O Canada!

November 1839 Handbill from Elgin Settlement, now the community of Buxton, Ontario, Courtesy of South Adams Street @ 1900 website

Prior to 1865 and 360 miles long miles north of Loudoun County, was Ontario, Canada – the northern star for many bondsmen and women escaping slavery.

In seperate incidents, both Amos Norris and Daniel Dangerfield (who took the name Daniel Webster after gaining freedom) escaped slavery in Loudoun County. Both men settled in the vicinity of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Amos Norris told a visiting Quaker that “200 fugitives” lived near Niagara Falls. Norris himself lived in Drummondsville, a Black community two miles from the Falls. A virtual museum tells some of the Black history of Drummondsville/Niagara Falls.

Underground Railroad
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)

Not far from Drummondsville is St. Catharines, Ontario, 12 miles northwest of Niagara Falls. It is a famous Underground Railroad location, home to Harriet Tubman for ten years of her life. She moved to St. Catharines for her own safety in 1851, continuing her work as an Underground Railroad conductor. She repeatedly traveled from her home in St. Catharines to rescue those enslaved in Southern slave states. It is very likely both Amos Norris and Daniel Dangerfield knew Harriet Tubman, since the communities of freemen and former slaves had many connections.

This advertisement for Amos Norris’ capture was put in a Loudoun County, Virginia newspaper, in 1827. Courtesy of Bronwen Souders research, an Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA

Also, we know his personal Memoirs that Samuel M. Janney visted Niagara Falls, on his honeymoon with Elizabeth in 1826, and again traveling with Quaker Friends in 1868. He stayed in the area several days, and it is hard to imagine, considering how his life – and Elizabeth’s – was devoted to anti-slavery efforts, Janney would not have visited the Black settlements and towns in the Niagara Falls area. Loudoun County may have more connections in Canada than we yet realize.

Harriet Tubman lived in St. Catharines from 1851 until the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

The Ontario Ministry of Government writes on their Black History Settlement page: “Newly arrived Black people might land in Windsor, Niagara Falls or Toronto, or the all-Black communities of Dawn, Elgin or Wilberforce, but later move to other areas in search of family members, an urban home or a market for their skills.

This Canadian sign near the Niagara River honors individuals seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad.

The American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan and based at 138 Nassau Street, New York, published news about both attempted and successful escapes to Ontario, Canada. Examples of these incredible stories are on the link: THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW AND ITS VICTIMS. (Tracts No. 18). In 1855 the AASS published a letter that hits close to home. It was written by John H. Pope, “police officer and constable” of Frederick, Maryland, only 13 miles from the Potomac River crossing into Loudoun County, Virginia. John H. Pope wrote to “Mr. Hays, Sheriff of Montreal, Canada, January 13, 1855.” Pope’s letter to the Canadian sheriff said:

This historic sign, courtesy Archives and Museums of Canada, warns of the very activities Frederick, Maryland sheriff John Pope was attempting to incite.

“Vast numbers of slavesescaping from their masters or owners, succeed in reaching your [Canadian] Provinces, and are, therefore, without the pale of the ‘Fugitive Slave Law,’ and can only be restored by cunning, together with skill. Large rewards are offered and will be paid for their return, and could I find an efficient person to act with me, a great deal of money could be made, as I would equally divide. The only apprehension we have in approaching too far into Canada is the fear of being arrested; and had I a good assistant in your city, who would induce the negroes to the frontier, I would be there to pay the cash. On your answer, I can furnish names and descriptions of negroes.”

The American Anti-Slavery Society noted that Sheriff John Pope encouraged kidnapping of Blacks settled in Canada. Many slave catchers were motivated by the fact that “a great deal of money could be made.” Pope claimed he could furnish “names and descriptions” which meant that no Black resident, even freemen, would be safe from being violently snatched and sold into slavery in the American south.

Ontario extends north of Lake Erie, and east to Niagara Falls and beyond. Map courtesy of New York Public Library

Besides the area of Niagara Falls, Ontario extends north of Lake Erie. Several Ontario communities above Lake Erie were settled by freemen and former bondsmen. “Elgin settlement” mentioned in the broadsheet at the top of the page is across Lake Erie from Cleveland, Ohio. Elgin became the town of Buxton. A sign shows pride in the community’s origin:

Buxton Settlement Sign shown courtesy of Alan Brown
This Google map shows some UGRR communities in Ontario, Canada: Drummondsville/Niagara Falls, Buxton, Chatham-Kent, Windsor, Dresden and Amherstburg – these, and more, have Underground Railroad history.

Buxton, Chatham-Kent, Amherstburg, Windsor, Dresden St. Catharines and Drummondsville and others settled by Blacks were prosperous towns. The communities have online museums honoring their history. For example, the “Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society” is dedicated to early Black settlers, and lists names that have a possible connection to northern Virginia. The names are here, and sound familiar to Loudoun County residents: “Carter,” “Gant,” “Jackson,”… “Robinson.”

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society museum and research center has many files on formerly enslaved emigrants who escaped slavery and settled in the area.
Amherstburg, Ontario in the year 1865, Courtesy Archives of Ontario


Doctor, newspaper editor, and abolitionist J.E. Snodgrass supported efforts toward equality during reconstruction. He wrote a letter published in the Feb. 20, 1869 Anti-Slavery Standard, suggesting that “a stock organization” purchase land for ex-bondsmen to buy property at affordable prices. He suggests following the example of Reverend William King, of Elgin, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Snodgrass’ edited newspaper letter is here:

This school photograph is of a school in Elgin Settlement (renamed Buxton) shown courtesy of Archives of Ontario. Dr. J.E. Snodgrass visited Elgin Settlement and was impressed by the community’s land ownership efforts. He encouraged the state of Virginia to enact similar land purchase laws, to allow emancipated Blacks the means to buy property.

Feb 20, 1869 National Anti-Slavery Standard

LANDS FOR FREEDMEN. Letter from J.E. Snodgrass to [Quaker] J. M. Wood of Virginia

DEAR SIR: I have read your letter to THE ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD with much interest.

Your manner of dating your letter betrays [shows you to be] a Quaker, and at the same time accounts for your sympathy with the so long oppressed colored race. I well and most gratefully remember how nobly many of the Friends in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties (Va) came to the rescue, under the lead of Samuel M. Janney. In the spirit of your letter I suggest the formation of a joint stock association charged with the purchase of a large tract or tracts of land at the low rates now asked in Virginia and the sale of it in small quantities to the freedmen, so that they may become landholders and independent men. This could be done without charging a great advance and a long credit might be given for most of the money to the purchasers. Such a scheme would prove to be wisely and beneficiently projected.

I beg leave to refer to the Elgin settlement in Canada West (designated as the “King Settlement” after the Rev. Mr. King, a noble-hearted Scotchman, who founded in person, with such gratifying success). I visited that settlement of fugitive slaves—for such it was—as long ago as 1852, when I went to Canada to see whether the blacks were indeed “starving and freezing to death,” as the pro-slavery journals of the day asserted. I found it in a most flourishing condition. The tract of land selected was a wilderness when Mr. King purchased it from the British government a few years before.

Mr. King’s plan was precisely the one I now suggest. He was lucky enough to get the “Elgin” tract at a very low figure and at a long credit, so as to be enabled to dispose of it to the colored settlers on favorable terms.

I am, very respectfully yours, J. E. SNODGRASS


The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario 1834-1914: Freedom Under the Lion's Paw - Page Banner

The Canadian government has put effort into sharing their nation’s history as a destination of the Underground Railroad. It is rewarding to read Ontario Ministry of Government Black History links.

More research could be done to learn of connections of families and ancestry between Loudoun County, Virginia and Ontario, Canada.

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