Armstrong Family

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.

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Lorene BridgenArmstrong Family