The Black history of Oxford County begins with the early settlement of the area in the nineteenth century. Before the 1830s, free Black families were moving from the northern United States to southwestern Ontario where they could find work, buy farmland, and settle in security. In the middle of the nineteenth century Ingersoll was a terminal for the Underground Railroad, and abolitionist John Brown stayed in the town in 1858.
In Oxford County, communities were established in Ingersoll, which was second in southwestern Ontario only to Chatham in the size of its Black community in the mid-1800s, and in Norwich Township alongside the Quaker settlement. Many residents of Norwich had opposed the enslavement of Black people long before they emigrated from the United States to Canada themselves. Following the first known Black landowner in Norwich, Samuel Jones, in 1833, the community grew.
This project was funded by the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative in partnership with several of the area’s museums, archives and public historians.
We would like to acknowledge the history of the traditional territory on which the Oxford County stands. We would also like to respect the longstanding relationships of the local Indigenous groups, the Haudenosaunee, Lanape, and Anishinaabek of this land and place in Southwestern Ontario. We would like to recognize the Indigenous communities in close proximity to Oxford County: Chippewas of The Thames First Nation; Oneida Nation of The Thames; Munsee-Delaware Nation; Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation; and Six Nations of The Grand (which consists of Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida and Tuscarora Nations).
Then and Now Photos
The Town of Norwich
Norwich Archives 1485
The town of Norwich was founded in 1810 by settlers from Dutchess County, New York, many of whom were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). By the 1830s, these Quaker settlers began to encourage free Black people from the United States to move to Upper Canada, including South Norwich Township. In particular one of the first settlers, Frederick Stover, became involved in abolitionism as he travelled to Quaker Yearly Meetings in the United States. Other Norwich Quakers were involved in the abolitionist movement, including town co-founder Peter Lossing. As the dowry from his first marriage, Lossing was offered a number of enslaved people; on receiving these people as property, he not only freed them but helped the adults find work, and the children find new homes. After the reorganization of the Township into the Township of North Norwich and South Norwich in 1855, the majority of these Black residents were in the South, in villages including Milldale and Otterville. The Norwich and District Museum is housed in one of several Quaker Meeting Houses built in Norwich. This one was constructed in 1889. This building was sold to the Norwich and District Historical Society in 1968 for $1.00 so that it could serve as a permanent museum site.
In particular one of the first settlers, Frederick Stover, became involved in abolitionism as he travelled to Quaker Yearly Meetings in the United States. Other Norwich Quakers were involved in the abolitionist movement, including town co-founder Peter Lossing. As the dowry from his first marriage, Lossing was offered a number of enslaved people; on receiving these people as property, he not only freed them but helped the adults find work, and the children find new homes. After the reorganization of the Township into the Township of North Norwich and South Norwich in 1855, the majority of these Black residents were in the South, in villages including Milldale and Otterville. The Norwich and District Museum is housed in one of several Quaker Meeting Houses built in Norwich. This one was constructed in 1889. This building was sold to the Norwich and District Historical Society in 1968 for $1.00 so that it could serve as a permanent museum site.
Old Brick Meeting House
Norwich Archives 0175
In 1847, the Norwich Quakers assembled a committee to raise money for the purpose of constructing a new meeting house. Having met in a frame building on the hill by the old burial ground (the Norwich Pioneer Cemetery, also on Quaker Street), the Norwich Friends required a more substantial building in which to hold their meetings. Twenty-five acres of land for the new building was acquired from Frederick Stover, of which nine and a half were sold to pay for its construction. It was completed in 1850 and became known as the Old Brick. Therefore, it was while this meeting house was in use that much of the local Quaker activities to encourage the settlement of Black people in the Township occurred. The Old Brick was demolished in 1949, but the cemetery continued in use for many years since.
The large population of Black Ingersoll residents wanted their own church, and so they built the British Episcopal Church (BME) in 1858. Also called the “Negro Church”, the BME Church was erected on the south side of Catherine Street on the east side of the stream, located near where the majority of Black people in Ingersoll had lived. In addition, many Black people were buried in the Ingersoll Rural Cemetery as well as in Potter’s Field. The Church was built like a barn, with vertical board and batten siding and three large windows to let in light. Reverend Solomon Peter Hale was the last Minister of the BME Church; he died in Ingersoll in 1904. In 1933, the BME Church was sold to R. Cuthbert of Sweaburg who demolished the building and used the lumber to build a hog pen. Few known photographs of the BME Church exist.
One of the first settlers in Norwich in 1811, Frederick Stover (1770-1857) was the arch proponent of Black settlement in the Norwich area. Born in Dutchess County, New York, Stover came to Norwich Township with much of his extended family. He owned much land on what is now Quaker Street, on which he built a farmstead, as well as donating twenty-five acres of land for the construction of a Meeting House, on which this cemetery now stands. Stover, a Quaker, became an abolitionist on his travels to the Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends in the United States in the 1830s. Stover was appointed to purchase the land for the Wilberforce settlement in 1830, having corresponded with the Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Standing African Committee.
This settlement was intended to settle 2,700 free Black people from Ohio, since even free US states had laws that were prejudiced against Black people seeking employment. However, the settlement was unsuccessful, with only 450 people arriving. Many of the settlers eventually moved to settlements with larger Black populations. A more spontaneous settlement developed at Concessions 7 and 8 in the Township of Norwich in the 1830s. Frederick Stover was appointed by the Ohio and Indiana Friends to purchase land for the settlement of these free Black settlers, although many of them had the money to purchase their own land when they arrived. The growth of the lumber industry in the area seems to have provided many of these Black settlers with employment. Stover was also a trustee of the Dawn Mechanics Institute, a school from Black children over 15, set up in 1842 by Josiah Henson (the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom) in present-day Dresden, Ontario. The community around the school eventually grew to around 1500 acres, with the school covering an additional 300 acres, with a population of 500.
Woodstock BME Church
Woodstock Museum NHS 2008.17.89
As the Black population in Woodstock slowly grew, the need for a church arose. The movement to build a church began around 1883 by George Washington, a porter, and Dan Anderson, a stonemason. After raising funds from the community, they purchased a lot on Park Row and started construction in 1888. Throughout its history the church was known by three names: Hawkins Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church, and Park Row Community Chapel. At its height, the church ministered to 75 black families. Reverend H.H. Clarke once stated that there were no colour lines at the church, and that anyone, regardless of race, was welcome to attend. The church operated from 1888 to 1972, re-opened in 1978 and then was closed permanently and sold in 1985.
The Daley House was also associated with the Underground Railroad. Located at the corners of King Street West and Oxford Street, legend had it that a tunnel joined the Wesleyan Methodist Church to the Inn. It was said that those escaping their enslavement by hiding in the Church could be brought out through the Daly House by way of this tunnel. However, when the former hotel was demolished in 1994, no traces of a tunnel could be found. The Daley House is also where John Brown stayed when he visited Ingersoll in 1858, awaiting Harriet Tubman, who did not arrive.
Learn more about the Daley House at https://ingersolllibrary.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/2020_0225_ingersoll_inn.jpg
Woodstock Museum NHS 1988.32.2
Born in Summerville, Norwich Township, in 1845, Marshall Anderson was the son of Hannah and Rev. Lindsay B. Anderson, a preacher at the British Methodist Episcopal church in Otterville. Marshall married Sarah Turner with whom he had a daughter, Frances, ca. 1863. When Sarah died young, Marshall married her sister, Mary, with whom he had two children, Ernest and Maud. The family moved to Woodstock in 1880 after the death of Sarah and Mary’s mother, Mary Turner. The younger Mary, Marshall’s wife, died in 1881.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church on Oxford Street in Ingersoll was built in 1854 by residents of the town who had formerly been enslaved in the United States. It is said to have been the northernmost terminus of the Underground Railroad in this part of Southwestern Ontario. The Church consisted of a three-storey brick building which could seat five hundred people, with living quarters for the minister on the top floor. Pine boards in the attic measured twelve to fourteen inches wide, which indicates the size of white pine trees that inhabited Oxford County then. Led by Quakers by the way of St. Thomas, Black people escaping enslavement in plantations in Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, and even as far as New Orleans, were smuggled into the attic of the Ingersoll Church during the night. Others were brought here as part of a stage couch operation from Port Burwell by abolitionist Harvey C. Jackson, who made regular trips inland to the Daily House Hotel. Opponents of slavery would try to find work for them on neighbouring farms throughout Oxford County, or would transport them to other areas to work, to enable them to safely reach their destinations.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
The Otterville African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed on the outskirts of Otterville by 1856. This structure became the centre for large church camp meetings attended by both Black and white people from the surrounding area. Often the visiting Black minister preached in the Otterville Methodist Church. In 1856, the AME Church in Canada split from its predecessor in the United States and was renamed the British Methodist Episcopal Church, in order to give it a more Canadian identity. Surrounding the site of the former church is the cemetery, which was restored by the South Norwich Historical Society in 2007.
Marshall Anderson (2)
Woodstock Museum NHS x1980.184.1
In May 1893 Marsh (as he was commonly known) was hired by the businessmen of Woodstock to nightly patrol the downtown core. He was hired as a night watchman, but his acts in the line of duty covered all phases of police work as the regular force did not operate after dusk. After the police ended their duties for the night, Marshall patrolled the area around Dundas Street from Vansittart to Wellington. At first, he patrolled with a Newfoundland dog named Duke, but someone poisoned the dog. Marshall’s second dog was a Great Dane named Seeker. As Marshall checked the store fronts and ensured that the doors were locked, Seeker followed behind but always preceded his master into dark alleyways in order to sniff out lawbreakers and vagrants. If they found either one, they would march them to the lock-up, located in the old city hall building, which is now the museum. Vagrants would be released in the morning but lawbreakers would wait for a police judgement. Marshall was also a member of the Woodstock Fire Brigade. When he retired in 1920, the Woodstock Police Commission granted Marshall a pension for life. He died in 1932, at age 87.
Wesleyan Church (2)
Not only was the Church a haven for those escaping enslavement, but Black people were also involved in the choir. In April 1858, fiery American Antislavery supporter John Brown preached at the Church on “the horrors perpetuated at the Free-Staters by the Missouri Ruffians and Pro-Slavers from the South.” In 1934, ninety-four year old Black Ingersoll resident Clarence Brown stated that this speech was the reason why he enlisted to fight for the North in the US Civil War. During Ingersoll’s fire of 1872, the Wesleyan Methodist Church was badly scorched but was able to be repaired. However, a second fire in 1956 destroyed the Church and the property became a car wash in the 1960s. Today, no structural remnants exist to indicate the role Ingersoll once played in aiding the enslaved to their freedom.
Commemorating the Church
This plaque was erected by the South Norwich Historical Society with the assistance of the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture. Black Settlement in Norwich Township: About 1829 Black people began settling in Norwich Township. Within several years their number exceeded 100 and a school, aided by the Canada Mission, was established on Lot 15, Concession 7. It became S.S. 18, prospering until the late 1850s. In 1856 Isaac Gray, Isaac Durphy, and Lindsay Anderson, Trustees of the African (later British) Methodist Episcopal Church, purchased this site on which a frame church, with Anderson as first preacher, was built. Though the Black population in Norwich Township declined during the 1880s, services and large camp meetings were held at the church until the early 1900s.
George Washington Jones
Woodstock Museum NHS x1980.99.3
George Washington Jones was born into slavery in the United States around 1856 and escaped in a boxcar to Canada. He came to Woodstock in 1925 as part of a travelling carnival and decided to stay. Being friendly and outgoing, and with his huge smile, he became everyone’s friend. Wearing a top hat, a long coat with tails, striped pants, a sandwich board, and carrying a megaphone or bells, he appointed himself town crier. Business, theatre and restaurant owners purchased space on the board, and he advertised sales and events.
Otterville's Barn Quilt
The Southwest Ontario Barn Quilt Trails consist of colourful, decorative murals based on quilt block designs that mark points of interest, historical or otherwise, across the region. The Barn Quilt in the Otterville African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery is Church Window #11. As early as 1829, free Black people made their way to the Otterville area and by 1840, their settlement was significant enough for a school to be built. By 1856, they constructed a church on this site. Black people settled here near members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), where they were accepted and felt safe
George Washington Jones (2)
Woodstock Museum NHS 1968.48.1
George Washington Jones supplemented his income with odd jobs, and was often seen washing windows or shining shoes. Walking around the downtown core, he would call all young boys “buster boy” and all young girls “honey chile.” As he got older, he became almost blind and the community came around him, helping him cross the street or assisting in other ways. When he died in 1951, many prominent people in Woodstock attended his funeral. The sidewalk in Museum Square is named after him in his honour.
Woodstock Museum NHS 2009.8.46
Thomas George Marshall was one of the oldest sons of Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Marshall, born in Dunville, Ontario, around 1870. Charlotte Ann Martin was born ca. 1880 to Joseph Martin and Emily Campbell in Dereham Township. Thomas George and Charlotte married in 1902. They lived at 226 Oxford St. in Woodstock. The house, which still stands today, is on a corner lot just across from the site of the Old Thomas Organ factory and the Stewart Brothers Foundry at Brant Street. Thomas George’s parents lived at 222 Oxford and his uncle at 224. Most of the men in the family worked as labourers at either of the two factories. Thomas George himself worked at the Stewart Foundry for many years until his death in 1952. Besides working at the Organ factory, the family was very musical, and the children learned a variety of different instruments.
The Marshalls (2)
Woodstock Museum NHS 2009.8.32
The couple had three children together: LeVern A., William Lloyd and Thomas LeRoy. LeVern travelled through the United States and various areas in Ontario. He taught music for a few years here in Woodstock before moving to Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge). LeVern was believed to have married a woman named Ruby. William Lloyd was born on April 19th, 1905 but disappears from census data by 1911. LeRoy Marshall, the youngest son, was born around 1920. He held several jobs in Woodstock starting at Thomas Organ with his uncle. During World War II he belonged to the Oxford Rifles and was believed to have gone out west with them. Following the deaths of his parents he continued to live on Oxford St. with his partner Isabelle McCallum.