AMHERSTBURG FREEEDOM MUSEUM
Holland Family History Part 1 – Family Reunion
This month’s family history was made possible because of the generosity of Janice Harris and the Bronte Historical Society who generously provided me with information and photographs to help with my research on the Holland family. Thank you! As mentioned, this month’s family history is about the Holland family, but to tell the Holland family history it is important to start with the Howard family beginning with Jack and Polly Howard. The connection between these two families is described in a Windsor Star article from July 10, 2006, which discusses a family reunion of the Howard-Holland family. The article says “Ancestors from Canada and the U.S. meet every two years to maintain bond” – “Ancestors of a family torn apart by slavery continue to rebuild the bonds strengthening them with each reunion every two years. They celebrate, remember, reunite. They call their effort ‘Bridging the Gap,’ and their two-day event in Windsor and Harrow over the past weekend crosses both the U.S. and Canadian border, as well as history and 12 generations. ‘We don’t have to be separated anymore,’ said Denise Johnson, pastor of the Central Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church on Walker Road, north of Harrow. Like more than 150 from both sides of the border who attended the Howard Holland reunion with activities at the church and Mic Mac Park, Johnson, 44, traces her ancestry to Jack and Polly Howard. Their eight children were born into slavery on a Maryland farm in the early 1800s. A daughter Leatha’s two sons William Henson and Thomas John sons fled to Canada through the underground railroad at Niagara Falls, becoming patriarchs of the Canadian Holland family tree. The family continued to grown branches far apart for generations, until descendants in the 1970s searching for their roots miraculously discovered their connections across the border.”
The article continues, “A small reunion in 1982 grew into a biennial event. The family’s 13th gathering comes complete with ‘Bridging the Gap’ t-shirts, mugs, a commemorative photo booklet and, most importantly, organizers say, the fellowship and display of memorabilia. The sales help defray expenses for each reunion. ‘I just get a kick out of seeing these people,’ says Johnson’s mother Dorothy, 80, of Harrow who can trace both sides of her family to slavery. ‘They all know what a hard time it was to get together.’ They catch up on the latest family news and share memories. People still remember the sweet corn Dorothy and her husband Harland once served for the reunion at their family farm. There are stories, too, like the one about the Howard couple’s son Enoch. After slavery, he became a landowner with large holdings and bailed out his former master. Asked how many descendants there are, Mable Thomas, of Silver Spring, Maryland says simply: ‘We’d fill a stadium. There are thousands.’ She adds they represent all walks of life. But they feel the separation so deeply, she and others maintain their sense of family includes practically anyone who attends the reunion. ‘We don’t have in-laws,’ Thomas said firmly. ‘We have members of the family. We make a rule anyone who comes to the family reunion is not a friend but a member of the family.”
According to a pamphlet from the 1990 Howard-Holland Reunion, these families were reunited because of “a chance visit by someone who was not event a member of this Jack and Polly Howard family brought together the Amherstburg members and family in Maryland. The story goes that someone ‘just visiting the Amherstburg museum’ went back home to Washington, D.C. and told John King, a Howard family researcher about the Amherstburg branch and now the members meet every two years.”
As mentioned, the Holland family is descended from Jack and Polly Howard who were enslaved on plantations of the Gaither, Howse, and Griffith families and on the various farms of Jeremiah B. Howard. According to a pamphlet titled “The 6th Reunion of the Descendants of Jack & Polly” the journey of the Howard-Holland family begins on “March 8, 1813 when a 16 year-old mulatto slave girl named Polly was sold by Edward Howse to Ephraim Gaither in Montgomery County, Maryland. The sale of Polly is central to the evolution of our family as we know it today. From 1814 to 1838, Polly gave birth to eight children, and they are our ancestors.” Jack and Polly’s children include Enoch George Howard (1814-1895), Leatha Howard Webster (1816), Eliza Howard Pratt (1821), Greenberry Howard (1825), Maria Howard Green Oliver (1831), Brice Worthington Howard (1832), Martha Howard Johnson Thomas (1835), and Susanna Howard Nugent (1838). I will share the information I have found on each child, but Leatha Howard Webster, whose two sons (William and John) came to Canada, has the most information to share. This is because Leatha is the great grandmother of Museum co-founder, Betty Simpson. Betty collected information on the Holland family and the information she gathered has also been used to write the Holland family history. Before discussing Leatha and the Holland family, I would like to share information about Leatha Howard’s siblings first, starting with Enoch George Howard.
George Enoch Howard was freed in 1851 by Sarah Griffith. He married Harriet Lee (1808-1882) who was freed in 1853 by Samuel Gaither. Enoch and Harriet had four children: John Henry Howard, Mary Alice Howard Coxen, Martha E. Howard Murphy and Greenberry Howard. After Harriet was freed, she purchased her four children from Samuel Gaither in 1860. In 1862, Enoch George purchased 289 acres of land from the Griffith family for $3,000 and in 1867 Enoch petitioned the Montgomery County Government for a school to educate Black students, posting collateral and a parcel of land for the school, which opened circa 1880. When he passed in 1895, his estate was divided among his three surviving children and his granddaughter, Harriet Coxen. Enoch and Harriet are buried in the cemetery on his farm above Howard Chapel.
Enoch and Harriet’s son John Henry Howard (1839-1923) married Harriet A. Gaither (1843-1917) and they had fifteen children. John Henry Howard built Howard Chapel and Howard Chapel Road is named for him. John’s house still stands on Howard Chapel Road and he along with his wife and several of his children are buried there.
John Henry’s sister Mary Alice Howard is next. She married Henry Coxen and the couple moved to Baltimore and had two children, Mary Ella and Harriet Coxen. Mary Alice’s sister Martha E. Howard (1846-1915) married John Henry Murphy. John Henry Murphy was born into slavery on December 25, 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland and was freed in 1863. He also served in the Civil War and later founded The Afro-American newspaper in 1892 which became one of the leading Black newspapers of the 20th century. The paper began when Murphy merged his church publication, The Sunday School Helper with two other church publications titled The Ledger and The Afro-American. The paper challenged Jim Crow practices in Maryland and promoted racial equality and economic advancement for Black Americans. John Henry Murphy served as editor until his death on April 5, 1922, after which five of his sons, who were each trained in different aspects of the paper’s management, took over. This included Carl and Arnett who served as editor-publisher and advertising director. Carl served as the newspaper’s editor-publisher for 45 years, after which his daughter Frances L. Murphy II served as chairman and publisher. The Afro-American also employed many influential Black journalists including Langston Hughes, William Worthy and J. Saunders Redding, and was the first Black newspaper to employ a female sportswriter after hiring Lillian Johnson and Nell Dodson.
Martha’s brother, Greenberry Howard (1848-1927) is the last child of John Henry and Harriet Howard. He married Rebecca Nettles and settled on a farm adjacent to his grandfather Enoch’s farm. The couple had nine children.
Enoch’s sister Eliza, the next child of Jack and Polly Howard, will be discussed now. She married William Henry Pratt. According to a family history written by Harold Howard, a Howard descendant, Eliza was freed in 1849 by Sarah Griffith, while William Henry was freed in 1846 by Ann Hayes in Ohio (formerly Ann Riggs of Montgomery County). William Henry purchased property in 1852 and the couple had four children including Mary Augustus Pratt Cook (married Branson Cooke), Howard Pratt, Elizabeth Pratt Waters (married John Waters) and Ella Pratt.
Greenberry Howard, the next child of Jack and Polly Howard, is next. According to Harold Howard, Greenberry was born in 1825 and freed by Charles Holland in 1849-1850, while Greenberry’s sister Maria was born in 1831 and freed by William Brown in 1853. Additional records state that Maria married Dr. Jacob Oliver of Brazil, Indiana and settled in Baltimore.
Maria’s brother Brice Worthington Howard is next. He was born in 1832, sold into Virginia and returned after the Civil War. According to a pamphlet “The 6th Reunion of the Descendants of Jack & Polly Howard,” Brice Worthington “was the only member among the eight to be sold, and he returned to Maryland alone in 1967. It is also rumored that he fathered children, however, we have been unable to confirm that as well.”
There was limited information for Brice Worthington’s sister Martha. All that could be found is her year of birth, 1835, and a reference to her as Martha Howard Johnson Thomas. Her sister Susanna married Joseph Nugent and the couple had ten children, but I could not locate the names of their children.
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.
Holland Family History Part 2 – From Howard to Holland
Now that we have discussed Enoch, Eliza, Greenberry, Maria, Brice Worthington, Martha and Susanna, we will continue with Leatha and her descendants who are not only connected to Canada, but the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through Museum co-founder Betty Simpson. Leatha Howard was the second child of Jack and Polly Howard. Thanks to Janice Harris, I can include the information found in a Bill of Sale for Leatha Howard from February 1841 which says “At the request of Harriet Ann Howard and others, the following Bill of Sale was recorded the 26th day of February 1841 to wit: Know all men by these presents that I, Jeremiah B. Howard of Montgomery County in the State of Maryland, have and do hereby give and grant as presents unto my three children hereinafter named, the following mulattoes and blacks, they being slaves for life, hereby relinquishing and forever renouncing all right, title, interest and claim to the said negroes and mulattoes and their issues, to with: To my daughter, Harriet Ann Howard, her heirs and assigns a negro girl by the name of Mary, commonly called Bid, also a negro boy by the name of Charles, commonly called Jack, they being the children of a negro woman by the name of Sophia Green. To my daughter, Margaret Rebecca Howard, her heirs and assigns, I give a mulatto boy by the name of William with his sister, a mulatto child by the name of Emily, these being the issue of my mulatto woman, Leatha. To my son, Brice W. Howard, his heirs and assigns, I give a black man by the name of Richard Green, commonly called Dick, also Horace and a mulatto commonly called Gustus Holland with a mulatto boy by the name of Dick, he being the son of the before mentioned Sophia Green. The said Sophia herself and the before mentioned Letha, I give unto my son, Brice Worthington Howard, his heirs and assigns. As witness my hand and seal this 8th day of February 1841. Jeremiah B. Howard.”
Leatha married twice. Her first marriage was to William August(us) Howard circa 1833 and the second was to Josiah Webster. African Canadian Online mentions that William was the son of William and Chloe, but not further records could confirm this. Leatha and William had at least six children: William Henson, Martha Ann, Caroline, Thomas John, Emily and Lela/ Leatha. William and Emily are the children of Leatha mentioned in the Bill of Sale.
It is believed that William Augustus died around 1850 and at the time she was manumitted, 1856, Leatha married her second husband Josiah Webster of Mount Zion, Maryland and had two children, Josius and Mary Alice Webster. Some of this information can be confirmed in Leatha (Howard) Webster’s Manumission document from 1856 which says “At the request of Lettie Webster the following deed of manumission was recorded 3rd June 1856. To wit: To all whom it may concern, be it know that I, Brice Howard of Montgomery County in the state of Maryland, for diverse good causes and considerations me thereunto moving as also in further consideration of two hundred and fifty dollars current money to me in hand paid have released from slavery liberated manumitted and set free and by these presents do hereby release from slavery liberate manumit and set free me negro woman named Leatha Webster and her two children named Josius and Mary Alice, the said Leatha being of the age of forty years and able to work and gain a sufficient livelihood and maintenance. The said Josius being four years old the sixth of May last and Mary Alice, five months old the twelfth of May last and her the said negro woman Leatha Webster and her two children Josius and Mary Alice I do declare to be henceforth free manumitted and discharged from all manner of servitude and service to me my executors or administrators forever. In testimony, whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this second day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty six. Brice W. Howard.”
As mentioned, Leatha was first married to William Howard and their children included William Henson, Martha Ann, Caroline, Thomas John, Emily and Lela/Leatha. According to a document from a descendant, Janice Harris, “In 1857, William Henson Holland took flight through the Underground Railroad and escaped to Canada. His brother, Thomas John, followed him in 1860. They both arrived in Canada safely along the same basic routes. They both found safe haven in a church in St. Catherine’s [sic], Ontario, moved on to Hamilton, Ontario, on to Toronto, and subsequently settled together in Bronte. It was there that they separated. Thomas John was interested in trying his hand at business, and William had an affinity for the land and as a consequence, Thomas John remained in Bronte and went into business for himself. William Henson moved farther west and developed a farming operation near Amherstburg, Ontario. William Henson Holland met and married Margaret Felson, a full blooded Cree Indian, who had been educated by Quakers, and who subsequently taught him to read and write. Thomas John married Henrietta Short (descended from the Shorts of Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland), and raised two successful, prolific families who have made their presence felt in the evolution of black society in the Canadian provinces.”
A further note about William Holland’s journey to Canada was provided by the Bronte Historical Society which shared some information from the 1994 edition of Oakville on the Sixteen by Hazel C. Matthews which says that James Wesley Hill followed the North Star to Canada and settled on a farm on the 9th Line, in Oakville, south of the railway tracks. He became an agent of the Underground Railway bringing people to Oakville and gave them work on his farm to allow for them to repay their expenses. According to the Bronte Historical Society, William Holland is listed as one of the people James Wesley Hill assisted in this way.
A more detailed explanation appeared in AFRO Magazine in July 1977 and is titled “The story of what happened to slaves who followed the North Star on the Underground Railroad – The Holland family of Canada.” The article says “In the early 1930s Aileen Bell and her cousin, Evelyn Payne Starling started asking questions about where did they come from and who were their kin. They knew that their maternal grandfather had been a slave in Montgomery County, Maryland and had followed the North Star to Canada. They also knew that their grandfather William August Howard and his brother John changed their names from Howard to Holland when they arrived in Canada. Recently, Laura Holland of San Francisco visited Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md. To trace the family Bibles of the Howard family. In May 1977, the AFRO Magazine printed the story of Martha Elizabeth Howard Murphy Wife of AFRO AMERICAN Newspaper founder. She was the daughter of George Enoch Howard and was born in Unity, Montgomery County, January 20, 1846.”
The article continues by saying “Mrs. Laura Holland, in searching the Howard Family Bibles, was struck by the similarity of family names like Greenbury and Harriett and the facial resemblances between Howards in Canada and Howards in Maryland. The Holland Family has been traced back to Leatha, said to be of African, Portuguese and Watkins (Irish) descent. She was born a ‘Freeman.’ She married a black man, William August Howard in Montgomery County, Md. Their children were William Henson (1839-1920); Martha Ann (1840-??); Caroline (1842-1925); Thomas John (1843-1928); Emily or Emaline and Leatha/Lela. These children took the legal status of their father and were born slaves. William, when he was about 19, found out he was going to be sold further South. He decided to follow the North Star. There are two versions of his escape. In the first version, William and his brother John were assisted by an Irishman, Henry Curse. He disguised them, along with three other blacks, as his slaves and got the five out of Maryland. They were taken to a station of the Underground Railroad and reached Canada. The second version is that William escaped alone. The plantation owner, furious at having lost his intelligent, well-grown property threated the mother. His threat was to sell her remaining son South. John remained outwardly passive until he felt there was no longer any danger to his mother. John made his escape and in 1860, joined William in Bronte, a small village in Ontario Province, Canada.”
It continues saying “The brothers changed their slave name from Howard to Holland. William and John worked for others until they were able to buy their own land. They both loved music and had sensational voices. They were active in the colored church in Hamilton and became members of the famous Obanyan [sic] Jubilee Singers, touring Canada and the British Isles. John decided to go into business and opened a small feed and grain store. John married Henrietta Short who was born in 1855. From that marriage were William Henry Holland, Abigail, Florence, Leatha, John Christie Holland, Garnet Greenbury and Kathleen. A Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Felson lived near the farm of William Holland. Mrs. Felson was known as ‘Granny Felson’ and was described as being six feet tall, powerfully built with the features of a full-blooded [Indigenous person]. She had been reared by the Quakers and was considered an educated woman.” It is said that Margaret taught her husband William how to read and write.
The article continues by saying “William Howard married the Felson’s daughter, Margaret. Only six of their children lived to adulthood. John Augustus Holland moved to Pittsburgh, Pa. and remained unmarried. Gertrude Elizabeth Holland married William James Bell; moved to Hamilton and had three children, Aileen, Jerry and Euan. Rebecca Martine Holland moved to Chicago and married Brown W. Payne. She then moved to Washington, D.C. then Beckley, W. Va. Harriet Holland moved to Harrow, Canada where she married Harland Johnson and had five children, Edna, Worthington, Margaret, Lloyd Felson and Betty.”
“William Chappio moved to Atlantic City, N.J. and married Jean Watson. Evelyn Howard moved to Hamilton, married Richie Wilson and had one daughter Madlyn. She later married William Sparkman and moved to Detroit.”
The article concludes by saying “The Hollands of Canada hold regular family reunions in Harrow, Ontario, Canada and most recently in July 1976 at Beckley, W. Va. At these reunions while the facts are few there are stories aplenty. The Hollands were blessed with good minds and excellent bodies along with fierce determination to be independent. Wherever they live, they share a love of the land and they have a great sense of community.”
More will be shared about William Henson and Thomas John, but first I will discuss their siblings Martha Ann, Caroline, Emily or Emanline, and Lela/Letha. Martha Ann Holland (born circa 1840) married Benjamin Thomas of Montgomery County, Maryland and settled in Holy Grove, Maryland and had at least twelve children. Caroline Holland (1842-1925) married twice, but I could only find reference to her second husband Tilghman/Tillman Mitchell of Baltimore. No further information was found for Emily, but Lela/Leatha Holland married Augustus Campbell of Montgomery County, Maryland.
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.
Holland Family History Part 3 – Settling in Bronte
Now we will return to William Henson Holland, son of Leatha and William August Howard. After that, William Henson Holland’s brother Thomas John will be discussed. As mentioned, William married Margaret Felson. The 1851 Hamilton census lists Margaret with her parents Alfred and Margaret W. Felson and her siblings Mary, (Jane) Anne, Hester, Daniel, and L. Ann. William and Margaret’s children include Rebecca Martine, John Augustus, William Chappie, Gertrude Elizabeth, Harriet and Evelyn. The 1871 Census for Trafalgar Township lists Margaret and William living in William’s brother Thomas’ household, along with William’s children Emmanette and Rebecca. There is a separate note in the Museum’s family history binders that says Emme Holland died in July (no year listed) of inflammation. Emme/Emmanette is not listed in the 1881 Census so she had to have passed before that. The 1891 Census for Trafalgar Township lists William Holland (spelt Howland) who worked as a ‘fruit grower’, along with his wife Margaret and their children Rebecca, John, William, Gertie, and Hattie. Not list is Evelyn who was born after this census was taken.
Rebecca married Brown Wesley Payne and their children include Evelyn Christine who married Jackson Starling and Brown Hugo who married Ruth Boyd. In Rebecca’s obituary there are further details provided and it says “Native of Canada Dies Here At 95 – “Mrs. Rebecca M. Holland Payne, 95, a resident of Beckley for the past 50 years, died Friday at her home at 417 S. Fayette St. Funeral services will be conducted Sunday at 2 p.m. at Ebenezer Baptist Church with the Rev. Corey O. Mitchell officiating. Burial will follow in Greenwood Memorial Park. Born in Bronte, Ontario, Canada, October 27, 1868, she was the daughter of the late William Henson Holland and Margaret Felson Holland. At the age of 16, she became a member of the St. Paul AME Church at Hamilton, Ontario. Later she came to the United States. On Jan. 19, 1910, she married Brown W. Payne, who practiced law in Beckley for 31 years and preceded her in death in 1943. Survivors include one daughter, Mrs. Evelyn Starling of Cleveland, Ohio; one son, Brown Hugo Payne of Beckley and Tallahassee, Fla.; one sister, Mrs. Evelyn Sparkman of Detroit, Mich.; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. She was a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. The body will remain at the Wright Anderson Funeral Home until one hour prior to services, when it will be taken to the church. Friends may call after 4 p.m. today at the funeral home.”
According to the Museum’s records and information provided by Janice Harris, Rebecca’s brother John Augustus Holland moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and remained unmarried. No further information was available for him. John’s brother, William Chappie Holland, married Jean Watson and moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
William’s sister Gertrude married William Bell, the son of George Bell and Bridget Brush, on July 22, 1903, in Hamilton. A Holland family record titled ‘Holland’s Heroes’ includes a letter from James Avery (husband of Aileen Bell Avery) to Bill which says “Dear Bill: Here is a poem I received from a soldier. William J. Bell of World War I who has several medals of honor. He is now in the Christie Street Hospital in Toronto, ON., Canada. IN fact, he has been hospitalized for many years since returning, due to severe wounds inflicted by German machine guns. – James Avery, New York.” The poem is also included and says:
No more for them the drumbeat
Or brazen bugles blare
Nor sight of silken standards
Flung to the evening air.
But just as glorious memory
Of gallant deeds well done.
Where Canada’s loyal legions
Had fought their fight and won.
They met their foe at Courcellette
And drove home to his lair,
They stormed the slope at V…
While death soared on the air,
When C…. found the ready
To do their deeds again
To mount the ridge at V…
O’er heaps of H…
Now to the sons of those men
The torch is thrown again,
… will the fail or falter
… will crush the Hun again.
An additional record from the same source says, “Private William J. Bell of the 4th Canadian Division, Machine Gun Corp. Service no. 175092 was hospitalized upon return to Canada and subsequently died on June 16, 1919 from injuries sustained in Germany.”
According to records in our family history collection, their children include Aileen, Gordon, Gerald and Ewan. Aileen was born on August 5, 1904, in Hamilton and married James Avery (mentioned above) and moved to Harlem. According to ‘Holland’s Heroes’ Aileen became the first Black female city council member in New York, New York. Her brother Gordon Richard Bell was born on July 13, 1906, in Hamilton, while Gerald was born on December 30, 1907 and married Lucille Sellow. According to ‘Holland’s Heroes’ Gerald Bell served as a fighter pilot for the 1st Special Service Force known as the Devil’s Brigade during WWII.
According to ‘Holland’s Heroes’ Gerald’s brother Ewan Bell was hired by the company Stelco in the 1940s and became the first Black foreman at the company. Ewan was born on October 29, 1909 and married Audrey Harrison, the daughter of Edith Lewis and Robert Harrison who worked as a Porter. Interestingly, Edith Lewis Harrison was a cousin to Norman ‘Pinky’ Lewis, a respected trainer for McMaster University and the Hamilton Tiger Cats, and Ray Lewis, the first Canadian-born Black athlete to win an Olympic medal (bronze). Additionally, Edith and Robert Harrison’s daughter Yvonne, the sister of Audrey, was married to Lincoln Alexander, the first Black Canadian to be a Member of Parliament in Canada.
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.
Holland Family History Part 4 – The Railway Porters
Harriet ‘Hattie’ Ruth Holland married Harland Ernest Johnson on September 15, 1909. On September 17, 1909, the Amherstburg Echo printed “Harley Johnson, son of James Johnson, and Miss Kathleen [should say Hattie] Holland, of Hamilton, went to Windsor and were quietly married on Wednesday, returning here Thursday to take up their residence. Mrs. Johnson had been visiting in the township a few weeks prior to her marriage. The Echo extends congratulations.” Harland was born in 1881 in Colchester and spent his entire life in the township. In the Amherstburg Echo Harriet is described as a “shinning example.” She was strongly connected to the A.M.E. Church and “her greatest delight was in spreading the gospel, which she did in both word and song.” According to the Amherstburg Echo she had a “contralto voice of exceptionally fine quality and in her long career delighted audiences in many parts of Ontario with her vocal solos.” Interestingly, it was while singing at a concert that Harriet met Harland. Harriet and Harland were married in Windsor but took up residence on the Gore Road in Colchester South.
In a statement from Hattie, she shares details of her life and says “I am Hattie Johnson first local president of Women’s Mite Missionary Society of Central Grove A.M.E. Church, Harrow. I was born Hattie Holland of Bronte, Ont. Between Hamilton & Oakville. When my parents visited Harrow, I met Harland Johnson. We married in 1909 and we have 5 children named Edna, Margaret, Lloyd, Betty & Worthington. I joined Central Grove Church in Harrow. In 1921, I was appointed by Rev. Wm. Seay pastor at that time and became president of first local ‘Women’s Mite Missionary Society’ in A.M.E. Conference. Sometimes I would have to walk the five miles from my home to the church to hold a meeting. My officers are – Sc’y Maude Grayer, Treas, Mary Books, Members are Belle Curran, Bertha Kersey, Leona Brooks, Lottie King, Almedia Lewis, Alzora Banks, … later Viola Johnson joined and became our pianist. As Tabitha in New Testament and others sewed for the poor and patched Jesus’ shabby clothes, so we, in this time, want to make contributions to the poor. So, we devised a plan to make a quilt, and charge 10cts to anyone wishing their names sewn on it. We also have dinners, sell oyster suit, pies & cakes, and other methods of making money to send to foreign missions in the A.M.E. Conference. Sometimes Leona & I sing a duet. I sing contralto and she has a coloratura voice. The congregation is always happy to hear us sing. I accompany us on the organ. We meet once a month and always conclude our meeting with ‘Missionary Benediction’ ‘In the name of ‘Our … God’ may the spirit of Christian Missions enter into every heart. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Additionally, Hattie also enjoyed teaching children about the Bible.
According to Hattie’s obituary titled “Esteemed Resident Dies – This district was deeply saddened Sunday when one of the most prominent and esteemed members of the colored community, Mrs. Harland Johnson, passed away following a lengthy illness. Deceased was born in Hamilton 37 years ago and from the age of 14 was connected with the A.M.E. Church in that city. She possessed a contralto voice of exceptionally fine quality and in her long career delighted audiences in many parts of Ontario with her vocal solos. It was while she was singing at a concert in this district that she met Mr. Johnson and 32 years ago they were married in Windsor. They took up residence on the Gore Road, Colchester South, and had resided there since. Mrs. Johnson became a member of Central Grove A.M.E. Church and during her residence here was one of its most devoted and enthusiastic workers. She gave willingly of her time and energy to the promotion of the gospel among her people and set them a shininy [sic] example with her own life and habits. She was President of the Missionary Society, Superintendent of the Sunday School and was corresponding secretary of the Ontario Conference of A.M.E. Churches. She had a certificate as an evangelist from the Moddy Bible Institute and also from the Boston College of Vitosophy. Deceased also had a gift for writing and through weekly contributions to The Echo she chronicled the activities of her people in the district. Her budgets of news were among the most valued to come to this desk. Surviving her are her husband, who at this time is seriously ill with the ‘flu and was unable to attend the funeral, and the following children: Edna, Mrs. Virgil Grayer, of Harrow; Margaret, Mrs. Orville Taylor, of Windsor, Lloyd, Worthington and Betty, at home; and three sisters, Mrs. B.W. Payne of Beckley, W. Va.; Mrs. Gertrude Bell of Hamilton and Mrs. Evelyn Sparkman of Detroit. A large number of friends and relatives attended the funeral which was held at the Central Grove Church Tuesday afternoon. Rev. Joseph Brockington, pastor, was assisted in conducting the service by Rev. Penny of Tanner A.M.E. Church, Windsor, and Rev. Dr. Henderson of Amherstburg, presiding elder of the A.M.E. Conference. Mrs. Gerertude [sic] Day sang Mrs. Johnson’s favorite hymn, ‘When I’ve Gone the Last Mile of the Way.’ Mrs. Gladys Scott of Detroit read the obituary and messages of condolence. Burial followed in the church cemetery with the following as pall-bearers: Eli Banks, Harvey Clingman, Robert Kersey, William Kersey, Forest Mathews and Fred Carter.”
Sadly, a few days later Hattie’s husband Harland passed away. According to Harland’s obituary “Death of Harland Johnson – Following closely the death of his wife, Harland Johnson well-known colored resident of this district passed away on Thursday, April 3. Mrs. Johnson died on March 30. Deceased who was 57 years of age had been ill for some time. He was born in Colchester South and spent his entire life in the township. He is survived by the following children: daughters Edna, Mrs. Virgil Grayer of Harrow; Margaret, Mrs. Orville Taylor of Windsor; Lloyd, Worthington and Betty at home. A large number of friends and relatives attended the funeral which was held at Central Grove on Sunday afternoon. Rev. Joseph Brockington, the pastor, conducted the services. The pallbearers were Eli Banks, Harvey Clingman, Robert Kersey, William Kersey, Forest Mathews and Fred Carter.”
The couple also had several children: Enda Warner (1910), Margaret Elizabeth (August 30, 1915-June 6, 2004), Lloyd (1918), Harland “Zip” (1920-July 7, 2017) and Betty (May 11, 1925-April 4, 2014). Enda was born on August 21, 1910 in Colchester and married Virgil Grayer (see Grayer family history https://amherstburgfreedom.org/grayer-family/ ), who was the son of Wiley Grayer and Maude Mulder. Virgil also operated Virgil Grayer Trucking Company in Harrow. Edna and Virgil’s children include Everette, Mervyn, Doreen, Evelyn, Brenda, and Marilyn.
Edna’s sister, Margaret, married Orville Taylor, the son of James Taylor and Jessie Walls (See Taylor family history https://amherstburgfreedom.org/taylor-family/ ). Orville was born on November 7, 1912. Margaret was also previously married to Russell Hurst who passed away in 1984. Margaret, along with her sister Edna were members of the Hattie Johnson Missionary Society and both worked in various jobs like farming, canning and as letter carriers. Edna was also a volunteer midwife. Margaret and Orville’s children include Len (deceased), Shirley Pulley, Ron (Judy), Linda (Wayne) Logan and Janice (Donald) Harris who kindly shared information on the Holland family.
Thanks to Janice Harris, we can also share an interview with Janice’s mother Margaret, who was the daughter of Harriet Holland and Harland Johnson. The interview was conducted by Janisse Browning as part of the Museum’s Aural History Project in 1992. Rather than including the entire interview in this document, I have created a pdf which has been uploaded onto our website (See document titled ‘Interview with Margaret Elizabeth Hurst’ below). This interview shares significant details about farming, women as workers and financial contributors, and the school system.
We still need to discuss Margaret’s siblings Lloyd, Harland and Betty. Lloyd married Ruth Anderson and their children include Lloyd, Ivan, Debbie, John, Sarah, Clarisa, Vanessa.
Lloyd’s brother Harland “Zip” was a farmer and married Dorothy Scott, who was the president of the Hattie Johnson Missionary Society. Harland was also the proud owner of H.W. Johnson & Sons Trucking, a local trucking company that later changed to J&A Johnson Brothers. Harland and Dorothy had five children: Jerry, Tony, Denise, Philip and Ralph.
Harland’s sister Betty Ruth Beatrice Simpson, the co-founder of the Museum, was born on May 11, 1925 and married twice. Her first marriage was to Burnie Hurst and her second marriage was to Melvin “Mac” Simpson, who founded the Museum with Betty. She worked at Hotel Dieu Hospital (Windsor Regional Hospital) for 25 years. She began her career as part of the hospital’s kitchen staff, later becoming an electro-diagnosis (EEG) technician. Sadly, she passed away on April 4, 2014. Betty’s daughter Joan Patricia Bray continues Betty’s legacy as a Board Director for the Museum.
Now that we have discussed Hattie and her children, we will discuss her sister Evelyn, the last child of William and Margaret (Felson) Holland. According to our records, she was born in 1889. She married twice and moved to Detroit, Michigan. Her first marriage was to Richie Wilson and her second was to William Sparkman, who worked as a Porter and was the son of Berrell and Amanda Sparkman, on October 16, 1918, in Detroit. Evelyn also had a daughter named Madlyn. Sadly, Madlyn passed away on April 28, 1927, and her obituary shares more details. It says “M. Sparkman born Oct 25, 1911 at Toronto, Ontario attended public school Toronto, Ont. Moving to Detroit, 1918 finish public at Wingsit? School & later becoming a pupil of N.W High S. until her death on this Ap[ril] 28. Deceased was just beginning to take an interest in church club & schoolwork, a member of Junior choir … She attended Easter services which was the last time she was able to be out. Stricken critically ill Wed. soul departing this life … last leaves to mourn their loss mother, father, aunt, cousins & a host of friends.” In a heartfelt telegram to Evelyn, her niece and nephews (Ewan, Gerald and Aileen) wrote “the Lord knows best. He always picks the sweetest flowers.” Evelyn and William also shared a moving message saying “Like a little butterfly was, she caught in the rain that was; Her little wings crush But God took her home to Heaven.”
Now that we have discussed William Henson Holland, we will move on to discuss his brother Thomas John Holland. He married Henrietta Short (1855-193) and the couple had at least thirteen children. I was able to identify ten children including William Henry, Abigail, Florence, Leatha, John Christie, Garnet Greenberry, Kathleen, Arthur, Grace, and Rosatta Beatrice.
According to the Museum’s family history binders, William moved to New York, was a Porter, and worked in radio, and as a singer and actor. He married Irene Diggs DeMassey (Blossom) who worked as a Wardrobe Mistress in the theatre.
William’s sister Abigail remained in Hamilton and married Richard Hammond, while her sister Florence married Ernest Johnson. Florence’s brother John Christie remained in Hamilton and worked as a Porter of T.H. & B Railway. According to African Canadian Online, John Holland joined the Brotherhood of the Railway which was the Canadian chapter of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union from the US. This source also says that he served as a Porter for 35 years. He was also a Pastor of St. Paul’s Stewart Memorial Church. He married twice. His first marriage was to Josephine L. Idenia Johnson in 1901 and they met while working in a hospital. Their children included Gilbert (m. Lois), Gladys, Alfreda, and Oliver (married Elizabeth Bryan). His second marriage was to Rachel Elizabeth Grizzle. In 1953, Reverend John Christie Holland received the Citizen of the Year Award in Hamilton to which the Reverend Holland said “I’m deeply conscious of the honor and little dreamt while selling papers on Hamilton Streets as a boy that I would ever stand before such a distinguished gathering.” African Canadian Online shares further details about him and says “He volunteered to tutor fellow students in need. His diligence and tireless spirit were reflected in the hours he spent helping in his parent’s hay and feed business and delivering newspapers before and after school. In his early teens John found work in “Little Africa” (the Hamilton Mountain) and had to climb up the escarpment then walk miles each day to work for a local farmer. John also sang in the church choir, all while still achieving excellence in school! The values his parents instilled in him encouraged his walk in an exemplary direction. They taught him integrity, compassion, belief in oneself, a respect for hard work and a high regard for learning.”
The Amherstburg Echo mentions John Christie on July 1, 1954, and says “At cousin’s funeral – Mrs. Virgil Grayer, Mrs. Burnie Hurst and their aunt, Mrs. Evelyn Sparkman of Detroit motored to Hamilton last week to attend the funeral of their cousin Rev. John Holland. Rev. Holland was chosen as the citizen of the year in Hamilton. He was well known and a highly respected citizen and hundreds attended the funeral, Bishops, ministers as well as representatives of every department of the city of Hamilton, paid their last respects. Bishop Geo. W. Baker of Detroit poke of the life of the deceased as ‘a finished product on the assembly line of Christian living,’ a person who had been a friend to anyone who he could help.”
Our records show that Garnett Greenbury was married first to Lilliam (Lillian) Smith and second to Marie (last name not listed). His children are also listed including Fred, Laura who married Amherstburg-born ragtime piano player and composer Shelton Brooks, Garnet (married Carmen), and Marjorie.
Garnet’s sister Kathleen married Lewis Reynaldo P. Forbest. Kathleen was also a musician and started playing the organ at the age of six, despite her feet not being able to reach the pedals to pump it. She graduated from the Hamilton Conservatory of Music in 1919 and taught music and worked as an organist at the Hamilton A.M.E. Church. In 1923 she and her husband, Lewis Forbes, moved to Cleveland, where she was the organist at St. John A.M.E. Church for ten years and at Mount Zion Congregational Church for three years. In 1936 she became the organist at St. James A.M.E. Church where she served for 42 years. She also is the first person of African descent in Ohio to receive the degree of “Associate of the American Guild of Organists.”
Arthur remained unmarried, while his sister Rosetta Beatrice moved to Toronto and her children include Vivian, Verda, and Charles. Rosetta’s sister Grace Phyllis remained in Hamilton and married Erasmus Toliver. Their children included Augustin (married Helen Bryant), Betty (married Desmond Davis-Melanie) and Kathleen who married civil rights and labour union activist Stanley Grizzle. He was born in Toronto and was the son of Theodore Grizzle and Mary Sinclair. At the age of 22 he became a railway porter to help support his family and in 1938 Grizzle helped form the Young Men’s Negro Association of Toronto. He also founded the Railway Porter’s Trade Union Council and served as president of the Toronto Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) Division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) from 1946 to 1962. In 1960, Grizzle was appointed an Officer of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, making him the first African Canadian to hold a position at this level of provincial government. This was a position he held until 1978 when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed him Judge of the Canadian Court of Citizenship, which was another first for an African Canadian. Among his accolades, he was named to the Order of Ontario in 1990 and the Order of Canada in 1995. In 1996, Grizzle released “My Name’s Not George” which described his experiences as a sleeping car porter, but also his activism.
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.