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History Corner: Black Citizens Of Early Puslinch


by Marjorie Clark

August 1, 1834 was Emancipation Day in the British Empire and its colonies. This day was legally recognized in Ontario by Bill 111, the Emancipation Day Act, which was sponsored by members of the three parties of the Legislature, our representative, Ted Arnott (Conservative), Maria Van Bommel (Liberal) and the late Peter Kormos (New Democratic).

It is not widely known that Puslinch was a refuge for black people from the United States before the Civil War. Historian and blogger, Jerry Prager, attributes the emigration of American blacks to this district to the efforts of certain English Quakers and Methodists in School Section #12, the north-west corner of Puslinch, particularly “Quaker John” Howitt of concession 5 and John Wetherald of lot 3, front concession 7. While there is no direct evidence to substantiate this theory, the black settlers in Puslinch did live in the north-west section, where Quaker Howitt and John Weatherall resided. John Wetherald was a Quaker. Although he was listed on the census as a Wesleyan Methodist, there must have been a reason for John Howitt’s “Quaker John” nickname. Kirkland Church, later renamed Howitt Memorial, situated on the north-east corner of lot 10 concession 4, was a Methodist Church. English Methodists and members of the Society of Friends brought with them from England a belief in the dignity of all men and took a stance against slavery. Christopher Densmore, Curator of the Friends History Library of Swarthmore College, states that, “Where there were no Quaker settlements, there were rarely any significant numbers of African-Americans”.

Between 1450-1850, approximately 12 million Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery. In 1833, the British Parliament passed the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery throughout the empire and as Upper Canada was a colony, the act applied here, too. The Underground Railway, a network of sympathetic people, secret paths, hiding places and safe houses, that stretched from the southern States to the Canadian border, started up in the late 1700’s and gradually grew, receiving its name in the 1830’s. Refuge in Upper Canada meant that the escaped slave from the U.S. was not only free, but also, in the main, safe from being hunted down by bounty hunters and returned to his former owner. Estimates of the number of individuals who arrived in Upper Canada vary considerably, probably between 20,000 to 30,000 in the years 1820 to 1860. Most of these people went to towns and cities.

The first recorded account of a black settler in Puslinch Township is a tragic one. Annals of Puslinch, 1850-1950 states that Benjamin Bowlen, a black man, purchased a farm in the Downey Road area in 1842. The 1840 census of Georgetown, DC includes a free black family, headed by a man by this name and it may be him or a son. Sadly, Ben Bowlen was found frozen to death a few years later beside his oxen and sleigh, while teaming his wheat to a mill in Preston.

Listed on the 1851 census of Puslinch Township, in the north-west corner, is Samuel Bush (born in the U.S. in 1819), his wife, Temperance (born in Canada in 1829) and their three children, William (1845), Elizabeth (1848) and Maria (1850), all born in Canada.

In 1854, a family named Buckingham lived in that same part of the township. Margaret Buckingham, a widow, was born in the U.S. Her children, however, were all born in Canada. They were: Temperance, wife of the aforementioned Samuel Bush, Adam (born 1830), Emerentia (1831), Lewis (1835), Anderson (1838), Isaac (1840) and David (1841).

In 1861, the young Buckingham men were farming in Eramosa Township. Living with them was James Hannibal, born in Virginia in 1825. By 1871, Isaac and Anderson Buckingham were living in Guelph, where they took up the plastering trade. They were described on the census for that year as “African”, as was their brother, David, who resided in St. John’s Ward in Toronto in 1881.

David Buckingham married Mary Martin and had children, Mary (1874), Edward (1876), Ellen Elizabeth “Nellie” (Nov. 13, 1877) and Emily (Jan. 26, 1880). In 1877, the family resided at 97 Church St., Rear in Toronto and in 1880, at 5 Elizabeth St., Rear, Toronto. By 1879, Isaac Buckingham had moved to Hamilton, where the City Directories record him as a plasterer until 1900. He married a woman named Margaret and had children, William (1875), Mary Jane (1877) and Mary A. (1879). Anderson Buckingham lived on Nottingham St., near Manchester St., in Guelph in 1882-83 but resided at 86½ McNab St. in Hamilton during 1886-1888. Perhaps Adam and Lewis Buckingham returned to the States, as a large percentage did. At the outbreak of the Civil War, men enlisted in the Union Army and others, hopeful of changes, returned after the war to search for relatives and friends.

In 1854, a man by the name of Jeremiah Collins resided in Puslinch, too. He appears to be a different “Jeremiah Collins” from a man of Irish descent, who dwelt with his family in the Strachan’s Corners area in 1871-81. However, due to a high proportion of white blood in the Underground Railway settlers, many were very light-skinned and found it advantageous to “pass” for white, citing their ancestry as English, Scottish or Irish.

An interesting story is that of Claude Rame and his family. Claude Rame was a white man, born in France c.1797, who became a naturalized American citizen in Charleston, South Carolina on December 18, 1829. He was a confectioner on 165 Meeting St., Charleston and a slave-holder. In 1830, he held 11 slaves and in 1840, 13. However, the number of “free coloured persons” working for him increased from 0 in 1830 to 11 in 1840.

With one of his slaves, Aurore D’Attier, who was of mixed black and white ancestry, he had five children, all born in the States: Aurora (born May 30, 1829), William (1834), Adeline (1836), Emily (1839) and Eugene (March 1840). Claude Rame filed a petition with the South Carolina Legislature in 1839, requesting that Aurore and her children be given their freedom, stating that he was “exceeding solicitous to recompense Aurore for her faithful services and meritorious character”. It was rejected.

As Barack Obama today, whose father was a black, Kenyan African and whose mother was a white American, is considered, in the U.S., to be black or African-American, thus it was then, that members of the Rame family were all labelled as “Coloured”. Fearing what might happen to his family, Claude Rame brought them to Canada and to lot 16, 4th concession of Puslinch in 1860. It is not clear whether Aurore survived to live in freedom, as Claude was listed as a widower on the 1861 census but Claude Rame himself lived out his life in the township, dying on his farm in the north-west section on Oct. 23, 1873. Two other young men, both born in the U. S., were living with the Rame family, when the 1861 census was taken: Leon Shaw, age 14 and Claude Newton, age 20.

The Rame children were educated and refined. For this reason, they probably found it difficult to find suitable partners in life, in those days, when most American blacks had little or no schooling at all and intermarriage between races was very rare. Only Aurora married and that in the U.S. She and her husband, George Vanderholt Miller lived in Toronto and had three children, William (1857), Virginia (1860) and Andrew Elias (1862). Aurora was widowed before 1871 and returned with her children and a niece, Hattie, to live in Puslinch with her father and siblings.

After Claude Rame’s death, his children moved from the township to 18 King St. in Guelph. Emily died on Sept. 21, 1886, William on Jan. 24, 1892, Adeline on Feb. 24, 1905 and Eugene on Feb. 28, 1930. Aurora Miller died at 114 King St., Guelph on June 9, 1925.

Aurora’s children, Andrew and Virginia Miller both married members of the family of Robert Moore, a barrister in East Gwillimbury Twp., York County and his wife, Mary Ann Fortune. Virginia married George W. Moore on Sept. 4, 1893 and Andrew married Maud Amelia Moore on July 1, 1895.

A less successful story is that of Henry B. and Julia Lipscombe. Henry was born in 1816 in North Carolina and Julia was born in Kentucky in 1819. Linda Brown Kubisch states in her book, “The Queen’s Bush Settlement”, that this couple settled on the front half of lot 11, concession 4, Peel Township in December 1844. Sadly, while living there, they lost a set of twins and on July 27, 1848, a 12-year-old daughter, Georgina French, when a shelf fell on her head.

After this, they had been burning wood to produce charcoal for a living for a number of years. This was achieved by mostly covering the wood with mud or earth to restrict the source of oxygen available to the fire. While thus engaged, Julia was fatally burned and their son was severely burned on Nov. 10, 1880. When his shanty on the Puslinch/Nassagaweya Townline burned down on February 25, 1882, Henry was reported as being a long-time resident of Puslinch, although he was a resident of Waterloo, ON in 1867.

The couple had a least two other children, Alice Maria Lipscombe, born in 1853 in Peel Twp. and James A. Lipscombe in 1857 in Hespeler. Alice married James Thompson in 1877 and in 1880, the couple moved to Chicago, where they had children and grandchildren. James married Mary Jane Bollen in 1878. In 1900, either separated or a widower (varying reports), he was living in Clark, Indiana. When he died on Dec. 29, 1923 at the Oak Forest Infirmary in Bremen, IL, he was employed as a hotel-worker, living in Wilmette, IL

In the words of the song:

“Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel
An’ why not every man.”

Previously published in two parts in the Puslinch Pioneer and reprinted here by permission of the author.

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