AMHERSTBURG FREEEDOM MUSEUM
The Hawkins Family History Part 1 – The Rifle
This month’s family history will highlight the Hawkins family beginning with James Hawkins and his wife Sarah Scott. According to a note found in the Museum’s family history collection, James was born circa 1805 in Kentucky, but some records say he was born in 1817. It also says that he came to Essex County circa 1832. James’ 1892 obituary shares further details and says “In Anderdon, on Friday, June 10th, James Hawkins, aged over 70 years. Deceased was born in slavery, but made good his escape and came to this country about 40 years ago and has resided in Anderdon ever since.” James was a farmer who owned roughly 8 acres in the Gore on Concession #1 in Anderdon which was worth approximately $1,000. James’ wife Sarah Scott Hawkins, according to her death record, was born in Kentucky and passed away at the age of 78 on December 11, 1894.
Before discussing James and Sarah’s children, we are going to share an interesting article from the Amherstburg Echo from February 23, 1934 titled “Rifle Presented to ‘Burg Museum Recalls Escape of Slaves.” This lengthy article shares several significant details about James’ life and says “Perpetuating a period in American history when colored humanity was just so many pieces of flesh to be auctioned off, or retained at the will of the owner, a rifle has been presented to the Amherstburg Historical Sites and Museum Association. It is only a gun. There are perhaps hundreds of other similar models in existence, but few have such a tragic history surrounding them. A story of down-trodden human beings; slinking, cowering slaves’ dauntless courage, undying love; stoicism under inhuman cruelty; torture wracked bodies; and romance surmounting all obstacles. Flights in the dark of night and baying bloodhounds hot on the scent of fear-filled but determined blurb of humanity. Such are the threads that are woven in the story of the gun to make it a valuable acquisition to the Amherstburg Museum.”
The story continues with the reaction of the bounty hunters who were tracking the Hawkins family including James whose reputation as a marksman deterred them from continuing their search, saying “‘If that’s the mark of Jim Hawkins’ gun I’ll stir not a step further. It’s as much as our lives are worth. Come! We’ll return.’ The speaker stood on the bank of the Ohio River in the cold, gray dawn of the morning. Surrounding him in a shivering semi-circle was a group of his slaves, being jerked to and fro by baying blood-hounds straining at the leash to follow on the scent of their human quarry. They had followed four fugitive slaves only to be balked at the brink of the river when only a few hours separated from their prey. But the mark of the rifle and Jim Hawkins’ reputation as a marksman rendered futile their pursuit and enabled the fleeing party to escape to freedom.”
James’ life of enslavement is also detailed in this article and says “Jim Hawkins had been a slave owned by Vincent Hamilton. A fine figure of a man, broad-shouldered and strong, and possessed of an intelligence above the ordinary slaves. His accomplishments earned him the confidence of his master and he soon became a trusted foreman on the Kentucky plantation. When Hamilton became privately favorable towards abolition he freed Hawkins but retained him as an employee. Hawkins was a devoted servant and went with his master on his many trips. He had also become an expert shot with a rifle and displayed his prowess on various occasions, earning him recognition among even the slave owners of the county. Toiling from daybreak to darkness, sweating in the merciless sun, backs unnaturally bent in harvesting the tobacco, flax and barley crops, the slaves were glad of the little recreation grudgingly accorded them on Saturday nights. Gathered at one of the plantations their spirits would rise with the little touch of freedom and they would make merry as only downtrodden humanity can when it forgets for a moment the torments of the week. Mellow-voiced harmony, light-footed dances, soul-stirring spirituals, lifted the negros slaves above their unenviable plight.”
The first time James met his wife Sarah is also documented in this article and says “It was at one of these gatherings that Jim Hawkins met a young girl from a neighboring plantation who aroused his slumbering emotions and they slipped apart when the occasion afforded to whisper their love to each other. Despite the ties of bondage that held Sarah Scott the chattel of the white man, they plighted their truth? And were married by Edmund Brooks, a colored preacher who afterwards lived in Amherstburg, on October 16th, 1841. He was 26 and she 16 years old. For nine years they lived in comparative happiness. Restricted as they were to only Saturday night meetings they still were very much in love and to them were born in slavery two children, Jessie, born in 1843, and Susan, in 1847. Sarah Hawkins was employed as a cook by her master, John Curtis … John Curtis was a gambler and drinker, and after drinking and gambling bouts there would be sure to be a number of slaves taken away the following day to a new master, their bodies gambled away with dice or cards as thought they were just pieces of flesh. Employed as she was in the household Sarah Hawkins could overhear conversations and knew that the owner was being pressed for money. It was in one of these conversations with his wife that Sarah heard a remark that came as a blinding, heart-wracking sentence of doom. She was to be sold ‘down the river.’ To a cluster of men and women who were already little more than beasts of burden it would seem that their plight could not be worse. But to the Kentucky slaves, ‘down the river’ was a hell of torment. Blistering heat in the cotton fields, where death was not a feared, but a welcome, visitor. The stinging lash of brutal overseers cutting their backs into ribbons of raw flesh. Left shackled in the stocks unable to move hand or foot while pestilential insects sucked the blood oozing from the naked wounds. An object of pity for angels to weep over, but not for their fellow-man to reach out a helping hand. He who moved to render assistance, even if it were only a word of commiseration, would be thrown in the stocks and treated in the same manner. Slaves cowering on the auction clock while a raucous-voiced auctioneer bellowed ‘How much am I offered?’”
The last details mentioned in this article state “It was a vision of such torment that was created by the words ‘down the river’ and Jim Hawkins and his wife vowed they would risk their lives, gladly give them up, rather than be separated and allow their beloved children and themselves to be subjected to such cruelties. They had heard the shrieks of the slaves who were forced to go to the southern plantations and the thought of freedom nerved them to brave the perils of flight rather than die in bondage. They laid their plans well and with the help of Leonard Baker, another slave on the Curtis farm, and the assistance of Jim Hawkins’ owner, Mr. Hamilton, they managed to secure three horses. The flight was scheduled for a Saturday night when Jim would be visiting his wife. There was no hitch to the proceedings and they set off without their escape being discovered until they had had a good start. A boatman was hired to ferry them across the river at Ripley, O., and there they found shelter in the home of an abolitionist. Lying hidden in the houses in the daytime and travelling by covered wagons under cover of darkness they reached Cleveland after a six weeks’ journey through the woods. There they took a boat for Windsor and arrived without mishap. Jim Hawkins secured work near Amherstburg and by his willingness to work and saving habits acquired a farm of his own. Here he raised his family, free from the shadow of the slave-owner’s whip and as respected citizens. One of their daughters, Mrs. J.M. Brantford, who lives on George Street, Amherstburg, presented her father’s gun to the Museum and told her father’s amazing history. She can remember her father’s owner, who paid a visit to his favorite slave, and she can remember when her father visited the old plantation in Kentucky on the occasion of the golden weeding of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton. The story is but a fragment of those dark days in American history and would never have been retold but for the presentation of the gun to the Amherstburg Museum.”
After Clara (Hawkins) Brantford donated the rifle to the Amherstburg Historical Sites and Museum Association, the Border Cities Star wrote “The historical collection that has been assembled in the Public Library Museum at Amherstburg is a summary in symbols of the evolution of the district … Not the least interesting of the exhibits is the rifle with which a fugitive slave Jim Hawkins, defied his pursuers and their bloodhounds when he escaped from slavery in 1847, and made his way to Amherstburg via the underground railway.” You may be wondering where the rifle ended up. After contacting several historical sites in Essex County including Fort Malden, the Park House, the Marsh Collection, Museum Windsor and Parks Canada, we could not find the location of the rifle, but we are still searching. If you have any details that could help us find James Hawkins rifle, we would love to hear from you. Hopefully we can solve this mystery.
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 Hawkins Family History Part 2 – A Growing Family
As mentioned, James and Sarah had children. They include Jessie, Susan, John, Clara, Julia and James Vincent. Other than being listed in the 1861 Census, the only other mention of Jessie is in the Amherstburg Echo article previously mentioned and in his sister Clara’s 1935 obituary as someone who the older residents of town would remember. Jesse’s sister Susan is also mentioned in the article above, but there is also further information for her. Susan married William Robinson and they had at least five children: David Clifton, Edgar, Sarah Lavinia/Lovenia, Fremont and Elnora. According to his birth record, David Clifton Robinson was born on January 14, 1874 in Sandwich. David’s sister Sarah was born on January 20, 1876 in Colchester and later married Fremont E. Nelson, son of James A. Nelson and Esther Thompson, on August 1, 1901 in Cuyahoga, Ohio. At the time, Lovenia worked as a Domestic and Fremont was a cook. Lovenia must have married a second time because her death record from July 16, 1947 lists her as Lovenia Butler and the daughter of Susie Hawkins and William Roberson (Robinson). Her death record also states that she was 71 years old and living in Hamtramck, Michigan.
Next is Lovenia’s brother Edgar who was, according to his death record, born on July 3, 1880 and died on March 24, 1933 in Hamtramck, Michigan at the age of 52. At the time he was also widowed, but his wife’s name is not mentioned. Edgar’s siblings Fremont and Elnora were twins who were born on January 12, 1883 in Colchester South. There was no further information for Elnora, but Fremont who is also listed as Freeman married Laura Brown who was born in Nova Scotia and lived in Detroit. She was the daughter of G.W. Brown and Jeanette Ford. The couple was married on November 16, 1905 in Windsor and, at the time, Freeman was a Coachman.
The next child of James Hawkins and Sarah Scott is John. He married twice. His first marriage was to Caroline Wilson, the daughter of John and Hannah Wilson. The couple married on June 23, 1882 in Amherstburg. John’s second marriage was to Lusina Virginia Jefferson Lewis, who was previously married to Issac or Isaiah Lewis (name spelt Issic Louis on 1881 Census). On the 1881 Census for Anderdon, Lusina, whose name is spelt Lucena, is listed with her parents Thomas and Ann Francis Jefferson (spelt Jaferson), along with her daughter Josephine Louis. On August 24, 1890, John Hawkins and Lusina Lewis were married in Amherstburg. The 1891 Census lists John, a quarry labourer, with Lusina, who is listed as Lucinda. The 1901 Census lists John (a teamster) living with his sister Julia and her husband Leonard Saunders, but John’s wife is not list. On October 10, 1934, Mrs. John Hawkins of Amherstburg passed away at the age of 75 years, but because her name is not listed we cannot be 100% sure that “Mrs. John Hawkins of Amherstburg,” is Lusina. A few years earlier, on June 25, 1913, John passed away in Windsor at the age of 59.
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 Hawkins Family History Part 3- A Dress Maker
John’s sister Clara is the next child of James and Sarah that we will discuss. In June 1875, the Amherstburg Echo printed an ad for Clara which said “DRESS MAKING. MISS CLARA HAWKINS Is prepared to do all kinds of needle work at Mrs. Wright’s residence, 60 King St., in a style equal to any in town. Dress-making in the latest styles especially attended to at very reasonable prices. Patronage respectfully solicited.” Clara married Moses Brantford Jr., the son of Moses Brantford Sr. and Maria Goodrich (see Brantford Family History https://amherstburgfreedom.org/brantford-family/ ). According to their marriage record, Moses Jr. and Clara wed on December 24, 1889 in Amherstburg and that Moses was a widower. Under Moses’ profession it says “General Business.” Moses Jr. and Clara had at least one child, a son named Homer. Clara’s obituary, printed in the Amherstburg Echo on September 6, 1935, says “Mrs. Brantford was an old and very highly respected resident of this town, and it is a remarkable fact to report that she was one of the first women workers in the Bob-Lo café when the island first opened as a summer picnic ground and her services there extended over a period of 34 years. She was in the employ of the Company until the Island closed two years ago, but was unable to return this year on account of failing health. She had been around as usual until Thursday night when she was taken by a stroke and lingered until Saturday night, though unconscious. Mrs. Brantford’s maiden name was Clara Hawkins. She was a daughter of James and Sarah Hawkins and was born on the third concession of Anderdon, 80 years ago. There she was married to Moses Brantford, of Amherstburg. A short time afterwards they went to Jackson, Mich., to live where they remained for a few years and then returned to Anderdon township, where Mr. Brantford took charge of his father-in-law’s place. Forty years ago they came to Amherstburg. They had one son, Homer, well remembered in town as an amateur boxer. He died two years ago. Mr. Brantford has been dead for about 25 years. Mrs. Brantford was greatly interested in the work of the First Baptist Church and was president of the Ladies Sewing Circle for over 30 years. Besides the above, she is survived by a brother, Vincent Hawkins, of Windsor, and a sister, Mrs. Julia Saunders, St. Arnaud Street, Amherstburg. Other members of the Hawkins family family [sic] who are deceased were Susie, John and Jesse, who are remembered by the older residents of the town. Mrs. Brantford had been living during the summer with her sister, Mrs. Saunders, and the Convention ladies used her home on George Street in which to do the cooking for the convention recently held here. After that, she returned to her own home intending to stay there during the winter.” Clarissa sounds like a very impressive woman.
The next child of James and Sarah Hawkins is Julia. She married Leonard Saunders, the son of Benjamin and Mary Saunders, on March 28, 1893 in Amherstburg. If you look at the 1871 Census you will find Benjamin and Mary Saunders listed with their children Erin, Leonard (spelt Lenord) and Mary. The 1901 Census lists Leonard (a lake cook) and Julia Saunders with Fredrick Crofferd who is listed as “ad. son,” which I believe means adopted son. Several years later Fredrick is listed with the last name Saunders and the son of Julia Hawkins and Leonard Saunders. Fredrick married Leona Mortimer, the daughter of John Johnston and Catherine Spotswood, on December 10, 1914 in Franklin, Ohio. Leona was previously married to Charles Mortimer. The 1911 Census only lists Julia and Leonard Saunders in their household and no other birth records for any child were found, leading us to believe that they had no other children. According to his May 1924 obituary, Leonard “was distinguished by his height, he being some 6 feet 8 inches tall. He was an industrious farmer, and for years had been living on the 2nd concession.”
The last child of James and Sarah Hawkins is James Vincent. He married Minnie Washington, the daughter of George (some sources say James) Washington and Sarah Morris, on April 22, 1917 in Detroit. According to her death record, Minnie was born in Midland, Ontario on April 19, 1880 and she worked as a housekeeper. Minnie May passed away on October 10, 1934 and her daughter, May (Jones) is the informant. Minnie’s obituary reveals that she and James Vincent had a second daughter named Julia (Buchanan) and a step-son who drowned at Capreol two years previous. The 1921 Census also lists James Vincent with his wife Minnie and their son Vincent, meaning that James Vincent and Minnie had three children and a step-child. Their son Vincent is mentioned in the Border Cities Star when, on August 6, 1925 a group of Boy Scouts “celebrated Emancipation Day, in a novel manner, when they ‘hiked’ the 18 miles from Windsor to Amherstburg, and arrived there in time for the special program staged Monday. Among the boys and young men who left Cataraqui street at 3:30a.m. Monday morning, and who arrived at Amherstburg at 9 a.m., were Ellworth Boston, A.C.M., O. Boston, Archibald Ball, assistance scoutmaster, Vincent Hawkins, of the 5th troop boy scouts, Shirley A. Moore, assistant scoutmaster.”
According to his obituary, James was a “native of Anderdon and brother of Mrs. Julia Saunders, St. Arnaud street, Amherstburg. Fellow members of Masonic Lodge, F. and A.M. acted as pallbearers and bore the remains to their last resting place at Rose Hill cemetery. Deceased died in the Ontario Hospital, London, Wednesday, April 10. He was born in Anderdon on the third concession, about 75 years ago, the son of James and Sarah Hawkins. When a young man he went to Windsor and lived there until two years ago when he became mentally ill. Surviving besides his wife and one daughter and the sister mentioned above.”
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.
The Hawkins Family History Part 4 – Another Branch of the Hawkins Family
This month’s family history is going to feature two branches of the Hawkins family. Already discussed was the first branch with James Hawkins and his descendants. We will now move on to the second branch which includes Washington Hawkins, his wife Eva A. Thompson, and their descendants. On October 21, 1880, the Essex Record wrote “Washington Hawkins, of Anderdon, died at Grand Rapids, Mich., on the 15th inst., aged 65.” The following year, in 1881, the Census now lists Washington’s wife Eva/Evie and their children Cassius M. Clay (also spelt Ceshes on the Census), William, Sarah, Louis, James, Mary (sometimes listed as Mandie/Amanda) and Susan.
Cassius M. Clay’s name appears several different ways in the records including Cashiasamie, Cashions, and Ceshes. According to the records, Cassius M. married twice. He first married Margeret M. Bush and the couple had a son named George Washington Hawkins who was born on December 19, 1882 in Colchester North. Cassius’ second marriage was to Elizabeth Collins, the daughter of Benjamin and Ann James. The couple married on May 24, 1887 in Windsor.
The only information found for Cassius’ brother William was his death record from January 22, 1937 which states that he passed away in Windsor, was born on February 25, 1868, worked as a cook “on boats” and was 68 years old. William’s sister Sarah married Mr. C. Scott, but no other information was available. Sarah’s brother Louis Alexander Hawkins, according to his death record was born on January 30, 1866 in Anderdon Township, was single, and passed away on December 10, 1930 in Windsor at the age of 64.
The next child of Washington Hawkins and Eva Thompson is Amanda M., but she is also sometimes listed under different names including Minnie, Mandie, and Mary (her middle initial could be for Mary). She married James Stevens, the son of Joseph Stevens and Mary McCurdy, on August 24, 1898 in Detroit. The 1871 Census lists Joseph and Mary Stevens (spelt Stephens in Census) with their children Joseph, James and Mary. The following Census in 1881 lists Mary Stevens (a Dressmaker) with her children James, Mary and Annie, but they are living in the household of Mary’s parents, Nasa (a carpenter) and Parmelia McCurdy. Mary’s husband Joseph is not listed in this Census. Also available is a marriage record for Amanda (listed as Minnie) and James’ son William Alonzo Stevens who married Marion Nowak, the daughter of Martin Nowak and Rose Urbanski on November 27, 1918 in Windsor. At the time William was a salesman and Marion was a checker.
Next is Amanda’s sister Susan, who is the last child of Washington Hawkins and Eva Thompson. Susie was very active in Amherstburg and was involved in several organizations including the Frederic [sic] Douglass Self-Improvement Club, the Young People’s Social Club, where she was elected secretary in 1892, the Social Literary Society of the A.M.E. Church, where she was secretary in 1895, and the Juvenile Willing Workers, where she was among their leaders. She also performed recitations at the A.M.E. Church which included subjects such as “Lady love’s choice’” and “Jealousy.”
Susie Hawkins married the Reverend Walter Davis, son of James Davis Jr. (the brother of Delos R. Davis and son of Mary Lewis and James Davis Sr. – see Davis Family History – https://amherstburgfreedom.org/family-histories/davis-family/ ). The Amherstburg Echo printed a marriage announcement for Susie Hawkins and Lewis Walter Davis on April 14, 1899 which said “Colchester North. On Tuesday evening of last week, Lewis Walter Davis, son of James Davis, New Canaan, was united in the holy bonds of matrimony to Miss Susie A. Hawkins, of Amherstburg, at the residence of the bride’s mother in Amherstburg by Rev. W. T. Artis, pastor of the A.M.E. church. The happy couple were supported by Wm. H. Simpson and Miss Carrie Simpson, respectively. They are now residing at New Canaan, where they are receiving the congratulations of their many friends.” According to Susie’s November 1933 obituary titled “Native of Amherstburg – Many people of Amherstburg were concerned by the death on Monday, in Windsor, of Mrs. Susan Davis, widow of the late Walter Davis, a native of this town. Mrs. Davis’ maiden name was Susan Hawkins and she grew up in Amherstburg, where she was married to Walter Davis, son of James Davis, of New Canaan. They lived here until about 20 years ago and then moved to Windsor. There Mr. Davis died a number of years ago. Surviving her are two sisters, Mrs. Minnie Stevens, of Windsor, and Mrs. Sarah Scott, of Chicago, and two brothers, William Hawkins, of Windsor, and James Hawkins, of Detroit.” Her death record from November 13, 1933 adds a few more details including that she was 60 years old and a housekeeper. Susie’s husband Walter’s death record states that he passed on September 2, 1930 in Windsor at the age of 64 years old. His death record also mentions a date of birth which was January 15, 1866 in New Canaan. Neither Susie nor Walter’s obituaries list any children leading us to believe they had no children. The 1901 and 1911 Census also do not list any children for the couple.
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.