Niagara-on-the-Lake's Black History

A brief overview of Niagara-on-the-Lake's Black History

By Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Drawing of Adam VroomanNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The Chloe Cooley Incident 

The earliest Black inhabitants in Niagara were enslaved by the United Empire Loyalists who settled in Niagara. Chloe Cooley was a Black woman that was enslaved by United Empire Loyalist, Sergeant Adam Vrooman (pictured) — a resident of Queenston. In March 1793, Chloe was violently bound transported across the Niagara River to be sold in New York State. Cooley resisted fiercely. 

Lieutenant-Governor John Graves SimcoeNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Her resistance was witnessed by William Grisley, who reported the indecent to Lt-Gov. John Graves Simcoe. This incident was used to introduce legislation to abolish slavery in Upper Canada.

An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to limit the Term of Contracts for ServitudeOriginal Source: Statutes of Upper Canada Cap. 7, 33 George III, 1793

Since at least 12 members of the 25-person government owned slaves or were members of slave-owning families, the government brokered a compromise and passed the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada in 1793. The Act did not free existing slaves, but it allowed for the gradual abolition of slavery and set the stage for the beginnings of the Underground Railroad.

Butler's Rangers Belt PlateNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Black Loyalists 

Alongside those that were enslaved, Niagara was also home to Black Loyalists who earned their freedom through service to the Crown. Richard Pierpoint was a Black Loyalists, that enlisted in Butler's Rangers during the American Revolution. After the war, as a reward for his military service, he was granted land in Niagara and regained his freedom. In Niagara, Richard became a well known and respected Black community leader.

Coloured Corps SwordNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Fearing that an American victory during the War of 1812 would place many free Blacks back into the shackles of slavery, Pierpoint successfully petitioned the government to raise a Corps of coloured men to fight.

Battle of Queenston Heights, October 13, 1813Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Around 55 Black men signed up, including Richard and other Black Loyalists. The Coloured Corps contributed to the British victory at Queenston Heights....

Fort Mississauga. by Marmaduke Matthews (1837-1913)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

...and towards the end of their service, they helped to build Fort Mississauga.

The Petition of Free Negroes The Petition of Free NegroesOriginal Source: Library and Archives Canada, RG1 -L3. Upper Canada Land Petitions "F" Bundle Miscellaneous 1788 -1795, Vol. 196 (Pages 68,68a, 68b).

Establishing a Community in Niagara

On June 29, 1794, Richard Pierpoint and 18 other Black residents of Upper Canada signed a petition requesting that they be able to settle near each other so that they could establish a community. This tract of land was to be separate from White settlers. The government rejected this request. 

Map of the ‘Coloured Village’ in Niagara-on-the-Lake.Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

However, in town, black residents began acquiring property near one another. This area of NOTL was nicknamed the ‘coloured village’. By the 1830s and onwards, many freedom seekers and free Blacks added to Niagara’s Black population.

William Riley Home by UnknownNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

William Riley, who fled his enslavement, built this house in the "coloured village" in Niagara.

Mary Ann Guillen's Business Ad in the Niagara HeraldNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

William's daughter, Mary Ann, opened an upholstery business in Town.

Daniel Waters Livery Ad.Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Daniel Waters, a descendent of a freedom seeker, owned and operated a large livery stable on Regent Street. His brother, John, ran for and was elected Niagara's first Black Town Councillor of an all-white ward; he was re-elected 3 times.

Louis/Lewis Ross' Barbershop AdvertismentNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Black businessman, Louis/Lewis Ross, owned a building on Queen Street and rented another for his barbershop.

Wesley Land DeedNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Winnifred Wesley worked as a general servant and laundress. She also owned multiple properties within the Town. This is just one of the many land deeds which holds a Wesley woman's name.

Voices of Freedom ParkNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Voices of Freedom Park

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has set aside a significant site in the heart of the Old Town to understand, celebrate, and honour its Black history. The award winning Voices of Freedom Park is an experiential art installation designed to engage, educate, and challenge visitors about this most important aspect of our history. For more information on Niagara's Black History, please visit www.vofpark.org. 

Credits: Story

For a more in-depth look at Niagara-on-the-Lake's Black history, please visit: https://www.vofpark.org/about-voices-of-freedom

A very special thank you to the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and to Natasha Henry for her historical consultation and research.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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