Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"Remembering African-American Canadian Settlement In Brantford"
Angela E.M. Files, May 1999, Vol.11 No.1, Pages 6-9
The Historical Background of Black Settlers in Brantford
The Black refugees who fled to Ontario knew that there were anti-slavery laws in place in this country. On June 29, 1793, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe introduced the first anti-slavery legislation during the second session of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. By legally forbidding the importing of any more slaves into the province and freeing twenty-year old offspring of slaves, Upper Canada became a safe haven for these oppressed people and Brantford was one of the many stops of the Underground Railroad in Ontario.
The trail of freedom also stretched across the ocean when the British Parliament abolished slavery throughout the Empire, liberating some 200,000 slaves at the cost of 20,000,000 pounds sterling. Emancipation Day celebrations honoured the right to freedom of every human on the face of the earth and it was celebrated for many years to come in our country.
How did these men, women and children manage to travel to the British territory of Upper Canada? Some ex-slaves fled on their own, while others used the "Underground Railway", a system of co-operation among American anti-slavery activists by which refugees were secretly helped to reach the northern free states of Canada. Niagara and Detroit were the early termini on the routes by which the fugitives made their way to Ontario and liberty.
According to local oral history, Tuscarora Baptist Natives guided the refugees up the Grand River from Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The early Brantford British Methodist Episcopal and Baptist Church in St. Catharines served as a way station for the people coming from upstate New York and Ohio. Cargo and fishing vessels were used to cross the Great Lakes.
The catalyst which increased the migration of fugitive slaves to Upper Canada was the passage of the second American Fugitive Slave Act, amending and supplementing the original Act of 1793. The new law enabled slave owners to hire slave catchers to reclaim their human chattels. Any person who aided a fugitive slave was committing an act of treason. The northern states became a hunting ground for the slave owners and their agents. With the passage of this legislation, the exodus of refugee slaves to Canada increased until the commencement of the American Civil War. During this time, an Anti-Slavery Society was formed at Knox Presbyterian College in Toronto.
On April 14, 1861, the forces of the southern Confederacy fired on South Carolina's Fort Sumter, initiating the American Civil War. The following year, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the Confederate States as of January 1, 1863. On April 5, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, effectively ending the war. In December of that year, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States ' Constitution was ratified, outlawing slavery throughout the nation.
Canadian feelings generally favoured the northern states because of the strong and widespread sentiment against slavery. After the Civil War, some ex-slaves returned to their families and the warmer climes of the southern states. This second exodus decreased the population of African-Canadian communities. Later, immigrants from the West Indies augmented these populations.
During the first 60 years of the nineteenth century, groups of pro-British African-Americans and escaped slaves migrated from the United States and formed their own communities in parts of Upper Canada (now Ontario).
Black communities flourished in Amherstburg, Essex County, Collingwood, Grey County, Chatham, Dawn (Dresden), Haldimand County, Hamilton, Wilberforce (Lucan), Niagara Falls, Elgin (North Buxton Township), Kent County, St. Catharines, Toronto, York County, Windsor, Oxford County, Woodstock and Brantford.
We wish to remember the African-American-Canadian settlers who founded a community in the East Ward area of Brantford. There they built the British Methodist Episcopal Church, known today as S. R. Drake Memorial Church and formed their own school in the early 1830's when their children were barred from the common schools of the day. Today, the school no longer stands but the S. R. Drake Memorial Church reminds us all of the early black settlement along the Grand River.