eventually deemed electrical and accidental, a conclusion that no one in the family protested. The house fire however, did add to the sense of threat around Ira and the black community, whatever it's actual cause.

On the same night, a KKK cross had been seen burning on Hamilton Mountain by thousands of people. The Klan claimed they had nothing to do with the Oakville cross or the Hamilton one, and that other people were pretending to be Klansmen to discredit the organization.

The Labour movement, Jewish Groups and the black community continued fighting the issue of the easy sentencing for the Hamilton Klansman because Phillips should have faced up to eight charges. To add insult to injury, the Klansman's business thrived in the aftermath of being fined. The Klan, while in Oakville, had been free to do what it had done, without police interference, since even the chief had no problem telling the press that the community was against white/negro marriages.

On March 22, The Star was reporting that the black lawyer, E Lionel Cross had delivered an impassioned speech on the subject; over the following weeks he would be called to apologize for his comments against the convicted Klansman but wouldn't.

In the same issue, the' negro minister' WC Perry, who was to have married Ira and Isabel, had report-edly withdrawn his willingness to perform the service; he told the papers that he was tired of being bothered by the press.

At the same time, since Ira was hiding his family's black blood, Perry may have been even more tired of Mundy and Ida's stories.

On Monday March 24 1930, The Star reported that on Saturday the 22nd, Ira and Isabel had gone to a "New Credit Six Nations United Church and were married" in the kitchen of the parsonage by a native minister, Reverend Burgess, witnessed by the minister's wife and a local Chippewan, Dan LaForme. That was when Isabel's mother told The Star that she approved of the marriage.

Isabel was still living with the Bromes at the time and left the parsonage and returned to Brome's after being married: she and Ira were being cautious.

Leaving all that aside, in 1925, the underbelly of the northern Invisible Empire of Knights had come to light after a woman was murdered by the head of the Klan, a man tried in Nobelsville, Indiana, the township where Junius B. Roberts was born. Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson, had kidnapped and raped an Indianapolis Statehouse secretary. He was found guilty and given the maximum prison sentence. When he realized that his political allies would not come to his aid, he started revealing everyone's dirty laundry. The scandal resulted in the indictment of many Indiana politicians, including Governor Ed Jackson.

Stephenson's Klan was made up of northern racial purists who had been repudiated by the southern Klan because the southerners claimed the Northerners were giving the Klan a bad name. Stephenson's Invisible Empire of Knights had branches in 22 northern states. One of his doctrines was that it was pro-Prohibition and a "defender of Protestant womanhood. This from a man who got his own German-American secretary drunk and then raped and chewed on her until she looked liked she'd been attacked by an animal before she died in hospital from poison she'd managed to take to escape him and his bodyguards: he was convicted on the strength of her deathbed statement.

After Stephenson first took over as Grand Dragon, membership in Indiana had increased rapidly, until one of every three men in the state was a member. After the trial, and over the course of the end of the 1920s, membership dropped so dramatically that by 1930 the Indiana Klan he had transformed, had been destroyed by him, except in Canada. The Oakville incident would trigger that.

Given that Indiana back story, it's not as hard to understand why Ida Roberts Johnson might have wanted to mislead The Toronto Star about who her father's family was.

As evidenced in The Star's family photo spread, Ira was veteran of Vimy Ridge, and he claimed he wasn't afraid of the KKK.

So who was the real Junius B Roberts?
In Southern Seed, Northern soil: African American farm communities in the Midwest by Stephen A. Vincent, Vincent references a file from Civil War Letters: the writer is Junius B. Roberts of the 28th Colored Regiment from The Roberts Settlement and he is writing to a Stephen Roberts, who was either his brother or father, a farmer, not a minister, as was claimed in Oakville.

In the 1880 Indiana census for the town of Noblesville, Robert's mother is listed as a North Carolina born, 58 year old named Mary. Everyone in the family are mulattoes.

The Roberts Settlement (about 40 miles north east of Indianapolis) was first created in a county already inhabited by Quakers. Stephen Vincent makes note of the fact that the Roberts family and the Quakers had a relationship that pre-dated Indiana. Most of the early Methodists of the settlement were originally black Quakers, which would have effected Junius B Robert's spiritual development before the Civil War and long after it, and may account for white blood in his makeup.

The Toronto Star was fed some scraps of Roberts' history, including a family legend of a Cherokee wife for Reverend Roberts. His real wife, Frances McGowan Roberts was born in the states, and may even have had Cherokee blood, but she also had black blood.

 According to Vincent, Roberts saw heavy fighting during the Civil War with the 28th Colored Regiment, facts which corroborate and expand The Star's story of Ira's grandfather having fought in that war.

 According to Civil War records, Roberts joined the 28th Colored Regiment, on Dec 31 1863, (a month after it had been formed on Nov 30) he'd volunteered for three years service. The description of him in the files, is that he had been born in Rush County, Indiana, lived in neighbouring Hamilton County, and was a 24 year old farmer, who was 5'11, had a dark complexion, with black hair and black eyes. Unfortunately, none of those records include his full name, so what the B stood for is a mystery.

   The troops were trained until March 1864 and 6 companies then left to defend Washington DC. According to a note in "Civil War Manuscripts", eight letters written by Private Junius B. Roberts were written during 1864-65. Roberts was an orderly in the L'Ouverture African American military hospital in Alexandria Virginia, immediately South of Washington. He became a corporal on April 27 1865. He also suffered from chronic rheumatism and developed intermittent fevers for which he was granted sick leave.

Wikipedia notes that on July 30 of '64 the 28th Colored Regiment  lost nearly half the regiment at the Battle of the Crater during 'the siege of Petersburg' Virginia, when the Union Army under Meade came up against a Confederate Army commanded by Robert E. Lee. The crater turned into the site of the “saddest thing I have ever seen in war.” according to Lee, so it's not hard to imagine that the cutting in half of the Colored Regiment would have shaped Junius Roberts' thoughts for the rest of his life, especially since he worked in a military hospital among the wounded, working and suffering physically, although he was never wounded himself, or fought in combat.

L'Ouverture Hospital was also a gathering grounds for escaped slaves, for whom the Army raised three barracks, to house the "contraband camp" as they called those seeking shelter with them (contraband, like seized property) The contraband slaves aided the Union Army with their labour.

For Junius B. Roberts, the Hospital and his service during the War  undoubtedly scoured his soul, damaged his body and gave shape to his convictions.                                                                                    
When the Confederacy surrendered on April 9 1865 after the Battle of Appomattox, the 28th was sent south to guard the Texas-Mexico border because of French interventions in the Mexican Revolution. Roberts was mustered out of the army at Corpus Christi, Texas on Nov 8, 1865 and the company left that state on November 28, two months and nine days after Junius had written home about buying land once the war was over. The Regiment returned to Indianapolis on January 6 1866.

"Young Private JB Roberts saved approximately four hundred dollars from his military career to use for education to become a minister." His War records note that he got most of that money in one payment before they went to Texas.

According to Vincent, Junius Roberts never did buy the specific parcel of land he had spoken of to Stephen in the letter, but "Hamilton County land records indicate that Junius did, however, buy 20 acres..." near that spot "... in February of 1866, two years before he sold the land and purchased a 40 acre parcel, only to sell it as well the following year. Shortly thereafter he left the Robert's Settlement and became a A.M.E. minister, travelling extensively through the United States and Canada during the decades that followed." [Glatthaar p. 198]

   However much traveling Roberts did in the States, by Vincent's account, he left the Settlement in 1869. By 1871, he was married to Frances and had twin daughters born in Chatham Ontario.

The Wilberforce Educational Institute was opened in Chatham in 1873, and was incorporated by an act of Parliament. And important figure involved in that Institute was Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbot, who Roberts must have known from the Contraband camp, because Abbot was one of handful of black doctors there. After Oakville, Roberts went back to Chatham and the Institute in 1885.

Reverend Junius B. Roberts was admitted to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Marion Indiana on Oct 12 1893, and died of a hemorrhage there on June 13 1894. He was 54 years old, and had suffered chronic rheumatism for nearly thirty years. $6.20 and other personal effects were shipped to his brother Stephen R. Roberts in Noblesville. He is buried in the Marion National cemetery in Grant County Indiana. d. 06/13/1894, PVT CO C 28TH USCT,( Plot: 1 237 R2)   

And that, basically, is most of what I know about the story of the man whose name is chiseled in the memorial stone above the front door of the church, a church he oversaw as it rose from its base stones, and if you glance up towards the gable when passing the building allow your sense of crossing a threshold in time, to linger on his story.

Modified version of a Talk Given in Dundas Ontario on Feb 8 2018

There are many aspects of the stories in my books that can be told as discrete self contained narratives.

In this document however, the story is more like a Venn Diagram (kind of like the Olympic rings) where they overlap, except in four dimensions, the three geometric ones, plus time, radiant, intersecting cones; Dundas as a place before it was Dundas, a place of converging First Nations trails, Dundas as a United Empire Loyalist village founded by specific individuals and their families; Dundas as one of the first surveyed roads in the colony, Dundas as a rural community where pre-1830's emancipation slaves came, went, lived, died, were born in the same spheres as their enslaved brethren lived, Dundas as a critical military arterial junction during the war of 1812, Dundas as a place where anti-slavery activists lived, taught and preached, Dundas as part of Burlington Bay, and on and on as all such degrees of connectivity go.

map by James Campbell-Prager
The gist of this talk is what I called the Dundas Road patrol (which was really just a militia unit of the 2nd York) in which slavers and emancipationists alike worked with members of the small Black community of Nelson township, head by Michael Groat's family, who seem to have entered the province in 1794 with the Davis-Ghents from North Carolina. The Groats may or may not have been slaves down south, possibly family servants, family even. If they were slaves, they would have become free once they entered the colony in 1794, the year after Simcoe's anti-slavery legislation banned the importation of slaves. They were also orchard workers and good with axes.

Michael Grote signed the 1794 petition of Free Negroes with others from the Niagara frontier, including the better known Richard Pierpoint. Grote also bought land from the Brants in 1807 in what became Port Nelson. They became close and trusted neighbours of the Brant family and other First Nations. One of the Groats joined the Coloured Corps. William Johnson Kerr, a grandchild of Sir. William Johnson's, and a commander of War of 1812 troops knew the Groat family well,. During the war of 1812, they had first nations living on their land, which led to two marriages, one with a Tuscarora woman, and another with a Mississauga.

When General Brock's body was moved from Niagara-on-the-lake up to the Monument in the 1820s, his hearse and the riderless horse had an honour guard of 5 or six coloured corps members (depending on the record referenced.) Who they were doesn't seem to have survived in a list. Presumably Richard Pierpoint was one of them, since the Coloured Corps was created after he suggested the idea to General Brock. I suspect John Vanpatten, the son of Brant's slave Prince Vanpatten, was another member. Who were the others?

In any event, John Vanpatten's story is where another story connects to Dundas, so I'll start with that bit of history, since it begins with Manuel Overfield, one of the founders of Dundas.

In Peter and David Meyler's Richard Pierpoint book A Stolen Life, they discuss how 'Captain Dick' and John Vanpatten were given land in Garafraxa township in the early 1820s, because neither wanted to go to Oro township, the government's preferred settlement site for blacks who'd come to the King's aid against the Americans. Vanpatten occupied his land first and had his settlement duties completed the following year, undoubtedly with help from other colour corps members, a story I'll return to. As soon as he could, he sold the land to a man the Meylers identified as Mr. Overfield.

And of course, a tiny detail like that, in the margins of a main line of research, is like a small outcrop that I kept walking over without ever wondering who Mr. Overfield was. The Meylers didn't bother with him either, except to impugn him for ripping off Vanpatten for the price paid for the land; a position reaffirmed in the document on John V. in the Harriet Tubman Centre at York University.

Just after Phillip Lomax contacted me to follow up on my suggestion of doing a talk in Dundas, I was looking at that particular piece of Vanpatten's history, and wonder who Mr. Overfield was, even wondered if he was from Dundas.

Lo and behold, both Manuel and Dundas have the kind of history that puts them on the reform edge of the loyalist era. which in itself begins to beg the question, would verfield rip off John, or did John want to sell so badly that he didn't care about the price, it certainly wouldn't be the last land claim he would make.

For now, in this imagined Venn diagram I'm creating here, let me skip ahead, to just before my talk, when I was looking up the Chisholms and Mordens because they were both important families in both Dundas and in Nelson township. what I was looking up was the presence of United Empire Loyalists in Garafraxa. I already knew that the lands around Pierpoint's property belonged to the Wintermutes, and I cam across a reference to other UEL in the new township. which is what led to my 'discovering' that the Mordens had been given land up in northern West Garafraxa township twenty years after Vanpatten had left. That family was Ralph Jr.s' Morden-Vrooman line, to I will return after a short trip with the Vroomans and their historical slavery baggage.

Back in 1792, before the creation of Simcoe's anti-slavery legislation, Adam Vrooman sold off a slave named Chloe Cooley to an American, it was a sale that triggered a wave of outrage, a wave that resurfaces every Black History month, hence the baggage that follows the Vrooman name. Simcoe's response to the sale was to speed up the passing of the legislation. It also seems to have caused Adam Vrooman to sell a slave named Tom to Adam Crysler, the Butler's Ranger commander in Upper New York state during the revolutionary War. Tom was said by some sources to have been Chloe's brother. He was certainly sold in the aftermath of the anger aimed Vrooman's way.

When Tom was freed by Adam's Crysler's son John, after the death of the old, commander. Tom originally signed his emancipation papers Tom X Blackman. He may have thereafter taken the last name Crysler. Because a Robert and Tom Crysler appear in loyalist records. A black Thomas Crysler shows up Nelson township/Wellington Square with a connection to the Groat family. But we'll come back to him, because we're still talking about Manuel Overfield's connections.

Adam Crylser, and his brothers, are remembered from their homes in the Schoharie Valley of New York as Blue Eyed-Indians because they fought alongside Brant's confederate tribes against the rebels when they were members of the irregular forces attached to the Butler's Rangers.

Adam's son John Crysler was married to Elizabeth Morden. The Mordens were also loyalists: the patriarch and matriarch of the family were Ralph and Anne, Anne was raised a Quaker, and spoke excellent Mohawk and was basically given the lands on the north side of what became Dundas because her husband was murdered by rebels. After the Revolution she escaped to Upper Canada with her children. Once here, Anne Morden did Mohawk translation work for Simcoe. As a Quaker, there can be no doubt that Ann Morden had anti-slavery beliefs, because all Quakers by Loyalists times were anti-slavery. By extension there can be no doubt that Elizabeth Morden Crysler would have shared her mother's beliefs about the equality of races, black and first nations.

Ann Morden's grandsons, James and Ralph Chrysler, married two of Manuel Overfield's daughters, Mary and Sarah. It is therefor in light of Ann Morden that I think we can cast even more of a shadow of doubt onto claims that "Mr. Overfield" was scurrilous enough to have ripped off John Vanpatten in the newly created township of Garafraxa. It isn't proof he didn't do it, but it does allow for a second lock at the cheap shot claim that Mr. Overfield was a white opportunist taking advantage of a Coloured Corp veteran.

John Vanpatten did not want to live in Garafraxa township; he was man who moved through the inner circles of the Loyalist community, white, black and native: he wanted to live in community.

In some ways, Vanpatten gives life to my own theories about a lost sense of Upper Canadian history from Loyalist times. yes, there was slavery, yes, there was racism, yes, there were those who feared and betrayed First Nations, but there was also a consensus about the difference between American values and British ones, based on the very real certainties the white loyalists had that they still had lives and property because of the Confederated Tribes, who had never been defeated by the Americans. Growing up with Brant, and freed presumably after his death, John Vanpatten was an insider, and Garafraxa was too far outside the box.

In any event, on our Venn diagram at the moment, we have Overfields, Mordens, Cryslers, Groats, John Vanpatten and the Brant family

In 1810, the two younger Morden-Overfield families, that of James and Ralph Junior sold their lands in Dundas and moved to Nelson township, buying land off of Catherine Brant. When war came, James served as a Captain of the York militia, and the commanding officer of what I call the Dundas Road Patrol.

The Brant Block (in what became Burlington) existed because, when Joseph Brant left the Grand River for internal political reasons, he tried to buy land from the Mississauga, but was stopped by Simcoe, who bought the land for Brant, and gave it to him to prevent setting a precedent of Indians selling to Indians.

Among the first white settlers north of Burlington Beach on land sold to them by Brant, were Thomas Ghent, and then Michael Grote in 1806 and 1807 respectively. Brant died in November of 1807.

Thomas Ghent, an orchard owner who bought land from Brant the year before, was married to one of the daughters of William Davis, and together the Davis-Ghents had traveled from North Carolina to Upper Canada, with slaves and servants. They first settled near Chippewa on the Niagara River, but when William Davis' wife died soon after arriving, they sold and moved to Saltfleet township, up the Red Hill Creek on Mount Albion. The Grotes lived with them. Saltfleet is where the surveyor Augustus Jones also lived, both Jones and Davis were of Welsh descent.

Another Welshman in the area with connections to Burlington Bay and Elora-Fergus was Roswell Matthews, who lived in what became West Flamborough after the War of 1812: which he had spent serving under William Claus in the Lincoln militia, because he lived in Niagara county at first. The Lincoln militia was disbanded after the Americans took Fort George before the battle of Stoney Creek. Born in Vermont, and a joiner by trade, Matthews is known to have built the mill for John Crooks on the heights above the Dundas Valley, and both men worked for General Pilkington, the first owner of the tract of land that became Pilkington township east of Nichol and Garafraxa townships. And though Matthew's militia unit was disbanded by the time of the Battle of Stoney Creek, John Connon, who wrote about Matthews in his book on the history of Elora, quotes at length from a letter written by the wife of Matthew's son John, in which she noted that Matthews was involved in strengthening the cantonment at Burlington Heights, and other military building projects, which means he would have worked with the Coloured Corps who also worked on those projects.

In 1817, before moving to the Gorge edge of what would become Elora in another twenty years, Matthews had attended a meeting chaired by Richard Hatt, one of the two Hatt brothers who founded Dundas, in order discuss proposals made by the political reformer Robert Gourlay. Matthews was well known to the Mississauga First Nation at the head of the Lake, some who would have served under Colonel Claus. (Another grandson of Sir William Johnson by Nancy Johnson Claus.)

Augustus Jones' son Peter, a future Methodist minister and Chief of the Mississauga was born at Burlington Heights in 1800. Roswell's brother Abner became a Wesleyan Metho-dist minister in 1820, and preached among the Mississauga of the region.

Roswell moved north and built the first home and dam in Elora in 1818, past which all settlers in Garafraxa would have walked on their way to Pierpoint and Vanpatten's land, not that there were many such people other than probably Coloured Corps members and there families helping Pierpoint. One of the Wintermutes stayed in the abandoned Matthews home in the 1830s with a black man named Johnson, before taking up their own lands beside Pierpoint. It may have been Levi Johnson, one of the witnesses to the Pierpoint's claim of having fulfilled his settlement duties, and another Lincoln militia member.

In the 1820's, Matthews built the first Mill in Elora with his sons doing the stone work. It's possible some of the Coloured Corps helped with the timber work, work they knew from their fortifications construction time. The Mill was built the same year that Vanpatten's land was cleared, so they almost certainly would have been up there, and it is almost certain they went on to help the much older Pierpoint, since the Corps were the most likely folks to want to help the old man.

It was two of Roswell Matthew's sons who bore witness to the fact that John Vanpatten had finished his settlement duties before he sold the land to Manuel Overfield. One more thing should be added to Vanpatten's reasons for selling. The letter from Mrs. John Matthews quoted by John Connon talks about how utterly dire an existence the Matthews family led while living alone in the bush for several decades before any real community evolved. I personally think John Vanpatten got the hell out of there as fast a he could. Pierpoint never lived on his land, perhaps because he was in his 70s, but he only came in summer, and there is no evidence of a settlement of Afro-Canadians in 1842 or 1852 census records. Lemuel Brown, to whom Pierpoint left his land, sold it quickly in the early 1840s anyway.

Roswell Matthews left the isolation of the banks of the Grand, and moved to Guelph, where he died, the first person in that town's cemetery. All of his children fled the area for elsewhere, except one married daughter. I don't think Manuel Overfield ripped off John Van Patten, I think he did him a favour.
*** *** ***
When Michael Grote bought his land in the Brant Block, he bought it off of Catherine Brant through the agency of his old Saltfleet neighbour, Augustus Jones because Joseph Brant was dying. (The captain of the Confederated tribes was dead before the end of November.)

I have spoken with Groat family descendants who have been told by Davis family heirs that there are black people buried in the family plot in Burlington, They are almost certainly Groats, probably Michael who signed the 1794 petition of Free Negros and who may have died in 1833.

Given the vagaries of genealogical information, there may have been two Michael Grotes, the patriarch who signed the petition, and bought the land off of Brant; while the second would have been his son who died in 1846. The last will and testament of that second Michael Groat was witnessed by a black man named Abraham Topp who married Marg-aret, a daughter of the first Michael. The will was also witnessed by Gilbert Davis, who was the grandson of William the patriatrch. Gilbert's father was Asahel Davis, Gilbert's mother was Nancy Morden, the youngest of the Morden-Dunhams. So once again, a Quaker ethos, now in Presbyterian form, was very much at work inside the ever extending Dundas Morden family.

Nancy's brothers Ralph Jr. and James sold their lands in Dundas and moved to Nelson, so they two became part of that mixed race community, and that social communion.

During the War of 1812, James Morden became a 2nd York militia Captain, he served in the Niagara district under the command of William Kerr Johnson, who also lived in Nelson with his wife Elizabeth, she was Brant's daughter and a future Mohawk Clan mother. In the fall of 1813, during the Battle of Stoney Creek and the subsequent American forays into Burlington Bay, James Morden commanded the 'road patrol', protecting the northern approaches to the cantonment at Burlington Heights, which is also where the Coloured Corps had been stationed during the victorious raid, guarding the position and keeping the road open to Burlington.

By 1818, both James and Ralph Morden sold their lands to Joshua Freeman and moved with their Overfield wives, to Michigan.

Joshua Freeman was not only a near neighbour of the Groats, but his son by the daughter of the baptist Minister William Black, SB Freeman, born in 1814, became a lawyer. In the journal of Negro History, the white lawyer is aid to have been a man of much natural eloquence, considerable knowledge of law and more of human nature: he was always ready to take up the cause of one unjustly accused and was singularly successful in his defenses." When George Brown and other Presbyterians and Congregationalists created the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society in the aftermath of the Second American Fugitive Slave Act in the early 1850s, SB Freeman became the Vice President for Hamilton.

The Canadian Anti-Slavery Society is thus another vector in this story to which I'll return, because Dundas had its own connections to the society.

When Asahel Davis applied for compensation after the War of 1812 because of all the First Nations warriors and their families living on his land during that war, his claims were supported by Ralph Morden, Wm. Grote, and Capt. John Chisholm, (of the second 2nd York militia.)  For all war claims entries etc. see Fred Blair's indepth research here. 

When Michael Groat made his own claims for compensation following the War of 1812, again because there had been a contingent of First Nations warriors and their families encamped on his land, burning his wood and eating his supplies, it was Ebenezer Guire who supported his claim.

Ebenezer Guire, another road patroler, married Michael Groat's daughter Jemimah: their daughter Abigail Guire married George Bradt, the son of the Butler's Ranger, Captain Andrew Bradt, another prominent loyalist, and a man who bore witness to the service claims of several free blacks who fought with the Rangers petitioning for land grants after the Revolutionary War.

When Joseph Brant's son John, acting on behalf of his mother Catherine, made compensation claims for the same reason on their considerably larger tract of land, Michael and Henry Groat were their witnesses.

William Grote, one of Asahel Davis' claim witnesses, fathered a son named Abram with a Tuscarora woman named Margaret in 1814. In 1842, William, his half brother Isaac Whitby, and two of William's sons, Abram and William were listed on a Tuscarora baptist petition as warriors and living in Tuscarora Village on the lands of the Six Nations of the Grand. I spoke to the Mohawk teacher George Beaver just before he died a few years ago, because he had posted about being a descendant of Abram's, and because George Beaver had written about Abrams' Tuscarora wife Margaret coming from North Carolina, which, as noted, is also where the Davis Ghents came from, accompanied by the Groats.

map by James Campbell Prager

The black Groats of Nelson were well known and respected in and around the head of the Lake, so it's not surprising that it is around them that a small cluster of other African-Loyalist families formed: including the Topps, the Estrasses, and the Guires. To what extent the Groats had first nations blood in them before 1814, isn't known, but then neither wife of either Michael Groat is known.

As evidenced by all the compensation claims, if the Americans had ever landed on the north shore of either the head of the lake or Burlington Bay, they would have found themselves facing a lot of First Nations warriors being sustained by their families and local populations.

For example, after the American Fleet chased the remnant of the British Fleet into the Bay during what are now known as the Burlington Races, US Commander Chauncey freely admitted to his superiors that he was concerned about being trapped in the bay, because he had no way to take out the cantonment at the Heights, around which the British fleet had taken refuge, and he knew that the cantonment's fire power had been strengthened by guns taken from the Americans at Stoney Creek, he couldn't send a landing party to open a second front against the Heights because the shores were full of antagonists, so he got out of the Bay before he lost his advantage. If he had destroyed the fleet and the cantonment, the war would have been lost. The presence of Loyalist First Nations ensured that didn't happen.

Abraham Topp, who later married Michael Groat's daughter Margaret (not the Tuscarora) arrived in the area with the Western Rangers, who had fought with Tecumseth on the Thames under the command of Captain Elliot. Once at the head of the Lake, and no doubt camped on or near Groat's land, Elliot and his Rangers served under the command of William Kerr Johnson, who was himself descended from Molly Brant and Sir William Johnson. Captain Elliot got sick and died in Nelson. He had a reputation on Western Lake Erie for being a brutal slave master, which could be why Abraham Topp stayed in Nelson after marrying Margaret Groat, although he did later move with his family to Norwich township in southern Oxford County, where their daughter Hannah married an African Methodist preacher named Lindsay Anderson who founded the B.M.E church in Otterville, and where their son Abram Topp Jr. became a Quaker. The Rochester NY Anti-Slavery Society was co-founded by a Norwich township Quaker named Lindley Moore.

A Quaker named John Wetherald, who lived in Puslinch near the mouth of the Hanlon Creek, had a cousin in that society. The most famous member of the Rochester abolitionists was Frederick Douglas, whose February birthday is one of the reasons we celebrate Black History Month in February.

In 1833, by my reckoning at least, the first Michael Groat died, and in the land records, the Groat property seems to have defaulted to the Kerrs (possibly because the government was trying to figured out whether to acknowledge Joseph Brant's land sales as legal or not. Elizabeth Kerr was functioning as Catherine Brant's power of attorney because John Brant died of cholera in 1832, and Catherine had started withdrawing from the world before her death in 1837. Once the decision to accept the sales as done-deals was made in 1842, the land reverted to the ownership of the Groats. By the time the second Michael Groat died in 1846, he willed the land to his grandson, James Crysler.

Which of course, brings us back to the loyalist Cryslers, their black slaves, and their freed ones, especially Tom who'd been sold by Adam Vrooman. I have no proof of who James Crysler was, because there seems to be no marriage record of a Groat daughter with a Crysler son, nor is there a certain James Crysler. What there are, are Venn diagram intersections leading to high probabilities, and a process of elimination.

There was a Thomas Crysler on the land in 1847 petitioning to have the road extended south to the shore. Five years later, there was a 25 year old Thomas Crysler who was a waiter in Ancaster. Back in the 1790s there was the slave Tom who Adam Vrooman sold to Adam Crysler, and may have walked into life as a freeman as Thomas Crysler.

What their connections are to the Groats isn't clear except for that last will and testament, and the need for a father for the Upper Canada-born James. Which leaves us with probabilities: the simplest solution, is that 'Tom the slave' married a Groat daughter, probably Hannah (the only one left out of history beyond the will) and had a son name James, and piossibly one named Thomas who became an Ancaster waiter. It could have been Vrooman's old slave who helped get the road extended to the lake. That stands in as the only explanation I have for who the road-extension Thomas Crysler might have been.

In the 1861 census, the mixed-race James Crysler was said to have been born in 1818, and married to a younger mulatto named Sarah Adley. They were living in East Flamborough township. I know from later marriage records, that the Crysler-Adley's had three children born in Wellington Square ie. in Nelson township in the years after the death of Michael Groat. Those same children later married into Mississauga Groat families, in what would be some fairly close second cousin relationships, assuming that a mulatto named John Groat who married a full-bloodied Mississauga woman named Katy on the Credit River, was a son of the first Michael, and the brother of the Michael who died in '46.

Our Venn diagram is beginning to bend like light near a black hole, so let's add another name to the gravity well: Captain John Chisholm. In 1861, James Crysler, Saraha Adley and their children, along with four members of the Fonger family identified as Indians, were living on John Chisholm's land in what was by that point in time called Aldershot. Chisholm's land was on the spot where the old First Nations trail left the north shore of the Burlington Bay heading for the gap in the cliffs at what became Waterdown, allowing easy access to the Lakes up on the plateau, including a trail that also headed for the Puslinch Lakes to the northwest, a trail that would have met the old Aboukir Road from Dundas to Guelph, which was nothing more than an exotic name for an old trail north. I'll come back to the Aboukir Road.

John Chisholm was 77 years old and a widow in 1861, his wife, Sarah Davis from North Carolina, was by then buried in St. Luke's Anglican Church in Wellington Square, but John was still living on the old property in Aldershot, now being being farmed by his son James, the Captain of the Dundas Road patrolers. Why James Crysler and his family were there with them I have no idea, but Aldershot was where the New Jersey Loyalist, David Fonger settled on the north shore of Burlington Bay in the late 1700s. What the relationship of the Loyalist Fongers to the first nations Fongers with James Crysler was, isn't easily discerned, although they were almost certainly Mississauga, because native Fongers were among the last Mississauga to leave the Credit River in 1851.

There was one other Groat I should mention, and that is Simon, who eventually settled in Caradoc township on the Thames River where Abram Groat, the baptist Tuscarora warrior born in 1814, lived in the 1850's with some of his children, before Abram returned to the Grand. Simon Speck, another black Butler's Ranger and a signee of the 1794 Petition of Free Negroes, was also given land up that way for his Revolutionary War service.

Simon Groat was married in the Queen's Bush Settlement in 1847 in Peel township near the village of Glen Allen. That settlement was home to upwards of fifteen hundred African American and Loyalist blacks, including Joseph Brant's old slave and adopted daughter Sarah Pooley who he sold to Dundas' own Samuel Hatt before Joseph died, probably because his wife Catherine was brutal to her, and he was afraid of what might happen to her in Catherine's care. Up in the Queen's Bush, Sarah knew John Vanpatten who she told the Slave Narrative writer Benjamin Drew was 'living over that way', John and she would have grown up in the house at the head of the lake.

The first non-Ojibway to settle the Queen's Bush was William Ghent, the son of Thomas Ghent and Elizabeth Davis. William Ghent lived on the Banks of the Conestogo Rver before the Ojibway had even surrendered the land, his first child was born there in 1823 when there was no one else for miles. His wife's name was Mary Fonger, and she was born in Aldershot at the foot of the First Nation's trail.

Simon Groat had served in the Coloured Corps, and he was given a pension in the 1870's when he was one of the handful of veterans still left. It's possible that he was the Peter Groat in Nelson township in 1818, since Simon Peter was a common biblical name of the day, but I don't know that, if it was him, he also served on the road patrol, and fought at Queenston Heights under William Claus while with the Corps.

This story is getting long though, and I promised two more connections, the first is to the Aboukir Road, a story which will lead directly to the second, as all good roads should. When the first settlers in Puslinch arrived in that newly created township before the Brock Road was created, they called the road they traveled the Abouikr Road. My belief is that the trail was called the Aboukir, because the Lancashire Regiment stationed at Burlington Heights in the war of 1812, had previously served in Egypt on Aboukir Bay during the siege of Alexandria, and the soldiers thought it was a funny nickname, and so it stuck. Why this story matters at all, is that it leads directly to the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society members from Dundas.

When I first started researching these books online, I could not find the words Guelph and anti-slavery anywhere, nor any related terms like 'Guelph and abolitionist', nothing that would explain why Guelph had an early black population, and then one day, the google tumblers fell in my favour, and the gods of algorithms granted me mercy as a webpage opened on the 1851 report of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society, where a man named Thomas Sandilands was listed as the VP for Guelph. Local research showed that he went to that town in 1833 from Glasgow, Scotland and died of a heart failure two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He was a member of the South Wellington Reform Association. George Brown, the founder of the Anti-Slavery Society, had a sister Marianne, who was married to the Reverend WS Ball of the Guelph Presbyterian church, Ball was one of the Balls Falls loyalists from Servos-Ball family, and a member of the Reform Association. A second Brown sister was married to the Thomas Henning, president of the anti-slavers. Thomas Sandilands was also active in the Benevolent Society. Andwas a probable member of the very active Glasgow Anti-Slavery Society before his move to Canada, Unlike mid-to-late 20th and early 21st century evangelical Christians, 19th century evangelicals believed in public education, workers rights, women's rights, native rights, African emancipation and equality of all peoples.

Thomas Sandilands also worked for the Gore Bank, and is the man responsible for orchestrating the planking and transformation of the Aboukir Road into the first version of the Brock Road from Guelph to Dundas in 1840, obviously with help from his peers along the way. When that road was pushed north to Arthur in the early '40s, it became the easiest route to the eastern edges of the Queen's Bush Settlement.

Some of Sandiland's business peers were also allied to some of the other names on that 1851 list of regional VPs and committee members of the anti-slavery society, men like Samuel Black Freeman, and the Oakville Presbyterian minister James Nesbit.

Dundas connections included The Reverend James Lillie, a Congregationalist, who spent the early years of his career in Dundas and its environs. What many might not know, was that he had also been a member of the influential and far reaching Glasgow Anti-Slavery Society before the passing of the Emancipation Act in 1833, a victory that came into effect in 1834. It was after the passing of that act that men like Sandilands and Lesslie left for North America. (The Canadian Society seems to have been mostly composed of Scot's Presbyterians and Congregationalists., although, an earlier, primarily Methodist one had existed in the 1830s.)

The other Dundas man on the executive of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society was an old friend and business partner of William Lyon Mackenzie's, James Lesslie.

So if you want to know where the anti-slavery activists were before the 1850s, they are to be found in the circles in which such men traveled, they are where those circles intersect the black communities and where they intersected First Nations living near ancient trails that existed long before the road system. Anti-slavery activists can be traced among comrades-in-arms of the executives and committee members on that 1851 list. They can be found in mixed marriages, and family graveyards, and they can be glimpsed where the dots don't always connect, but where the orbits of circumstance create high probabilities, insights that might lead to journal entries and letters and all those many stones in the road that we never bother to pick up and examine, because they don't seem significant until we take the time to bother. A lot of those stories just happen to open inward into caches of history.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Thomas Sandilands

VP for Guelph
of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society

subject of my talk at the Cornerstone  Cafe 
Wyndham and Carden streets Guelph

Wednesday February 7 8PM

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Black History Month 2018 Reading/Talks

February 1   Elora Public Library
                    Geddes Street, Elora
                     6:30 start, followed by questions
                     Local Black Settlements
                     Colbornesburg, Pierpoint and the Queen's Bush
Colbornesburg was created near Winterbourne in the 1820's,
when over 200 free blacks and self-emancipated African Americans
took up land on either bank of the Grand River
between the mouth of the Cox Creek and Sawmill Road.

The Pierpoint settlement was unofficially named after Richard Pierpoint
one of two Niagara region/head of the lake Loyalist blacks who served
in the Coloured Corp and who were granted one hundred acres each
near a white loyalist family before the founding of Fergus.
The second man, John Vanpatten, had been at Colbornesburg,
and was the son of one of Joseph Brant's slaves, Prince Vanpatten,
and one of the leading figures in attempts to find lands for former slaves
being brought into Brantford by the Tuscarora of the Six Nations.

The Queen's Bush Settlement was more truly a squat, since the lands
the homesteaders cleared were owned by the Anglican-controlled
(Mapletown) as well as Wellesley township in Waterloo County.
The area began to  fill  in the early 1840's, until nearly 1500
free blacks and former African-American slaves were squatting
on recently surrendered Saugeen Ojibway territory.
Since most couldn't afford to buy the land once it went out for sale
in 1847, the diaspora that followed led to the growth of communities like
Owen Sound and Collingwood, as well as the black neighbourhoods of 
Guelph around what became the British Methodist Episcopal Church.
The existence of those three settlements and a fourth one
in Oro township created the interconnected network of families
that formed the core of south central Ontario's free black population
well into the twentieth century.
Laying the Bed: the Native origins of the Underground Railroad,
and Exodus and Arrival: Fugitive Roads to Guelph and Beyond
will be available for purchase.

February 3   Guelph Black Heritage Society Hall
                     (formerly the B.M.E. church)
                     83 Essex Street, Guelph
                       7 PM start for a musical evening event
                       Opening speaker:
A fifteen minute talk on Reverend Junius B Roberts
the Indiana born British Methodist Episcopal Church
who oversaw the building of the stone building in 1880
after having served with a medical corp during the Civil War.
In the 1930's his Oakville grandson Ira Johnson, denied having
having black blood because the Hamilton KKK burnt a cross
on his lawn because he wanted to marry a white woman.
The Klan was one based our of Indiana, not the American south

Books will be available for purchase.

February 7    Cornerstone Cafe,Wyndam and Carden Streets, Guelph.
                      8 pm, licensed room, food available
The cafe sits in a building first erected and owned by Thomas Sandilands,
a Scots immigrant who had come to Guelph in the early
1830s. He was a member of George Brown's Canadian
Anti-slavery Society, which had been formed following the passage
of the second American Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.
Sandilands was the listed on the 1851 convention document
 as the VP for Guelph.

 Books will be available for purchase.

February 8   Dundas Valley Historical Society
                     139 Park Street West, Dundas, Ont
                     7:30 PM
The Coloured Corp and the Dundas Road Patrol
During the War of 1812, the black community at the head of the Lake
(from what is now Burlington to the future village site of Dundas)
served in both the militia (patrolling the road) and the Colourerd Corp.
The blacks in Burlington especially had family connections
to the Tuscarora of the Six Nations who were camped on their land
during the Battle of Stoney Creek, and the Battle of Burlington Heights
in 1813/1814. The corps duties during that war were primarily
as artificers, builders of fortifications, trades that were handy
during the post-war period.
The founders of Dundas almost certainly made use of them.
Roswell Mathewsm the man who built Shades Mills before moving
to what became Elora and building the first mill there, was known
to the Coloured Corp, especially to men like Richard Pierpoint and
John Vanpatten who owned land outside of what became Fergus.
After Vanpatten sold his land outside what became Fergus
in the mid-1820's,  it was to one of the founders of Dundas,
Manuel Overfield, under what Fergus historians think of as a
suspicious price, which will be examined
Dundas also had several connections to the Canadian
Anti-Slavery Society founded in 1850, following the passage
of the 2nd American Fugitive Slave Act.

Books will be available for purchase.

cover for Laying the Bed

cover for Laying the Bed
designed by Brenan Pangborn