North Buxton

North Buxton Community Church

Rev William King was born of Scottish origin in 1812 on his family farm near Derry Ireland. After completing university King’s family packed up, sold their farm and headed for America, arriving in Ohio in 1833. King spends sometime in the states before traveling to Scotland to study theology. After completing his course, he goes back to the states to become a licensed minister in the Presbyterian church. In the year of 1846 King lost most of his family members, subsequently inheriting all their property in addition to 15 slaves estimated to be worth 9000$. King had already been asked to be a part of a mission in Canada and thus took the slaves with him with the intention of freeing them. The first thing he did was attempt to secure a tract of land to serve as a refugee colony on behalf of the church. The failure of this attempt led King and several others to form a group aimed at “Purchasing crown or clergy reserve lands in the township of Raleigh and settling the same with coloured families resident in Canada of approved moral character." known as the Elgin foundation. Kent county did not take lightly to the news of a refugee settlement. Edwin Larwell was one parliament member who was known to have despised the decision in addition to several residents of Chatham. Even so, Larwell and several committees set up to espouse raciest sentiments against the settlement wouldn't end up stopping the purchase of 9000 acres in south Chatham, which would come to be one of the first all African Canadian settlements in Canada in 1849. By the mid 1860’s there were 1000 people living in Buxton which had gone from a settlement to a well running township. The religious grounding of the settlement founded upon the preaching and moralism of the the Elgin association meant that there were certain rules on the settlement, such as the banning of alcohol and attendance at church. The Elgin Foundation ran the settlement until 1873. 

Karen Shadd-Evelyn recalls her upbringing in her memoir “I’d rather live in Buxton” In addition to speaking on her ancestry which ties her to the town for generations. The author highlights that as the settlement grew under the secular leadership of the Elgin Foundation, it was observed that the settlers were largely self-governing and with low incidences of violence. The appointed 5-member court of arbitration delegated for settling disputes only saw 5 cases in its first 2 years but were heavily involved in the social life of Buxton including festivities, funerals and certain emergencies. Many attribute this to the high emphasis African Americans in Buxton placed on Christian values and education in addition to the philanthropic habits of freemen. Education in Buxton was known to promote diligence and hard work from students. Something else that further distinguished education in Buxton was the decision by King to have the Buxton mission school be integrated from its inception. This was quite exceptional as Integrated education had been fought by residents of Chatham due to the general racism which saw parents pulling children out of schools if they were forced to mingle with African Canadian children. In spite of discrimination from surrounding towns, African Americans in Buxton began gaining wealth and status and a class of successful families emerged from within the community. Karen Shadd-Evelyn is herself a descendant of the Shadd-family, of whom Abraham Shadd was known to have successfully cultivated 300 acres of land estimated to have been worth around 17,000$. The Shadd brothers Abraham and Absalom had fought for abolition in America and had a long standing history and reputation of abolition activism by the time they arrived in Buxton. Abraham Doras Shadd would go on to become one of Buxton’s most respected citizens as the first African Canadian elected to public office. 

Additionally, Fort Eerie is a historically renowned site for the passage of slaves into Canada due to its proximity to the Niagara river enabling the development of several fugitive settlements aside from Buxton through the 1800's. Glenn walker describes the dynamics at play within such settlements such as Snake hill, the Bertie hill settlement and little Africa, highlighting the significance of the region as a historical site for African Canadians descending from slavery. Memories of escape to Fort Eerie shared by runaway slaves like Josiah Henson would go on to inform the literary manifestation of slave narratives in books, academia and popular culture for decades to come, one example being the use of Henson's story in crafting the narrative of Uncle Tom's cabin. Such stories highlight that in spite of the ability to procure land and work in Canada, discrimination was still rampant even with the growth of the African Canadian community. Shirley J Yee describes in her study titled "Gender and Ideology; Black woman as community builders in Ontario" the ways in which work opportunities for African Canadians following the civil war were similar for many black women as they had been in the United States which was mostly domestic such as seamstresses, nannies, housekeepers e.c.t Yet women still engaged in activism to better their communities in spite of their hardships,  forming such groups as "The women's home missionary society" which worked to promote Christian values, public education and actively worked to maintain schools and public buildings.