AMHERSTBURG FREEEDOM MUSEUM
The Walking Preacher of the Binga Family – Part 1
For the month of August we are highlighting the Binga family. Stay tuned each week for a new installment!
Amherstburg is an incredibly historic place with numerous spaces that pay tribute to the many contributions of African Canadians, including places like churches. Among those churches is the First Baptist Church on George Street which is a shining example of the hard work and dedication of the Binga family. The church’s existence can be attributed to the Reverend Anthony Binga Sr., who was also known as The Walking Preacher and The Father of the Black Baptists. Anthony Binga Sr. was born into slavery in Green County, Kentucky. In 1895, he was interviewed by Wilbur H. Siebert, the author of The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom. During the interview, Elder Binga explained, “John Bucknel was my first owner, and when I was 6 years old, he sold my family to General Taylor, an uncle of Zachary Taylor [12th President of the United States]. I never saw the day, since I knew anything that I didn’t want to be free.” He stayed true to his goal and in 1836, he escaped.
It was after his brother found a pocket book with $500 inside that Anthony and some of his relatives, including his brother, made their way to Amherstburg, Ontario with the assistance of Quakers and Underground Railroad operatives. The Binga family arrived 6 days after finding the pocket book that changed their fate. It was in Amherstburg that Anthony Binga Sr. was a conductor of the Underground Railroad and the First Baptist Church was a terminus in the Underground Railroad. When describing his time in Amherstburg, Binga wrote, “At Amherstburg, I kept a station. When we went there first, it was almost a miracle to see 15 coming there at one time, and a wonder when one came. A long time after, they would come 30 in a day, and after the Fugitive Slave Law took effect, by 50’s every day like frogs in Egypt.” Elder Binga adds that he, Issac Rice and Hiram Wilson assisted freedom seekers by providing them with provisions, taking care of them when they were sick, and helping to find them employment. Stayed tuned for Part 2.
The Walking Preacher of the Binga Family – Part 2
It was a year after he arrived that Anthony Binga Sr. began formally preaching in Amherstburg. A few years later, in 1838, he, along with other Amherstburg residents, began building the First Baptist Church in Canada, on George Street in Amherstburg, which was completed in 1845. It was built with the assistance of master carpenters, Deacon George Crawford and Nasa McCurdy of the Methodist Church. Did you know that baptisms conducted by the First Baptist church occurred near the former Boblo Island Docks on the Detroit River? In 1851 there were 48 baptisms which increased to 75 in 1867. That would be an interesting sight to see.
The title of this article is “The Walking Preacher” which is a tribute to the missionary work of Reverend Binga Sr., who raised money to build the Baptist Church by travelling and preaching from Detroit to Toronto. It was also common for him to walk from Amherstburg to Buxton, where he would stop at homes along the way to pray, enjoy a meal and get some rest. The Rev. Binga Sr. also deserves credit for playing an integral role in uniting Black Baptist churches in the province. It was on October 8, 1841 that Amherstburg’s First Baptist Church hosted a meeting after the Second Baptist Church in Detroit put out the call to unite the Black churches in the area.
It should be added that Reverend Binga and the First Baptist Church took a strong leadership position in this union of churches. As a result of his strong leadership, he was termed Father Binga and the Amherstburg First Baptist Church was designated the Mother Church. In the invitation to members, it said “Believing that the time has now come that we should form ourselves into an association because we cannot enjoy the privileges we wish with the white churches in Canada; centuries having rolled along since our fathers were organized as a church; and believing that many of our fathers have gone down to the grave not enjoying their just privileges and rights in the Christian churches among the whites, we invite all the Christian churches for the same faith and order to unite with us in the great Celestial Union in strength, United we stand, divided we fall. Come up, Brethen from all parts of the province and let us see what we can do for ourselves and our children.”
The result was the Alliance of the Baptist Association for Colored People, later named the Amherstburg Regular Baptist Association and then to the Amherstburg Regular Missionary Baptist Association (ARMBA). Did you know that Elder Binga’s father, Daniel Binga Sr. was a deacon at the First Baptist Amherstburg and was treasurer of the Association for twelve continuous years until his death in 1853? Don’t worry. There is still more to come next week.
The Walking Preacher of the Binga Family – Part 3
Elder Anthony Binga married Rhoda Story who escaped enslavement in Tennessee and came to Canada. Among their children was Anthony Binga Jr. (1843-1919) who was educated at King’s Institute in Buxton where he had a scholarship that paid for his tuition. Anthony completed three years of medical training and it was his goal to become a physician. He also had a private tutor in Latin and anatomy and it was in 1865 that he completed his studies. Following his schooling, Anthony became a teacher in Atchison, Kansas. It was only after becoming ill that he returned to Canada in 1867. To help with his recovery, Anthony Jr. was baptised in the Detroit River so that he could regain his strength. Although illness is never a good thing, Anthony’s sickness changed his path from medicine to religion, considering he became an ordained minister by the Canadian Anti-Slavery Baptist Association. Eight months after, he was the pastor at Puce River Church. From there he went to Athens County, Ohio, working as a preacher and principal at the Albany Enterprise Academy.
Anthony Binga Jr. married the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rebecca L. Bush of Xenia, Ohio on December 2, 1869. They had two daughters. He remained there until 1871 and took a job in Canada which allowed him to spend more time in his ministerial role. The following year, in January 1872, he left for Richmond, Virginia, becoming a pastor of the First Baptist Church of Manchester. He simultaneously accepted a teaching position with Manchester Public Schools, while he oversaw the education of Black children in Manchester, which included six schools. He taught there for 16 years and was highly respected.
Anthony Binga Sr. had other siblings including his brothers Daniel Jr. (born c. 1808) and Moses. Daniel Jr. was an engineer, but he and his brother Moses also worked as clerks. Daniel Jr. married Mary Haney/Haynie on December 24, 1846, and he was roughly 24 years older than Mary. According to the 1861 Census, Mary was born in Upper Canada, in Colchester in 1832. Their children were: Louis, James, Daniel, Hannah, Eliza, Jane and Herman. Mary and Daniel’s daughter Hannah was born in 1854 in Fort Malden (now Amherstburg) and she was most likely named after her father Daniel’s sister. On October 4, 1875, in Albion, Michigan, Hannah married Samuel Hughes who was born in 1842 and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and was the son of Elizabeth Stanton and John Hughes. Their marriage did not last, but several years later Hannah married James Taylor of Amherstburg. They had no children and moved to Pontiac, Michigan. It was Hannah’s son, from her first marriage, Wilbur (b. 1888) who was the first person of African descent to graduate from Pontiac High School. Hannah’s brother, Herman married Martha Rann on August 7, 1901 in Pontiac, Michigan. Still more to come next week.
The Walking Preacher of the Binga Family – Part 4
Another well-known member of the Binga family was Jesse Binga, who was born in Detroit on April 10, 1865 to William and Adelphia (Lewis) Binga. William was born in Kentucky and he was a barber. He also built temporary housing for migrating freedom seekers travelling from the South, escaping to Canada and free territory in the States. The street where these houses were located, in Detroit, was called “Binga Row” and it was Adelphia who supervised these houses. The purpose of these temporary, low cost houses was to give African Americans the opportunity to save enough money in order to either purchase permanent housing in the area or continue on their journey. It is thought that William was either a first cousin or uncle to Anthony Sr. and Daniel. William and Adelphia’s son Jesse married Eudora Johnson and followed in his father’s footsteps in multiple fields.
Not only did he become a barber for a time, but he also settled in Chicago in 1893. It was there that he purchased run-down buildings which he repaired and rented. In 1921, Jesse opened the Binga State Bank, which had deposits in excess of $200,000, which is extremely impressive, especially for that time. Within three years the bank had deposits of over $1.3 million. What made this bank so significant was that it gave an alternative to white-owned banks that often discriminated against Black residents. Additionally, the Binga State Bank provided job opportunities and experience for numerous African Americans who were often refused the chance to work in banks.
The years to follow would have highs and lows. Jesse was an incredibly brave person, considering he moved his family to an all-white neighbourhood. Sadly, they experienced racism on a regular basis including having their house bombed five times in 1919. In 1929, Jesse Binga also opened a five-story office building called the Arcade Building. The following year, in 1930, the Binga State Bank closed as a result of the Depression. Jesse remained in Chicago for the rest of his life. He passed away on June 13, 1950.
Did you know Amherstburg Freedom Museum Board Member, Barbara K. Smith, Ph.D., is the great, great, great niece of the Reverend Anthony Binga Sr. who was discussed at the beginning of this family history? Currently, Barbara is the Director of Guidance and Counseling for Detroit Public Schools. Some of her current and past affiliations include organizations such as the Essex County Black Historical Research Society (Charter Member); Hour-A-Day Study Club; African Diaspora Scholarship Endowment Committee, University of Windsor; Women’s Committee, & Friends Committee (Executive Board), Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society (Past Board Member and Life Member) and a charter member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in Detroit, Michigan. Barbara is a proud descendant of the Binga family and shared her family’s history in a video involving descendants of the Underground Railroad; a video that can be found at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum or on our Facebook page. Thanks for joining us for the Binga Family History. Stay tuned for next week where we will introduce another family.