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Underground Railroad in Brantford

Brantford's Black History Series

Underground Railroad in Brantford

Many of the members of the early Black community in Brantford were freedom-seekers who arrived to the area using the Underground Railroad. It can be assumed that many of the early Black residents that came to Brantford were formerly enslaved in the southern US prior to their arrival. Primary documents such as census records and assessment rolls provide us with information about where freedom-seekers arrived from which included Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. People of African descent that came to Brantford from slave-holding states can generally be presumed to have been enslaved at one point in time. Many of these freedom-seekers travelled along the Underground Railroad to freedom north of the border. We have narratives from two people, Stepney Brown and John W. Dungy, who came to Upper Canada via the Underground Railroad and spent time in Brantford. Both Dungy and Brown met with William Still, abolitionist and clerk for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, who collected interviews from people passing through along their journey northward in hopes of reuniting people who had be separated during their escape from slavery. 

In 1859, Stepney Brown arrived at William Still’s from Richmond, Virginia where he had been enslaved by Mrs. Julia A. Mitchell. At the time he arrived in Pennsylvania, Brown was 34 years old. He continued to correspond with Still after arriving to Upper Canada and it is from his letters to Still that we learn a bit more about Stepney Brown. Upon his arrival, Stepney Brown worked at the Clifton House Hotel in Niagara Falls and was employed there by August 27, 1859. By March 1860 he was living in Brantford where he met up with his friend, John W. Dungy who also passed through William Still’s place. Brown had befriended James A. Walkinshaw of Brantford, a Scottish-born tailor and purported White abolitionist, whom Brown dictated some his letters to Still through. While in Brantford, Brown worked at Niagara Falls throughout the summer and returned to Brantford in the fall where he attended school which may have been located at the Market Square or in the East Ward.

Similarly, John W. Dungy passed through William Still’s office in February of 1860 at the age of 27. He arrived in Hamilton, Ontario on February 15, 1860 and headed for Toronto shortly thereafter to meet up with meet with friends from Richmond, Virginia. After learning that his friend, Stepney Brown, was residing in Brantford, Dungy set out to meet him on February 21, 1860. Upon his arrival at Brantford, Dungy found work at the Kerby House Hotel with the help of Brown. In a letter to William Still in April 1860, Dungy appealed for freedom-seekers to come to Brantford where he was as there were “good chances for business”. He noted that he was planning to leave his employment at the Kerby House in May so he could work solely at the barber shop that he had opened with one other employee. According to the 1861 census for Brantford, John Dungy was married and working as a grocer. John and Mrs. Dungy were living in the Queen’s Ward in a one-and-a-half storey frame house at the northwest corner of the intersection of Nelson and Market Streets. By the late 1860s, Dungy and his wife moved to the Chatham area, possibly to be closer to family and friends. The connection between the early Black community and the Kerby House Hotel is one that will pop up again during this presentation and begs further research.

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