Underground railroad- column 4 and column 5
Next door to the interpretative centre, the Henson Burying Ground holds the grave of
Reverend Henson, while across the street, former slaves are buried in the cemetery of the
British American Institute.
In downtown Chatham on King Street, the First Baptist Church (1851) commemorates John
Brown, an American Quaker who came to Chatham to enlist supporters for his anti-slavery
movement. Originally known as John Brown’s meeting house, the church still harbors the table
and chair at which John Brown drafted his constitution and his plans to free the slaves.
The last meeting was held at this church just before Brown and his fol- lowers took part in an
abortive raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, prior to the beginning of the American
Civil War. Brown was caught and hanged on December 2, 1859, but his story still resonates in
the words of the hymn, “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering the grave… his truth goes
The freed slaves remained in the Chatham area, and from their ranks sprang several illustrious
citizens whose stories are told in the book Seek the Truth by Gwendolyn Robinson. Robinson
also leads a seminar for visitors on early black Chatham families. Among the lead- ers, Mary
Ann Shadd was the first black women to produce and edit a weekly black newspaper. At age
60, she was the first black women to obtain a law degree. Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott was the
fist black coro- ner of Kent county and the first black to graduate from a Canadian medical
school. He was also one of the first graduates of the school started by Reverend William King
in the Elgin Settlement.
One of the most prosperous of all black settlements was the model community, the Elgin
Settlement, founded by an Irish Presbyterian, Reverend William King, in 1849.
Thirty-six hundred hectares of land in Raleigh Township, 10 km south of Chatham, were set
aside allowing only blacks to buy land for the first ten years. It became a self-sufficient
community of some 1,200 to 2,000 inhabitants.
The Raleigh Township Centennial Museum has preserved many of the materials and artifacts
of this com- munity, including Reverend King’s bed, dresser, diary and copies of his papers.
Equally interesting are the many farm implements and tools (most of the slaves were farmers),
household furnishings, clothing, jew- elry and personal belongings of the original settlers.
Adjacent to the museum is the second one-room school, built in 1861, now function- ing as a
museum. The graves of Mary Shadd and other early settlers are found in the nearby cemetery.
Of the over 40.000 slaves who fled to freedom after the American Civil War, 20,000 remained
in Canada. Descendants of the original slaves still live in the small Ontario com- munities of
Dresden, Chatham, and North Buxton.
During February, visitors will enjoy the special museum programs highlighting local and
international black history. For a group presenta- tion and slide show, write ahead giv- ing time
of arrival and date.
For further information contact Chatham-Kent Tourist Bureau, P.O. Box 944. Chatham,
Ontario, N7M 5L3. Tel: 1-800-561-6125.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site: open from May 20 to October 9. Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. R.R.
5 Dresden, Ontario, NOP 1MO (1 km southwest of Dresden at Park Street). Tel: 519/862-2291.
First Baptist Church, John Brown Meeting House: 135 King Street East, Chatham, Ontario. N7M
3N1. Tel: 1-800-561-6125 or 519/354-6125. Year-round prearranged visits.
Raleigh Township Centennial Museum: P.O. Box 53, North Buxton, Ontario. NOP 1YO. Tel:
519/352- 4799, 519/354-8693.
All sites are within a half-hour drive of each other.