Black Settlers in the city of Chatham
Chatham’s Black history story begins in 1780 with a fur trader, Sally Ainse. Sally purchased land from the local indigenous group and moved to the area. The area was then known as “The Forks.” When Sally came to the area, she brought with her at least one of her slaves, a man by the name of Frank. This means the first known Black person in present-day Chatham was enslaved.
Since we were under the British Empire then, slavery was not abolished until the “Slavery Abolition Act” came into effect on August1, 1834. This abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, including in our area.
The city of Chatham would begin to see some early Black settlers before the abolishment of slavery but would steadily increase after slavery was abolished here. Two of the early Black settlers to the area included: Israel Williams, who already had a house built by the time of the Rankin Survey of 1832 and Sherwood Barber, who came here in the early 1830s.
Once the Fugitive Slave Act passed in the United States, the Black population saw a large influx; in fact, in the 1850’s the city of Chatham’s population included 1/3rd Black citizens. Though many of these families left the area following the Civil War and for more opportunities, many of the earliest Black families still call the area home.
The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum houses many of these early Black family histories in their archive, with over 400 surnames and many you may still recognize.
(Credit: The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society )