Who Was John Baker?

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

John Baker is an important part of Oshawa’s history, even thought it is entirely possible he never spent any time here. Baker was one of two slaves granted freedom from slavery, along with land and money, in the will of their master Robert Isaac Dey Gray, Solicitor-General of Upper Canada. His connection to Gray, along with being named in the will, resulted in Baker gaining a level of fame and notoriety. A quick search on the internet turns up a surprising amount of information on the man and his life.

In a publication on the early history of the town of Cornwall, Ontario, author Jacob Farrand Pringle wrote about Baker and provided information about the life of the man though to be the last surviving enslaved person of African descent in both Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario).[1]   The Baker family can be traced back to a gentleman by the name of Cato Prime. Prime was native of Guinea, West Africa before being sold into slavery to John Low of New Jersey.  Prime had a daughter, named Lavine, who in turn had a daughter named Dorine, all of whom were slaves to the Low family. Dorine was given as a gift to Elizabeth Low, the daughter of John, and came with Elizabeth when she married Captain John Gray.  According to Pringle, Dorine was 17 years old when the Gray family brought her to Canada with them.

The Grays resided in Montreal from 1776 to 1784 when they moved to an area just east of Cornwall.  Dorine met and married Jacob Baker in Gray’s Creek, the area just east of Cornwall named for the Gray family. Baker’s history is unclear.  In an interview with a Toronto newspaper in 1869, John says that his father was a Dutchman; however, in his book on the history of Osgoode Hall, author James Hamilton states that Baker was a German Hessians who served with the British Army during the American Revolution.[2]  Either way, Baker was a free man while Dorine remained a slave to the Gray family.  According to Pringle, the Bakers had a large family.[3] The two eldest children, Simon and John, were born slaves as the law at the time stated that children inherited the status of their mother. Two daughters, Elizabeth and Bridget, were born free as laws had changed prior to their birth.[4] Upon the death of John Gray, Dorine and her sons became the property of Robert Isaac Dey Gray, the son of Elizabeth and John.

In that interview with the Toronto newspaper, Baker recounts his life with the Gray family. Referring to John Gray as Colonel, Baker spoke of how strict his master was.

“The Colonel had much property; he was strict and sharp, made us wear deerskin shirts and deerskin jackets, and gave us many a flogging. At these times he would pull off my jacket, and the rawhide would fly around my shoulders very fast.” [5]

Robert I.D. Gray was apparently less cruel to those he owned. After practicing law in Cornwall for a short time, he went to York and in 1797 was named the first Solicitor-General of Upper Canada. Gray took Simon Baker with him to act as his body servant.

In August 1798, Elizabeth Gray was granted 600 acres of property in Whitby Township.[6]  It is this property that connects the Baker brothers and Gray to Oshawa.  Robert Isaac Dey Gray and Simon Baker died when the ship they were travelling on, the Speedy, wrecked near Presqu’ile Point, Brighton Township. In his will, Gray finally granted the Baker family their freedom. Gray not only granted freedom to Dorine and her family, but he also made provisions for her future.  The will stipulates that £1200 from his real estate holdings be put into a fund for Dorine and that the interest be given to her annually.  He also left provisions in his will for Simon and John. To Simon, he left 200 acres of lot 11 in the second concession, as well as his clothes and a watch worth £50.  To John, he left 200 acres of lot 17 in the first concession along with £50. [7]  Land registry documents show that the property left to John was finally transferred to him on June 12, 1824.  John did not keep the property, as records indicate the lot was sold to Martin Sanford on June 14, 1824. The records are difficult to read, and it is unclear how much money John sold the lot for.[8]

 

john baker land registry

John Baker’s interview with the newspaper gives us glimpse into his life as a free man. After Gray’s death released Baker from slavery, he began to work for Justice William Dummer Powell.[9] While with Powell, he enlisted with the army and went to New Brunswick, fighting in the War of 1812.  According to Baker, he was with his regiment during battles at Lundy’s Lane, Fort Erie and Sackett’s Harbour. It appears that Baker was in the military until after the battle of Waterloo, where he apparently saw Napoleon and was not particularly impressed. From his interview with the Toronto newspaper, “I saw Napoleon.  He was a chunky little fellow; he rode hard and jumped ditches.”[10]

Once his time in the military ended, Baker returned to Canada and settled back in Cornwall. He worked in the area until age caught up with him.  Around 1861, he received a pension from the British government for his time in the military. John Baker died on January 18, 1871.

At the time of his death, Baker was believed to be the last person to been held in slavery in the Canadas.  Many Canadians do not know that slavery existed here.  Baker’s life helps us to better understand slavery in the Canadian context.


Endnotes

[1] Pringle, Jacob Farrand. Lunenburg or the Old District: its settlement and early progress : with personal recollections of the town of Cornwall, from 1824 : to which are added a history of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and other corps; the names of all those who drew lands in the counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, up to November, 1786; and several other lists of interest to the descendants of the old settlers.  Cornwall: Standard Print House, 1890. Page 319.

[2] Hamilton, James Cleland. Osgoode Hall Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar. Toronto: The Carswell Company Ltd. 1904. Page 132.

[3] Pringle, page 319.

[4] Cornwall Community Museum Blog, “The Emancipation of Cato Prime & John Baker,” Published September 10, 2016; accessed January 22, 2019 from: https://cornwallcommunitymuseum.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/the-emancipation-of-cato-prime-john-baker/

[5] Pringle, page 321.

[6] Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Domesday Whitby Township.  Page 174. Note, Whitby Township at that time referred to what is today the Town of Whitby and the City of Oshawa. The land that was owned by Gray was located in what is today Oshawa.

[7] In Pringle’s book, he notes that the will leaves 200 acres of lot 11 of the first concession to Simon and 200 acres of lot 17 in the second concession to John. The Domesday records indicate that the grants were for lot 17 in the first concession and lot 11 in the second concession.

[8] Ontario Land Registry – Abstract/Parcel Book, Durham (40), East Whitby, Book 189. Page 289.

[9] Of note, this is the same judge that employed Thomas Henry at the start of the War of 1812.

[10] Pringle, page 322.

The Tale of Two Brothers

By: Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This post originally appeared on the Durham Region Area Archives Group website

The Andrews family has been a research focus of mine since 2011.  The history of the family helps to tell an under researched and overlooked aspect of Oshawa’s early history, the history of black settlement in the community. The research has traced the family from the 1790s in Vermont, through Lower Canada in the 1840s and finally Oshawa in the 1850s to the 1980s. Like most research projects, this one is ongoing and from time-to-time, I write about an interesting aspect of the family that has emerged.

As my research moved into the early 1900s, I began to focus on where two of the descendants, Albert and Ward Pankhurst, were during the period of World War I.  What I found was a story that fit into the much larger narrative of race and service during the war.

Albert GD Pankhurst
Albert GD Pankhurst, from the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

Eldest brother Albert enlisted on April 23, 1915 with the 28th Battalion in Portage La Praire, Manitoba where he had moved to after 1911 to work as a farm labourer. His attestation paper, the form filled out upon enlisting, provides some interesting information about Albert particularly when compared with the information collected on his brother Ward.[i]

On Albert’s attestation paper there is information that may seem inconsequential until you know that his family is interracial. The first interesting tidbit is that it notes that Albert has previously served with the 34th Ontario Regiment for three years.  This regiment was an infantry battalion and would not have been desegregated. How then did Albert end up serving with the regiment?  It appears that he was able to identify with his father’s ethnicity and sign up to serve.

Black men were not particularly welcome in the armed forces, and this was true during WWI.  Black men wanting to enlist were met with backlash and protest, even after the federal government declared that those wanting to enlist could not be denied based on race. Even with the backlash, a few Canadian combat units did have black volunteers in their ranks.  One of those units was the 116th Battalion, a battalion associated with the 34th Ontario Regiment. [ii] The vast majority of black men who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during WWI served with the No. 2 Construction Battalion.  This segregated battalion faced racism in the form of difficulty finding a commander, hostility from white officers and enlisted, and forced to serve through conscription after being turned away when they volunteered.

Dulmen POW Camp
Dulmen POW Camp, postcard from the Australian War Memorial

After basic training, Albert boarded the S.S. Missauabie and set sail from Montreal on September 4, 1915.  The 28th Battalion arrived at the Front and took part in both the Battle of St. Eloi and the Battle of Mount Sorrell. On June 6, 1916 Albert was reported missing and by July 19 he was officially a Prisoner of War being held at Dulmen, Germany.[iii] During his time as a POW, Albert was held in three different camps.  The first was Dulmen, followed by Wahn and finally Limburg.  It is from Limburg that Albert was able to escape.  According to his personnel file, Albert escaped from Limburg POW camp on March 3, 1918 and arrived back in England by March 14.

Ward small
Ward Pankhurst     Oshawa Public Library Collection: OshPL31745f

While Albert was held prisoner in Germany, his brother Ward found himself in Detroit when the United States entered WWI. Ward became part of the first wave of men registered for conscription in WWI. His draft card notes something interesting and would impact where he would serve as he prepared to head overseas.

On the draft card, under race, Ward is listed as being Caucasian.  However, that notation was scratched out and Black written above it.[iv] A draft card did not equal time served and I am currently working to determine if Ward actually served. If he did serve, his experience would have been far different than Albert’s due to Ward being listed as Black.

Much like Canada, when the U.S. entered the war, black men enlisted or attempted to enlist, in large numbers.  The U.S. already had four all black regiments when they entered WWI. These regiments had a long history, dating back to the end of the Civil War. Within one week of declaring war, black men volunteered in such large numbers that the War Department had filled these regiments and stopped accepting black volunteers.[v]

When the U.S. government determined that they would not be able to raise a large enough army through volunteering alone, the Selective Service Act was passed on 18 May 1917. Ward was officially registered on 5 June 1917 and his name put on the list from which names were drawn to call to military service.  While the act had a provision in it that no one was exempt based on class or group, the draft boards did not necessarily follow this.  It has been argued by historians that draft boards comprised of wealthy white males, did in fact exempt those of the wealthy class.  It has been argued that the draft boards chose men who dis-proportionality represented immigrants, rural farmers and blacks to military service.[vi]

Research is ongoing to determine if Ward was selected for military service.  If he had been selected, the change of race on his draft card would have impacted his experience. Black soldiers in the U.S. faced segregation, substandard uniforms and social services. This experience was not unlike the Canadian one, where the majority of black soldiers who enlisted with the C.E.F. were placed with 2nd Construction Battalion.

My beautiful picture
Letter from King George

Both Albert and Ward survived World War I and returned to Canada. Albert received a letter from King George V recognizing his time spent as a POW.   Upon returning home, Albert married Martha Wiggins, an Irish immigrant, in June 1920. The couple emigrated to the U.S. in 1923, eventually settling in California where Albert lived until his death in 1977.

Ward remained in Oshawa and lived with their sister Greta until his death in 1978.  Prior to his death, Ward took the time to speak to members of the Oshawa Historical Society.  He was asked to recount his days growing up in Cedardale and to share memories of life in Oshawa. Unfortunately, few of the memories shared are about his family.


References:

[i]  Pankhurst, Albert George Dunbar service file, Library and Archives Canada. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=554580

[ii]  Ruck, Linsday. No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Encyclopedia. 16 June, 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/no-2-construction-battalion

[iii] Pankhurst, Albert George Dunbar service file, Library and Archives Canada. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=554580

[iv] Pankhurst, Ward DeLayfette, World War 1 Draft Registration Card. Wayne County, Michigan. Roll: 2032676; Draft Board: 24.  search.ancestry.ca/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=ww1draft&h=33087973&ti
=5543&indiv=try&gss=pt

[v] Bryan, Jami L. Fighting For Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI. Army Historical Foundation. 20 January, 2015. https://armyhistory.org/fighting-for-respect-african-american-soldiers-in-wwi/

[vi] Geheran, Michael. Selective Service Act. International Encyclopedia of the First World War. 8 October, 2014. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/selective_service_act

Ways the Oshawa Museum is Changing the Narrative

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

There is a saying that “history is written by the victor” and this is certainly true when it comes to Canadian history.  So much of our history, on a local, provincial and national level, is written from the perspective of European colonial settlers. This narrow focus has greatly impacted how museum and archival collections have been developed and has created an historical narrative that is not entirely accurate.

Throughout Canada, museums and archives are working to find ways to move beyond the colonial settler focus of our collections and develop collections that more accurately showcase our history.  The Oshawa Museum is working to fill the gaps in our historical narrative, to include more voices and become more inclusive by telling the untold and under researched stories of our community.  In Oshawa, our local history tends to be told through a lens of focusing on the impact of the wealthy industrialists and the companies they ran.  This is certainly an important part of our local history, but it is a very narrow focus and leaves out so many other fascinating stories.

One of the ways we are changing the historical narrative is through our research into early Black history in Oshawa.  Oshawa has had a small Black population since at least 1850, and that population has continued to grow and flourish.  The research has focused on the experiences of one family, the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, and examines how their experiences fit into the larger context of the history of Black Canadians.  Research like this widen the lens through which we look at our history and works to tell a local history that better reflects what the community actually looked like in the past.

IMG_1415
Black History Month Display at Hot Roots Festival Launch, 2016

Throughout the month of February, the Museum has been celebrating Black History Month by reaching out to the community to talk about our research.  In fact, over the past month, we have spoken to over 400 members of our community about this research.  It has been truly rewarding to share this research with so many people and help bring focus to the rich and diverse history of Oshawa.

ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s First Steel Pan

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The Oshawa Museum recently received an incredible donation to our museum collection, a locally made Steel Pan/Drum.  This new artefact is a welcome addition to our collection as it supports our collection plan to encourage the collecting of artefacts that allow OM to engage with communities and cultures that are underrepresented in our existing collection.  Let’s take a look at this newly acquired artefact.

017.12.1a, b, c, d_3

Steelpans also known as steel drums or pans, when played collectively with other musicians, are known as a Steel Orchestra, also commonly known as a Steel Band.  A person that plays the Steelpan is called a pannist.

The steel drum accurately known as steel pan or pan, is part of the idiophone family of instruments and is actually not a drum, which is a membranophone.  They are the only instrument made to play in the Pythagorean musical cycle of fourths and fifths.  The pans are played with mallets, that have wooden handles and rubber ends.  The larger the size of drum, the larger the mallet head needs to be.

This particular steel pan was made and tuned by Carlyle Julal, who is a long-time member of Oshawa’s Club Carib.

Oshawa Caribs2

Not long after Club Carib got its start in 1966, they made a name for themselves by creating a steel orchestra.  Club Carib’s president at the time, George Kissoondath decided that their club needed something to celebrate Caribbean culture and bring it to Oshawa.  In 1971, Carlyle was approached with the idea of forming a steel band.  Carlyle, a native of Trinidad, West Indies had recently migrated to Canada.  As a steel band tuner, tutor and musical arranger, Carlyle was asked if he would consider forming a steel orchestra for the club.  With assistance from other Club members, they were able to obtain empty steel drums from the city dump.  At his home in Oshawa, Carlyle single handedly turned the empty steel drums from trash to treasure by creating musical instruments.

club_carib 1970s

The orchestra, known then as the “Oshawa Caribs,” had their first gig playing on a float in the 1971 Folk Arts Council parade, known today as the Fiesta Parade.  During the parade they stopped in front of Parkwood Estate to play Happy Birthday to R.S. McLaughlin who turned 100 that year.  After the parade they performed their inaugural performance which won them first prize at the parade!  They went on to other performances which included schools, shopping malls, church events and a formal recital at the Oshawa Public Library.   In 1996 the concept of another steel band for Club Carib re-emerged and the Oshawa Sounds of Steel was formed.  They continue to perform and entertain today at numerous fundraising and community and private events. Their most notable performances are during Fiesta Week at Club Carib’s Caribbean Nights pavilion and in the parade.

Lets take a look at the history and development of the steel pan.

First Pan

The instrument’s invention was a specific cultural response to the conditions present on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  Steel pan history can be traced back to the enslaved Africans who were brought to the islands during the 1700s.  They carried with them elements of their African culture including the playing of the hand drums.  These drums became the main percussion instruments in the annual carnival festivities.

In 1877, the ruling British Government banned the playing of drums in an effort to suppress aspects of Carnival which were considered offensive.  Bamboo stamping tubes were used to replace the hand drums as they produced sounds comparable to the hand drum when they were pounded on the ground.  These tubes were played in ensembles called Tamboo-Bamboo bands.

Non-traditional instruments like scrap metal, graters and dustbins were also used in Tamboo Bamboo bands.   By the late 1930s these metal instruments dominated the Tamboo Bamboo bands.  During World War II, the British Colonial government banned Tamboo Bamboo bands and forced people to look for other ways to make merry.  During WWII Trinidad was a refueling station for the United States and Britain and readily available were steel drums.  Constant pounding on these drums against the flat end left an indentation and the sound changed.  Through experimentation, coincidence, trial and error and ingenuity on the part of numerous innovators, the metal pan bands evolved into the steel pan family of instruments.

Oshawa Caribs Midtown Mall 1972 Cropped

The steel pan is now the National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, which is quite fitting for an instrument that was forged from the resilience of a people that were subjected to suppression and hardship.  If you are interested in discovering more about the Steel Pan, visit the Oshawa Museum’s exhibit: From Trash to Treasure: Oshawa’s First Steel Pan on display from February 27 until July 30 2018.


The steel pan was our featured artefact in January’s Podcast.  Visit our YouTube Channel for this and other video podcasts.

The Importance of Continued Research

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

For a number of years, I have been undertaking research into early Black history in the Oshawa area. This inquiry is part of a larger shift in our focus here at the Oshawa Museum.

Prior to 2011, there had been minimal research into the history of the Black population in Oshawa. Some initial work had been done examining census information but that was the extent. When we were approached to take part in Trent University’s inaugural Black History event, we realized how little time had been dedicated to this area of Oshawa’s history. The invitation to the event spurred a new project that helps to tell the history of a local family from the 1790s to today. It also helps to tell a more inclusive and, more importantly, a more accurate history of early Oshawa settlers.

1851 Wealthy Census p2.jpg
Portion of 1851 Census of Canada West; lines 40-43 are for Wealthy Andrews and her three children. The enumerator has marked the column for ‘Colored person – Negroes.’  Wealthy and her family were one of two Black families living in East Whitby Township in the 1850s.

This project signaled a shift in where we focus our research, to help fill the gap in our knowledge of our community. A great deal of research has been conducted on the many industries and industrialists who helped shape Oshawa; what was missing was looking into those who worked for the industrialists, those whose labour made the factories so successful, and telling their stories. It is the experiences of the “everyday person” who help to truly understand what the community looked like in the past and how it has evolved today. Currently, we are working to tell the history of women, those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Persons post WWII, the Indigenous population who called this area home long before European settlers arrived and those whose names may not be recognizable but who helped shape our community.

PicMonkey Collage
l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983). They were the great-grandchildren of Wealthy Andrews

I presented a paper on the research into early Black history at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual conference at the end of May. The paper discussed how shifting our research focus not only helps to tell a more accurate history of the community but helps to make the past more relatable the current Oshawa residents, strengthening the sense of community and spurring interest in our past with those who may not have been interested previously.


For more information on the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, please read our three part series from Black History Month 2014

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

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

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

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