Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

African Canadians

A few lessons in African-Canadian History

The Underground Railroad

Breaking Chains: Thornton and Lucie Blackburn's Journey from Enslavement to Freedom

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Based on the Novel that started The Civil War! Al Adamson Cult Classic!

Underground Railroad - Education at Buxton Settlement

Spencer Alexander is a sixth generation Underground Railroad descendant and has done extensive research into his family history. His grandfather was a founder of the museum when it was established in 1967.

Mr. Alexander is the Assistant Curator of the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum. Mr. Alexander also does historical dramatic portrayals of prominent figures pertaining to the Underground Railroad and Canadian Black History as well as gives presentations to schools and other organizations in Canada and the United States.

As assistant curator he gives tours and presentations to visitors, conducts genealogical research for those interested in discovering their family history, assists university students and professors in their research into the history of the Elgin/Buxton Settlement, updates accession records, cares for the museum's artifacts and documents using museum conservation methods.

The Elgin Settlement, also known as Buxton, was one of four organized black settlements to be developed in Canada's early history during US slavery. The black population of Canada West and Chatham was already high due to the area's proximity to the United States. The land was purchased by the Elgin Association through the Presbyterian Synod for creating a settlement. Location: 12 miles south of Chatham, Ontario.

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.

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 a necessity to 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.

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.


Buxton Museum Tour
THE BUXTON MUSEUM, officially opened in 1967, was Raleigh Township's Centennial Project as a memorial to the Elgin Settlement, haven for the fugitives of the American system of slavery in the pre-Civil War years.

See also Underground to Canada

Black History Web Site
The Refugees from Slavery in Canada West
Report to the Freedmen's Inquiry Commission by S. G. Howe (1864) (pdf)
John Brown in Canada
A Monograph by James Cleland Hamilton, LL.D. (pdf)
The African in Canada
The Maroons of Jamaica and Nova Scotia by J. C. Hamilton (1890) (pdf)
The Canadian contingent
Patriotic speech by Canada's French nobleman Sir Wilfrid Laurier, premier of the Dominion of Canada, delivered in the Canadian house of Parliament, in reply to Mr. Bourassa's dissenting motion, March 13th, 1900 (pdf)
Alberta’s Black Settlers: A Study of Canadian Immigration, Policy and Practice
By Judith S. Hill (1981) (pdf)

John W. Ravage. Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experiences on the North American Frontier. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998). 218 pp., $24.95 cloth.

This scholarly study is a welcome effort to broaden the horizon of what many Americans have come to believe are the true westering experiences. It began with the early western images created in dime store novels and brought to life on the movie screen. The featured settlers, cowboys, outlaws, and other heroes were generally white. In this scenario, the frontier was tamed by strong willed white men while the role of African Americans in the "western United States and Canada and Alaska" was largely ignored.

In Black Pioneers, Professor Ravage challenges any notion of a "white west" scenario and uses "approximately two hundred pictorials" and "other graphic images" to establish the historical presence of African Americans in the West. Between 1870 and 1880, for example, there were at least 150,000 Blacks living west of the Mississippi River; of which, 15-20,000 represented "a broad range of laborers, professionals, builders, gamblers, roughnecks, politicians, leaders, followers, good men and women" as well as the bad. They joined forced with other ethnic groups, when allowed, to engage "in various endeavors in small and large communities" to challenge an unforgiving frontier with courage and daring. This forging experience extended the general description of the American frontier. In true diasporic terms, the author has expanded the realm of the traditional west. For him the frontier or the American West (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, Nevada, etc., and the Pacific Northwest) has been re-defined to include Alaska and Hawaii. And, indeed, Canada becomes part of the African American's frontier experience. This is done despite being overlooked or excluded from the fabric of the Ethnic Studies Review Volume 21 North American conquest saga. Thus this book not only establishes the African American pioneers' "physical presence" but shows these pioneers as active players in the saga and as contributors to the cultural, social, and political development of the North American Frontier.

The author's admission that the text would not stress "historical analysis" of the evidence does not excuse some questionable statements in the narrative. This aside, the photographic evidence is truly a remarkable showcase of the varied existence for blacks on the frontier. This is a very readable book that I highly recommend to academics and general readers. It is a welcome addition in the mode of William L. Katz's pioneering pictorial work on African Americans' westering experiences.

Nudie Eugene Williams
University of Arkansas

Return to our History Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.