Stay tuned! Rose and Kate
JAN 31 2012 Adrienne Shadd Talk
Excerpt from Adrienne Shadd’s talk on January 31, 2012, “Naming Names: Searching for Black Heroines in the Early Settlements of Hamilton-Wentworth” and based on her latest book, The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton, published by Dundurn Press.
The first woman I would like to talk about was a slave woman who was fortunate enough to have her story recorded for posterity. In fact, she is the only person who was enslaved in Upper Canada for whom there is an actual narrative. Her name was Sophia Burthen Pooley. We are fortunate to have her narrative because of the fact that a Boston abolitionist named Benjamin Drew criss-crossed the province in 1855 and interviewed at random 113 men and women for his book called A North-Side View of Slavery: The Refugee, or The Narratives of the Fugitive Slaves in Canada. Drew’s book, by the way, was meant to counteract a book called A South-Side of Slavery, that had been published in 1854, which challenged major assumptions about the evils of slavery and was basically arguing that African Americans were happy being slaves. As you can well imagine, in A North-Side View of Slavery former slaves took this proposition to task based on their own experiences as slaves in the southern states, and if you’ve read that book, you know it is full of accounts of cruelty and mistreatment on the part of Southern slavemasters. However, Sophia Pooley’s narrative stands out in that it was the ONLY first-person narrative of someone who had been enslaved in Upper Canada as opposed to the United States, so it is quite noteworthy in that regard.
At the time of the interview, Sophia Pooley was over ninety years old and living in the Queen’s Bush – a section of the province in which several thousand people of African descent settled in the 1830s and 1840s in Wellesley and Peel Counties.
There is another interesting fact that distinguishes Sophia Pooley from other enslaved people in Upper Canada – her slave master was Thayendanagea, or Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader who sided with the British during the American Revolution and was granted a huge tract of land along the Grand River onto which he and the Six Nations settled after the war. This is Sophia Pooley’s story:
Sophia was born Sophia Burthen in Fishkill, New York, 12 miles from the North River. The North River was the colonial name for the Hudson River, and Fishkill is still a town to this day in the Hudson Valley just south of Poughkeepsie and going down toward New York City. Her parents were Oliver and Dinah Burthen, and they were enslaved. Based on what we know, I’m guessing this may have been about 1772.
One day, at the age of seven, Sophia and her sister were playing among the currant bushes when her master’s sons-in-law, Daniel Outwaters and Simon Knox, grabbed them and tied handkerchiefs over their mouths. They carried the girls down to a boat, placed them in the boat hold and sailed up the Hudson River. The two girls were sold at Niagara to Joseph Brant.
Pooley says, “There were hardly any white people in Canada then – nothing here but Indians and wild beasts... I was a woman grown when the first governor of Canada came from England: that was Gov. Simcoe.” So based on her testimony, Pooley was probably brought to Upper Canada about 1779, after Brant bought a farm on the Niagara River. He later moved to the Grand River land, and then to the area where Burlington stands today and built a large 2-storey mansion there. Pooley speculated that she was the first coloured girl brought into Canada, and although we know now that that was not correct, because of the fact that enslaved people had been brought into New France beginning in the 1600s, she may very well have been the first Black woman brought to the Head of the Lake in about 1783-84, predating the arrival of most white settlers to the area. Robert Land, for example, who is considered by some accounts to be the first white settler at the Head of the Lake, arrived in 1784. In any case, Pooley reasoned that she must have lived with Brant about twelve or thirteen years. She described in detail some of her duties in the household.
While I lived with old Brant we caught the deer. It was at Dundas at the outlet. We would let the hounds loose, and when we heard them bark we would run for the canoe—Peggy and Mary, and Katy, Brant’s daughters and I. Brant’s sons, Joseph and Jacob, would wait on the shore to kill the deer when we fetched him in. I had a tomahawk, and would hit the deer on the head—then the squaws would take it by the horns and paddle ashore. The boys would bleed and skin the deer and take the meat to the house.
Pooley expressed a great deal of admiration for Brant, describing him as a peacemaker and statesman. However, this feeling did not extend to Brant’s wife, Catherine. Catherine Croghan came from a prominent Mohawk family, and has been described as very beautiful, but apparently also had a reputation for having a very fiery temper:
Brant’s third wife, my mistress, was a barbarous creature. She could talk English, but she would not. She would tell me in Indian to do things, and then hit me with any thing that came to hand, because I did not understand her. I have a scar on my head from a wound she gave me with a hatchet; and this long scar over my eye, is where she cut me with a knife... [Drew noted that these scars were still visible on her face] Brant was very angry, when he came home, at what she had done, and punished her as if she had been a child. Said he, “you know I adopted her as one of the family, and now you are trying to put all the work on her.”
Eventually, Pooley learned to speak Mohawk. As she told Drew, at one point she could speak it better than English. Brant believed that given the choice of being enslaved by Aboriginal People or whites, his slaves would prefer to remain with him. He once told Jeromus Johnson, a New York merchant who later became a U.S. Congressman [and who visited him on the Grand River in 1797], that his slaves “...appeared to be happy, and entirely willing to live with him ... [and were] pleased with the Indian habits and customs...” Pooley corroborated this when she stated that she came to like living among the Native people. As she told Drew, “I had no care to get my freedom.”
In various accounts of Brant’s life, he was said to have about 20 white and Black servants and slaves. However, Sophia Pooley remembered two other enslaved Africans owned by Brant in addition to herself:
Brant had two colored men for slaves: one of them was the father of John Patten, who lives over yonder [referring to her current residence in the Queen’s Bush] the other called himself Simon Ganseville. There was but one other Indian that I knew, who owned a slave.
Thankfully, Pooley herself put names to people whom others described simply as “slaves” or “servants.” In many of these accounts of slavery, as I mentioned earlier, the enslaved are treated as faceless, nameless persons, identified only by their colour and condition. It took a fellow former bondsperson to remind us that the enslaved were human beings with personal histories and families, with first and last names, hopes and dreams for their future and that of their children.
When she was in her late twenties or thirties, Pooley was sold to an Englishman named Samuel Hatt of Ancaster for $100. Hatt had immigrated to Upper Canada from England in the 1790s and established a considerable business enterprise with his brother Richard. In fact, the Hatt brothers are considered to be the founders of Dundas, because they cleared a road from Ancaster to the town now known as Dundas in order to gain more customers for their business, which is what essentially put Dundas on the map. The family had been granted 1,200 acres, and emigrating with them from England were six indentured servants, who also received two hundred acres each. Hatt’s brother, Richard, was granted an additional four hundred acres on top of this. The Hatts’ establishment included a huge farm and extensive livestock, two gristmills, a sawmill, store, blacksmith shop, cooper’s shop, distillery, and numerous houses. There would have been a tremendous amount and variety of work in which Sophia could have become involved. In addition to cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing clothes and looking after children, she may also have made soap and other needed household items, tended to the farm animals, worked in the fields, ran countless errands, and helped out in the various establishments.
After living with Hatt for seven years, Pooley learned that slavery had been abolished, “Then the white people said I was free, and put me up to running away. [Hatt] did not stop me—he said he could not take the law into his own hands. Then I lived in what is now Waterloo.”
Sophia Burthen married Robert Pooley but Pooley left her for a white woman. Sophia Pooley did not mention having any children. She lived through the War of 1812 and noted that although she was 7 miles away from fighting during the Battle of Stoney Creek in 1813, that the earth shook from the firing of the cannons. She lived through the Emancipation of the slaves throughout the British Empire in 1834, the 1837 Rebellion, the coming of a new wave of Black immigrants during the height of the Underground Railroad years, and many other events of her life and times. She completed her interview by stating that she was entirely dependent on her neighbours for her subsistence, but that there were many good people in the Queen’s Bush that helped her in her old age.
Apart from Sophia Pooley’s first-person account of her days in slavery at the Head of the Lake, virtually all of the information we have of slavery in the Hamilton area has come from the descendants of the slave masters, so Sophia Pooley’s narrative is quite significant.
If Black women were often invisible in the writing of Canadian history, sometimes they wrote themselves into the historical record by reason of some unusual act or circumstance. This was certainly true for a woman who petitioned Lt-Gov. Sir Peregrine Maitland for clemency in 1825. Unfortunately, I did not write about her in my book because I was unaware of her existence. Somebody actually sent me this information after my book was published so I have Guylaine Morenz to thank for alerting me to this case. On August 26, 1825, a grand jury convened in the case of Phoebe Actly, a Black woman who was accused of the “malicious shooting” of a man named Edward Carrol. Carrol was not injured in the incident. Although Actly pleaded ‘Not Guilty,’ she was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death on September 30th, 1825. She petitioned Lt-Gov. Sir Peregrine Maitland, and her petition reads :
To His Excellency Sir Peregrine Maitland......
May it please Your Excellency,
The Petition of Phebe Actly, an aged, coloured woman, a condemned criminal
in the cells of the Gaol [pro. Jail] at Hamilton, Gore District for Shooting with a Gun
Most Humbly Showeth
That Your Humble Petitioner has resided at Flamboro West and
its neighbourhood for the space of Twenty-six Years and to all the Inhabitants
there is known
That Your Humble Petitioner happened in the Common intercourse of life with her neighbours about six months since to have had some altercation with a
Person of the name of Edward Carrol, and from circumstances which occurred
at the time exciting irritable feelings of temper in Your Humble Petitioner, She
was most unfortunately provoked to shoot with a Gun at the said Edward Carrol
but without doing him any injury from which she has from that time suffered
imprisonment, has taken her Trial and is now condemned to die for said offence
on the thirtieth day of September next.
That Your Truly humble and Penitent Petitioner would with
heart felt contrition implore the Gracious Goodness of Your Excellency to be
pleased to extend to Your poor mis directed and miserable Petitioner a Share
of Your Excellency’s gracious favour by commuting the Punishment which the Law has ordered to be inflicted upon her and in duty bound for your Excellency
She will every pray
District of Gore
Hamilton Court House
30th August 1825
It is unfortunate that Phoebe did not provide more details about her life, for example, where she came from before moving to Flamborough West, what the circumstances of her situation in the province were – had she been a slave, or perhaps, was she the wife of a Black soldier who fought in the American Revolution on the British side and therefore had been granted a tract of land by the Crown as were all soldiers who fought for the British? She did say that she was “aged” or elderly and that she had arrived in Flamborough West in 1799. She also stated that she was well-known by everyone in the district. Interestingly, her petition included the signatures of 81 people, many of them women, who stood behind her in her request for clemency. The names of some prominent people, including George Hamilton, after whom the city of Hamilton received its name, are on the list.
It’s interesting, because there were two other cases with very similar circumstances that took place around the same time, one of a Black man named Archibald Lewis of Sandwich, who also shot at a man for stealing his wife, although the man was not injured, and a white man, Henry Ausman, of Markham, who shot and killed his neighbour Daniel Luster by accident, although apparently there was an intention to shoot at the victim because he was described as a “bad neighbour.” Ausman claimed that it was not his intention to injure Luster, and his petition was signed by 55 of his neighbours [who stated that he had resided in Markham Township for 22 years and that they considered him to be an honest man]. The judge in the case, Judge Campbell, felt that banishment was too severe, and recommended pardons for all three so long as they were required to pay a ‘Surety of the Peace’ in the event that such an act should happen again. Ausman was recommended to pay £100 and Lewis and Actly to pay £25 each, in the judge’s words, because they “being people of colour are unable to procure sureties to a large amount.”
So fortunately for her, Phoebe was recommended for clemency and thus concluded her case in the eyes of the law, after which she disappears from the official record.
I have a lot of questions about this case which I have not been able to answer as yet. Why did Phoebe Actly shoot at Edward Carrol, and how is it that so many men and especially women came to her defence by signing her petition? Was she somebody of some note, or was it simply that people felt the punishment far too severe for this old woman. Perhaps, Edward Carrol’s reputation comes into play here. Perhaps people felt it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if the old lady did away with the man. In any event, this case shows, as does the narrative of Sophia Pooley and the other women whose names we do not know, just how early Black women were actually here in Upper Canada, and how they had made their imprint on the society in some way, whether as enslaved labourers, or even as condemned criminals.
Another interesting woman from the Hamilton area came to my attention some years ago. I was doing oral history interviews of older women for Dionne Brand’s book No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario 1920s-1950s and my grandmother’s friend Viola Berry Aylestock agreed to an interview. During the course of the interview, she told me about her grandmother, who had been the toll-keeper in Hamilton at the James Street toll booth leading up to Hamilton Mountain. Vi said that she would open and close the tollgate and let the farmers come down into the city to sell their produce in the morning and then return to the mountain in the evening. And as I was doing the research for the book, The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway, after whose story the title is partially based, I found Julia Berry in the 1881 census residing with her husband and three children in Barton Township on the mountain with the word “toll keeper” beside her name. That was quite exciting. It is always so satisfying when you find corroboration of oral history in the archives.
Julia and Henry Berry had ten children whose descendants still live in the Hamilton, Toronto, and Kingston areas as well as other locales in Ontario and the US today. Julia Berry lived into her nineties, and was the matriarch of the Hamilton Black community. She was a longstanding member of St. Paul’s AME Church, now known as Stewart Memorial. She was also a founding member of the Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star – this is the women’s adjunct of the Prince Hall Masons of Ontario – a Black Masonic order founded in 1852 in Hamilton. Julia was chosen to represent her chapter, Esther Chapter #3, at the inaugural meeting of the Grand Chapter held in Chatham on August 30, 1889. She obviously commanded a great deal of respect in the Hamilton community. In addition, many of her descendants have made important contributions in a variety of endeavours, including entertainment fields, correctional services, banking, the military and so forth. Vi Aylestock’s daughter, Joan Waite, for example, studied at Sarah Lawrence College and L’Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris, and became a professor at Sarah Lawrence and also the director of education at the African Art Museum of the SMA (Society of Missions in Africa) Fathers in Tenafly, New Jersey.
JUNE 25 2012 Patricia (Trish) BeattyExcerpt from a talk given by Patricia Beatty at The Toronto Dance Theatre.
" Tonight I'm going to tell you my biography from the inside view, not the kind of thing you would read in a theatre program, but something I've lived. I'm telling you this because I don't think it is important to come from an artistic family if one has a dream or a vision of being an artist and of making a significant contribution somewhere. I think we all come into this world with a calling, and one must listen for it as it is definitely there inside. It will always beckon and guide you.
I came from a warm, high-spirited but conventional family...one not expecting an artist. I received what was thought of as a classical education at Havergal College..a fairly conventional independent school here in Toronto. High intensity sports of all kinds and ballet lessons kept me moving..for that was my destiny to be a mover, a dancer. When I was directed to modern dance in the USA the real light of my calling came on.
What I needed and certainly received was an inspiring and empowering four years of intensive liberal arts at an extremely progressive place called Bennington College.I was able to immerse myself totally in modern dance technique and choreography while certainly discovering a big world through true liberal arts study. Most important of all I was opened up to be a creative person, one with enough confidence and deep stamina to forge a career...To make a difference in my home country of Canada was, my vision , that is to be a pioneer on behalf of modern dance. I saw that my task was to bring some of the technical sophistication and high theatre values that I had experienced in New York City to Toronto and to make sure that they would last here. Of course, I shared this work with David Earle and Peter Randazzo and all those dedicated to what we were doing at the Toronto Dance Theatre for many years.
To today's emerging dancers and choreographers I would say this. If you hear the calling to be a dancer and a dance-maker, and both your soul and your spirit are telling you this- then you must do it. It is an amazing life , challenging, intense and thrilling. I know no other experience on this planet that can give you a greater sense of aliveness than dancing, especially in fine dance works.
If your mind says that you want to make dances, to make statements of beauty and insight through modern dance, than you have no choice, this too you must do.To make a coherent, nourishing work of art will teach you a huge amount about integrity. Mostly, in finishing, I would say that a life in dance is all about courage and joy., and is your's for the taking.
As far as being a woman working in dance during the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st I would say the following :
Though we greatly out-number the men in our profession, most organizations, councils,companies ,and boards of directors are still run by men. I think this is because we women want to run things differently from what is still the norm in our communities. We would like structures to be more collaborative and less hierarchial.. that is we prefer linking people to ranking them.
Also, powerful women performers in dance are loved for this on stage, but most would prefer them to be less so off-stage. Yes, in retrospect, this was my experience. I think many would have prefered me to be more compliant, less out-spoken and passionate when not actually dancing. Probably this also applies to super-strong men, but I think even more so to women...Yet carry on with our intensity we must...the beauty and truth of our art form demands this of us..Perhaps the best word here is hutzpah Things are changing... .