Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Family Histories


Banks Family

The Law-Abiding and Law Enforcing Banks Family

For the month of June we are highlighting the Banks family. Stay tuned each week for a new installment!

The Law-Abiding and Law Enforcing Banks Family – Part 1

Did you know the Banks family was prominent in the Harrow/Colchester area during the 1800s and early 1900s, and can trace their Canadian roots back to 1831 with the arrival of William Erving/ Irving Banks, the son of Anthony and Nancy Banks? William Erving was born circa 1807 and originated from Virginia, where he came from a family of Free Blacks. This also included his siblings Harvil, Erling, Eaton, Washington, Straudy, Lucretia, Sie and Mirracy. William Erving married Esther Malawice (Fields) Banks, who was born in Amherstburg on 14 June 1812.

Her mother was Alamania, who originated from Ghana, West Africa, and was a cook for Isaac Brock. Family lore says that Isaac Brock is the alleged father of Esther, but this has not proven fact. Have you ever heard this legend before? William and Esther had five children: Anthony, Erving Jr., John, Martha and Thomas. Each of their children have their own interesting histories which is what we are going to discuss today.

There are so many interesting resources available at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum which can tell a person a lot about their history including the Biographical Directory of Essex County for 1881 which lists Erving S. a farmer and county constable. Ever wonder where he lived in Colchester? Erving owned 150 acres of Lot 16 in Colchester North, which, in 1881, was valued at $5,000, which increased to $6,000 at the time of his passing on 25 August 1893. That is a lot of money even by today’s standards.

Erving and his first wife, Mary Jane, had nine children and in his obituary, it states “When a young man, he bought some land in Colchester North from the Canada Company and cleared it. He followed sailing for an occupation until the past few years. He was first married to Mary Jane, daughter of the late WM. MCCURDY, of Colchester South, and she died about seven years ago, leaving four daughters, all of whom are residing in Windsor.” Erving was the first Black member of the Harrow Town Council and a school trustee of S.S. No. 1 in Colchester North. As sad as they can be, it is amazing what interesting details you can learn from a person’s obituary. If you are ever considering looking into your family history, a good place to start is in a newspaper’s obituary section. Erving’s siblings included … Stayed tuned for next week’s edition to learn more about the Banks Family.

The Law-Abiding and Law Enforcing Banks Family – Part 2

Erving Banks’ siblings included John Banks who was born in roughly 1850 and married Mary Matthews. There is not very much information on this couple, but they had no children and John died of cancer of the nose. Erving and John’s sister, Martha Banks Baker, was born circa 1854 and died young of tuberculosis. Thomas Banks, born circa 1845, was a cook on a steamboat and sailed on Lake Superior for twenty-four years. His first marriage was to Cora, who died young and they had one son, Anthony. Thomas later married Mary L. Jones (1860-1937), the daughter of Samuel Jones, and the couple had several children, including Charles (b. 1883); Arthur (b.1888); Clarence (b.1891), Myrtle; William; Grover (b. 1893) and Carl “Curly,” who married his first wife Phoebe Chavis and had three children Carl, Patty and Yolanda, and married his second wife Lillie Norris. Thomas and Mary’s children also included Lulu who married Robert Gaskins (no children) and Annie who married Lionel Conway and had 9 children: Clarence “Buddy,” Gerald, Lionel, Mary Jane, Shirley, Louella, Louise, Sandra and John.

The most well-known member of the Banks family is Anthony Banks, son of William and Esther and sibling of Erving, Thomas and Martha who are discussed above. Born a free person on 29 June 1840 in Colchester Township South, Anthony was named after his grandfather who lived in Bellefontaine, Ohio. He also became one of the founders of Central Grove B.M.E. Church in Harrow. It was on 12 April 1881 that the Crown Attorney of Essex County, S.S. MacDonnell, appointed Anthony Banks as the Constable of Essex County, making him the first African-descended person to hold this position in Ontario. This was a significant moment, especially considering the discrimination that Anthony, and all African Canadians, endured on a daily basis, including segregated institutions, unfair laws and racist treatment. Despite the racism African Canadians faced, men like Anthony were able to overcome obstacles and remain devoted to his career.

According to Cordella Anne MacRae, daughter of Cora (Banks) White and granddaughter of Anthony, “Travel was very slow during the 1800s and the family often discussed how my grandfather sometimes found it necessary to bring a prisoner home late at night; and in order to deter him from escaping, my grandfather would often handcuff the prisoner to one of his sons. On several occasions, he was confronted with the precarious task of arresting a member of one of his friends.” In 1892, he was also appointed the Deputy Warden for the Ontario Game and Fishing Commission, which meant that he enforced game and fishery laws for the province. This was in addition to acting as a school trustee, Treasurer and Roadmaster, as he was labelled in the Amherstburg Echo. Anthony Banks held the position of Constable for Essex County for almost 50 years and when he retired, the Amherstburg Echo gifted Anthony with a lifetime subscription. He certainly earned this gift. Don’t worry. There is more history to come. Stay tuned.

The Law-Abiding and Law Enforcing Banks Family – Part 3

Anthony’s first wife was Susan Simpson, who was born in North Colchester Township on 9 March 1845, to Levi Simpson and Elizabeth Hutchins Simpson.  Levi was born in the US circa 1791 and Elizabeth was born in Wales, England circa 1799.  Interestingly, when Anthony married Susan in March 1862, he had a joint ceremony with his childhood friend, Samuel Day who married Sara Hunt.  Their union resulted in nine boys (William Erving, Walter, George, James, John, Gordon, Garnett, Anthony Jr. and Eli) and five girls (Emma, Elzora, Martha, Adella, and Cora).  With the exception of Cora, Garnett, Eli and Anthony Jr. (twins), all of their children were born in a log cabin owned by Anthony’s mother, Esther.  Esther’s farm was one hundred acres of land with a log cabin and a cemetery for the burial of family members. It is amazing to think that Esther owned all of that property at that time.  What an amazing woman! The four children, mentioned above, were born in the family home that Anthony built, which was on 54 acres of land in South Colchester.  After Susan’s passing, Anthony married a widow, Katherine Rideout, from Colchester South, on 11 March 1910; they had no children.

Among Anthony and Susan’s children were their daughters Adella, who married Julius Mumford Garvin of Detroit on 7 October 1914, had a daughter Katherine and owned a small dressmaking shop, while Cora, who is mentioned above, was born on 18 September 1891 and married Blake White on 4 July 1917.  Martha was born on 19 July 1943 and married Frank Dennis, and had one child, Walter, who was born on 22 September 1896.  All three sisters resided in Detroit.  Emma was born on 24 September 1865 and was buried behind her grandmother’s log cabin.  Elzora was born in 1866, but died in infancy.  She, like Emma, was buried in the cemetery behind her grandmother’s log cabin. We’re not done yet.  There is still more to come. Next week is our final installment of the Banks Family History.

The Law-Abiding and Law Enforcing Banks Family – Part 4

Anthony and Susan’s son W. Erving was born on 6 August 1863 and was married four times. First to Henrietta Bradford, second to Willa Ann, third was Mrs. Barnes and his fourth wife was Gertrude.  He was also a chef with New York Central and Canadian National Railway for over 30 years and was known to meet “friends from South Essex on the International Limited, one of the … trains of the C.N.R. system.”  The places and sites he must of visited.  George was born on 7 February 1871 and married Carrie Simpson.  They had a daughter, Viola. John and James owned a saloon in Saginaw, Michigan and James was also a chef for the Canadian National Railroad.  Garnett, born on 5 April 1885, never married and was employed by the C.N.R.  It was during one of his trips with the C.N.R. that he fell into a lake in Northern Ontario.  He developed tuberculosis which sadly caused his death at 26.  Anthony Jr. and Eli were born on 1 December 1886. Eli, also known as Todd, never married and farmed the family homestead. Susan and Anthony’s other son, Gordon, was listed as living “in the west,” possibly in Oakland, California, while Walter married a school teacher, Elvia Dixon of Windsor on 15 January 1897.  They had no children, but Walter followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a County Constable.  Walter also had a farm in Colchester North.  Farming was common in the Banks family, as they farmed the land, raising cattle and chickens, growing fruits and vegetables, churning butter, producing flour and growing tobacco.  Sounds like a very hard working family and that hard work paid off.  Anthony Banks owned 116 acres of Lot 9 on Concession 3 in South Colchester, which was worth $3,000.

Anthony’s granddaughter, Cordella, wrote that the Banks’ family home was “open to all who were either homeless or who needed temporary shelter.  Thus, one could always find an assortment of friends or relatives who lived with the family from time to time.”  Cordella mentions one specific example, “Uncle Ben” Murray, who escaped enslavement in Virginia and lived with the Banks family as an elderly man.  Cordella recalls her mother’s memory of sitting for hours listening to Uncle Ben tell stories about his life while enslaved and how he, along with his brother, escaped to Canada “by following the ‘North Star’ and putting cayenne pepper in their tracks so the bloodhounds could not pursue them.” Their journey must have been terrifying.

It clear is that the Banks family has within it significant history makers, particularly Anthony and Erving Jr. Their commitment to the community and their courage to lift themselves beyond the racial climate of nineteenth-century Essex County, often becoming the first Black citizen in their field, speaks volumes to their strength and determination.  In a 1928 write up for Anthony Banks, it states that he lived by the personal philosophy that he would “rather wear out than rust out.”  It seems that was a philosophy he shared with his family members.