Former slaves started new lives here
With February being Black History Month across the Canada and the U.S., this is an appropriate time to look back at a group that was among Glengarry’s earliest settlers – a reflection first done by Bainsville resident Malcolm “Mackie” Robertson in the 1994 volume of
“The settlement of the southern part of Glengarry County bordering the St. Lawrence River was part of the great movement of thousands of American colonists who stayed loyal to Britain,” the United Empire Loyalists, during and after the American Revolution (1775 to 1783), Mr. Robertson stated in his article, Black Loyalists of Glengarry.
“Not just from one single ethnic unit this group of people was composed of English, Scots, Irish, German, Dutch, Swiss, and... black freed slaves.”
Although Mr. Robertson conceded that “very little is known” about a group of seven former slaves identified in the article, his research did provide some insight into the background and life in Glengarry of three of these men.
All are believed to have been part of the socalled Herkimer’s Bateau Company, a unit of about 65 men, most of whom were freed Loyalist ex-slaves from the Mohawk Valley in central New York State assigned to the British fortifications at Coteau-du-Lac.
For their loyalty to the British crown during the uprising in the Thirteen Colonies, the septet was granted lots on the 2nd Concession of the former Lancaster township, often called ‘ The Lake’ or the ‘ Sunken Township’ due to the fact that its first (French) settlers considered it too swampy for habitation or farming.
Cato Prime was granted Lot 10, or part of Lot 10, in 1784, and farmed that parcel, along with several other pieces of land, until 1820, when he sold his holdings to Murdock MacPherson.
Described as “a staunch Presbyterian” who worshipped with Rev. John Bethune of Williamstown at the home of Jacob Snider – the Sniders later donated land in Bainsville on which St. Andrew’s United Church now stands – Mr. Prime and his wife, Catherine Bodet, pledged money to help recruit a replacement minister from Scotland following Rev. Bethune’s death in 1815.
Cato Prime died in January 1836 at the age of 79.
Amego Londonderry, a former member of Butler’s Rangers – a British provincial regiment during the Revolution composed of Loyalists based out of the Mohawk Valley – was assigned Lot 27 around 1786 but later sold the property.
He “married a girl from the Fraser brothers’ farm Fraserfield, in Dundas County,” and the couple had a daughter, Rachel, according to Mr. Robertson.
Thomas Fonda, who as a slave was the property of the well-known “patriot” Fonda family – from which the late actor Henry Fonda is reported to have been descended – received Lot 14 and eventually amassed nearly 500 acres in Lancaster township.
Mr. Fonda, like Mr. Prime, pledged money towards the procurement of Rev. Bethune’s replacement as well.
Sam Denike, also known by the now politically-incorrect sobriquet “Sambo,” was granted or assigned Lot 30 in 1786.
A former private in Butler’s Rangers, he was also granted the south half of Lot 30, in Concession 3 of Lancaster township, circa 1819, according to Royce MacGillivray’s
Dictionary of Glengarry Biography.
Mr. MacGillivray, along with Mr. Robertson, point out that a simple gravestone rock, bearing only the name “Sambo,” likely marks the final resting place for Mr. Denike in the cemetery of the Anglican church in the 1st Concession of Lancaster township.
As for the remainder of the black Loyalists mentioned by Mr. Robertson – Jack Powell, Joseph Goff and William Thomas – nothing else is known, other than the fact that they, along with their aforementioned compatriots, are part of Glengarry’s rich historical fabric.