By BARRINGTON A. MORRISON
The Black school in Dresden also deserves some elaboration, not only because of its famous founding patriarch, Josiah Henson, but on account of it being the second-largest rural Black Settlement that was established in Kent County behind Buxton, which was the largest. It was called Dawn Settlement, located in the northern part of Kent County.
Josiah Henson, an escaped slave, and Hiram Wilson, a missionary, were responsible for the establishment of this Settlement in 1842. According to Henson’s (1852) autobiography, Wilson wrote to a Quaker friend in England and obtained the sum of $1500.00 on behalf of the Negro refugees. He states: “I urged the appropriation of the money to the establishment of a manual labour school, where our children could be taught those elements of knowledge which are usually the occupations of a grammar-school; and where the boys could be taught, in addition, the practice of some mechanic art, and the girls could be instructed in those domestic arts which are the proper occupation and ornament of their sex.” (p. 91)
The students at Dawn Settlement spent part of their time in school and the remaining time working the land. In 1854 Benjamin Drew, (author of The First Annual Report of the Anti-Slavery Society of Upper Canada, 1852), visited the Dawn Settlement in 1854. He reports:
“The coloured people in the neighbourhood of Dresden and Dawn are generally prosperous farmers-of good morals, and mostly Methodists or Baptists… Some of the settlers are mechanics, shoemakers, blacksmiths, etc. About one-third of the adult settlers are in possession of land which is, either in whole or in part, paid for… There is not a single coloured person coming into Dawn or Dresden who if he has health and industrious habits cannot support himself within one week of his arrival.” (p. 308-312)
Henson also observed how the Blacks in the Dawn Settlement demonstrated their collective observance of the laws governing their conduct. He states:
“It is a pleasing circumstance that, out of a population of between three and four thousand coloured people residing in settlements surrounding the Dawn Institute, not one coloured person has been sent to gaol for any infraction of the laws during the last seven years.” (p. 118)
The Dawn Institute, as the school was called, began to experience financial difficulties during the severe depression of 1855. Things began to get progressively worst for the Institute, and in 1871 a Court order directed that the Institute lands be sold. The land was sold for $21,835.00 and the proceeds were used to establish the Wilberforce Institute in Chatham, which was an educational institution for coloured people. The Wilberforce Institute president was Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, a classmate of Alfred Lafferty’s early school days. Dr. Abbott was licensed in 1861, becoming the first Canadian-born Black doctor.
The South Essex Citizen’s Advancement Association (S.E.C.A.A.), a citizen civil rights group as well as the Amherstburg Community Club (A.C.C.), were successful in 1966 in closing Ontario’s last Separate Black school located in South Colchester Township (See Alvin D. McCurdy’s papers of Black organizations 1887-1993, Archives of Ontario). The Common School Act of 1850 authorizing the establishment of Separate Black schools remained on the books until 1964.