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Buxton: the Community Built By Formerly Enslaved Africans

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Part IX

By Cheryl Brown

It took Rev. King about two years to settle the will with the rest of his family and petition the church to allow him to step down.

With his 14 and one Black child he picked up along the way, the 15 traveled to the "Promise Land". Although Canada had a history of enslavement of its own, segregation and prejudice (not to mention cold weather), it was still heaven to the 15 who obtained their freedom by going. Black Canadians are not new phenomena but they have been there for centuries. According to The Freedom Seekers: Blacks In Early Canada by Daniel Hill, there were a considerable number of free Black settlers in the region due to the first loyalist movement before and after the American Revolution.
King was convinced he could build a community where Blacks could succeed if they owned the land. The church gave the approval and King’s plan advanced. His plan was not without opposition. Edwin Larwill, an influential member of the political community, said Blacks were inferior, the property would be devalued and respectable people would leave the area. Then he organized a vigilante committee. In 1849, three hundred people, mostly in opposition to him, came together. Rev. King was there and so were a group of Blacks to support him. One man spoke in favor of the Elgin Settlement at Buxton. His name was Archibald McKellar. Meanwhile, Larwill was going to parliament to protest the settlement. He recommended all Blacks barred from public schools and public office. But when he recommended Blacks post a bond similar to the Black Codes of Ohio and other free states he lost community support. On November 28, 1849, King, the 15 formerly enslaved Africans, and Isaac Riley, became the first settlers.
They were supported by the Presbyterian Church, which supervised the chapel, schools, and took up collections to help the residents.
The first restrictions, covenants and rules of land use were placed on each landowner. They had to purchase one acre of land for $2.50 and they had ten years to pay it off. They had to build a log home 18X24 and 12ft high. There had to be no fewer than four rooms and it had to be setback 33 ft from the property line. They were also required to plant flowers and vegetables.
King also placed a clause in the deed that they could not sell to a White person for 10 years. He wanted to see that not only should they own the property but also they had to have the ability to pass it down. The land could not be rented or sharecropped until it was paid off. King taught the residents to be self-sufficient. He didn’t even want them to work for the railroad so they wouldn’t depend on the railroad money. His thinking was they would earn more in the long run if they developed the land.
They developed their own savings bank, a post office, three churches and a school. Children recited long passages of Latin and Greek and even the adults attended night school. They developed cattle; potash industry, sawmills, gristmills, a brickyard, a good country store and they built a railroad line to get their products to market.
An arbitration board made up of local citizens governed them. There was no crime.
In 1856, all those who opposed the settlement acknowledged the success of it and there was a big lawn party to bring people together. The place was St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. Two thousand people came, 1000 Blacks and 1000 Whites. The 250 homes in the Buxton settlement provided the spread. The flowers came from their gardens, the meat, vegetables, milk, bread all came from the families in Buxton. McKellar, who stood up to support Rev. King and the residents, was given the loudest applause. That same year the settlers showed their appreciation when they cast their votes and overwhelmingly defeated Larwill and elected McKellar. Prejudice started disappearing when the settlers out voted the others.
The town boasts many famous people. Doctors, artists, congressmen, educators, lawyers. Artis Lane, who lives in Los Angeles, is famous for many paintings. She was the only Black artist commissioned by the Statue of Liberty commission. They refused her painting of a Black man draped in the American flag with a noticeable tear running down his cheek. They loved the work but told her they would accept it if she removed the tear. She didn’t and they dismissed her.
The visit to Buxton is not complete without a visit to the graveyard. Chris Prince likes to take teenagers there to introduce them to his ancestors that he is so proud of.
Chris and his mother Shannon and the other relatives and community volunteers are all that remain of the once bustling thriving community. Most left during and after the Civil War to find family and to fight the war but those who stayed held down the fort. In America there are so many whose roots go to Buxton and every September at the Buxton Reunion people from around the globe travel back to that little experiment by a pastor with convictions that enslavement was wrong and he proved that former enslaved Africans could have successful communities.

Thousands of miles – the dogs on our heels
Through forest and fields –
Through rivers and chills
We cannot pretend to know how it feels-

To have been a slave – forced to toil away
Working night and day
Working lives away
Footsteps to Freedom Seekers V – Keeping the dream ALIVE!

We’ve visited the places
We’ve been to the spots
Where the secrets are kept
But the facts are not.

We seek you our ancestors;
hear this our prayers
That when people were in need
Our people were there!

With cameras and recorders
With papers and pens
We revisit our pasts
As our souls make amends

Now we lift up our voices
Hear me ancestors – Hear me now:
Hear our voices
Hear our Amens!

Your stories are not lost
Your bodies were purchased –
Your thoughts were not!
We hear your voices

Your Quilt has been read

You are no longer with us – but your dream is not dead…

We pick up your staff
We walk in your place-
With what we have learned
We will leave from this place

Let us be your speech
Your lessons to preach
To our daughters and our sons
Our children we must teach!

This History is not black
Not confined to the stars

This History is not white
Not hidden by bars

This history,
This history is OURS!

by Sean D. Piscioneri (Footsteps to Freedom V Participant)
August, 2002

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