AMHERSTBURG FREEEDOM MUSEUM
Simpson Family (James’ Line)
Simpson Family History (James’ Line) Part 1 – The Veteran
Several of the families that have been written about in our family history series have connections to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, but none are more connected than the one featured in this month’s family history: the Simpson family. As mentioned in last month’s family history, there was extensive information available for two branches of the Simpson family: the first for Levi and this month’s branch for James Simpson who is the ancestor of Museum founder, Melvin ‘Mac’ Simpson. As a result, Levi Simpson’s line was discussed throughout February, while James Simpson’s line will be featured this month. Before moving forward, I would like to express my gratitude to Allen Simpson and Derrick McBounds for sharing information about their ancestors.
According to James Simpson’s obituary from August 18, 1893, James passed on August 11th and was “born in Mt. Pleasant, Belmont Co., Ohio, and came to Amherstburg in 1885. He served in the American war as a member of Co. L. 5th Regiment Massachusetts for 22 months, and at the close of the war was honorably discharged. During his service he received a bullet wound and was put on the pension list under the Act of 1890. After the close of the war he lived for two years in Adrian, Michigan, then came to Essex County and in November 1867, was married to Miss Matilda Brooks of Anderdon. Since then he has lived on Grosse Isle, Hickory Island, Detroit, Anderdon and Colchester South, and for the past 9 years has been a resident of Amherstburg.”
The article continues, “Deceased has been in poor health for over two years, and for seven months past was confined to the house with dropsy. Besides a widow, he leaves eight children of whom seven are living at home – James, William, Carrie, Thomas, Roman, Oswald, and Mary, the youngest being but a baby. Mrs. Moses Kirtley is the eldest daughter. Four children are dead, three dying quite young and one son, John, being accidentally shot about two years ago. Two brothers are living: Thomas, in Detroit and Albert, in Cleveland. Deceased was a member of Lincoln Lodge No. 8, A.F. & A.M. The funeral took place from his late residence on Fort street, on Sunday last, to the A.M.E. church, King street, and the remains were interred in the Amherstbrg [sic] cemetery. Rev. J. O’Bayon of Chatham, officiated as was assisted by Revs. J.A. Holt, Daniel Robertson and Joseph D. Holbert. The pall-bearers were Sim. McDowell, Geo. Thomas, Wm. Brantford, John D. Brown, Luther Bush and Philip Alexander.”
This obituary provides substantial information including James’ military service, when he arrived in Essex County, the names of his two (living) brothers (Thomas and Albert), when he married his wife Matilda and the names of their children. Allen Simpson also mentioned that James had a sister named Anna. As mentioned, James married Matilda Brooks. In the 1881 Census, James and Matilda are listed with their children: Ann, John, Lucinda, James, William, Caroline, and Thomas. The 1891 Census lists additional children including Claire (likely Caroline because of her age), Roman, Osborn (Oswald), and Mary.
Before we discuss James and Matilda’s children, we want to share more about James and Matilda. An article that was published decades following James’ life titled “The History of the Colored Folk In District Filled With Humor, Pathos, Industry” mentions that James worked at a job firing the boiler at the mill, but the article also mentions the discrimination that Black Canadians experienced in Essex County. It says “On another occasion the late Jim Simpson was trudging home one noon hour from his job of firing the boiler at the mill and as he weaded [sic] his way homeward he was thoughtfully puffing away at his old clay pipe when ‘zing!’ the bowl of his pipe flew away. It was just another joke of the wild Irish who from the porch of the tavern took this way of proving their marksmanship!” Although this article refers to this incident as a joke, this was sadly not an isolated incident. The lives of Black Canadians were threated daily and this is just one example. A family tree for the Simpson family from the Museum’s collection provides a few more details about James’ work and says that, in Anderdon, he was a ‘fireman’ tending boilers at the Thomas Mill.
Matilda passed away several years after James and according to her obituary from August 12, 1910, “Mrs. Matilda Simpson, relic of the late James Simpson, passed away at her home on Fort street Friday last, following an illness extending over a number of years, and the funeral took place Sunday afternoon to the A.M.E church, which was packed to the doors with friends of the deceased lady, who was held in high respect by all who knew her. Rev. A.W. Hackley, the pastor, preached impressively from the text: Rev. 2:10 – ‘Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life,’ and music was rendered by a special choir. A number of members of Ruth Chapter, Order Eastern Star, No. 4, of which chapter she was a Past Matron, assembled and took part in the services. Interment was in Rose Hill cemetery, the pallbearers being Thomas Chavis, John R. Dickerson, Peter Brookes, Gary Hurst, George Taylor and Newton Bell. Deceased’s maiden name was Matilda Brookes and she was born in Augusta, Bracken county, Ky., May 4th 1848. She came to Canada about 54 years ago and eleven years later was married to James Simpson who predeceased her 17 years. Their family originally consisted of thirteen children, of whom the following are living: Mrs. Charles Bird, of Windsor; Mrs. Carrie Banks, Jerome, Oswell and Mary, of Amherstburg, and James, of New York. She was a very industrious woman, and was highly esteemed. Her brother is Rev. Peter Brookes, of Harrow.”
The Museum’s collection also offers further details not mentioned in Matilda’s obituary. A Simpson family tree states that Matilda was the daughter of Susan and Edmund Brooks (1798-1873). More information for Edmund Brooks is found in an article from the Amherstburg Echo titled “60-Year-Old Pupil” which talks about a segregated school in Marble Village. The article refers to Edmund as Edwin Brooks and says “In the early years the school boasted the oldest student in the country attending regular classes, Edwin Brooks, grandfather of Jerome Simpson, King Street, hungry for knowledge, attended classes there at the age of 60, carrying his lunch daily to the schoolhouse along with his grandchildren. And Mr. Brook’s patience were rewarded for he received a fair education. Some years after the court battle, the ‘white’ school was destroyed by fire. It was not rebuilt and the pupils were compelled to attend either the colored school or the Separate School on Darragh’s Hill, Texas Road. When the Brunner Mond Company began to flourish about 1917 a colony of workmen with families congregated near the quarry. The school accommodations were inadequate and the company resolved to erect a new school. The colored school by this time had outlived its usefulness and it was decided to construct a new building. For this purpose the Brunner Mond leased to the School Section a plot of land on the second concession, south of the Texas Road. In the Spring of 1918 a new public school without color distinction was opened with Miss McCormick as teacher. And with the erection of the new building there passed from the scene one of the oldest centres of learning in the district.”
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.
Simpson Family History (James’ Line) Part 2 – Family Connections
Now that we have discussed James and Matilda (Brooks) Simpson, we will move forward and discuss their children: Ann, James/John, Lucinda, William, Caroline/Carrie, Thomas, Jerome, Oswald, and Mary. Ann married Moses Kirtley, the son of Frances and Hiram Kirtley, sometimes spelt Hyram Curtley. Hiram worked as a sailor, sometimes listed as a marine engineer. In addition to Moses, Hiram and Frances/Fanny had several children including Hiram A. (listed as a waiter in 1881 census), James Henry (listed as a cook), Elizabeth, and Charlotte. The 1871 Census also lists a Sarah as one of their children.
On December 6, 1888, Annie Simpson married Moses Kirtley and they had at least four children: Lavernia, Ralph, Lloyd, and James Hiram. Lavernia attended the King Street School and in February 1898 was listed on the Honour Roll. She later married Royal Hall, son of David Hall and Rachel Thomton, on July 21, 1913 in Sandwich, Ontario. The previous year, Lavernia is listed as a guest for a masquerade party hosted by the “Mutt and Jeff” club. According to the Amherstburg Echo, the “evening was well attended and proved a brilliant success. Dancing commenced about nine o’clock and the light fantastic was tripped until about four a.m. There were about fifty couples in attendance, and all left the hall with warm spots in their hearts for ‘Mutt and Jeff’ … A delicious luncheon was served at midnight.”
According to an immigration record for Ralph Kirtley, he worked as a mechanic and was over 6 feet tall. Ralph’s brother, Lloyd, was born on December 13, 1893 in Amherstburg. In April 1911, the Amherstburg Echo reported that “James Kirtley, chef, and Lloyd Kirtley, porter, left Tuesday for Milwaukee to fit out the big steel steamer James B. Wood, of the Hanna Fleet.” Years later he worked as a sheet metal worker and married Alice Evonne Kelly, a 21-year-old dental assistant and the daughter of William Kelly and Elizabeth Christian. Did you know, Alice’s sister was Ada Kelly Whitney who became the first Black teacher hired by the Windsor Board of Education? Alice and Lloyd were married on August 23, 1918 in Windsor. For Lloyd’s brother James Hiram, all that could be found was his birth record which states that he was born October 1889.
The 1901 Census lists Annie Kirtley, who worked as a ‘domestic’, along with her children Lavernia, Ralph and Lloyd, living in the household of Matilda Simpson. Annie is listed as married, but Moses is not listed. A possible explanation can be found in an immigration record for Moses Kirtley from 1915. At the time, Moses was a 53-year-old cook. For nearest relative or friend, it says “no Rel,” meaning no relative and for the question “Ever in U.S.” it says from 1900 to 8-25-1915. The record also states that he intended to remain permanently in the US. To read more about the Kirtley family, go to https://amherstburgfreedom.org/kirtley-family/.
There was no information for James Jr., but Ann Simpson Kirtley’s brother John Simpson Jr. met an unfortunate end as is detailed in an Amherstburg Echo article from January 1891 titled “THE REVOLVER’S WORK. – TRAGEDY ON CHRISTMAS EVE. JOHN SIMPSON SHOT DEAD.” A portion of the article provides information for this tragic incident and says “Schoolyard in Anderdon the scene – Fatal shot by Walter Mann … Late on Christmas Eve, people, who were about town were startled to hear that John Simpson, a respectable young colored man, of this town, has been shot and killed at the school house near the Anderdon stone quarry, on the road between the 1st and 2nd concessions, where a Christmas entertainment was in progress in connection with the church which holds services in that neighborhood. It appears that young Simpson who is about 21 years of age, and a son of James Simpson, of this town, had gone out there with David Holbert, son of Rev. J.D. Holbert, of this town, Geo. Lewis, Dan and Philip Thomas, also of this town. That, after the entertainment, had been in progress for some time, Simpson, Holbert and Walter Mann (a son of Hartwell Mann, of Anderdon,) all of about the same age, evidently to have a drink of liquor out of a bottle in Simpson’s possession, and that Joseph Campbell, son of Alex Campbell of Windsor, afterwards joined them. That Simpson and Mann had revolvers in their possession, which they were exhibiting, and that Simpson ? through the woodshed; that Holbert and Campbell walked off a little distance talking to each other, and that Simpson went towards the corner of the school house, leaving Mann trying to fire his revolver … That suddenly Mann’s revolver went off and the bullet then from entered the head of Simpson over the right eye and the poor fellow fell dead, without a simple groan just where he stood. All were so frightened that they hardly knew what to do, but, word was given to those inside and messengers were sent to Amherstburg to notify … the Coroner. The body was afterwards brought to his father’s home in Amherstburg.”
There was no information available for John’s sister Lucinda, but there was for William who we will discuss next. Unfortunately, John and Lucinda’s brother also met a tragic end which was reported on April 5, 1901 in the Amherstburg Echo and said “A BRIEF despatch was received here Wednesday afternoon, containing the sad intelligence that William Simpson, formerly of this town, had fallen down the hatch of the steamer Matanfa, and was killed. No further particulars could be obtained, up to the time of going to press. Mr. Simpson was 25 years of age. He was the son of the late James Simpson, Fort street. Two years ago he left here to go sailing and spent his winters in Chicago. A few days before his tragic death he went to work on the Matanfa, on which D.W. Thomas, of this town, kept watch this winter. The deceased leaves a mother here, three brothers and three sisters, James, Jerome and Oswald, Carrie M., and Mary M., all at home, and Mrs. M. Kirtley. Much sympathy is extended the suddenly bereaved relatives.”
The next child of James and Matilda (Brooks) Simpson is Carrie/Caroline. She married George Banks, the son of Anthony Banks (see https://amherstburgfreedom.org/banks-family/ ) and Susan Simpson (see Levi Simpson’s line https://amherstburgfreedom.org/simpson-family-levis-line/ ). George and Carrie were married on September 10, 1903 in Amherstburg and the couple had a daughter named Violet who was born on October 16, 1904 in Amherstburg. According to Violet Mae Banks’ Petition for Naturalization from January 20, 1943 in Detroit, Violet was single and had no children.
Next is Thomas Simpson, son of James and Matilda (Brooks) Simpson. He was born on August 1, 1880, but sadly passed away on December 17, 1895 at the age of 15. Thomas’ brother Jerome is next in line, but because there is more information for Jerome than any other Simpson child, we will discuss him last. Before we share details about Jerome, we will discuss his siblings Oswald and Mary. The only detail that we were able to find for Mary was that she married Henry M. Marbly, but there is more information about her brother Oswald.
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.
Simpson Family History (James’ Line) Part 3 – A Man Named “Apples”
We would like to thank Derrick McBounds and Allen Simpson for providing information and photographs that will be shared about Oswald Simpson and his line throughout this section. Oswald married Hattie Hurst, the daughter of Jonas and Harriet (Marshall) Hurst. According to Harriet Hurst’s obituary “Mrs. Harriet Hurst, widow of the late Jonas Hurst, Brock street, Amherstburg, passed away at an early hour Wednesday morning, aged 72 years. She was in her usual health until Sunday, but suffered a stroke of paralysis on Monday, and the end came rapidly. Mrs. Hurst’s maiden name was Harriet Marshall, daughter of the late Alexander Marshall, of Colchester South. Of the family there are two brothers and one sister – David and Hezekiah Marshall, of Colchester South and Mrs. Lucinda Mickens of Malden. She was married to Jonas Hurst and became the mother of sixteen children of whom eight survive her – Norman, Gary, Early, Charles, Mrs. Lizzie Day, Mrs. Mina Mann and Mrs. Hattie Simpson, all of Amherstburg. There are besides thirteen grandchildren. They moved from Colchester to Amherstburg 21 years ago, and Mr. Hurst died here 12 years ago. The funeral will be held at the B.M.E. church, Harrow, this (Friday) afternoon, at 3 o’clock, conducted by Rev. Ware, assisted by Rev. P. Brooks, and burial will be at the lake cemetery.”
The obituary for Hattie Hurst Simpson’s father Jonas Hurst was also available and says “JONAS HURST, one of the best known colored men in Amherstburg died Thursday of last week, at the age of 58(?) Years. The funeral was held Saturday forenoon, the remains being taken to the B.M.E. church, Harrow, where services were conducted by Rev. T.W. Johnson, after which the remains were interred in the B.M.E. cemetery at Colchester village. The pallbearers were: – William Thompson, William Brantford, John Dickenson, Simon Hulbert, John Young, and James Holton. The deceased was born in Colchester South in the year 1844. He was a son of the late Washington Hurst. He was married to Harriet Marshall and they had fifteen children, nine of whom are living. – Norman of Colchester South; Albert, Earnest, Charles, Gary, of Amherstburg; and Lizzie, Mima, Della, Hattie at home. He has two brothers, Washington and Albert, of Colchester South. He had been sick about four years with heart trouble, which later developed into dropsy, which caused his death.”
As mentioned, Oswald married Hattie Hurst who was born on October 28, 1890 in Malden, which later amalgamated with Amherstburg. On September 21, 1909, Hattie married Oswald Simpson in Amherstburg. At the time, Oswald was a 22-year-old labourer.
According to Hattie’s obituary from August 1978 “Death came to Hattie, Mrs. Oswald Simpson, Fort St., Amherstburg, Thursday in her 88th year. Her husband died in 1962. Mrs. Simpson was born in Colchester South a daughter of Jonas and Harriet Marshall Hurst. Her only son Clarence (Jake) died in 1965. She leaves 7 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. Rev. Lloyd Jenkins conducted the funeral in Tanner A.M.E. Church, King Street, Saturday. Burial followed in Rose Hill Cemetery.”
Both Derrick McBounds and Allen Simpson shared that Oswald had the nickname “Apples.” Allen added that Oswald Simpson was called “Apples” because he could crush an apple in the palm of his hand. Derrick also shared a great article from Our Canada Our Country Our Stories: Inspirational Tales From the Heart and Soul of This Great Land. The article, by Wyman Atkinson, is called “A Man Named ‘Apples’: A memorable summer spent with a real-life hero” and says “Way back in 1941 or may ’42, I experienced the most exciting summer of my life. This was back in the days before television, air conditioners, refrigerators and cellphones. Back when Borden’s milk was delivered by a horse-drawn milk wagon, as were the 25-pound blocks of ice for your icebox. Party lines were normal; we all had our own number of rings. Food tasted better. Everything was grown naturally.”
The article continues by saying “My sister Betty and I lived with my grandparents in Amherstburg, Ontario, while my mother and dad worked at John Inglis in Toronto, making guns for World War II. I had a rat terrier named Teddy and tiny metal toy soldiers to play with. The radio was our only source of entertainment. My favourite programs centred around the cowboy heroes of the day: The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry – they were the good guys. You used your imagination and the Wild West magically came to life. Back then, my grandparents had what you might call a hobby farm. A black man by the name of Oswald Simpson, a.k.a. Apples, was the man who worked the land for them. He was a large man – he weighed more that 300 pounds – and he had a team of horses he called by name. Mr. Simpson would show up at sunrise and leave at sunset. He wore bib overalls and a straw hat. The work was hot and difficult. Mr. Simpson and his team would work the ground as he sat perched on a spring-loaded seat on his three-furrow plow. Back and forth, back and forth, as the sun punished all three of them.”
“For breakfast, my grandma made oatmeal porridge. This stuff would not only stick to your ribs but it could also be used in wallpapering. I didn’t much care for oatmeal porridge, so when Grandma went to her sewing room while Betty and I had breakfast, I would take my bowl and place it on the floor for Teddy to gorge himself. Thank goodness for Teddy; I ate the toast, he at the porridge. After breakfast, Grandma would suggest I go outside and play. With straw hat in hand, I would make my way out to the field and watch Mr. Simpson. Wherever he happened to be, he would yell ‘whoa’ to the team and motion for me to come over. Once I arrived ‘Apples’ would put my hat on my head and pick me up, placing me on the back of one of his giant steeds. He told me to ‘hold onto the horse’s mane and hang on tight!”
The article adds, “Boy, it was a long way to the ground. The smell of a horse and freshly ploughed earth are odours you never forget. It was wonderful. When Apples said ‘giddy-up,’ the two matching drafts knew it was time to work. They plodded along, ploughing their furrows, but imagination enabled me to be whomever I chose. I could pretend to be any one of my cowboy heroes. I whiled away my time in a cloud of dreams on a horse that could fly. ‘Whoa, whoa,’ Apples would shout; my dream interrupted, it was time for lunch. Apples lifted me like a feather and placed me back on earth. It’s hard to walk after you’ve been riding a horse at breakneck speed. I got my balance as I walked over to the shade of a tree. Before any lunch was eaten, Apples took care of his dutiful drafts. They came first because, as he said, ‘they worked the hardest.’ The two of us sat under the shade of the tree and ate our lunch. Oh, my, if anyone ever wondered why Apples weighed 300 pounds, I think I found the answer! Notwithstanding the fact that he had brought both his lunch and dinner, Apples unleashed a cornucopia of food. Most of it was homegrown or homemade, except for the half roll of bologna. Anything served on homemade bread is delicious.”
The article concludes, “Once lunch was finished, he would tell me to lie down and take a nap. He’d place my straw hat over my face and the next thing I knew, I’d wake up to see Apples and his horses hard at work. Now, Hollywood can have all of their cowboy radio heroes, but for me, that summer, Mr. Simpson was my real-live hero. Thank you, Apples.”
The Amherstburg Echo also published an interesting (although brief) story in connection to Oswald when it wrote “When Mr. and Mrs. Oswald Simpson were in Detroit this week, he was a guest at the Joe Louis home, the world’s heavy weight champion.” No other details are shared about this meeting, but how exciting it would have been to be a guest of Joe Louis.
As mentioned, Oswald and Hattie had one son named Clarence D. ‘Jake’ Simpson who was born on December 10, 1909. He married Orla Harris who was born on April 29, 1923 in Amherstburg. The couple married on Saturday, June 5, 1943 and Orla was the daughter of David Leonze Harris and Sadie Allen. According to Derrick McBounds, Hattie was also a member of the A.M.E. Church. Clarence and Orla had seven children: Marilyn (m. Carvin McBounds), Reginald (m. Sherry Wilson), Ricky, Linda (m. Artie), Allen, Clarence (m. Gladys Sims) and Darryl (m. Emma Scott).
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.
Simpson Family History (James’ Line) Part 4 – “An old house that’s the basis of a dream”
Jerome Simpson is the last child of James and Matilda (Brooks) Simpson to be discussed. Jerome or ‘Rome’ married Mabel McCurdy, the daughter of George McCurdy and Mary Thomas, on June 30, 1905 in Amherstburg. Mabel’s mother Mary Thomas was married first to George McCurdy and second to Amherstburg lawyer Fred H.A. Davis, the son of the third Black lawyer in Canada, Delos Davis. According to Mary’s obituary, “Mary A. Thomas Davis, widow of Fred H.A. Davis, died at her home on Sandwich Street, Tuesday, in her 86th year. Mrs. Davis was a daughter of George and Maria Buckner Thomas. She was born in the old Haiti Settlement in Anderdon and had lived in Amherstburg for 75 years. Mrs. Davis was a member of A.M.E. Church of Amherstburg and of Ruth Chapter of the Eastern Star. Her husband a prominent Amherstburg barrister, died in 1926. Surviving are two sons George D. McCurdy of Amherstburg and Leroy N. McCurdy of White Plains, N.Y., and a daughter Mable, Mrs. Rome Simpson of Amherstburg. She also leaves three brothers, Philip and Robert Thomas of Oberlin, Ohio and Daniel Thomas of Cleveland; 14 grandchildren and 31 great grandchildren. The funeral will be from her late residence to the B.M.E. Church Friday afternoon at two o’clock with Rev. I.H. Edwards officiating. Six grandsons will be pallbearers for the burial in Rose Hill Cemetery.”
There is also an interesting story that further connects Mary to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, in addition to being the grandmother of the Museum’s founder, Mac Simpson. In the Museum’s collection is a story about a rocking chair that is on display in the Taylor Cabin. It says “Mary Davis would sit in her rocking chair and smoke a corncob pipe. Mac often went to babysit over there and he told his mother he would not like to go there often because Mary’s house was haunted. The house which has been moved away was at the corner of Richmond and Sandwich on the east side near Richmond Nursing home. Mac’s mother was called Mabel McCurdy.”
Mabel McCurdy was born on March 14, 1888 and her birth record states that her father George worked as a Mariner at the time. The obituaries for Mabel and Jerome also share further details of their life. Mabel’s 1964 obituary from the Amherstburg Echo also records “SIMPSON – Mable Edith (nee McCurdy), 76 years, April 18,1964, at late residence, 212 King St., Amherstburg. Beloved wife of late Jerome Simpson (1954). Dear mother of Mrs. John (Dorothy) Dwelle, Wilfred and Everett, Detroit; Mrs. Vincent (Corinne) Bryant, Hamilton; Mrs. Burton (Kathleen) Clemons, Bakersfield, Calif.; Melvin (Mac), Windsor. Dear sister of Roy McCurdy, White Plains, N.Y., and George McCurdy, Amherstburg; 10 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren. Resting at the late residence from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday noon thence to the Nazrey A.M.E. Church until time of service, 2 p.m., Rev. L.O. Jenkins officiating.”
According to Jerome’s obituary from September 9, 1954 “Jerome ‘Rome’ Simpson, 71, of 212 King, Amherstburg, a lifelong resident of Amherstburg, died last Thursday at Grace Hospital following a lengthy illness. Mr. Simpson was employed by the Bob-Lo Excursion Company for 55 years and was well known around the island. He was the son of the late James and Matilda Simpson. Surviving are his widow, the former Mabel E. McCurdy: three sons, Wilfred J. and Everett G., of Detroit and Melvin T. (Mac) of Windsor: three daughters, Mrs. John Dwelle (Dorothy), Detroit, Mrs. Vincent Bryant (Corrine), Hamilton, and Mrs. Burton Clemons (Kathleen), of China Lake, Calif.; one brother, Oswald of Amherstburg; two sisters, Mrs. Carrie Banks and Mrs. Henry M. Marbly (Mamie), both of Detroit; also 10 grandchildren. Rev. I.H. Edwards officiated at the funeral Sunday afternoon in the B.M.E. Church and burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery.”
If you have ever visited the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, you may have noticed a white house next door. This house is also significant to the Simpson family history as it was the home of Jerome, Mabel, and their children including Mac who also lived in that house with his wife Betty. In the article “An old house that’s the basis of a dream” it says Mac’s “own home is more that 145 years old with hand-hew logs supporting the ceilings. It was to this house that his parents moved in 1908. Although both his parents had been born in the neighborhood they encountered opposition to the move. ‘Area residents didn’t want a black man to move in but my Dad was determined to stay even if he had to lick everyone on the block to do so.’”
Jerome and Mabel had several children in addition to Melvin, who will be discussed further later, including Dorothy (b. August 19, 1905 and m. John Dwelle); Wilfred (b. November 27, 1906 and m. Odessa Campbell); Everett (b. January 26, 1910 and m. Dorothy Williams); Corinne (b. February 12, 1912 and m. Vincent Bryant); Melvin, and Kathleen (b. May 10, 1914 and m. Burton H. Clemens). There is also mention of another child named Sheldon, but that he passed away at a young age.
As mentioned, Dorothy married John Dwelle on June 16, 1928 in Amherstburg. According to the couple’s marriage announcement from June 1928 “A very pretty wedding was solemnized Saturday evening, June 16th, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Simpson, King street, Amherstburg, when their eldest daughter, Dorothy May, was united in marriage to John Dwelle, of Detroit. The ceremony was performed in the drawing room, which was beautifully decorated for the occasion with a canopy of palms and flowers, and the service was performed by the Rev. Dr. T.H. Henderson, of Toronto. The bride, who was given away by her father, looked charming in a dress of white georgette, trimmed with silver, and wearing the regulation veil. She carried a bouquet of white carnations. Her bridesmaid, Miss Belle Dwelle, sister of the groom, wore a dress of peach satin, carrying a bouquet of pink carnations. The bride was preceded by Corinne Simpson and Esther Dwelle, who acted as flower girls. The groom was assisted by Rodney Ravarro, of Detroit. The wedding music was played by Professor C. McCallum; Immediately following the ceremony a reception was held, after which Mr. and Mrs. Dwelle left for Detroit, the bride travelling in a blue georgette.”
Their children included John Jr., Jerome, Donald, Jack, and Gerald. According to the “Michigan, Eastern and Western Districts, Naturalization Records” for Dorothy May Simpson Dwelle, it states that John was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 8, 1929; Jerome was born on February 10, 1931 in Hamtramck, Michigan and served in the U.S. Air Force; Donald was born on March 29, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan; and Jack and Gerald (twins) were born on October 15, 1942 in Detroit. This record also lists the date of birth for Dorothy’s husband John who was born in Augusta, Georgia on December 12, 1905.
According to Jack’s marriage record, he married Doris Alexander, the daughter of James Alexander and Fannie Pearson, on November 12, 1981 in Toledo, Ohio. This record lists Jack as being a ‘Manager’ and born in 1942, while Doris was born circa 1950. Jack’s brother Jerome, according to his death record from July 5, 1991, states that he lived in Sonoma, California and was born on February 10, 1931 in Michigan.
Dorothy’s brother Wilfred is the next child of Jerome and Mabel that will be discussed. He married Odessa Campbell and they had a son named Robert who married Gladys. According to the “Michigan, Eastern and Western Districts, Naturalization Records” for Wilfred Jerome Simpson, he was born on November 27, 1906 in Amherstburg and, at the time, worked as a truck driver. This record also states that Wilfred and Odessa were married on July 10, 1929 in Windsor, and that Odessa was born in Chatham on September 29, 1906. Also stated is their son Robert’s date of birth which was August 18, 1931.
Wilfred’s brother Everett, according to his birth record, was born on January 26, 1910 in Amherstburg. The Amherstburg Echo records “At the rectory of St. Peter Clovett Church, Detroit, Saturday, August 4th, 1934, Everett Simpson, son of Mr. Jerome Simpson, Amherstburg, to Miss Dorothy Williams, daughter of Mr. Wallace S. Williams, of Detroit.” Everett and Dorothy had a son named Everett Jr. The “Michigan, Eastern and Western Districts, Naturalization Record” for Everett Simpson also states that he was born on January 26, 1910 in Amherstburg, and he worked as a Porter. It also states that Everett and Dorothy were married on August 4, 1934 in Detroit, and that Dorothy (spelt Dorothea in the record) was born in Detroit on June 27, 1909. This is in addition to listing the date of birth for Everett Jr., who was born on September 25, 1939 in Detroit.
The next child of Jerome and Mabel Simpson is Corinne who was born on February 12, 1912 in Amherstburg. She married Vincent Bryant of Hamilton, and the Amherstburg Echo records details of their wedding which says “A quiet wedding took place at the home of the bride, Saturday afternoon, September 3rd, when Vincent S. Bryant, postman at Hamilton, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Bryant, Hamilton, was united in marriage to Miss Corrinne Simpson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Simpson, Amherstburg. The bride was given away by her father, Rev. T.H. Henderson, D.D., Toronto, officiating. They were attended by Reginald Bryant, brother of the groom and Miss Fern Harrison, both of Hamilton. The bride was charmingly dressed in a travelling dress of dark maroon, trimmed with white silk and hat to match, carrying a beautiful bouquet of pink roses. The bride’s maid of honor wore a green violet trimmed with lace and wore a black hat, and carried a bouquet of red roses and white asters. Miss Florence Kirtley played the wedding march and was accompanist to her sister, Frances Kirtley, who sang very sweetly a solo, ‘I Love You Truly.’ The home was artistically decorated with choice flowers and ferns. A dainty luncheon was served, after which the young couple left for Hamilton where they will reside. The bride was the recipient of many useful and handsome gifts.” The couple also had two children named Vincent and Corrine (Chevalier).
Corinne’s sister Kathleen is up next. She married Burton Clemons of China Lake, California who was an electrical engineer and the son of Isaiah Clemens. Burton and Kathleen married on June 10, 1948. The Amherstburg Echo shared details of their wedding and said “The marriage of Miss Kathleen Simpson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Simpson of Amherstburg, to Mr. Burton H. Clemens, son of Mr. and Mrs. Isaiah Clemens of Bakersfield, California, was solemnized at Napoleon, Ohio, on June tenth. On June twelfth at high noon at the residence of the bride’s parents, the wedding procession was carried out as planned. Melvin T. Simpson, the bride’s brother, sang ‘Because.’ The bride wore a gown of pastel pink silk jersey, a shoulder length pink tulle veil with pink rosebuds, and a corsage of pink tea roses. Her sister Mrs. John Dwelle wearing turquoise blue silk crepe and gold accessories and corsage of pale pink tea roses, was matron of honor. Mrs. Vincent Bryant wearing yellow silk jersey and white accessories and corsage of Talisman roses was bridesmaid. The bride’s brother Everett G. Simpson acted as best man. The bridal party stood under a canopy of white, with a background of ferns and roses. Rev. J.D. Howell of Detroit gave the marriage his blessing. The bride’s mother wore green sheer print mesh and a corsage of Talisman roses. Her grandmother Mrs. Mary Davis had a gray silk print and a corsage of roses. Many out-of-town guests attended from Cleveland, Grand Rapids, New York, Detroit, Windsor and Hamilton. Mr. and Mrs. Clemens left Friday, and are motoring to California where they will make their home. Mr. Clemens is employed by the United States Government as an electrical engineer.”
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 5 where we will discuss Melvin ‘Mac’ Simpson.
Simpson Family History (James’ Line) Part 5 – The Founder
The last child of Jerome and Mabel Simpson is Melvin ‘Mac’ Simpson. Without him, the Museum would not be in existence. Mac, along with his wife Betty and numerous community builders dedicated so much time and energy to create a space that honoured/honors Canada’s significant Black History. Mac was born on October 13, 1916, attended General Amherst High School, and went to the Detroit Conservatory of Music. He also played the drums and was an accomplished singer, even singing at the opening of the Cleary Auditorium in Windsor. There are several articles from the Amherstburg Echo that mention his talent including “Amherstburg Boy Sings” which says “The Detroit Conservatory of Music presented an open air recital of songs in the Detroit Symphony Shell, Belle Isle, Thursday, June 16. Melvin Thomas Simpson, pupil of Carl Mann … The audience, like all audiences have heard him in the past year, appreciated his outstanding bass voice. Among those thrilled by his singing was his mother, Mrs. Jerome Simpson, of Amherstburg. Melvin received his first instruction from Mrs. Abbott, teacher of music in the Amherstburg Public School.”
In addition to singing, Mac was the president of the A.A. & M. Goodfellows and also worked as a florist. Mac even gave presentations on plants and flowers as is reported in the article titled “Horticultural Society Hears Fine Local Speaker On Christmas Plants” which says “Melvin Simpson of the staff of Grays Greenhouses, gave a splendid talk on ‘How to care for and hold over Poinsettias and Azaleas from Christmas to Christmas,’ to the members of the Fort Malden Horticultural Society, meeting in the museum Tuesday evening. Mr. Simpson has been in greenhouse work for 10 years so he spoke with authority from his own experience. He was clear and generous with his tips, in answer to members’ questions. At the conclusion of his talk, three Christmas plants were drawn for, winners being Jack East, Mrs. M. Parks and George McCurdy Sr.”
Mac married twice. His first marriage was to Murtle Tiller and they had a son named Sheldon who was born in 1943. Mac’s second marriage was to Betty Johnson-Hurst. Betty was first married to Burnie Hurst and they had a daughter named Joan Patricia, who was born on March 26, 1944. Joan first married Robert Browning and they had two children: Janisse and Richard. Joan later married Charlie Bray as well.
Betty was born on May 11, 1925 in Colchester South and was the youngest daughter of Harland and Harriet (Holland) Johnson. Betty worked at Hotel Dieu Hospital (Windsor Regional Hospital) for 25 years and began her career as part of the hospital’s kitchen staff, later becoming an electro-diagnosis (EEG) technician. She also acted as Vice-President of the Museum’s Board of Directors, past President of the Women’s Auxiliary and a member of the Emancipation Day Committee. Additionally, following the passing of her husband, Mac Simpson, Betty continued the dream that she and Mac created with the Museum. She passed away on April 2, 2014.
In the book “Some Johnson Family Stories, From Slavery to Present,” Betty recalls a fond memory with Mac and says “when Mac and I first danced it was in the Emancipation Dance. It was down at the old park down behind the school, and my brother Lloyd met his wife there. There was these pretty girls that come from Wyandotte, Michigan, and they were sharp, man. They had these great, big hats … We had a lot of fun at the Emancipation.”
Mac passed away on January 7, 1982 and was a respected community figure. His obituary shares many details and says “Melvin T. (Mac) Simpson, King Street, Amherstburg, who had recently realized his dream of a Black Museum for Amherstburg was the spark behind its fruition, of this project, died in Hotel Dieu last Thursday, in his 66th year. He was a native of old Amherstburg, being a son of Rome Simpson who was head gardener on Bob-Lo for years and his wife Mabel McCurdy. He was a member of the Nazery [sic] A.M.E. Church. Founder and curator of the North American Black Museum; member of the Board of Directors the House of Shalom. He was husband of Betty (nee Johnson); father of Sheldon, Detroit; brother of Everette, Concrete, Washington; Wilfred, Detroit; Mrs. John [Dorothy] Dwelle, Detroit; Mrs. Burton [Kathleen] Clemons, California; and Corrine deceased. Three grandchildren. The funeral was in St. John the Baptist Church Saturday afternoon, conducted by Reverend Lloyd Jenkins, assisted by Reverend John Burkhart and Maynard Hurst. Burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery.”
Another tribute to Mac said “Anyone meeting Mac Simpson for the first time came away with an impression that he was something special. An individual who genuinely cared about others, and who would gladly offer any assistance he could provide to anyone who needed that assistance. He was a real citizen of the world; not caring who you were, or where you were from, or how long you’d been around.” According to the Amherstburg Echo over 600 people attended Mac’s funeral.
Thanks to the efforts of Mac and Betty, a Museum that shares the history and journey of Black Canadians exists in the small town of Amherstburg. We continue their legacy by celebrating the contributions of Black Canadians every day. To learn more about the Museum’s history, see our 45th Anniversary Celebration video on our YouTube page which includes interviews with people connected to the Museum – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WLV4YGoALQ
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.