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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Key to the Presence of African American Slaves in the Queen's Bush is in This Map

   This is a section of a Wellington County Map from 1861 on the wall of the Wellington County Archives, map 588. The dark area is the town of Guelph, the line that runs north and south on its western edge is the Hanlon Road. 
   Thomas Sandilands who owned and ran a general store in the building that now houses the Cornerstone Cafe at Carden and Wyndham streets on the edge of the Market Square, also owned land off the Hanlon Road (to the immediate left of Guelph) as the map shows. In 1852, Sandilands was listed as the VP representing Guelph in the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society, he was also one of the men responsible for turning the pioneer trail that came north from Burlington Bay to Guelph into the planked Brock Road, and for creating the road to Arthur (as well as other roads and rail lines.) Those new roads enabled African Americans easier access to the Queen's Bush settlement (which was a squatters site rather than a legal settlement.) 
   The black farming community was about twenty five miles north by northwest of Guelph. Thomas Sandilands had been in the community since 1832. He came from Glasgow. Most of the members of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society were either Scots Presbyterians or Congregationalists. Many had been members of the Glasgow Anti-Slavery Society.
  Further south down the Hanlon Road on the map is the name John Howitt, 'Quaker' Howitt was a cattle breeder of the first order, and his herd is why Guelph got an agricultural college (and its students later got the Bullring Pub.) Howitt was also a Liberal reformer who was connected to the Methodist Church, and in fact, he provided land for what became known as the Howitt Memorial Church and cemetery, which is where he is buried.  He was called 'Quaker' because he was a friend and business associate of John Wetherald's who was a butcher by trade.
   John Wetherald died in 1852 and had been in south Wellington as long as Howitt, since they came together to look at land here in 1832 around the same time as Sandilands arrived. On the map, John's son, Thomas, is living on the Wetherald land, which sits a little further south than Howitt's properties, on the east side of Hanlon Road, The creek that runs just south of the Wetheralds' into the Speed River (at the foot of Stone Road - the original boundary between Guelph and Puslinch townships) is the Hanlon Creek; the little road that runs straight across the Speed to the west is the extension of Kortright still called the Niska Road. The Niska bridge led to the  Hespeler Road and Galt, where the Speed pays its tribute to the Grand River, the Niska bridge is being threatened with expansion (it's not the original bridge of course, but it is more than heritage bridge, it is part of a freedom trail). 
   The Mississauga Ojibway trails are what the settlement roads were built on, so the Speed River trails were old ones. (Before the bridge, there was ford at the base of what became Stone Road.) Guelph township had previously been a Crown reserve for the Six Nations of the Grand, crown lands that were sold to provide trust funds out of which all the individuals on Six Nations territory were paid. The border of the reserve was just off to the west edge of the map, where both Puslinch and Guelph townships also bordered what became Waterloo township, carved out of the reserve after the tribes sold the land.
  There were about 20 people of African descent living either on - or very near - the Wetherald land in the census of 1852. Several more lived further down the line that starts at Niska, now known as Downey Road.
  Thomas Wetherald was named after John's brother Thomas, who was a significant Quaker minister closely allied to Elias Hicks, the man whose teachings 'created' the schism called The Great Separation in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers.) Thomas Wetherald the elder lived in Washington and New York and then Pennsylvania, he was a major force in the movement to get Christians to free their slaves (through Manumission Societies), he was also involved in Free Produce and Free Labour Societies, which essentially sought to destroy the slave economy through consumer boycotts. 
   Joseph W. Wetherald, another brother of John and Thomas the elder, lived in Wilmington, Delaware, where he and their father also ran a butcher shop. The Quaker abolitionist Thomas Garret had moved to Wilmington to orchestrate his activities from that community. Joseph W. Wetherald had a son named Haworth, who was recording secretary of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society for 16 years. Haworth married Mary Ferris, daughter of the Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Ferris of Wilmington.
   Other Wetherald family members in America were also involved in either manumissionist/free produce societies or outright anti-slavery activities. The week after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed in September of that year by the American Congress, family lore has it that John went to Rochester to visit a cousin named John Park, who may or may not have been the John Park connected to the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society, which had been founded in part by Lindley Murray Moore, a Canadian Quaker from Norwich township. What John Wetherald was doing in Rochester that week is anyone's guess, but until the 1852 census, there were no African Americans in south Wellington census records. There were stories of individuals, like Ben Bowlen, who lived on what became Downey Road and who died in 1842 frozen to death beside his ox on the Hespeler Road. Others may have lived in south Wellington in the ten years between census records, but there is no way to know that. 
   If you were to follow the line of the Hanlon Road due north out of Guelph township and into old Pilkington township (now part of the municipality of Centre Wellington) you would end up travelling on the fourth line until it reached a ford across the Grand River just west of the Elora Gorge near the mouth of the Carroll Creek, which pays tribute to the Grand slightly downstream on the north side of the ford. From the mouth of the Carroll, it is about fifteen miles to what became Peel township (now part of Mapleton) and the site of the African Methodist Episcopal/British Methodist Episcopal Church in the Queen's Bush. The Settlement/Squat was a farming community that was home to between 1500 and 2000 former slaves and their free-born families,starting in the early 1830's and lasting until they were all but gone by the end of the Civil War, many coming to Guelph, others to Collingwood and Owen Sound, Chatham, London, Brantford, St. Catherines, Hamilton, Toronto and all points in between,   It is my belief however, that men like Thomas Sandilands, Quaker Howitt, John Wetherald and other locals helped newly self-emancipated slaves away from the Great Lakes and the Niagara border regions and into the Queen's Bush, which began to fill up starting in the early 1830's. It is a subject that is much discussed in Exodus and Arrivals, Fugitive Roads to Guelph and Beyond, which is the sequel to Laying the Bed: The Native Origins of the Underground Railroad, a book I will be releasing in January/February 2015. That story will be concluded in Blood in the Mortar: Freedom in Stones, which will be published sometime later in 2015.

cover for Laying the Bed

cover for Laying the Bed
designed by Brenan Pangborn