Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Family Histories


Saunders Family

The Saunders Family Part 1 – German Ancestry

This month’s family history will feature the Saunders family beginning with Benjamin. He married Mary Johnston and the couple had at least four children: Aaron, George, Leonard and Mary. Before we discuss their children, we will share more about Benjamin and Mary. According to Benjamin’s obituary, he passed away on December 22, 1887 in Anderdon at the age of 82. It also says that he was born in Cumberland Co., Pennsylvania in 1805 and came to Anderdon in 1857. There are fewer details about Benjamin’s wife Mary, but her obituary states that she passed away at the age of 75 on Wednesday, February 4, 1891 in Anderdon.

As mentioned, Benjamin and Mary had four children who each appear in the 1861 Census and include Aaron, George, Leonard, and Mary. Just a note if you want to look them up in the Census, their last name is sometimes spelt Sanders, not Saunders. In the following Census from 1871, Benjamin and Mary are listed with Aaron (spelt Erin in Census), Leonard (spelt Lenord in Census) and Mary, but George is not listed. Interestingly, the 1881 Census lists Benjamin (spelt Bingiman) and his wife Mary, whose origin says “German.” Benjamin, along with their sons Aaron and Leonard each have “Africa” for their origin.

Benjamin and Mary’s first child Aaron appears in the 1891 Census as a farmer and his brother Leonard is listed under the same household, working as a vessel cook. Several years later, in 1912, Aaron’s name appears on a form for US Border Crossings from Canada. At the time he was 58 years old and working as a Teamster. According to Aaron’s 1930 obituary he passed away at his sister Mary’s home on December 5th at roughly the age of 80. His obituary also mentions “About five years ago Mr. Saunders suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered, and in October last he was again stricken and failed rapidly from then on. The funeral was held on December 7th, from the A.M.E. church. Mr. Saunders was the son of the late Benjamin and Mary Saunders, and was the eldest of a family of four, Leonard and George, deceased, and Mrs. Mary E. Chapman, mentioned above. Early in life Mr. Saunders took up farming which he followed until his health failed. Besides Mrs. Chapman, he leaves to mourn two nieces, Mrs. Estella Stokes, and Miss Mae E. Stokes.” Although no wife is mentioned in Aaron’s obituary, he is recorded as widowed but no name is included.

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 Saunders Family Part 2 – “Our fight for freedom isn’t through yet”

Aaron’s brother Leonard married Julia Hawkins, daughter of James and Sarah Hawkins (see Hawkins Family History – ). Leonard and Julia married on March 28, 1893 in Amherstburg. Our family history collection states that Leonard and Julia had a son named Virgil who was born on August 1, 1895 but passed away a few days later. 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.

That same year, 1911, Leonard and Julia experienced a significant loss when “catching fire in the attic from a defective flue, their residence was burned to the ground. The roof was almost destroyed before neighbors noticed it, and though about fifty rushed to the scene, nothing could be done except save the furniture, which was taken out and removed to a small house adjoining, where Mr. and Mrs. Saunders have taken up their residence for the present. The place was insured in the Western with Falls Bros. for $1550, but this will not cover the loss, as the house was a large and practically new one.” A few days later, on February 10th, the Echo prints that Leonard “received a cheque from the Western Fire Assurance Co., through Falls Bros., their agents, for $1281.25, in settlement for his loss by fire on January 19th. Prompt payment.” Several months later, on June 16th, “Mrs. Leonard Saunders, of Anderdon, has purchased the Charles Kett place on St. Arnaud street for $900, with a view to having a place to retire later on.” The next year, on March 29, 1912, the Amherstburg Echo adds further details to the story and said “Leonard Saunders entertained nineteen of his friends at a house warming at his home in Anderdon Tuesday evening, March 26th. The table was laden with many good things, and the evening was spent in games and music until the wee hours of the morning.”

According to his May 1924 obituary from the Essex Free Press, 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.” A separate obituary from the Amherstburg Echo says “Funeral services for the late Leonard Saunders were held Friday afternoon under masonic auspices, at the First Baptist church, Amherstburg. Mr. Saunders had been a member of the First Baptist church 44 years, was a member and Past master of Lincoln Masonic Lodge; also of Ebenezer Chapter, R.A.M., and Damascus Commandery No. 4. He had led a quiet unassuming life and died peacefully.”

Just like Leonard, his wife Julia was also active in organizations. The Amherstburg First Baptist Church had organizations including the Church Aid Society, the Amherstburg Guild and the Women’s Guild. From the Church Aid Society came the Amherstburg Guild in 1899, and then the Women’s Guild in 1909 due to the efforts of Mrs. Julia Saunders and Mrs. Nancy Jones. Julia was also members of Amherstburg’s Central Grove Club, a religious organization from the twentieth century. In 1933 the Amherstburg Echo wrote about a party that was held for her by members of the Amherstburg Ladies’ Guild which says “An enjoyable Hallowe’en function was held at the home of Mrs. Julia Saunders, St. Arnaud street, it being the occasion of her birthday. The Ladies Guild of which she is a member, gave a party in her honor under the leadership of the Guild president, Mrs. Peter Stokes. The rooms were decorated with black and orange streamers, lighted pumpkins, black cats, witches and a profusion of chrysanthemums. The varied and striking costumes of the guests added both beauty and jollity to the occasion. Covers were laid for sixteen and a beautiful birthday cake held the place of honor on a heavily laden table. The evening was spent in music, story-telling and games and after the last stroke of twelve the guests departed, leaving behind many kind wishes for their hostess.” A few years later in 1938 Julia Saunders is mentioned in the article “Amherstburg Church Founded By Former Slaves, To Mark Centennial” and lists Julia as in charge of the Mothers’ Night Committee.

Julia is mentioned on a separate occasion in another article titled “Days of Slavery Still Seem Real.” The article first recounts memories from her niece Sarah’s husband Peter Stokes and says “And to others in the Windsor district the days of slavery seem as real as though it were actually yesterday, or perhaps the day before. The parents of many local folk were once actually sold on the slave block. Peter A. Stokes, 112 King street, Amherstburg, brings out an old muzzle-loading rifle and hand-made knife, brandishes both when the subject of freedom is broached. Born in 1870, he has never for one moment lost sight of the value of being a free man. ‘My grandfather was beaten to death in the United States,’ he says. ‘My father was a slave in Kentucky, and ran away with his whole family because he wanted to be free. This is the gun he carried with them. It claimed three lives in my father’s fight for freedom. This knife also did its part. Both the knife and the gun would be used again if my freedom were threatened. Freedom means everything to us. It means life. I’d just as soon be dead or die fighting rather than be a slave the way my father and his folks were.’”

The article continues with an account from Julia Hawkins Saunders and says “Mrs. Julie Saunders, of Amherstburg is 79 years old. Her father was bought by Abolitionists in Kentucky at 17, and brought to Canada by the Underground Railway, a system of farms at which the runaway or freed slaves found shelter, food, clothing and understanding. Her mother was a slave woman, and Mrs. Saunders recalls hearing them speak of the beatings at the whipping post suffered by the colored folk across the border. ‘Our race has made rapid progress,’ she says, while she studies a gilt-framed portrait of Queen Victoria with a look of devotion. ‘But we have yet a long way to go. Our fight for freedom isn’t through yet. We want our young people to take their place in industry, to appreciate to the full the freedom for which so man of our fathers and mothers died.’”

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 Saunders Family Part 3 – The Gardener

The next child of Benjamin and Mary Saunders to be discussed is George. According to the Museum’s family history collection, George died young. He is mentioned in the 1930 obituary for his brother Aaron as deceased at that point, so it was before 1930 that he passed.

George’s sister Mary is the last child of Benjamin and Mary Saunders. She married twice. Her first marriage was to Albert King and the second was to Willis Chapman. Mary and Albert were married on July 10, 1876 in Gross Ile, Michigan. Albert was the son of Urial/Uriah King and Keziah Goodrich. Mary and Albert had four children: Estella, Albert, Lula, and Mary Jane. There is more information on Estella so she will be discussed last. Her brother Albert was born on February 14, 1879 in Anderdon and passed away on September 3, 1895, also in Anderdon. His obituary in the Amherstburg Echo says that he passed at the age of 16 years old at his father’s residence of typhoid fever.

Albert’s sister Lula, also known as Francis Louisa, was born on January 9, 1882 in Anderdon. Sadly, she also passed away at a young age, 14 years old, on September 1, 1894. Lula’s sister Mary Jane was born on January 2, 1885 and sadly passed at the age of 14 months in December 1884.

The last child of Mary and Albert King to be discussed is Sarah Estella King. She was born on October 31, 1883 in Anderdon. She married Peter Stokes Jr., the son of Peter Stokes and Mary Ann Robinson. According to Sarah Estella King’s obituary, her husband Peter worked as a gardener for the John Mullen and Fred Elliott estates. In October 1931 the Amherstburg Echo published an article that further discusses Peter’s work in gardening through the Amherstburg Garden Contest. The article titled “YARD CONTEST WINNERS ANNOUNCED” says “Prizes Given in Each of the Three Wards – J. Jones, Judge – “… Mr. Jones and his brother visited every street in the town and considered that great credit is due to many of the people of Amherstburg for the time they spent on the upkeep of their lawns … The prizes were awarded as follows: … Second Ward – best lawns and gardens, Ray Nicholson, Gore street; C. Drouillard, Murray street; Peter Stokes, King street.”

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 Saunders Family Part 4 – The Nurse

Peter Stokes and Sarah Estella King had one child, a daughter named Mae Elizabeth who was born on September 25, 1895 in Anderdon. According to her Naturalization Application from 1941, she was working as a cook, was not married and had no children. Sadly, a few years later, Mae Elizabeth passed away in April 1946 at the age of 50. Her obituary adds that she was a practical nurse and received her training at the Chicago School of Nursing. Before returning to Amherstburg, she lived in Ann Arbor.

As mentioned previously, Mary Ellen Saunders King was first married to Albert King, but also later married Willis Chapman. According to his obituary, “Willis Chapman, an old resident on St. Arnaud street, [passed] Tuesday evening of last week in the 68th year of his age. He was a native of Mayville, Ky., and came to Amherstburg forty years ago. He was twice married and is survived by his second wife. Funeral services were conducted in the A.M.E. church Friday afternoon by Rev. Sterling Harris a former pastor, assisted by Rev. Graine, present pastor, and it was under the auspices of Stevens Oddfellows Lodge, of which the deceased had been a member. Lee’s band from Detroit, was present and marched at the head of the procession. Burial was in Rose Hill cemetery the pallbearers being Daniel Scott, Fred Chavis, Walter Scott and Oswald Simpson. A large number of mourning relatives and friends attended the funeral.” Willis’ death record provides further information and states that Willis worked as a Teamster and was the son of Julia Hulbert, but his father’s name is not listed.

Willis’ wife Mary Ellen Saunders Chapman’s obituary from November 1937 also shares details of her life and says “Mary Ellen Chapman, mother of Mrs. Peter Stokes, died at their home Wednesday noon, aged 76 years. She suffered a stroke a week before while in the yard, and never rallied. The funeral is being held this Friday afternoon to Rose Hill cemetery, with funeral services in the home, King Street. Mrs. Chapman was a daughter of Benjamin Saunders, and was born on the second concession of Anderdon, one of four, and the last. Two of her brothers are well remembered, Aaron and Leonard. The other brother George died many years ago. She was married twice, first to Albert (Doe) King, and second to Willis Chapman. She had four children by her first husband, only one of whom is living, Mrs. Stokes.”

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.