DESCENDANTS KEEP PRIDE ALIVE IN NORTH BUXTON, CANADA
FOUR years before the Civil War broke out in the United States, 300 blacks - most of them former slaves from Southern plantations strode
quietly and proudly, along the streets of the Canadian city of Chatham to vote in the
Court House. They had journeyed ten miles from Buxton an area settled six years previously
by 15 freed slaves of Louisiana educator William King.
Religious heritages of two cultures merge in
Junior choir composed of North Buxton's two churches, The British Methodist Episcopal and
the First Baptist. After the Civil War Thomas W. Stringer a Buxton man established 35 AME
churches in Mississippi.
When the voting ended that day, the incumbent, Provincial Parliament
member from the area, who had won his seat two years previously on an anti-Negro
immigration platform had been defeated in the first demonstration of political black power
on the North American continent.
Through the Civil War years Buxton enjoyed an economic and social
advancement almost miraculous for people who until a few years before had been forcibly
denied the right even to marry or to learn to read. In the descendants of Buxton's
settlers, the heritage of an amazing adventure in freedom lies today.
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FINALLY THEY COULD HAVE REAL FAMILIES
MANY slaves who fled to Buxton
did so not primarily to escape cruel physical punishment but rather to escape something,
which to many seemed far worse. Unlike the white immigrants who had come to Canada from
Scotland or Ireland or from the U.S., the blacks regarded the opportunity to create and
raise families as the most precious gem offered by refuge in Canada.
Fighter for black's rights for many years,
Ira Shadd's brother Phillip, 77, a farmer helped organize the National Unity
organization in 1944, which fought for passage of Canada's Fair Employment Practices Law.
In slavery, they had had no real hope of this. A master could at any
time sell the children of his slaves. If slave parents objected to the master's abuse of
their children, the parents might be sold away while the children were kept to be further
In Canada, having gained freedom and control of themselves and their
children, the former slaves and the free blacks who joined them demonstrated a fierce
energy and will to succeed. They worked tirelessly throughout the year clearing and
farming their land or helping to build the Great Western Railroad which was being extended
through the area. Using $3,000 invested by blacks from Toronto and Buffalo, the Buxton
settlers formed a cooperative to build a factory for making pearl ash (a type of refined
potash), a brickyard and a saw-and-grist mill. The town began producing lumber and barrel
staves and selling corn, wheat, oats, tobacco and other crops.
Within ten years after the settlement was founded some of the former
slaves had paid in full the government price for their land ($2.50 an acre), and some had
enough money left to send their children to college.
Arthur H. Alexander, 85, was North Buxton's school principal for 37 years.
Now that these early industries are gone, North Buxton's wealth is
mainly in farmland that has multiplied in value, and in a brilliant history it wants the
world to know.
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BUXTON WON'T DIE; IT'S LOVED TOO MUCH
THE Buxton settlement's influence on United States history extended
beyond its function as a refuge for slaves. Seventy of its young men went south to fight
slavery. Two of Buxton's sons, Anderson R. Abbott and Jerome Riley, were among the doctors who in 1863 set up Freedmen's Hospital in
Washington, D. C., the first public hospital for blacks in the U. S. After the war,
Buxton's population, which had reached well over 1,000, declined sharply as families
returned to their former homes in the States and young people journeyed south to aid in
Reconstruction. James T. Rapier, for instance, served in the U. S. Congress from Alabama
from 1873 to 1875. Thomas W. Stringer, who became general superintendent of the African
Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi, established 35 churches in that state. He
helped develop Negro Masonry in Mississippi and organized the Fraternal Life Insurance
Benefit which became the most successful black cooperative business in the state.
Daughter of a runaway slave, Mrs. Electa Rhue, 90,
talks with Mrs. William Nutall, one of three of her daughters who have moved to the U.S.
Mrs. Rhue recently gave her daughters land to build houses near her home.