Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part 1

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement/Programs

In early 2012, the Oshawa Community Archives was invited to participate in a Black History Month event at Trent University; specifically, we were asked to present on Black History in Oshawa.  A few months prior, while researching the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery and those buried there, I came across the Dunbar family who were laid to rest there.  My initial research showed that this was a family of Black descent, a pleasantly unexpected find for this early pioneer cemetery.  Jennifer Weymark, our archivist, and I saw this Trent project to be a good chance to investigate further the Dunbar family, who they were, what was their story, and what would have brought them to Oshawa.

Black History Month at Trent University Oshawa, 2012
Black History Month at Trent University Oshawa, 2012

Two years later, and this family’s story is one that still intrigues us, and we are continually adding to our knowledge of this early settler family.  As their story can be told through several generations, we will be sharing parts of the story throughout the month of February.


With any story, let’s start at the beginning.  Wealthy Ann Dunbar was born in 1795 in Vermont, a daughter to Samuel Dunbar Sr.  The family would move across the border to Stanstead, Quebec.  Wealthy married a man named Peter Andrews in c. 1821 and together they had 4 known children (Sarah, Freeman, Elizabeth, and Mary) and 1 adopted daughter (Amy Jane).  We do not know for sure when Peter and Wealthy relocated to East Whitby Township, but it likely after the death of Wealthy’s father in 1843.

Given the incredibly small percentage of “coloured” people living in East Whitby, the reasoning behind moving to this area is unclear.  According to the 1852 Census of Canada West, there were 17 people listed as coloured in East Whitby Township.  This means that .2% of the population of 8479 were listed as coloured. Most of those counted were single men but there were a couple of families listed as well.  How did Jennifer find this statistic?  It’s simple.  She counted the column for “Coloured – persons – Negroes,” a statistic the enumerator had to account for.

The reasons why the Andrews moved are not known and neither are the reasons for choosing to settle in East Whitby township.  There was no black settlement in the township at that time.

That being said, we have a theory that there may have been a connection between the Andrews family and the Shipman Family which may have contributed to settling here.  Wealthy is recorded as living with John Shipman in the 1861 Census, and there are several ‘unique’ names appearing in both family trees.

Eliza Conant (nee Shipman)
Eliza Conant (nee Shipman)

As well, according to Robert Pankhurst, great-grandson of Wealthy Andrews, Wealthy and her family resided in a log house on property owned by Thomas Conant, whose wife was Eliza Shipman.  With enough small coincidences like this, we strongly feel that the Shipmans may have been the reason for settling here in Cedar Dale.

What became of the family after they moved to East Whitby?  The story continues next week.


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