AMHERSTBURG FREEEDOM MUSEUM
Armstrong Family Part 1 – Seeking Freedom
This month we will be highlighting a branch of the Armstrong Family, through a man named Thomas Armstrong. Thomas was born in 1826 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the son of Lewis and Weeney Armstrong, who were freedom seekers. Weeney’s story is told in the book Reminiscences of Levi Coffin. Levi Coffin is often referred to as the “President” of the Underground Railroad. In the story titled “A Mother Rescues Her Children,” Coffin writes, “While at Fort Malden, on Lake Erie, we heard of a brave woman named Armstrong, who had recently gone back to Kentucky and rescued five of her children from slavery. We were anxious to see her and hear the story from her lips and accordingly visited her at her home in Colchester, about ten miles below Malden. She was a portly, fine-looking woman, and we were much impressed with the noble expression of her countenance. She told us that about two years before she and her husband, with their youngest child, a babe a few months old, made their escape from Kentucky. Their home in that state was about ten miles from the Ohio River, at a point opposite Ripley, the home of the divine and noted abolitionist, John Rankin. After crossing the river, they found friends who helped them on their way to Canada.”
Coffin continues, “They gained freedom for themselves, but were not happy; they had left seven children in slavery. The mother wept and prayed over their fate, and planned continually how they might be rescued. She felt that she must make some attempt to bring them away, but her husband thought of the risk and danger attending such an effort on her part and tried to dissuade her from going. She said: ‘I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. I prayed most all night, and the Lord seemed to say, ‘Go.’ Next morning I told my husband I was going, that the Lord would go with me and help me. I had all my plans laid; I dressed in men’s clothing and started. I went to friends in Ohio and had all the arrangements made for a skiff to come over to the Kentucky side. I took byways and through fields to old master’s farm, and got there in the early part of the night. I hid myself near the spring, and watched for my children, for I knew some of them would come to get water. I had not been there long before my eldest daughter came. I called her name in a low voice, and when she started up and looked round, I told her not to be afraid, that I was her mother. I soon convinced her, and her alarm passed away. I then told her my plans, and she said she could bring the rest of the children to me when master and mistress got to sleep. The night was very dark and favored our plans. She brought all the children to me but two; they were sleeping in the room with old master and mistress, who had gone to bed, and she could not get them out without raising the alarm. I started with the five and hastened back to the river as fast as we could go in the dark. We found the skiff waiting for us and soon crossed. On the other side, a wagon was ready to take us in, and the man with it drove us a few miles to a depot of the Underground Railroad. Here we were secreted during the following day, and next night were forwarded on to another station, and so on from station to station till we reached Sandusky, where we were put on board the Mayflower – called the Abolition boat. We landed safely at Fort Malden two weeks ago and are out of old Massa’s reach now. The Lord did help me, and blessed be his holy name!” She said she had made arrangements with her friends in Ohio, living near the river, to try to get her two other children and send them to her, and she had faith that they would succeed.”
Whether all the remaining children did make it to Canada is unclear, but what we do know from this story is that Lewis and Weeney Armstrong escaped enslavement in Kentucky and came to Amherstburg. According to the 1851 Census, Lewis (a 50 year-old farmer), along with Weeney (45) and their children Charles (17) and Jane (12) were living in Malden Township, but later moved the family to Colchester Township.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 2.
Armstrong Family Part 2 – Building a Life in Freedom
As mentioned, Lewis and Weeney Armstrong also had a son named Thomas. According to his obituary from September 26, 1902 (printed in the Amherstburg Echo), Thomas Armstrong Sr. was “born in Louisville Ky., and was in slavery for many years. He ran away from his master in 1855 and came to Amherstburg, afterwards returning to Cleveland and was married there to Mrs. Mary Ridout, mother of William and Jas. Ridout. Subsequently he came to Colchester South where he resided until his death … He was a member and one of the founders of the A.M.E. Zion church … The edifice was filled and many had to stay outside. Rev. Wright Crosby, an old friend of the deceased, conducted the funeral.”
Previously it was mentioned that two of Lewis and Weeney Armstrong’s children were left behind and whether they arrived in Canada was unclear, but Milo Johnson’s book New Canaan: Freedom-Land has a theory for one of the children. According to Johnson, “Since Thomas arrived in 1855, he must have been one of the two older children Weeney Armstrong left behind when she returned to Kentucky in about 1845 to retrieve her children.”
Thomas’ wife Mary Jane Ridout was born circa 1833 and was the daughter of Charles Mahoney and Mary Sisco. After living in Ohio, they returned to Colchester South in 1860. It was there that Thomas purchased property on Lot 10, Bagot Street in Colchester. According to several records, Thomas changed occupations several times. In 1871 he is listed as a labourer, in 1891 he worked as a gardener and his death record states that he was a farmer. Thomas and Mary had at least five children: Sarah Jane (1860), Samuel (1862), Minervia (1865), Thomas (1869), Mary A. (1874).
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 3 where we will discuss Thomas and Mary’s children.
Armstrong Family Part 3 – Finding Roots
At the age of sixteen, Sarah Jane Armstrong married Jonathan R. Carter, a 23-year-old farmer and son of Lewis and Mary Carter. The couple was married on November 15, 1874 in Colchester. The 1881 Census lists Sarah as living with her husband John Carter and their children: James, William and Eli. Ten years later, the 1891 Census records Sarah as living with her husband John Carter, along with their growing family that included: William, Harry, Melinda, Blanche and Mary. When looking at the 1901 Census we see a Sarah Carter and her children: William (and his wife Nellie), Harry, Melinda, Blanche, Mary, Freddie and Gussie, but it does not list her husband Jonathan and states that Sarah is a widow. The 1898 death record for Jonathan Carter from Sackville (Colchester) lists cause of death as pulmonary tuberculosis. In Sarah’s sister Mary’s obituary, it lists Sarah as Sarah Lancaster, meaning that she married a second time. In the 1911 Census Sarah is listed as Sarah Lancaster with her husband Samuel Lancaster, along with three children: Fred Carter, Gussie Carter and Charlotte Carter. Each are listed as the step-children of Samuel Lancaster and are listed as Carters not Lancasters. Further documents help us confirm this is the correct Sarah, such as the marriage record for her son William Carter and his wife Nellie Pride, the daughter of Asa Pines and Emily Taylor. For William’s parents we see Jonathan Carter and Sarah Armstrong listed. William and Nellie married on October 10, 1899 in Colchester North.
Thomas and Mary’s next child, Samuel married Hannah Bridgette on November 1, 1886. In Thomas Armstrong’s obituary it lists his son Samuel as living in Ypsilanti and also mentions Thomas’ daughter Minerva marrying into the Hughbank’s family and resided in Detroit. Minerva married a second time to a man named Elisha/Elijah Matthews, the son of Elma Day and Matthew Matthews. In the record for her second marriage, Minerva is listed as Minervia Ughbanks (Hughbanks) and a widow, explaining her second marriage. The couple married on October 25, 1904 in Colchester South. Elijah is listed as a farmer and Minerva was a hairdresser.
Minerva’s sister Mary was also mentioned in her father’s obituary as “Mrs. Peter McCoy (Mary A.) living in Ypsilanti.” On March 17, 1895, a 21-year-old Mary A. Armstrong married Peter William McCoy, a 23-year-old labourer and the son of Peter McCoy and Carrie Harris. The couple was married in Ypsilanti, Michigan. According to Mary’s death record and obituary she married a member of the Hughbanks family. Mary’s obituary also mentions that she was “a very fine pianist” and was living in Ann Arbor.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 4.
Armstrong Family Part 4 – Church Service
It was recently mentioned that Thomas Jr. was living in Colchester at the time of his father’s passing, but there is additional information available for him. According to his January 1956 obituary, Thomas was a highly respected citizen of Colchester Village. Also said is that he “was in his 87th year and had resided in Colchester South nearly all his life. He was the son of Thomas Armstrong and Mary Maloney (Mahoney) and when he reached manhood, he was ordained as a minister of the Gospel and spent 25 years in the ministry. ‘Tom’ as he was familiarly known was a very kindly dispositioned person and made many friends by his frank outspoken friendliness and his welcome smile of greetings. He always wore that smile that meant so much for behind it was that glowing vital spiritual influence called Christianity. Tom lived his religion and people had great respect and confidence in him for his strict adherence to his principles of righteousness. Yes Tom will be greatly missed by the host of friends he made.” An additional note about Reverend Thomas Armstrong’s involvement at St. Mark’s Church. The Amherstburg Echo announced numerous events happening at the church under the Reverend Armstrong’s leadership including rallies, waffle socials, home coming services, an “old time barbecue” and concerts to name a few.
Thomas Jr. married Emma Jane Artis-Clingman, the daughter of Cornelius Artis and Theresa Bruce. The couple had at least five children: Charlotte (1897), Coressa Myessa (1897), Charles Hubert (1899), Lottie (1900), Thomas Cornelius (1902). In the 1910 Census, four of Thomas and Emma’s children (Thomas, Odessa, Charles and Lottie) are listed as living with Emma’s parents, Cornellias (Cornelius) and Thursa (Theresa) Artis, along with a lodger named Elizabeth Crosby and an employee named Ellis Clingman.
Before discussing Emma and Thomas’ children, an interesting note about Mrs. Armstrong. The Amherstburg Echo reported in 1901 that “Mrs. Thos. Armstrong received a check for $100 from an American firm for being the first to solve one of the puzzles published in the papers. Cornelius Artis also received $10 from the same firm.” What a prize! We can’t say for sure that the Mrs. Armstrong in question was Emma but it is possible because it mentions her father as a winner as well.
Emma and Thomas’ daughter Charlotte Vera Armstrong married James Henry Taylor on April 3, 1918 in Harrow. At the time Charlotte was 18 years old, working as a house maid and not previously married, while James Henry Taylor was a 21-year-old farmer and the son of James Isaac Taylor and Mary Matthews. Sadly, Charlotte passed away just shy of her 20th birthday on November 20th, 1918 and had only been married for 7 months.
Charlotte’s sister, Coressa Myessa married Forest T. Matthews, son of Soloman Matthews and Elizabeth Jordina Turner. They married on April 29, 1914 and, at the time, Coressa was 17, while Forest was a 27-year-old farmer. Coressa and Forest had at least three children: Margaret Lucinda (1917), Charlotte Lorinda (1915) and Mackenzie F. Matthews (1918).
The next child of Thomas and Emma is Charles Hubert who, according to the 1901 Census, was born on April 15, 1899. On May 16, 1919, Charles (20 years old) married Jeanette Alexander in Windsor. Jeanette was 19 years old at the time and the daughter of Phoebie Campbell and Abram Alexander.
The next child of Thomas and Emma is Lottie and she was born in December 1900. Her birth record says December 11, while the 1901 census says December 15. According to the Amherstburg Echo Lottie liked to perform. At an April 1912 Easter service at St. Mark’s A.M.E. Zion Church, a performance from the Sunday School was “worthy of comment. Many members of the school had special training and performed their parts with great credit.” Among those who performed were Lottie Armstrong who sang “Victor crown” with Sadie Moore, Stella Harris, James Harris, Charlotte Carter, Theodore Moore, B. Johnson, Mannie Johnson.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 5 where we will talk about the last child of Thomas and Emma.
Armstrong Family Part 5 – Order of the Eastern Star
Thomas Cornelius Armstrong was born on May 23, 1902. He later married Meryle Kersey, the daughter of Robert Kersey and Minnie Clingman (daughter of William Clingman and Matilda Ridout). On September 12, 1935, the Amherstburg Echo printed “A notable event of Colchester South is the marriage of Miss Myrl Kersey, daughter of Robert Kersey, and Thomas Armstrong, son of Thomas Armstrong sr., of this place. We wish them much joy.” A few days later, on September 27, the Amherstburg Echo printed another article concerning Thomas and Meryle’s wedding. It says, “A surprise shower was given on Tuesday evening, September 24th, by Mesdames Edna Grayer and Margaret Taylor, for Mrs. Thomas Armstrong, jr., who was before her recent marriage Miss Meryl Kersey. This took place at the bride’s home in Colchester South. The evening was featured by the broadcast of the Louis-Baer fight, music and games, after which a delicious lunch was served. The bride’s sister, Mildred, assisted in opening the gifts.” Thomas and Meryle also had a daughter named Carol Mae.
Meryle was also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. In the November 12, 1953 edition of the Amherstburg Echo an article titled “Prince Hall Chapter O.E.S. Installation” lists members installed into the Prince Hall No. 10 Chapter O.E.S. for 1954 at Central Grove Church. Meryle is listed as secretary, along with members of other families that have been written about in our family history series. They include: I.P.W.M., Mrs. Melinda Kersey; W.M., Mrs. Virgil Grayer; W.P., Robert Kersey; A.M., Mrs. Harvey Mulder Jr.; Conductress, Mrs. Clyde Scott; associate conductress, Mrs. Wylie Grayer; secretary, Mrs. Thomas Armstrong; treasurer, Mrs. Orville Taylor; marshall, Mrs. Marcellus Johnston; sentinel, Mrs. Walter Cayne; warden, Mrs. Wm. Kersey; Adah, Mrs. Gerald Grayer; Ruth, Mrs. David Talbot; Esther, Mrs. George Talbot and Electa; Mrs. Harvey Mulder Sr.” Do you recognize anyone listed?
A few years later, in 1956, the Amherstburg Echo writes about “The installation of officers of Prince Hall Chapter No. 10 Order of the Eastern Star … November the fourth at the Municipal Building, Harrow with Bathsheba Chapter No. 9 O.E.S. of Detroit and Sister Mary Drake its Worthy Matron in charge.” In this article Meryle has changed roles and is listed as Associate Conductress. Others installed include: Sis. Melinda Kersey Worthy Matrons; Sis. Ethelda Talbot Associate Matron; Bro. Judson Mulder Worthy Patron; Sis. Evelyn Talbot conductress; Sis. Maggie Scott Secretary; Sis. M. Gertrude Mulder Treasurer; Sis. Agnes Payne Warder and Bro. Edward Abbott Sentinel. The star points were Sis. Marjorie Abbott Ada; Sis. Vida Mulder, Past Matron Ruth; Sis Wanda Mulder Esther; Sis. Glena Scott, Past Matron Martha and Sis. Glovanna Johnson Past Matron Electa.”
The article continues with a description of the event and says “Immediately after the installation ceremonies, the burning of the mortgage of Prince Hall Chapter and Prince Hall Lodge No 18 took place. Most worshipful Grand Master Bro. Lorne Millben of the jurisdiction of Ontario Prince Hall affiliation was in charge of this ceremony. He was assisted by his cabinet of Grand Officers. Rev. Joseph Brockington of Detroit was the guest speaker. Chapters in attendance were from Amherstburg, Windsor, Chatham and Detroit. The affair was a grand success. Proceeds from the day were one hundred and thirty-three dollars and fifty two cents for which Worthy Matron of 1856 Sis. Glena Scott wishes to thank everyone.”
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week where we will celebrate another amazing family.