Black History In Ontario – The 19th Century – A Guest Post by John Fioravanti

Jill Dennison has generously featured me as a guest once again as we complete Black History Month In Canada with this post. Please visit Jill’s great blog site and share.

Filosofa's Word

Today is 28 February … the last day of February and the final day of Black History Month in both the U.S. and Canada.  I have let the ball drop this month, for reasons at least partly beyond my control, but our friend John Fioravanti has helped by sharing with us so much of Canada’s black history!  Last week, I published Part I of John’s guest post, and we thought it fitting to save Part II for the final day of February, to wrap up the month.  I would like to thank John for all the hard work he put into these wonderfully informative posts!  Hey John … what say we do it again next year?

Text dividersPrologue

Upper Canada did not flourish, and Loyalist settlements remained scattered and isolated. Simcoe’s vision of a prosperous, English-speaking province was not shared in London. Britain viewed the fledgling colony as a mere appendage…

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Black History In Canada… Afua Cooper

Dr. Afua Cooper, born in Jamaica, has made significant artistic and academic contributions to Canadian society.

Afua Cooper – Educator, Historian, Performance Artist, Poet

In addition to her renown as a dub poet-performance artist, Afua Cooper is an internationally-ranked historian., especially for her groundbreaking book The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal.

"The Hanging of Angelique" book cover
Available on Amazon in Paperback or Kindle (Click on the cover to go to the Amazon listing)

Afua (Ava Pamela) Cooper, educator, historian, performance artist, poet (born 8 November 1957 in the Whithorn district of Westmoreland, Jamaica), is considered one of the most influential and pioneering voices in the Canadian dub poetry [it consists of spoken word over reggae rhythms] and spoken word movement. Her poems are published in numerous regional, national and international journals and anthologies. Afua Cooper also has CDs of her performances that make her work well known to the global community.In addition to her renown as a performance artist, Cooper is an internationally-ranked historian. She has taught Caribbean cultural studies, history, women’s studies and Black studies at Ryerson and York universities, at the University of Toronto and at Dalhousie University.
Continue reading “Black History In Canada… Afua Cooper”

Black History Month In Canada… Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Upper Canada in 1830.

Josiah Henson – Spiritual Leader, Author, Founder

Josiah Henson, spiritual leader, author, founder of the Black community settlement at Dawn, Upper Canada/Canada West (born 15 June 1789 in Charles County, Maryland; died 5 May 1883 in Dresden, ON). Born enslaved, Henson escaped to Canada in 1830. He founded the Dawn Settlement near Dresden, Upper Canada, for American fugitives from enslavement. He and a group of associates organized a trade-labor school, the British-American Institute. He was active on the executive committee until the Institute closed in 1868. Henson served as Dawn’s spiritual leader and patriarch and made numerous fundraising trips to the United States and England. He published his autobiography in 1849, and he was allegedly Harriet Beecher Stowe’s model for the lead character in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).

Henson first tried to buy his freedom in 1825. His owner, Isaac Riley, needed money and sent Henson to escort a group of 18 enslaved persons to Kentucky. While in transit, the group could easily have escaped to Ohio and made themselves free, but Henson believed his owner’s offer of manumission (ownership of himself). Consequently, he would not allow the escape and was later disappointed when he realized that his owner had no intention of giving him his freedom. He was taken, along with his wife and four children, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1829 to be sold. Henson and his family fled to Upper Canada, reaching the Niagara Peninsula on 28 October 1830.

Henson and his family settled near Dresden, Upper Canada. With his leadership skills, he was able to command the support of abolitionists who helped him create the Dawn Settlement, a place for refugees from enslavement to gain the education and skills necessary for self-sufficiency and self-determination. It was Henson’s belief that Black persons needed to learn skills within their own community. In 1841, Henson and his partners purchased 200 acres of land, and in 1842, they established the British-American Institute. A central focus of the settlement, the school was created for students of all ages and was sustainably designed to train teachers while providing general education and trade-labor instruction to members of the community. The community of Dawn developed around the Institute, with many residents farming, attending the Institute, and working in sawmills, gristmills and in other local industries.

After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, some members of the community returned or moved to the United States, though many remained at Dawn.

Henson’s autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada (1849) was published in order to raise funds for the continuation of the Dawn Settlement. Many consider Henson’s autobiography to be the inspiration for the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Some have expressed concern over Josiah Henson as the model for the Uncle Tom character in Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Though written and published as an anti-slavery text, the book portrayed Black persons in a stereotypical manner.

Uncle Tom's Cabin-located in Dresden Ontario. The cabin was owned by Josiah Henson (former slave, author, abolitionist, minister) and the inspiration for Harnet Beecher Stowe's title character
Uncle Tom’s Cabin-located in Dresden Ontario. The cabin was owned by Josiah Henson (former slave, author, abolitionist, minister) and the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s title character (panoramio.com)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                            http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                            http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/josiah-henson/

Black History Month In Canada… Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand a highly accomplished poet, writer, and social activist made Canada her home after migrating from Trinidad.

Dionne Brand – Poet, Writer, Educator, and Activist

Dionne Brand, poet, writer, filmmaker, educator and activist (born 7 January 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad). Winner of the Governor General’s Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize, and former poet laureate of Toronto, Dionne Brand is considered one of Canada’s most accomplished poetic voices.
Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Dionne Brand”

Black History Month In Canada… Ferguson (Fergie) Arthur Jenkins

Ferguson Jenkins became one of the premier pitchers in pro baseball history pitching in both the American and National leagues.

Ferguson (Fergie) Arthur Jenkins – Pro Baseball Player

Born in Chatham, Ontario, in 1942, Ferguson Arthur Jenkins was discovered by Philadelphia Phillies scout Gene Dziadura at the age of 15. While he initially had dreams to become a professional hockey player, Fergie’s 21-year professional baseball career began with the Phillies in 1965.

From 1967–1972, while a member of the Chicago Cubs, Fergie accomplished an incredible achievement of six straight 20-win seasons, winning the 1971 NL Cy Young Award as the league’s top pitcher.

In 1974, after being traded to the Texas Rangers, Fergie won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, winning a career-high 25 games. He remained in Texas for one more season before going to the Boston Red Sox for two years, and then back to the Rangers for four more seasons until 1981.

Fergie retired after the 1983 season, returning to Chicago and retiring as a Cub, not long after recording his 3,000th strikeout. At the time, he was the only pitcher in baseball history to strikeout more than 3,000 batters while accumulating less than 1,000 walks (997), a feat only since matched by Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux.

Career Highlights include the following: the first and only Canadian to be inducted into the National Baseball National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, July of 1991; induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Mary’s, Ontario, 1987; Lou Marsh Award recipient as Canada’s top athlete, 1974; Canadian Press Male Athlete of the Year 1967, 1968, 1971, 1974; inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2001; received the Order of Canada, 2007; Inducted into Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, 2012.

 

On March 18, 2009, it was announced by the Cubs that Fergie’s number would be retired at Wrigley Field in Chicago. In a ceremony on May 3, 2009, Fergie’s number, 31, was raised up the historic left field foul pole, enshrining him among the other greatest Chicago Cubs players in its storied 138-year history. In 2010, Fergie was honored with a Canadian Postage Stamp in conjunction with Black History Month. In February 2011, he traveled to 46 cities across Canada, promoting the stamp and speaking on behalf of Black History initiatives. His charitable foundation, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation, was founded in 1999 and continues to operate out of St. Catharines, Ontario, raising more than $4-million for hundreds of charities across North America.

In 2011, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation doubled its office size to accommodate the development of the Fergie Jenkins Baseball/Black History Museum. The facility opened to the public in 2013, celebrates Fergie’s athletic and humanitarian accomplishments, showcases his vast collection of sports memorabilia and serves as an educational tool for local youth.

Fergie Jenkins pitching for the Texas Rangers.
(30-Year Old Cardboard – WordPress.com)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                                   http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* Fergie Jenkens Website                                                          http://www.fergiejenkins.ca/site/biography

Black History Month In Canada… Bruny Surin

Bruny Surin, emigrated from Haiti to Quebec at the age of seven. He became an Olympic runner and gold medalist along with relay teammate Donovan Bailey.

Bruny Surin – Olympic Athlete

Bruny Surin, athlete (b at Cap Haïtien, Haiti, 12 July 1967). Surin was just seven years old when he immigrated to Québec. At the age of 17, he took an interest in the long jump and the triple jump. As a member of the Canadian team, he finished 15th in the long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. However, the 100 m sprint would be the defining event of his career.

At the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, he finished 3rd in the 100 m and 7th in the long jump. Surin placed 4th in the 100 m at his second Olympic Games in 1992, missing the podium by five one-hundredths of a second. After winning the 100 m sprint at the 1994 Jeux de la francophonie [Francophonie Games], Surin would go on to place second at the 1995 world championships.

Surin and his teammates won the gold medal in the 4 x 100 m relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games after dominating the race at the 1995 world championships. The Canadian team would successfully defend its title at the 1997 world championships.

He became the Canadian 100 m champion in 1998 with a time of 9.89 seconds, his fastest up until then. The highlight of his career came in 1999 when he ran the 100 m in under 10 seconds six times. Three of these times were at the world championships. In the final, he recorded a personal best with a time of 9.84 seconds, winning silver and missing the gold medal won by Maurice Greene by four one-hundredths of a second.

In 2009, a biography co-written by Bruny Surin and Saïd Khalil entitled Bruny Surin, le lion tranquille was published by Éditions Libre Expression in Montreal. The book covers Bruny Surin recounting 17 years of his sports career. In the book, Surin criticizes doping, describing it as a gangrene that ails athletics and all other sports.

His father lost his family in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. His oldest daughter is a professional tennis player and attends Penn State. His youngest daughter is a professional track and field athlete and recently committed to the University of Connecticut.

Founded in 2003, the Bruny Surin Foundation’s mission is to promote and encourage the adoption of a healthy lifestyle amongst youth in order to fight school dropout.

In addition to organizing seminars featuring well-known public figures for students and underprivileged children, the Bruny Surin Foundation coordinates training camps to encourage youngsters to adopt an active way of life.

The Foundation also provides direct financial support to elite athletes through annual contributions to the Fondation de l’athlète d’excellence du Québec. Thanks to the FBS Gala and the “Demi-Marathon Oasis de Blainville”, $1.5 million has been raised over the past 15 years.

Donovan Bailey (L) and Olympic teammate Bruny Surin (R) training for the relay.
Donovan Bailey (L) and Olympic teammate Bruny Surin (R) training for the relay.

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                               http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                        http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/bruny-surin/

Black History Month In Canada… Carrie Mae Best

Carrie Mae Best was born in Nova Scotia where she dedicated her life to the improvement of race relations in her province and Canada.

Carrie Mae Best – Human Rights Activist, Author, Publisher, Broadcaster

Carrie Mae Best (née Prevoe), OC, LLD, human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher and broadcaster (born 4 March 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; died 24 July 2001 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia). Sparked by incidents of racial discrimination, Carrie Best became a civil rights activist. Co-founder of The Clarion, the first newspaper in Nova Scotia that was owned and published by Black Canadians, she used the platform to advocate for Black rights. As the editor, she publicly supported Viola Desmond in her case against the Roseland Theatre. Best used her voice in radio and print to bring positive change to society in Nova Scotia and Canada.

Carrie Mae Prevoe grew up in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in an era of racial discrimination. Although discrimination in Canada was less pronounced than in the United States, it was just as damaging and humiliating. Prevoe and her two brothers were encouraged by their parents, James and Georgina (Ashe) Prevoe, to study the history of African-Canadians and be proud of their Black heritage. Although they had not received good schooling themselves, the Prevoes emphasized the importance of education.

An intelligent child, Prevoe wrote her first poems at the age of four and often submitted her opinions in letters to the editors of local newspapers as a teenager. Unhappy with the racial stereotypes portrayed in popular books and local culture, Best sought out the work of African-American poets and historians.

Observing the calm strength and dignity of her mother, Prevoe knew from an early age that she would not accept the restrictions to which Blacks were subjected. Career choices for young women, in general, were limited, and even fewer options were available for non-white women. Prevoe considered nursing, but no Canadian schools accepted African-Canadians. She wasn’t interested in a teaching career in one of Nova Scotia’s segregated schools. And she refused to be a housekeeper for anyone other than herself.

Carrie married railway porter Albert Theophilus Best on 24 June 1925. They had one son, James Calbert Best, and later welcomed several foster children into their family: Berma, Emily, Sharon and Aubrey Marshall.

In December 1941, Carrie Best heard that several high school girls had been removed by force from the Roseland Theatre. The Black teens had attempted to sit in the “white only” section. Best was outraged. She vigorously argued against the racist policy to the Roseland Theatre’s owner, Norman Mason, in person and by letter, but her argument fell on deaf ears. It was time for Best to go to the movies.

A few days later, the 38-year-old and her son, Calbert, attempted to purchase tickets for the main floor of the theater. The cashier issued tickets for the balcony, the area reserved for Black patrons. Leaving the tickets on the counter, the mother and son walked into the auditorium. When the assistant manager demanded that they leave, the Bests refused and the police were called. Roughly hoisted from her seat by the officer, Best and her son were charged with disturbing the peace, convicted and fined. Best could now take legal action against the theater.

Filing a civil lawsuit that specified racial discrimination, Best claimed damages for assault and battery, damage to her coat and breach of contract. Mason and the Roseland Theatre Company Ltd. claimed that the Bests were trespassers without tickets. The case, heard on 12 May 1942, failed: the proprietor’s right to exclude anyone won out over the bigger issue of racism. The judge not only ignored the discrimination but also ordered Best to pay the defendant’s costs.

However, Best was not defeated. The persistent problems of racism and segregation would be publicly addressed by something arguably more powerful than the legal system: Best started a newspaper.

In 1946, Carrie Best and her son, Calbert, founded The Clarion, the first Nova Scotia newspaper owned and published by Black Canadians. Initially a 20- by 25-centimeter broadsheet, The Clarion reported on sports, news, social activities and other significant events. Incorporated in 1947, the paper placed emphasis on better race relations. For a decade, The Clarion covered many important issues and advocated for Black rights. In 1956, it was renamed The Negro Citizen and began national circulation.

Carrie Best slide with brief biographical information
(University Settlement)

* CBC News Canada                                                                http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                       http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/carrie-best/

Black History Month In Canada… John Ware

John Ware, born into slavery in South Carolina, was raised in Texas became a skilled cowboy before settling in the Alberta area in Canada.

John Ware – Cowboy and Rancher

John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born 1845 near Georgetown, SC; died 13 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware was born a slave on a cotton plantation and apparently grew up on a small ranch in northern Texas, although the historical record of his life is far from clear. He gained his freedom at the close of the American Civil War (1865) and drifted west, eventually finding work on a ranch near Fort Worth, Texas.

Ware lived in what we may consider the golden age of the ranching frontier and achieved heroic status for his impressive physical strength, remarkable horsemanship, good nature, and courage. The true story of the man is difficult to discern from the legends built around him. Documentation about his life is rare and most of what is known about him comes from commentaries written by fellow cowboys, but those accounts did not begin to appear until the late 1930s. Ware was predeceased by his wife and died while his children were very young.

In the many stories told about John Ware, his strength and skill with livestock are central features. He was said to have walked over the backs of penned steers without fear and that he could stop a steer head-on and wrestle it to the ground. It was also said that he could break the wildest broncos, trip a horse by hand and hold it on its back to be shod, and easily lift an 18-month-old steer and throw it on his back for branding.

Regardless of the level of hyperbole extant in the stories of John Ware, his status as regional folk hero gives testament to how well-respected he was. The characteristics attributed to him are those shared by the frontier heroes of cowboy subculture. What distinguishes him the most, however, is how successfully he, as a Black man, established himself in the Eurocentric society of 19th-century Canada.

Ware’s freedom came at the same time that ranching spread across the Midwestern United States. He traveled west and honed his skill as a cowboy. An experienced cowhand by the late 1870s, he was employed driving herds of Texas cattle northward along the Western Cattle Trail to the distant ranges in Wyoming and Montana territories. In 1882, he was hired to help bring 3000 head of cattle from the US to Sir Hugh Allan’s North West Cattle Company ranch, commonly known as the Bar U Ranch, in the foothills southwest of Calgary. Ware found that experienced cowboys were much in demand in this northernmost edge of the ranching frontier. He remained in the area and worked for several large cattle companies. In 1884 he started working for the Quorn Ranch on the Sheep River; it had a large herd of cattle but it also raised horses for the English market. Ware was put in charge of the horse herd.

In the spring of 1885, a large round-up was undertaken from Fort Macleod to search the foothills from Calgary to the Montana border. It involved 100 cowboys, 15 chuckwagons, and 500 horses. Ware represented the Quorn Ranch and was described in the Macleod Gazette as “not only one of the best natured and most obliging fellows in the country, but he is one of the shrewdest cowmen, and the man is considered pretty lucky who has him to look after his interest. The horse is not running on the prairie which John cannot ride.”

Before the round-up began, Ware registered his own brand, which was known as the four nines (9999) or walking-stick brand. In 1898 he re-registered it as three nines. He started his own ranch in the foothills in 1890 and in 1892 married Mildred Lewis, who had come to Calgary with her family from Ontario. In the face of increasing settlement in 1900, Ware moved to a new ranch site along the Red Deer River east of Brooks. His home was destroyed by the spring flood of 1902. Ware re-constructed the cabin for his wife and five children (a sixth child had died in infancy) on higher ground overlooking a stream, which is now called Ware Creek.

The family did not occupy the new home for long. In April 1905, Mildred died of pneumonia and typhoid. The following September, Ware was killed when his horse tripped in a badger hole and fell on him. His funeral in Calgary was attended by ranchers from around the region; John Ware was mourned by the ranching community as one of its most respected members.

John Ware was known to his friends and neighbors as “N—er John.” The racism of Ware’s time was enacted with thoughtless disregard for the individual; even though people liked and respected Ware, they referred to him in a way that we today would immediately label as pejorative. N—er is a potent word; it conveys the sense of inferiority and ignorance even as its historical context reveals the tragedies and triumphs of American history.

There are several places in southern Alberta named for John Ware, including Mount Ware, Ware Creek, and John Ware Ridge (formerly N—er John Ridge). Calgary is home to John Ware Junior High and at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, the John Ware Building houses the Four Nines Cafeteria.

John Ware Postage Stamp (Canadian Postage Stamp Catalogue)
(Canadian Postage Stamp Catalogue)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                                http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                        http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/john-ware/

Black History Month In Canada… Willie O’Ree

Willie O’Ree was a pro hockey player and was the first Black man to play in the NHL.

Willie O’Ree – Pro Hockey Player

Willie O’Ree, OC, ONB, hockey player (born 15 October 1935 in Fredericton, NB). On 18 January 1958, O’Ree became the first Black hockey player to play a National Hockey League game when he debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. O’Ree played a total of 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins. Since 1998, he has been the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, and has led the Hockey is for Everyone program.
Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Willie O’Ree”

Black History Month In Canada… Richard Pierpoint

Richard Pierpoint – Former Slave, Loyalist, Soldier, Community Leader, and Storyteller

Richard Pierpoint (also Pawpine, Parepoint; Captain Pierpoint, Captain Dick; Black Dick), loyalist, soldier, community leader, storyteller (born c. 1744 in Bondu [now Senegal]; died c. 1838, near present-day Fergus, ON). Pierpoint was an early leader in Canada’s Black community. Taken from West Africa as a teenager and sold into slavery, Pierpoint regained his freedom during the American Revolution. He settled in Niagara, Upper Canada, and attempted to live communally with other Black Canadians. In the War of 1812, he petitioned for an all-Black unit to fight for the British and fought with the Coloured Corps.

Richard Pierpoint was born in Bondu (now Senegal), in West Africa, around 1744. His original name is unknown. In the early 18th century, life in Bondu — a state south of the Sahara, northeast of the Gambia River and slightly inland from the Atlantic Ocean — was chaotic and diverse. The region covered more than 30,000 km2 with a population as high as 30,000. It was ruled by Fulani Muslims. Bondu’s citizens endured decades of war and unrest through the late-17th and early-18th centuries. In Bondu, Pierpoint would have learned the storytelling traditions of the griot, some of which he would later use as a Black community leader in Upper Canada. (A griot (or jali or jeli) is a West African storyteller, historian, and troubadour who preserves and shares genealogies, histories and oral traditions.)

In 1760, at the age of 16, slave traders captured and imprisoned Pierpoint. They likely sold him on the coast at Fort James to English traders, who brought him across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold in the British Thirteen Colonies. A British officer purchased and enslaved Pierpoint, who then worked in the officer’s home. Pierpoint was enslaved for nearly 20 years and was likely given the name of the officer who enslaved him.

Exactly how Richard Pierpoint regained his freedom is unclear, but it appears that the American Revolution was the cause for change. In 1775, the royal governor of Virginia granted freedom to all persons enslaved by rebels in that colony in exchange for their military service against those same rebel Americans. Pierpoint may have been promised his freedom in exchange for service, assuming the British officer who had purchased him remained loyal to the Crown. On 30 June 1779, British army general Sir Henry Clinton issued the Philipsburg Proclamation, promising freedom to all persons enslaved by American rebels.

In 1780, Pierpoint was listed as a pioneer in Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit. That same year, he was stationed with the Rangers in the Niagara region, where they engaged in guerrilla warfare against American rebels. During the war, Pierpoint was likely stationed at Fort Niagara. In 1784, Pierpoint was still in the Niagara region. Having been honourably discharged, he was named on a list of settlers in the area, among other disbanded Rangers. In 1791, he was granted 200 acres — the same grant given to officers and twice that of a private — in Grantham Township (now St. Catharines, Ontario)

 

When Richard Pierpoint received his 200-acre grant in Grantham Township, he still needed to clear and develop the land in order to receive letters patent and be officially recognized as the owner. Pierpoint would have been required to clear at least 5 acres of land per 100 acres granted for farming and road frontage and to build a log cabin of a minimum size.

On 29 June 1794, Pierpoint signed “The Petition of Free Negroes” with 18 other Black residents of Upper Canada. Some scholars believe that Pierpoint may have written the petition himself. The petition was sent to Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and reflects the reality many early Black residents in Canada faced. Perhaps because they encountered difficulties in clearing and settling their land grants alone, the petitioners — many of whom were former soldiers — asked for the ability to settle adjacent to each other so that they could establish a community and work collectively to clear their lands. They specifically asked for the opportunity to “give assistance (in work) to those amongst them who may most want it.”

In addition to the desire to live communally, the petition specifically expressed the wish that the signatories be allowed to live on a tract of land separate from White settlers. This suggests that the problems these men faced went beyond isolation; Black Loyalists and settlers in colonial Canada very likely faced prejudice and discrimination from White settlers.

The Executive Council of Upper Canada heard the request on 8 July 1794 and rejected the petition, refusing to separate the Black community from the majority White settlers. Pierpoint successfully cleared his land and received his patents on 10 March 1804, but sold his lots two years later, on 11 November 1806. Now more than 60 years old, he remained in the Niagara region, likely working as a laborer or farmer.

When war broke out between Britain and the United States in 1812, Richard Pierpoint was 68 years old. Nevertheless, he petitioned military leadership to create an all-Black militia to fight for the British. Shortly thereafter, Pierpoint joined Captain Robert Runchey’s Corps of Coloured Men (the Coloured Corps), a militia of free Black men. 

Serving as a private from 1 September 1812 to 24 March 1815, Pierpoint saw action with the Coloured Corps in multiple battles in the War of 1812. He fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights, where the Coloured Corps was among the first reinforcements to arrive in support of John Norton’s Six Nations warriors. After enduring the Battle of Fort George on 27 May 1813, the Coloured Corps supported British troops in the Battle of Stoney Creek from Burlington (almost 13 km away).

On 19 January 1820, in recognition of his contribution during the War of 1812, Richard Pierpoint was granted 100 acres of land on the Grand River in Garafraxa Township (near present-day Fergus, Ontario). Now in his mid-70s, Pierpoint was still living in Niagara and finding it difficult to support himself as a laborer.

On 21 July 1821, he petitioned the government of Upper Canada at York for passage back to West Africa. In his petition, Pierpoint pleads that he is “above all things desirous to return to his native country.” The colonial government did not grant Pierpoint’s wish, and he accepted his land grant in Garafraxa. His presence there predates the settlement of Fergus.

Pierpoint fulfilled the settlement requirements for his grant in 1825, probably with the help of a younger man named “Deaf Moses.” Some histories describe Pierpoint’s land in Garafraxa as a settlement for Black Canadians — either persons fleeing enslavement in the United States via the Underground Railroad or people simply in search of the same communal living Pierpoint had asked for in the 1794 “Petition of Free Negroes.”

 

Richard Pierpoint died in the winter of 1837–38. He left no family or successors and left his estate to Lemuel Brown of Grantham Township. His burial place is unknown.

According to oral history in the Black Canadian community, Pierpoint was a gifted storyteller in the West African tradition of the griot. He traveled around Upper Canada with Deaf Moses, recounting stories to members of the Black communities in both the Niagara and Garafraxa regions. To retell the stories, it’s said that he would pull a pebble from his pouch and launch into a story. By the end of his life, he had amassed 94 years of personal experience and countless more through the voices of his community.

His legacy is that of a leader in the early Black Canadian community who fought and petitioned for causes important to himself, his community and to Canada as a whole. His petitions provide the picture of a man taken from his home and enslaved as a teenager, who fought for his freedom in two wars and who worked to build a Black community amid prejudice and discrimination.

In 2013, the Government of Canada named a federal building in London, Ontario, the Richard Pierpoint Building in recognition of his contribution to the Coloured Corps in the War of 1812.

Actor depicting Pierpoint as soldier in 1812 - Richard Pierpoint in the War of 1812 - from video Heritage Minute TVO.org.
Richard Pierpoint in the War of 1812 – from video Heritage Minute TVO.org.

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                                  http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                             http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/richard-pierpoint/

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