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The Promised Land

The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent's Settlements and Beyond

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    The Promised Land
    Book Description:

    Eschewing the often romanticized Underground Railroad narrative that portrays southern Ontario as the welcoming destination of Blacks fleeing from slavery,The Promised Landreveals the Chatham-Kent area as a crucial settlement site for an early Black presence in Canada. The contributors present the everyday lives and professional activities of individuals and families in these communities and highlight early cross-border activism to end slavery in the United States and to promote civil rights in the United States and Canada. Essays also reflect on the frequent intermingling of local Black, White, and First Nations people. Using a cultural studies framework for their collective investigations, the authors trace physical and intellectual trajectories of Blackness that have radiated from southern Ontario to other parts of Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa. The result is a collection that represents the presence and diffusion of Blackness and inventively challenges the grand narrative of history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6745-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    This book was born of the remarkable collaboration that was the Promised Land Project (PLP). Based on the early work of the research team, the book reflects the project’s mandate, which was to create a Community University Research Alliance that would cut across disciplinary boundaries and build bridges among academics, community scholars, and students at all levels. The study of nineteenth-century African Canadian history in Chatham-Kent (formerly Kent County) was the project’s point of origin, and while researchers were immediately drawn to the rich materials of the past, those materials opened pathways to wider historical discussions of race, identity, and...

  4. Part I: Introducing the Promised Land Project

    • 1 The Politics of Knowledge: The Promised Land Project and Black Canadian History as a Model of Historical “Manufacturation”?
      (pp. 17-39)

      In this chapter, I use the Promised Land Project: The Freedom Experience of Blacks in the Chatham and Dawn Settlements (hereafter PLP) – a Black Canadian research project – as a tangible object that can guide our understanding of some of the processes of knowledge production. Specifically, I investigate the process of writing history, focusing on the ways in which specific tensions can lead to the production of historical knowledge. One of my key arguments is that history – and Canadian cultural and social history in particular – is inescapably linked to a specific “geography of identity.” According to Brian...

    • 2 Multiculturality before Multiculturalism: Troubling History and Black Identity beyond the Last Stop on the Underground Railroad
      (pp. 40-61)

      By the media and perhaps even more importantly by the researchers and partners involved, the Promised Land Project (PLP) has often been loosely portrayed as a history project focusing on the Chatham area’s nineteenth-century designation as “Dawn,” as a “Promised Land” for the Blacks who settled there, as a Canadian terminus of the Underground Railroad, with an emphasis on the biographies of the Black people involved.¹ That is, the PLP has been viewed as a Black history project focused on Chatham and environs, the purpose of which has been to snap a missing piece into the jigsaw puzzle of Canadian...

    • 3 History, Historiography, and the Promised Land Project
      (pp. 62-70)

      Over a century and a half before the Promised Land project was conceptualized, African American and African Canadian abolitionists confronted some of the same historiographical questions that engage us now. Among the most perceptive of these people was Samuel Ringgold Ward, the self-emancipated author ofAutobiography of a Fugitive Negroand founder of theProvincial Freeman.¹ In 1854, Ward travelled on the anti-slavery lecture circuit through Britain and worked on his autobiography, published the following year. Throughout his personal travels, which included his passage out of slavery, his journeys to free communities in Canada, and his tour through Britain and...

  5. Part II: From Fragments through Biography to History

    • 4 William Whipper’s Lands along the Sydenham
      (pp. 73-90)

      In 2007, at the start of the Promised Land Project, Boulou Ebanda de B’béri asked us to begin our explorations of the freedom experiences of Chatham and the Dawn Settlement by choosing a single person we believed worthy of a case study. For me, William Whipper was the obvious choice from the perspective of Dresden. The 2003 project called the Trillium Trail Historical Walk had revealed the extent of Whipper’s investment in land in Dresden, which was part of the Dawn Settlement.¹ His accomplishments were a largely unknown aspect of local history prior to that discovery. The discovery of Whipper...

    • 5 Nina Mae Alexander: Daughter of Promise
      (pp. 91-105)

      Throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, Black teachers in what was supposed to be the Promised Land of Canadian freedom had few opportunities for employment other than in “coloured” schools. In fact, prior to the 1940s very few Black women were employed outside of farmwork and domestic service. In both Canada and the United States, a race barrier prevented Blacks, especially women, from entering the professions, including teaching.¹ But there were exceptions, and this chapter examines a diary kept by Nina Mae Alexander, an African Canadian² woman who entered the teaching profession in Ontario in the early...

    • 6 “A Contented Mind Is a Continual Feast”: Tracing Intellectual Migrations through the Promised Land
      (pp. 106-128)

      The story of Parker Theophilus Smith in the “Promised Land” is a short one. It begins in the summer of 1861, when Smith, an established Philadelphia carpenter and shopkeeper, sold almost everything he owned and moved to the abolitionist community of Dresden, Canada West. Three days after arriving in Dresden, he reported to his friends in Philadelphia that the village was “as fine a little place as ever the sun shone upon.” This favourable judgment extended to the weather (“the most pleasant climate we have ever been in”), to the water (“the nicest water here I ever drank”), and to...

  6. Part III: Transgeographical Trajectories and Identity Formation beyond the Underground Railroad

    • 7 Resisting Imperial Governance in Canada: From Trade and Religious Kinship to Black Narrative Pedagogy in Ontario
      (pp. 131-148)

      In the sixteenth century, England entered a lucrative commerce that up to that point had been dominated by the Portuguese and the Spanish. It was in 1555 that London trader John Lok introduced his fellow countrymen to what would later be referred to as the transatlantic slave trade. Britain spent the next two centuries building up her naval fleet and establishing commercial ties with African traders and American partners before taking the lead in that trade. Meanwhile, opposing ideas about how the British Empire should be managed were emerging. According to the philosopher Edmund Burke, Britain as the world’s most...

    • 8 African American Abolitionist and Kinship Connections in Nineteenth-Century Delaware, Canada West, and Liberia
      (pp. 149-175)

      Throughout the nineteenth century, descendants of Africans in the slave state of Delaware persistently advocated the abolition of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. Influential transnational events such Emancipation in the British West Indies (1 August 1834) were extremely important to the Delawarean message and methodology. Resistance fit into the broader struggle against racial discrimination as well as into the promotion of equality, especially in the city of Wilmington. The migration of Delawareans, some free, some recently freed, and some self-emancipated, to Canada West and Liberia extended the geographical scope of the agitation for reform. Much like their counterparts at...

    • 9 Reimagining the Dawn Settlement
      (pp. 176-192)

      The Dawn Settlement is well represented in the many histories of the Underground Railroad. Later histories often portray it as a “planned colony” that grew up around a British American Institute school after 1841, with its principal founder being the Reverend Josiah Henson. Both contemporary and later historical accounts of the settlement tend to reflect what William H. and Jane Pease call “amorphous and conflicting” descriptions.¹ Particularly confused or indistinct are the lines many accounts draw (or fail to draw) between the Dawn Institute (more properly, the British American Institute Manual Labour School) and the Dawn Settlement and its various...

  7. Epilogue. Reflections: The Challenges and Accomplishments of the Promised Land
    (pp. 193-210)

    The Underground Railroad has a way of being used as a stand-in for all four hundred years of Black Canadian history, especially in moments of “multicultural celebrations.” And precisely because the UGR’s history has not been integrated into the master narrative of Canadian history, it is often caricatured, romanticized, sanitized, and presented as a relic, an object frozen in time. That is how this story has traditionally been presented. For some Black Canadians who are keenly aware that Black history has been relegated to the margins, even the caricatured version of the UGR history is “better than nothing.”

    Yet the...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-220)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 221-224)
  10. Index
    (pp. 225-234)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)