Rev. King
Black Power Town
Fanny Farres
Baptist Church
James Rapier
Maple Leaf Band
Threshing Time
Women of Buxton
Mary Anne Shadd
Buxton Bell
Abraham Shadd
Black Kent's History
Letter from Buxton

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Black History of Southwestern Ontario
This information is taken from a Black History project completed by
students and Staff from Chatham Collegiate Institute in Chatham, Ontario.
Material was compiled from the collections of the Chatham - Kent sites of the African Canadian Heritage Tour.

Introduction To Elgin

Found on this page!

Rules for the Elgin Settlement:

People of Elgin
The First Six Graduates of Rev. King's School
Resistance to the Elgin Settlement

Chatham The 1850's
Resettlement of Africa
The Chatham Convention
The Death of John Brown

The Elgin settlement, also known as Buxton, was the last of four organized black settlements to come into existence in Canada. The black population of Canada West and Chatham was already high because of the area's proximity to the United States of America. The land was purchased by the Elgin Association through the Presbyterian Synod for the purpose of creating a settlement. The land lay 12 miles south of Chatham. When news of the Elgin settlement spread, white settlers became worried, and attempted to block its development with a petition. Regardless of sentiment, plans for the settlement went ahead and many of Buxton's settlers feared for the life of William King due to the resistance of whites.

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Rev. William King

Founder of the Elgin Settlement, Rev. William King established a community that still exists today. This community is considered by many as one of the only settlements began as a haven for Blacks escaping slavery to have been a success. Much of the credit for the success of the settlement must be given to Rev. William King and his thoughtful development of this community.

William King believed that blacks could function successfully in a working society if given the same educational opportunities as white children. "Blacks are intellectually capable of absorbing classical and abstract matters." Being a reverend and teacher, the building of a school and church in the settlement was found necessary by him. The settlement also was home to the logging industry. George Brown, who later became one of the Fathers of Confederation was a supporter of William King and helped build the settlement.


When William King and his fifteen former slaves arrived at the land, which was bought for the settlement, a family was already waiting and others began to arrive soon afterwards. The first settler, Isaac Riley, was already waiting at the settlement before King even arrived. Mostly all adults living in the settlement had been slaves before. The settlement was made of 9 000 acres of land, 6 miles in length, 3 in width situated between the Great Western Railway and Lake Erie. The land was divided into farms of 50 acres each. Certain standards had to be maintained in the settlement regarding property conditions. Land had to be purchased by the settlers at the price of $2.50/acre. The payments could be made in ten equal installments with 6% interest. Ten years was allowed for the settlers to pay for their farms, most settlers would have had a deed in possession by then. The settlers were given no money, no grants of land, nor farming tools; the only thing given was protection and advice.

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Gravestone of original Settler

Found in South Buxton this stone marks the grave of one of the original settlers of the Elgin Settlement. There are three black cemeteries in what was the Elgin Settlement. The other two are located in what became North Buxton. The North Buxton sites are still used for burial today.


Rules for the Elgin Settlement:

  1. No liquor allowed on the settlement
  2. Land could only be sold to blacks and had to remain in their hands for ten years
  3. Land had to be purchased not leased
  4. Each house had to be built at least 24x18x12 feet with a porch across the front
  5. Each house had to be built 33 feet from the road, with a picket fence and flower garden in front; prizes were given for the most attractive home (made from the logs cut down from the thick bush surrounding the area)

Reasons for the strict rules:

William King wanted a stable settlement for the black settlers. By requiring the inhabitants to pay for their own property and possessions he hoped to instill a sense of pride in the community. The settlers also had to live on the land for ten years, which made many stay a reasonable length of time in Buxton. The rules paid off as Buxton has been hailed the only successful black settlement in Canada.


Reverend William King and a young assistant, John Rennie, took young black children (and two white children who attended the school) past the elementary school level and on to the secondary level. Those with the ability were encouraged to attend college or post secondary education. The school was so successful that many white settlers asked to close their school and attend the King school, this made one of the first integrated schools in North America. Subjects such as Latin were studied there. Mary Ann Shadd's parents and a number of her brothers and sisters moved just outside of the Buxton limits.


A new course, Greek, was added to school classes.


The day school had 78 on the roll, 26 were children of white parents. King was chiefly paid by the Home Mission Committee of the Presbyterian (Free) Church of Canada, which always bore testimony against the evils of slavery. By August 1st, 1852 there were 400 settlers. Twenty-five families had purchased land close together, furthering the community atmosphere. Within the district there were about 100 families. Of the 350 acres of land cleared at this time, 204 of those were under crop. The land had been adapted to grow corn, tobacco and hemp. The rule of no alcohol was working well as there are no cases of drunkenness to date. A court of arbitration was set up to encourage peace among the settlers.


130 families had settled on Elgin Association land. There were a total of 520. 500 acres had been cleared and were under fence; 135 were partially cleared. 263 acres were planted with corn, 60 acres with wheat, 29 with oats and 90 with various others. There were 112 students now enrolled in the day school.


More houses were built in the settlement, one person even constructed a brick home. There were approximately 150 families settled in Elgin. By this time 726 acres were cleared and under fence, 174 were cut down and ready for clearing. 334 acres were planted with corn, 95 with wheat, 48 with oats and 100 with other assorted crops. The day school had 147 students registered.


827 acres were under fence, 216 have been chopped down. There is a considerable amount of tobacco being farmed. The school now has 150 on the roll. A saw mill and market are completed on July 4th, 1855.


By 1856 there were close to 800 people living in the Elgin Settlement. The settlement now had a school and mission's church. The Buxton mission was named after the Earl of Buxton (British Parliament) who passed the Emancipation Act of 1833. During 1856 the Elgin settlement had a post office, store, a two story hotel, a blacksmith, a carpenter, shoe shops, factories and a savings bank. Six men had finished their education at King's school.

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S.S.# 13 Raleigh Township

Education was a focal point in the Elgin Settlement. The Buxton schools were sought out by those seeking a quality education that included the classics and preparation for careers such as  medicine and law. The schools here were never segregated and taught both black and white from the beginning.   This is the second school and was  built around 1861, It still stands today and is used as an annex to the museum. One of the museum's ambitions for the future is the restoration of this school house to its original state.


Two schools had been doing well, one male and one female, bringing the total student population to 140.


The population comes to a height with 2000 people.


Reverend William King

William King was born on November 11th, 1812 in Ireland. He attended the Glascow University where he was influenced by social reforms and the work of the famous British abolitionist, Sir Thomas Foxwell Buxton. In 1834 William King emigrated with his parents to North America. The family settled on a land. Ohio farm and then moved to South Jackson Louisiana. Here he became Rector of Matthew's Academy which was a private school for children of wealthy plantation owners. Eventually William King married Mary Phares and she brought four slaves. King was totally opposed to any such idea and publicly protested slavery.

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Rev. William King

From the very beginning King was against slavery. After his wife, son and daughter all died, King returned to Scotland where he continued his schooling to become a minister and missionary. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland posted him to do missionary work in Canada. In 1846 King arrived in Canada when he learned of his father in laws death. King immediately returned to Louisiana where he inherited his wife's property and retrieved his slaves to return to Canada. He arrived back in Canada in 1848 with 14 black slaves and 4 year old Solomon, the son of one of the slaves. This was the beginning of William King's black community in November of 1849. King did marry again while he lived on the Elgin Settlement, his second wife, Jemima, (who was white) was known to be a bit eccentric. She supposedly was unable to have children of her own and would try to take babies on the street away from their parents. However she was a musician and taught music at the settlement. He died in 1895 at age 82. A character based on Reverend William King is portrayed in Harriet Beacher Stowe's book - Dred, A Tale of the Great Swamp.

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E. A. Richardson B.M.E. Church
North Buxton

Isaac Riley

Isaac Riley was raised in Perry County, Missouri. Tired of the life of slavery, he escaped to Canada with his wife and their child. Living among the French near Windsor he was able to earn small wages. He moved across to Michigan where he found better pay. Riley then moved back to St. Catherine's in Canada, where he was paid 50 cents a day. Eventually he moved to Buxton because he wanted his children to have a good education.

Henry Johnson

Henry Johnson was originally from Pennsylvania. He also lived in Ohio before coming to Canada. Henry lived in various parts of Canada for four years before moving to the Buxton Settlement. "I came to Canada for rights, freedom and liberty. But most of all I came to Buxton so my children could have a good education." One of his daughters had been doing extremely well in school in Ohio. She had been advancing quickly through the levels and was receiving her education with ladies. Her mother went through a lot of trouble to make sure she was well dressed and groomed when she went to school also. The school trustees, however, passed a rule that did not allow black children in the public schools. Her father became upset and visited the trustees but there was nothing he could do about the rule. The teacher contacted Henry Johnson and told him that he liked his daughter and that the students had voted in class that she should stay but the vote had already been passed. Johnson was very impressed with the Elgin Settlement. He told historian Benjamin Drew in 1856 that the people were prosperous and admired the fact that they didn't accept charity as it made men lazy.

Clarissa Bristow Johnston

Clarissa Bristow Johnston worked for a master and mistress in Louisiana. At age 12 she escaped. She went to the Elgin Settlement and married. She married Abraham Johnston of the Christiana Riots fame. She and her husband had 11 children, 9 of which died. Her husband also died young. In her writings she describes how she would go out to bury one child and by the time she returned, another would have passed away. Through all of this she was still able to keep the family farm. The farm is still on the same property with the same family today in Buxton.


The First Six Graduates of Rev. King's School


Dr. Anderson Abbott

Dr. Abbott was educated in the Elgin settlement as one of William King's first 6 graduates. He studied medicine at the University of Toronto and became licentiate of the Medical Board of Upper Canada in 1861. In 1863 he served as a surgeon in the United States Army under Dr. Augusta. Later he was the surgeon in charge at the Washington Hospital until he resigned in April 1866.

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Dr. Anderson Abbott

One of the original six graduates of the Buxton Mission school he rose to prominence as a Doctor. For more information on Anderson Abbott follow the link that appears below.


He returned to Canada and married Mary Ann Casey. They set up residence on Park St. in Chatham. Dr. Abbott began to practice medicine from the Hunton Block on William Street. In Chatham, Dr. Abbott was president of Wilberforce Educational Institute from 1873-1880. He was the associate editor of the Missionary Messenger, published by the British Methodist Episcopal Church and president of the Chatham Literary and Debating Society. During the year of 1878 he was President of Chatham's Medical Society. He was also one of the first Coroners for Kent County. Doctor Abbott died in December, 1913.


James Rapier

James Rapier was one of William King's first 6 graduates. He attended Knox College in Toronto and later came back to Buxton to teach at the SS #13. After the American Civil War he returned to Alabama where he became a state representative.

Alfred Lafferty

Alfred Lafferty was one of the first 6 graduates from the Elgin School, SS #13. Alfred Lafferty graduated from the University of Toronto's mathematics program. In Chatham Lafferty held the post of principal of the Wilberforce Educational Institute from 1875-1882. He was an active member of the Literary Society and a lodge. In 1886 he became a lawyer in Chatham.

Thomas Stringer

Thomas was one of the first six graduates of Rev. King's school in Buxton. He graduated as an adult student. Some of his accomplishments included founding the BME (British Methodist Episcopal) Churches in Chatham and Buxton. He returned to Mississippi and became an orator there after the Civil War in the USA. The Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge in Mississippi was named after him.

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson was one of Rev. King's first six graduates who became a medical doctor and a missionary in Africa.

Jerome Riley

Jerome Riley was another of Rev. King's first six grads who became a medical doctor and worked in Washington.



Resistance to the Elgin Settlement

Edwin Larwill

Edwin Larwill was a white, English born Tory who came to Chatham in 1841. He was a member of the Raleigh Township Council, West District Council, legislature and school commissioner for the district. He also was the editor of the Chatham Journal. Larwill, however, was strongly against the black settlement of Elgin. He felt that a black settlement so near Chatham would bring down property values and the "good" settlers (whites) would leave. Larwill considered blacks inferior. He arranged for a public debate on the issue of the black settlement on August 18, 1849 at the Royal Exchange Hotel in Chatham. The sheriff of Kent warned William King that Larwill had a vigilante group.

On the day of the debate between Larwill and King, 300 people came to watch. This included a group of blacks as well as whites. The debate took place on the balcony of the Hotel so the public could watch. The only white person to face the crowd with King was Archibald McKellar. When King spoke he was booed and hissed at for his position. Yet he was not intimidated and continued. King's arguments received little support, Larwill's fears prevailed. William King then went to Chatham's Presbyterian Church to answer any questions. There were no arguments nor violence. Later he was escorted safely back to the hotel. Larwill continued his opposition to blacks. He persuaded the West District Council to send protest to Parliament. Then he added recommendations of his own without Council's knowledge.

His recommendations would have:

  • barred blacks from public schools
  • barred blacks from public office
  • forced blacks to pay poll tax
  • forced blacks who were allowed to vote to be re-examined
  • forced blacks to post bonds if they wished to stay in Canada

Reaction Reaction - Council felt that Larwill was far too extreme. Therefore he hurt his cause because of taking his own action.

King moved to the Elgin Settlement November 28, 1849 with his former slaves. The settlement flourished because it was well organized. Under King's leadership the land was cleared, education maintained an importance, hard work and pride were established and a mail service was started as a link to the rest of the world. On September 24, 1856 a celebration was held on the lawn of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. There Chatham whites saw the success of the settlement. Also celebrated was the defeat of Larwill by Archibald McKellar in the Kent Election of 1856. Most blacks had come in to Chatham from Elgin to vote against Larwill. This defeat ended his political career. Rev. King, "From that time (of Larwill's defeat) forward all opposition to me and the coloured people ceased." By 1864 the settlement received a good report indicating: good conduct, a hard working community, good moral standards and political awareness and participation.

By 1873 the Board of Directors of the Elgin Association disbanded leaving Elgin on its own! King served Elgin till his death in Chatham on January 5, 1895. He is buried in Maple Leaf Cemetery.

Chatham The 1850's

By the 1850's Chatham was a bustling commercial center. The total population was 1/3 black by the end of the decade. Many of these blacks had come from all over the American South to settle in Chatham. At this time there were 80 Canadian born blacks in Chatham. Most of the refugees lived beyond Prince St. on King St. E. The street was lined with log cabins and small houses with garden plots. At Chatham's largest market, a great number of the vegetable wagons belonged to the blacks. The prosperous black families would have owned two story homes equal to those of white citizens. The New York Herald proclaimed that begging did not exist in Chatham - only 2 or 3 refugees received municipal funds. This decade was probably the height of the black population in Chatham, mainly because The Fugitive Slave Law had been passed in the United States and many blacks had escaped to Chatham to avoid being caught by slave catchers.

Resettlement of Africa

Dr. Martin Delany was chief advocate of the resettlement of West Africa. He didn't think it was possible for the white and black races to integrate successfully, neither did he think it would be desirable. So in 1858, two years after he arrived in Chatham, Dr. Delany organized the Niger Valley Exploring Party. The Party consisted of himself; Amos Aray, a local doctor as secretary; James Purnell, a Chatham merchant as commercial reporter; Robert Campell, a naturalist and an artist. They were supposed to promote "the political and other interests of the Coloured Inhabitants of North America, particularly the USA and Canada." They were also supposed to limit their activities to gathering scientific data and not encourage emigration to Africa. Because of these instructions, conflicts arose among the sponsoring board. Delany became frustrated with the delays and set out on his own in 1859. On December 27, 1859 Delany and Campbell signed a treaty with the Alake of Abeokuta which provided that North American Negroes would settle on any unsettled land in common with the Egba people. After the two agents left for England, Anglican missionary pressure led to the separation of the agreement. Delany returned to Canada West to present his information to his sponsors. The beginning of the Civil War in the United States destroyed his plans because of Naval blockades, dislocation of sea routes and and distortion of the cotton market. One of the reasons recruiters such as Delany and Campbell were not successful was the fact that fugitive slaves felt safe under the British flag.

Next column


Slave Catchers in Chatham, Canada West!

Events of the 1850's

In 1857 John Wells and T.G. James, both from the Southern USA, came to Chatham to recover "a smart, coloured lad named Joseph Alexander". A large crowd of the town's blacks and Alexander gathered in front of the Royal Exchange Hotel to hear the two white men speak. James told the crowd that Joe was a good boy but too big and saucy. He went on to say he had only beat Joe once after he had been drunk and smashed a carriage and let some horses run away. Then Joe got up and told everyone that how Wells and James owned one of the biggest slave pens in the South. They held 500 slaves behind St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. The men saw that the crowd was against them and offered Joe $100 to go to Windsor. Joe appealed to the group, "I am positive from what I know of James that he would shoot me dead and then leave me, for he would just as soon shoot a man as a squirrel and a white man as a black man - and Wells is just like him." The crowd escorted the two to the train and Joe Alexander won his freedom.

The Fugitive Slave Law passed in September 1850 allowed escaped slaves to be captured and brought back to their masters. The law also prosecuted anyone who helped hide slaves or who aided fugitive slaves in any way. The law was very expensive to the United States of America as it cost thousands of dollars to return all slaves to the places from where they had escaped. A boom also began in the slave catching business. It was easy to take any black person, free or not and say they escaped. Slave catchers roamed the whole continent looking for black people. Because of this law many blacks escaped to Canada in the 1850's and 60's. The Fugitive Slave Law was responsible for the escalation of blacks in Chatham and Buxton, as they were final stations of the Underground Railroad.

The Chatham Convention

John Brown was a white abolitionist from Kansas who planned to end slavery by training a group of men in "guerilla warfare". He wanted to overthrow the American government to do so. He chose Chatham as the place to develop his military strategy and draw up the constitution for the new government he hoped to form. In April 1858 he and 13 of his supporters arrived in Chatham. While Brown stayed at the home of James Bell, his supporters stayed at the Villa Mansion Hotel. Before the meetings he drilled his men in Tecumseh Park under the guise that he had come to Chatham to form a new coloured lodge of the Masonic order. But soon after, a select group of friends were mailed letters asking them to attend his secret convention on Saturday May 8, 1858.

Continued at top of next column


It was then apparent what he was doing. At his first meeting in the British Methodist Church outlined his violent attack plans. The minister and some Chatham blacks were afraid of Brown's revolutionary plans and he was barred from holding his meetings there. Further meetings were held at the Princess St. School and the First Baptist Church. Here officers were elected to Brown's provisional government. Brown returned to Kansas and later found out that word had of the Chatham Convention had leaked. His raid was delayed for a year.

The raid on Harper's Ferry end in disaster as Brown was captured and arrested. The attack on October 16, 1859 became the first battle of the American Civil War. Brown was tried for conspiracy with slaves to rebel, treason and murder. He was found guilty and hung late 1859.

Black Chathamites who supported John Brown included the Shadd family who loaned him their offices and printing press. Isaac Holden, captain of the Black Fire Brigade, and J.M Bell helped Brown by taking care of his mail. Isiah Matthew, Edward Nolan and Aaron Highgate, all went to Detroit on their way to join Brown's army, but turned back when they heard he had been captured. The only Black Canadian to take part in the raid was Osbourne Anderson who was friends with the Shadd family. He survived the raid, came back to Canada and wrote a book with Mary Ann Shadd "A Voice From Harper's Ferry".

The Death of John Brown

During his trial, John Brown was represented by a lawyer named Hoyt from Boston. Apparently during the trial John Brown took little interest in the proceedings and lay on a couch suffering from his wounds. The jury took only 45 minutes to come to a verdict. They had found Brown guilty of treason and conspiracy and advising slaves and others to rebel and murder in the first degree. The large crowd was absolutely silent when and after the verdict was given. He had a few words to say when the judge asked him why the death sentence should not be passed on him. He said that he intended to free the slaves cleanly and go to Missouri to free slaves there without firing a gun and then move them to Canada.




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