These articles are from
The Voice of the Fugitive, December 2, 1851, located at OurOntario.ca (left side), and from
Frederick Douglass' Paper, Rochester, NY, August 25, 1854, located at GenealogyBank (right side).
When William King, the Elgin Settlement's founder, arrived in Raleigh Township in the early winter of 1849, he found "camped in his barn, waiting for him on the Elgin reserve, ... Isaac Riley, Riley's wife, and their two children." More than sixty-five years before DeWitty, Nebraska was established, the seeds for Nebraska's "largest and most permanent colony" were planted in Canada.
The Elgin Settlement, located about fifty miles east of the Detroit-Windsor border, was a planned community for black people escaping enslavement. It was one of several Canadian Underground Railroad endpoints.
The community was based on land ownership and the "development of churches, schools, and social institutions." Rules for the settlement required residents to purchase their land, pay for their possessions, and further stipulated that
· Liquor was not allowed on the settlement
· Land could only be sold to blacks and had to remain in their hands for ten years
· Land had to be purchased, not leased
· Settlers had to build houses at least 24 X 18 X 12 feet with a porch across the front
· Houses were required to be 33 feet from the road, with a picket fence and flower garden in front
Isaac Riley was joined in the Elgin Settlement by others who would eventually form the nucleus of the DeWitty community. Guilds, Hatter, Rann, Robinson, Walker, Emanuel, and others made their way to the Buxton Mission. Samuel Hayden, Charles Meehan's stepfather, is first recorded in a Settlement land document in 1853, three years before Charles was born.
I have found no evidence to suggest a planned departure from the Elgin Settlement to Nebraska, but by 1880, at least seven family groups relocated to Nebraska. By the early 1900s, several families followed, first to Overton in Dawson County and then to Cherry County, where DeWitty was established in 1915.
Much has been written about the Elgin Settlement. To learn more, follow any of the links provided here.
Crossing the Border, A Free Black Community in Canada, Sharon A. Roger Hepburn, University of Illinois Press, 2007.
The Canadian Encyclopedia, Elgin Settlement, Shannon Prince, March 22, 2021.
The Buxton Museum, buxtonmuseum.com, history, rules.
The Buxton National Historical Site and Museum consists of several buildings and a museum. The site preserves and celebrates the lives of its earliest settlers.
Click the Buxton Museum link above to learn more.
Since 1924, descendants of the Elgin Settlement gather on Labor Day weekend for Homecoming. Visitors celebrate their heritage through conferences, music, sports and a variety of activities.
Bea Smith Harris, daughter of Addison Smith and Mary Anderson, was Hester Freeman's first cousin. After Hester's 1923 death, she maintained a close relationship with Hester's family.
On August 17, 1939, she sent a letter to Bill Meehan in Maywood, Illinois, asking if he and Aunt Gertie's family would visit. The occasion was undoubtedly HOMECOMING on Labor Day weekend. The letter reads:
I have not forgotten you folks at all and please dont think so that why I am writing you this morning for I am looking for you folks to stay with me so you see you will have to stay more than to or three day this letter is to all of you folk I will be looking for you all.
By By, with love Beatrice Harris
Beatrice Smith Harris and Hester Freeman Meehan were first cousins.