Hiram Wilson

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Hiram Wilson (September 25, 1803 – April 16, 1864) was an anti-slavery abolitionist who worked directly with escaped and former slaves in southwestern Ontario. He attempted to improve their living conditions and help them to be integrated into society by providing education and practical working skills. He established ten schools to educate free blacks in southwestern Ontario. Wilson worked extensively with Josiah Henson to establish the British-American Institute and the Dawn Settlement in 1841.[1] Wilson was a delegate to the 1843 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England.[2] Wilson eventually resigned from the British-American Institute and moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, where his home was the final terminal for the Underground Railroad.[3]

Education[edit]

Hiram Wilson was born in Acworth, New Hampshire where he was said to have "inherited the New England dedication to moral uplift."[4] His education began when he attended the Oneida Institute in upstate New York.[5] At this institution, students were provided the opportunity to learn a trade while they studied. This was very practical for a student could learn and at the same time, they could learn a trade which was very beneficial in making a living.

In 1833, Wilson past part of the cohort that abandoned Oneida for the new Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati.[6] Wilson's stay would not last long, as the slavery debates divided the school and city.[7] Wilson did not participate in this debate but he would join the 72 Lane rebels who left the school. The rebels demanded the right to discuss controversial topics and the students' rights to freedom of speech. Lane rebel Theodore Dwight Weld responded:

But in solemn earnest, I ask, why should not theological students investigate and discuss the sin of slavery?... Is it not the business of theological seminaries to educate the heart, as well as the head? To mellow the sympathies, and deepen the emotions, as well as to provide the means of knowledge? If not, then give Lucifer a professorship.[8]

This group of students left Lane and journeyed to the new college in Oberlin, Ohio, although Wilson first studied at the Oneida Institute, the most abolitionist school in the country, which set a model for Oberlin in accepting all qualified male students. At Oneida he met William G. Allen, who taught for Wilson in the summer of 1841.[9]:59

Oberlin was very liberal and soon welcomed both women and negroes.[10] Wilson received a Theology Degree from Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1836.[11] After he graduated, the President of Oberlin, Charles Finney, was interested in the status of blacks who had travelled to Upper Canada to escape slavery and discrimination.[12] He gave Wilson twenty-five dollars to travel to Upper Canada and to work with the 20,000 free blacks, who have settled there for refuge.

Establishment of schools[edit]

Wilson discovered that the living conditions in which the free blacks lived in, were very negative as there was no education opportunities available to improve blacks' lives.[13] Wilson travelled through the province from the fall through the spring of that year and returned to the United States to act as a delegate of Upper Canada at a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society.[14] At this meeting, Wilson explained that the former fugitives faced a tremendous amount of discrimination; Wilson believed education was essential and important which should be taught.[15] As a result, Wilson was granted some funds from the American Anti-Slavery Society and returned to Upper Canada with five other Oberlin students.

Wilson's primary goal for Upper Canada was to establish schools exclusively but not restricted to black students.[16] This effort caught the attention of Quaker philanthropist James Canning Fuller, from Skaneateles, New York.

This inspired Wilson to dedicate his life to Christianizing and helping the free blacks to become independent. Wilson travelled around Upper Canada for six years where he established ten schools and recruited fourteen teachers. These teachers were recent Oberlin graduates who knew Wilson.[17]

British-American Institute and the Dawn Settlement[edit]

June 1838, Wilson and Josiah Henson called a convention of Canadian blacks to discuss the possibility of building a school and what should be taught.[18] Henson said "Our children could gain those elements of knowledge which are usually taught in a grammar-school." Henson also thought in addition to this, boys should be taught the practice of a mechanical art, such as millworking, carpentry, or blacksmithing; and girls be instructed in the domestic arts.[19] The process of constructing a school would be very long as approval and funding would have to be found.

The Canada Mission Board gave approval for Wilson and Henson to find a site that would be safe for fugitives. Dawn was the site chosen.[20] Dawn was heavily forested, which provided for wetlands and grasslands which provided game to sustain the community.[21] Wilson and Henson bought 200 acres of land near the Sydenham River to build the school, which was called the British American Institute.[22] Many blacks were attracted to this community, as the promise of jobs and education was very enticing.

December 12, 1841, Hiram Wilson joined Josiah Henson and James Canning Fuller to establish the British-American Institute, which served as a manual labor school in the Dawn Fugitive Slave settlement.[23] By 1845, there were seventy students, who were taught by Wilson's first wife, Hannah.[24] By the 1850s Dawn's population was predominately black; internal conflicts and financial troubles would soon hit the Dawn Settlement because Dawn revolved around the British-American Institute. Dawn filled the needs of the institute, instead of the reverse.[25]

During the first few years of the settlement the population was almost 500. By the spring of 1847, Wilson's wife Hannah had died; this affected Wilson tremendously. In 1847, the settlement was deep in debt and by the summer of 1848, no one had any credit left except for Wilson, who then resigned due to reasons of mismanagement, bad leadership, and the death of James Canning Fuller.[26] There was never enough money to not only adequately sustain the settlement, but also to pull it out of debt. The sources were planned to come from within the community but instead they came from outside sources that did not see any funds come back.[27] The idea of a manual labour school seemed to be practical; however, the founders of the institute failed to secure long term finances and resources. Wilson wrote in 1850 that, "The Manuel Training Institute here ran well for a season, and accomplished much good; but since my resignation [in 1847] ...and the decease of James Cannings Fuller, one of the Trustees, it has run down, and can hardly be resuscitated again without a miracle".[28]

1843 World Anti-Slavery Convention[edit]

In 1843, Wilson attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention, in London, where he was the "Central Corresponding Committee for the Coloured Population of Canada."[29] At this convention he gathered with other slave abolishers from around the world, where he toured around Britain to raise funds. He accumulated $1100.00 and several hundred Bibles and Testaments where he met several connections who promised to send funding to the Dawn Settlement.[30]

St. Catharines[edit]

Wilson resigned from the Dawn Settlement and moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, where he worked to found a fugitive haven. Wilson lived in St. Catharines with his second wife Mary and his five children; Lydia M. Wilson (b. 1843), Mary E. Wilson (b. 1845), George S. Wilson (b. 1847), John J.Wilson (b. 1841). In 1852 he also applied to be the guardian of Alavana Dicken, a former slave in the family of Benjamin Dicken from North Carolina.

While in St. Catharines he opened an American Missionary Association night school with his wife Mary. There, he played the role of preacher and teacher to the destitute and needy. Between 1850-1856, he took into his house about 125 refugees. He gave food and clothing: bibles to the literate and to the rest a spelling book. There were already 2000 blacks in the St. Catharines area and between September and December 1850, another 3000 arrived from the United States responding to the implementation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

This school was the final terminal that Harriet Tubman used herself and for her passengers on the Underground Railroad.[31] When Harriet Tubman arrived in St.Catharines in 1851 with eleven freedom seekers, she met Wilson at the AME Church or the Bethel Chapel, the first Black church in St. Catharines. In 1856 the church's name was changed to the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church otherwise known as Salem Chapel. This then became the first National Historical site in St. Catharines. Benjamin Drew in 1855 wrote about Wilson and his family:

"...a distinguished, self-denying philanthropist ... With him the refugee finds a welcome and a home; the port stranger is pointed by him to the means of honorable self-support, and from him receives wise counsel and religious instruction...I have seen the Negro- the fugitive slave, wearied with his thousand miles of traveling by night, without suitable shelter meanwhile for rest by day, who had trodden the roughest and most unfrequented ways, fearing, with too much cause, an enemy in every human being who had crossed his path; I have seen such arrive at Mr. Wilson's...I have seen such waited on by Mr. And Mrs. Wilson, fed and clothed, and cheered, and cared for...."[32]

Throughout Wilson's career, he was always "dogged by misadventure"[33] and he was always seeking funds to support his ambitious work.

Death[edit]

Wilson died at his home on 16 April 1864 from an illness associated with an inflammation of the lungs.[34] He was buried at Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.[35]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/LaneDebates/RebelBios/HiramWilson.html
  2. ^ Allen P. Stouffer 1992. The light of nature and the law of god : Antislavery in Ontario, 1833-1877. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 69.
  3. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 170-171.
  4. ^ Jane H. Pease, and William Henry Pease. Bound with them in chains ;;a biographical history of the antislavery movement. Contributions in american history. Vol. 18. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 116.
  5. ^ Jane H. Pease, and William Henry Pease. Bound with them in chains ;;a biographical history of the antislavery movement. Contributions in american history. Vol. 18. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 116.
  6. ^ Jane H. Pease, and William Henry Pease. Bound with them in chains ;;a biographical history of the antislavery movement. Contributions in american history. Vol. 18. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 116.
  7. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 22-23.
  8. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 22.
  9. ^ Sernett, Milton C. (1986). Abolition's axe : Beriah Green, Oneida Institute, and the Black freedom struggle. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815623700.
  10. ^ Jane H. Pease, and William Henry Pease. Bound with them in chains ;;a biographical history of the antislavery movement. Contributions in american history. Vol. 18. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 116.
  11. ^ http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/LaneDebates/RebelBios/HiramWilson.html
  12. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 22.
  13. ^ Allen P. Stouffer 1992. The light of nature and the law of god : Antislavery in ontario, 1833-1877. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 67.
  14. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 22-23.
  15. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 22-23.
  16. ^ Silverman, Jason H. 1982. Unwelcome guests :American fugitive slaves in canada, 1830-1860. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 62-63.
  17. ^ http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/LaneDebates/RebelBios/HiramWilson.html
  18. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 24.
  19. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 25.
  20. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 26.
  21. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 26.
  22. ^ Silverman, Jason H. 1982. Unwelcome guests :American fugitive slaves in canada, 1830-1860. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 61-62.
  23. ^ Silverman, Jason H. 1982. Unwelcome guests :American fugitive slaves in canada, 1830-1860. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 61.
  24. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 26.
  25. ^ Silverman, Jason H. 1982. Unwelcome guests :American fugitive slaves in canada, 1830-1860. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 63-64.
  26. ^ Silverman, Jason H. 1982. Unwelcome guests :American fugitive slaves in canada, 1830-1860. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 64.
  27. ^ Silverman, Jason H. 1982. Unwelcome guests :American fugitive slaves in Canada, 1830-1860. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 65.
  28. ^ Jane H. Pease, and William Henry Pease. Bound with them in chains; a biographical history of the antislavery movement. Contributions in American history. Vol. 18. Westport, Connecticut; Greenwood Press, 131.
  29. ^ Allen P. Stouffer 1992. The light of nature and the law of god : Antislavery in ontario, 1833-1877. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 69.
  30. ^ Allen P. Stouffer 1992. The light of nature and the law of god : Antislavery in ontario, 1833-1877. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 69.
  31. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 170-171.
  32. ^ Jacqueline L. Tobin and Hettie Jones, From midnight to dawn: The last tracks of the underground railroad, 2007, 170.
  33. ^ Jane H. Pease, and William Henry Pease. Bound with them in chains ;;a biographical history of the antislavery movement. Contributions in american history. Vol. 18. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 135.
  34. ^ "Death of Hiram Wilson" The Liberator, May 13, 1864; pg. 79; Issue 20; col D.
  35. ^ Perkins, Olivera (December 4, 2016). "Marketing Cleveland". The Plain Dealer. p. F1.

Bibliography[edit]