Saturday, 15 February 2014



“I left the States for Canada for my rights; freedoms and liberty. I came to Buxton to educate my children”

      Museums have always played an integral part in my life. However, there is one museum in particular that will always have a special place in my heart, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum. A museum dedicated to the history of the early fugitive slave settlement, I spent my summers there with my mother listening to her share unforgettable narratives and observing the time she spent conserving and managing the museum’s unique collection. It was this time with my mom that instilled in me a love for preserving the intellectual and cultural treasures left by our ancestors. Moreover as a descendent of the former fugitive slaves who made the Elgin Settlement their home, I am overcome with emotions each time I enter the museum that celebrates and honours many of my ancestors. 

      The Elgin / Buxton Settlement was founded in 1849 by Rev. William King, an Irish Presbyterian minister. Through a series of tragedies and land purchases, King came to own several slaves. As an abolitionist, King was now left with a dilemma and the only resolution that he could live with was to free the slaves he now owned. But King did not simply manumit his slaves; instead he founded a refuge for his now freed slaves and other fugitive slaves. The Elgin/Buxton Settlement is considered by historians to be the most successful settlement for fugitive slaves and free blacks. 

James Rapier a graduate of the Buxton Mission School and one of the
first black congressmen in Alabama during the Reconstruction Period
      In the early black community in Canada West, there was a deep desire to be educated. This stemmed from severe restrictions on African American education in the United States.  Concerned that education would lead to a revolt of the enslaved, southern legislators made it criminal for slaves to be taught to read and write in most southern states. In order to ensure that the slaves abided by these harsh regulations, whippings, dismemberment and police action were threatened. Moreover, one of the main pieces of propaganda that championed the system of slavery was the widely held belief that blacks were incapable of learning. On account of these proscriptions and views, when blacks entered Canada West, they sought education wherever it could be found. 

Rev. William King, the founder of the Elgin Settlement 
      King had an unyielding belief in the potential of the black race and understood to help that potential flourish; blacks had to be placed in a better environment from that from which they came. Enslaved and prohibited from being educated, King knew once those two hindrances were removed; the highest level of education could be achieved. The Education in the Elgin Settlement was renowned as being the cream of the crop. Within the settlement’s integrated schools, students could not only study the normal common school courses, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, but also, a higher degree of mathematics, history, Latin, Greek, Spanish and rhetoric. Whether or not the students would continue their education in University, King’s ultimate goal was to educate the children by any means. James Rapier, a graduate, would become one of the first black congressmen in Alabama.

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  1. Wow! What an amazing story Blair. I love hearing about how affective family history can be. :-)

  2. I had no idea about this museum or the incredible story behind it. I'll definitely try to visit. Thanks for sharing!

  3. What a great story, Blair! It is so important to understand the historical and cultural context of the experiences of different communities in order to understand the challenges in preserving histories and memories. I had never thought at the "learning" discourse in relation to the African American communities in the US and I am glad to see how you trace it back to a Canadian experience.