Monday, 22 September 2014

THE WILBERFORCE SETTLEMENT

AFRICAN CANADIAN HISTORY

BY BLAIR NEWBY

As the curator of the Buxton Museum, my mother would occasionally attend Historical fairs, Black Expos and other events to promote the museum, and sometimes I had the chance to go with her. One fair in particular was in Lucan, Ontario. I remember two things from that trip. First and foremost, the fact that I was absolutely terrified after hearing about the Donnelly Murders that occurred in the town in 1880, and secondly it was my first exposure to the history of Ontario’s first planned black settlement, Wilberforce. Four years ago, I returned to Lucan and visited the Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum; this time thankfully I did not leave with nightmares. However, what I did leave with was a greater appreciation for the history of Wilberforce.

Photo Credit: 
http://www.tourmiddlesex.ca/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/event-images/DONN_1225_K_REV_0.jpg

In 1804 and 1807, the state of Ohio enacted Black Laws to discourage the migration of blacks into the State. These laws stipulated that in order to remain in the state all persons of colour had to have a certificate of freedom that was issued by a U.S. State. Moreover, in 1807 the state legislated that no black person could enter the State unless they could post a bond of $500.00 to guarantee their good behaviour and that they would be able to support themselves while in Ohio. Furthermore, originally the fine for hiding a fugitive slave was $50.00, however in 1804 it rose to $100.00. Lastly, the law now stated that no black person could testify against a white person in court. When the population of blacks living in Ohio was small, the laws were not enforced. This, however, all changed when their numbers began to increase.

To escape from this unjust persecution, members of the black community began to seek out alternative places to settle and their land of choice was Upper Canada. Members of the Colonization Society, James C. Brown and Stephen Dutton travelled to York (Toronto) to ask the government of Upper Canada to grant the black community in Ohio asylum. To this request, it was reported that Sir John Colborne, the Lieutenant Governor, remarked, “Tell the Republicans on your side of the line that we Royalists do not know men by their colour. Should you come to us you will be entitled to all the privileges of the rest of His Majesty’s subjects.” By the fall of 1830, the negotiations over the purchase of land had concluded and with the assistance of American Quakers, the Colonization Society was able to purchase 800 acres. However, according to Brown, only 460 of the 2700 black citizens in Cincinnati, Ohio that had agreed to relocate actually moved north of the border. By 1833 there were 32 families living in Wilberforce and the settlement boasted two schools and a saw mill, however, by the 1840’s the population began to dwindle.

Sir John Colborne
Photo credit:  http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/images/paintings/gec/large/ci_gec_14_large.jpg    

To learn more about the Wilberforce community visit the Lucan Area Heritage and Donnelly Museum. http://www.donnellymuseum.com/index.php.

Wilberforce Settlement Provincial Plaque
Photo credit:  http://www.ontarioplaques.com/Plaques_MNO/Plaque_Middlesex27.html  

1 comment:

  1. Blair, what I like very much about your posts is the way in which you connect American and Canadian Black history. It is almost like a new lens on history as typically Black history is connected to the American context. I am also happy to see how many such stories and histories get their own museums.

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