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Underground Railroad Research Forum

Canada's Black Settlements

After many years of research, I gathered a list of settlements in Canada. When I started my attempt was to find out what happened to relatives of my ancestors? Most were Free Blacks, Mulattoes, or manumitted slaves. It is not commonly known, but many Free Blacks fled America along with slaves. One of my distant relatives, William Parker, was a Free Black, living in Christiana Pennsylvania, until September 11, 1851.

That is when a white slave owner showed up at his door, with a Federal Marshall and Posse. He was demanding that Parker give him his escaped slaves. It did not help that the man, Edward Gorsuch, saw his slaves as they pulled up to the Parker House. William Parker did not deny that the slaves were there, he denied that slavery was an appropriate condition for any man. Parker was a friend of Frederick Douglass, and a member of the Abolitionist movement. His home was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad, and there were women and children hiding in his attic. So it was not just the slaves Gorsuch claimed belonged to him, there were many lives at stake.

While Gorsuch, and William Parker argued, his wife Elizabeth, blew a horn out the attic window. The horn was to summon other members to their home. Gorsuch continued to demand that Parker allow him in his house, even when he saw the rifle pointed at his chest. As Gorsuch attempted to step on Parkers property, he was shot square in the chest, and died instantly. It was then that the Marshall and Posse realized they were surrounded by a sea of angry black faces. They would later refer to them as a mob, but that was later, after they ran for their lives.

Gorsuch son, Dickinson was almost beaten to death, after being left by the Marshall and the Posse. This was in the morning, by the evening there was a bounty for William Parker. By that time he, his family, and the slaves were well on their way to Canada. They took the Underground Railroad, and at one point William and his wife seperated. He did not want his wife, children, and the escaping slaves in danger, in case he was caught. He knew that they would pursue him, which they did all of the way to Canada. The Canadians told the American Militia, they would not turn William Parker over to them.

Parker reunited with his wife, children, and the slaves he had looked to him for safe passage north. William Parker returned to America to fight in the Civil War. Frederick Douglass, arranged for him to join the 54th Massachusetts USCT. Frederick Douglass and William Parker were friends, and Douglass orchestrated Williams escape.

In Canada, William and his wife Elizabeth joined the Buxton Settlement in Nova Scotia. Their descendants continue to live in Buxton Settlement, and attend events in Pennsylvania honoring William Parker.

The Dawn Settlement was founded by Josiah Henson. The Henson are related through my maternal lines, and resided in Lancaster and Chester County Pennsylvania. They were escaped slaves from Charles County Maryland, and some went north, others remained. One of the Henson who is related is Matthew Henson, the Alaska Explorer. In February 2005, an agreement was reached with the St. Clair Parks Commission (in Canada), and the Government of Ontario to transfer ownership and operation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site to the Ontario Heritage Trust.

Josiah Henson, of Uncle Tom's Cabin, founded the Dawn Settlement in Canada. He was born into slavery on June 15, 1789 near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland. As a slave, Henson experienced horrifying conditions. He was separated from his parents, sold twice and maimed for life after being beaten.

In 1829, Henson arranged to purchase his freedom with money he earned by preaching to Methodist congregations. Betrayed by his master, Henson was taken to New Orleans to be sold. Henson escaped slavery by fleeing northwards with his wife and four children using the Underground Railroad, eventually crossing the Niagara River into Upper Canada (now Ontario) on October 28, 1830.

Upper Canada had become a haven for Black refugees from the United States after 1793 when Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed an "An Act to prevent the further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province." Although the legislation didn't free slaves living in Canada, it prohibited the importation of slaves to the province. This meant that refugees from slavery were free as soon as they set foot in Ontario. By 1830, when Henson arrived, the Black community in Upper Canada consisted of Black Loyalists who had fought for the British during the American Revolution, African American refugees from the War of 1812, and others.

I have included a link to the full article.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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