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.
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.
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:Land could only be sold to blacks and had to remain in their hands for
Land had to be purchased not leased
Each house had to be built at least 24x18x12 feet with a porch across the
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)
No liquor allowed on the settlement
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
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.
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
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.
E. A. Richardson
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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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 was one of Rev. King's first six graduates who
became a medical doctor and a missionary in Africa.
Jerome Riley was another of
Rev. King's first six grads who became a medical doctor and worked in Washington.