Christian Family

Christian Family History Part 1 – Escaping via the Underground Railroad

For this month’s family history, we are featuring the Christian family beginning with Susan and Charles Christian. Before we begin, we would like to thank Irene Moore Davis for her significant contributions to this essay. In the Amherstburg Freedom Museum’s family history collection is the Christian family binder that includes a document called “The Christian Family Story.” It is written by Winifred Christian Shreve who is the great granddaughter of Susan and Charles Christian and will be discussed in further detail later.  In “The Christian Family Story,” Winifred writes that the story began in Mason County, Kentucky. It should be noted that, according to Karolyn Smardz Frost’s book I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land (page 17) more than 40,000 people of African descent were forcibly transported by their white owners from the eastern seaboard to Kentucky in the years following the American Revolution. “The Christian Family Story” continues with a description of “Susan, a girl of African, Indian and German descent … owned by the Sauer family. She worked in the house from a very young age. When she grew up, the Sauers selected and purchased a husband for her – Charles Christian, whose father was an African. They were both born circa 1800-1809. They continued living on the Sauer plantation with Charles working on the land (… they said he was a gardener). They had two children, Henry (1839) and Margaret. One night, when Susan was rocking the Sauers’ eight year old daughter to sleep, the girl whispered something that she had overheard. The news was that the master was about to sell Henry (circa 1845). Susan and Charles devised a scheme. The next day they ‘borrowed’ the master’s horses. They had on their usual clothes, but wore other clothes underneath. (They were told that Canada was a very cold place.) They each took a child and rode to the river. They left the horses at the river and crossed over on a skiff, and were heading for Canada, where, they heard, people were free. They went via Pennsylvania where they stayed with Quakers for a few months because Margaret had become ill. Following the Underground Railway (1845-46) through Michigan, they crossed the Detroit River and landed at Sandwich. There, they were given refuge and settled on a farm on Huron Line near Malden Road. Later, they moved into Sandwich and lived on Sandwich Street near Lot (now Watkins Street) as Charles had found other work. A third child, Susan, was born.”

Winifred continues by writing “The family joined the Colored Baptist Church on Peter Street. (In the ‘Pathfinders of Truth’, the record of deacons and trustees of Sandwich Baptist Church – 1851 – includes, Bill Watkins, O. Buckner, Willie Watkins, Morris Small, Bro. McCurdy, George Jones, Bob White, John Brooks and Charles Christian). Henry Christian, son of Charles Christian, worked for the Great Western Railway. He met Anne Wilson of Lancastershire, England, the daughter of Thomas Wilson and M.E. Lund, while in Toronto. They married there. Henry brought her to a farm in Anderdon. They had seven children: Elizabeth, Susan, Sarah Ellen, Alice, Charles Henry, Thomas, and Ada.”

As mentioned in Winifred’s story, Susan and Charles had three children: Margaret, Henry and Susan. There was no further information available for Margaret and Susan, but substantial information for Henry and his descendants who are the focus of this essay. “The Christian Family Story” mentions Susan and Charles’ son Henry who married a white woman from England named Anne Wilson, the daughter of Thomas Wilson and M.E. Lund. According to Anne’s 1914 obituary, Anne was 77 at the time of her passing which means she was born circa 1837. Her obituary also mentions that she lived in the town of Sandwich for the past nine years but lived in Amherstburg before that.

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.

The Christian Family History Part 2 –  A Family of Many Firsts

Henry and Anne Christian had seven children: Elizabeth, Susan, Sarah Ellen, Alice, Charles Henry, Thomas and Ada. The 1871 Census lists Henry Christian (spelt Cristin on the Census) and his wife Annie with some of their children: Elizabeth, Susan, Seregh (Sarah), Alice and Charles. The following pages will discuss them and the rest of their siblings.  We will begin with Elizabeth. According to her death record from 1930, Elizabeth was born on July 23, 1861 in Anderdon. Her marriage record states that Elizabeth married William H. Kelly on October 2, 1890 in Amherstburg. According to the Amherstburg Echo the wedding took place at the residence of the bride’s mother (Anne) in Amherstburg and the service was conducted by the Reverend W.S. Kane. According to the 1911 Census, William worked as a Shoe Cutter, while Elizabeth worked as a dress maker.  The couple had at least seven children: William, Ada, Joseph Carter, Alice Yvonne, Ruth, Helen and Leonard Russell.

William and Elizabeth (Christian) Kelly’s first child William Christian Kelly was born in Windsor on October 20, 1891. He married Lily Harrison. He graduated with the 1923 Class of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario and was the first Black Dentist in Windsor. The Museum’s family history collection states that William and Lily’s children included Louise Wilhelmina, Christine Joan, and Patricia. Louise and Christine were respected teachers (Louise in Windsor and Christine in Toronto) and, impressively, Patricia was an internal medicine specialist in Michigan.

There was not a lot of information for William’s brother Joseph Carter other than his birth record which states he was born in Windsor on June 2, 1895. There is substantially more information for Joseph Carter’s sister Ada. Her birth record lists her date of birth as June 1, 1893 (some records say May 31, 1893) and she was born in Windsor. Did you know she became the first Black teacher hired by the Windsor Board of Education, in addition to being the first woman of African descent to teach in an Ontario Public School Board. She married Joseph Raymond Bishop Whitney, son of Robert B. Whitney and Mary Butler. The couple married on June 30, 1919 in Windsor and their marriage record states that Joseph was a widower and worked as an editor. Did you known Joseph was the editor of the Canadian Observer (1914-1919) in Toronto which was a voice for Black Canadians who challenged discriminatory treatment in Canada. Ada and Joseph had four children: Adell, Yenwith, Electa and Ada Ella. Yenwith married a woman named Muriel; Electa married Henry Holland and had two sons named Wendell and Brian; and Ada Ella married Alvin Robinson. Ada and Alvin’s children include Cora, Ray, Cecile, Audrey and Alvin Roy.

When Ada passed away, a detailed obituary was printed in the Long Island Press, on Thursday, March 16, 1972, which said “Ada E. Whitney Succumbs at 78; Religious Worker- Memorial services will be held Sunday at 11 a.m. in the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation of Jamaica for Mrs. Ada Ellen Whitney, 78, of South Ozone Park, leader in religious circles and retired social worker … In her religious work during her 21 years in Queens, she established the Minden Camp Farthest Out in Bridgehampton, one of the first interdenominational prayer groups; formed the Koinonia Group at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation; trained Sunday School teachers at Rush Temple A.M.E. Zion Church of Jamaica, was a study group leader for Zone 9 (queens) of the Church of the Master in Manhattan, and served as Sunday School superintendent at St. Mark’s for 14 years. During her 32 previous years in the Bronx, Mrs. Whitney’s social worked included the establishment of the first of the present-day day centers for senior citizens in Harlem and became director of the Senior Peoples’ Community Club.”

The obituary continues by saying “A member of the city’s Department of Social Services since 1947, she was a caseworker, then worked with the agency’s Foster Home Program of the Aged, and later became a librarian for the Bureau of Social Services. In 1969 Mrs. Whitney was honored at a retirement dinner by the department. She was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, where she became the first black school teacher. When she moved to the Bronx, she became the first black vice president of the United Parents Association. Mrs. Whitney was a life member of the NAACP and served in many civic educational, political and religious organizations. She leaves three daughters, Adell of South Ozone Park, Mrs. Electa Holland of Maryland and Mrs. Ada Robinson of Tennessee; a son, Yenwith of New Jersey; a sister, Mrs. Ruth Simpson of Detroit; a brother, Carter Kelly of Windsor, Ont., and nine grandchildren. Her husband Joseph, died in 1948.”

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.

The Christian Family History Part 3 – A Millionaire

Ada’s sister and the next child of Elizabeth Christian and William Kelly is Alice Yvonne (or Evonne). According to her birth record, Alice was born on March 29, 1897 in Windsor. She married Lloyd Charles Kirtley, the son of Moses Kirtley and Annie Simpson. Alice and Lloyd married on August 23, 1918 in Windsor. Their marriage record lists Alice’s occupation as a Dental Assistant, while Lloyd was a Sheet Metal Worker. Alice’s death record from June 14, 1948 reveals that she married a second time because she is listed as Alice E. Smith. Not to be confused with her aunt (Alice Christian Smith), this Alice E. Smith is listed as the daughter of Elizabeth Christian and William Kelly. This record also reveals that she lived with her husband in Detroit.

Alice’s sister Ruth was born on November 25, 1898. She later married Lawrence Simpson, the son of Charles Simpson and Eunice Shadd. The couple married on December 26, 1917 in Windsor and had four children named (Alice) Elizabeth, Lillian, Charles, and Ettolla (Betty). The Museum’s family history collection lists two marriages for Elizabeth. Her first marriage was to James Talley and the second marriage was to Gene Hess. A Petition for Naturalization for Alice Elizabeth Simpson Talley states that she was born on June 1, 1920 in Windsor and married James on January 23, 1937 in Detroit. This document also states that James Talley was born in Gaffney, South Carolina on March 8, 1912 and where it lists “now resides” it says U.S. Army. This Petition also says that the couple did not have any children at that time. At the time, Elizabeth’s occupation was a Rooming House Manager, but she later worked for the US Postal Service.

Ruth’s next child, Lillian, married William Marshall. A Petition for Naturalization for Lillian Clarice Marshall, nee Simpson, states that she was born on October 26, 1921 in Windsor and married William on August 17, 1946 in Windsor. William was born in Dallas, Arkansas on December 1, 1882. At the time, the couple had two children named Barbara Anne (born May 13, 1945 and married Roger Giroux) and William M. (born August 30, 1946). Both children were born in Canada. William was featured in the 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds. To see a clip of William please click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmvAx0joQwE . Please be advised that the video link contains explicit language.

According to another document (https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/marshall-bella-1950), Lillian and William Marshall had a third child named Bella who became one of the youngest women, and one of a few African Americans, to be the head of the finance department of a major American city – Detroit – where she was Director of Detroit’s fiscal activities. She held this position until the early 1990s. Bella married Don Barden. Together they became successful developers and, according to Essence magazine, Bella is one of the richest African American women in the country with a net worth of approximately $25 million. Just like her siblings, Bella was also born in Canada (Windsor), but grew up in Detroit. Bella’s father sadly passed away when she was 19 and her mother, Lillian, was a clerical worker. Bella earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and in 1975 was hired as staff counsel by the Detroit office of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Just three years later, Bella became its youngest and first female directors.

Next up is Helen, the next child of Elizabeth Christian and William Kelly. She was born on August 21, 1901 in Windsor. On May 23, 1921 she married William Henry Thompson (some records list him as Peter Thompson) in Windsor. William Henry Thompson was the son of George Thompson and Mary Peet. According to the Museum’s family history collection Helen’s daughter was named Marie and she married George McCurdy who played a significant role in the closure of S.S. #11 (a segregated school) and went on to become the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commissioner. Marie and George had nine children. In addition to Marie, Helen also had a son named Lloyd Thompson and another daughter named Ada who married Dr. Lewis Milburn and had two children. There was limited information for Helen’s brother Leonard Russell Kelly who was born on July 21, 1904 in Windsor. The 1911 Census lists a different date of birth for Leonard as July 7, 1903.

Now that we’ve discussed Elizabeth Christian Kelly and her family, we can move on to discuss her siblings Susan, Sarah Ellen, Alice, Charles Henry, Thomas and Ada. We will start with Elizabeth’s sister Susan who married William Gee. Their children include Bruce, Ronald, Dorothy, and Cyril. By the 1921 Census Susan was a widow and is listed with three of her children: Bruce (with his wife Edna who is German), Cyril, and Dorothy. Interestingly, Susan and her children are listed as English under their “race.” According to Irene Moore Davis, they lived fully as white members of society.

The next child of Henry Christian and Anne Wilson is Sarah Ellen. She married Augustus Adams who worked as a clerk and later as a grocer. The 1911 Census lists Augustus Adams and Sarah Ellen (listed as Saliar E. Adams) along with their niece Annie Smith, but there are no children of their own listed. On March 30, 1894, the Amherstburg Echo writes that Augustus “who has been employed for a number of years as a clerk in G.T. Florey’s grocery, will leave on Monday for Sandwich where he will have charge of the ship supply department of the store of Page & Desroalers(?). Gus has been for years connected with the Sunday School and church of the First Baptist church, as one of their best workers and will be greatly missed. His many friends unite in wishing him success. He is trustworthy and will undoubtedly give his new employers perfect satisfaction.”

The Amherstburg Echo also shared details of the Amherstburg Literary Society. As a member, Augustus acted as an Assistant Secretary in 1881 and also participated in several debates including whether “A thief is a greater curse to the community at large than a liar.” The affirmative was led by Benjamin Green and the negative by Augustus Adams.  A debate from April 1881 lists Augustus Adams on the affirmative side of a debate that asked which is more pleasing to the eye, nature or art? Augustus was the winner of the debate against D.H. Smith. The Amherstburg Echo also writes that Augustus also appeared in two dialogues and one chorus “and acquitted himself in good style and was each time greeted with hearty applause.”

In Augustus’ obituary further details are shared which reveal “Mr. Adams was born in Amherstburg, his father being Ralph Adams. The only member of the family now living is a brother, William H. Adams, chef on the steamer Plummer. The subject of this sketch was married in Amherstburg about 12 years ago to Ella Christian. Their union was childless. After the death of his mother they moved to Sandwich where he kept store near the Pittsburgh Coal Co.’s dock. Since last fall he had been employed in the White Lead Works, Detroit.” The 1871 Census reveals that Augustus’ mother’s name was Sarah and this record also lists his siblings as William and Elish.

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.

 

Lorene BridgenChristian Family