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Enerals and Pricilla Griffin

Griffin House National Historic Site
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Being at Griffin House today has been so amazing.

You know, really just kind of soaking in everything and you know, wondering what life was would have been for the family, you know, back then and, we're talking about coming from hardship and not just hardship. Like, it's not your usual story of hardship. It's it's like what we're talking about.

Danger, like danger on every side for sure, for sure. And, yet he overcame so much to be, such a prominent person in this community.

This house behind me and the surrounding land was once the home of Enerals Griffin and his wife Priscilla.

The couple came to Ancaster from Virginia and Ohio during the early eighteen thirties.

Enerals had been enslaved in Virginia then traveled to Ohio from where he made the journey to Canada during the underground railroad era.

Griffin purchased this fifty acre farm in eighteen thirty four for the equivalent of about thirty thousand dollars today. Here he, Pricilla, their son James and many descendants lived for more than a hundred and fifty years. In an era marked by discrimination and prejudice for black populations north and south of the border, Enerals operated a prosperous farm and was an important and influential figure at Hamilton.

Enerals and Priscilla Griffin have an incredible story of migration and belonging. One which we are actively learning more about today.

When Griffin comes to Ancaster, He, he would have come here as a fugitive.

And so we're talking a guy who is running basically from the law. So we're talking crossing the border from the States to Canada. And we don't know where he crossed.

So there's a few options. So there's he was in Ohio. So we know that. And so he could have crossed there at Lake Erie, or he could have crossed at Niagara Falls or Windsor and Detroit.

But when he crossed, he's a fugitive, and he's running from the law. Cause we're talking about eighteen, twenty nine, eighteen, thirty, and that's slavery.

And so he would have been running.

He decides he's gonna leave Virginia, and he comes to Canada, and He's running from slave catchers.

And so that's you gotta watch your back. And so he's got his wife with him, it's twenty nine, eighteen, twenty nine, eighteen, so they don't have their baby yet. So it's the two of them coming, and say they cross at Niagara Falls. Say.

So then he has to come to Ancaster, which is where he settles at in this house right here. And so, you know, he would've been sitting here late. Like you and me, like just sitting here. Once he bought this house and settled in here, in Eighteen thirty four already settled in here. And but what brought him from being a fugitive to this house?

Where he could settle, have his kid, start a farm, how did he do that?

The journey on the underground railroad was filled with danger for those escaping bondage as well as the people who helped them. The underground railroad was a sophisticated covert network of routes or lines and safe houses from the United States to the Canadian border, facilitated by a diverse group of abolitionists who opposed slavery.

An eighteen fifties article in the Provincial Freeman, the preeminent black newspaper in Ontario noted that the underground railroad carries large numbers from slavery to freedom from oppression to liberty.

Getting to the Canadian border was treacherous and being caught trying to escape slavery could result in violent punishment, imprisonment, and sale into the deep south.

While, we don't know exactly where Enerals and Pricilla Griffin crossed into Canada, there were a number of popular crossing points they might have used, such as Detroit Michigan and Oberlin, Ohio. As well as various sites throughout Niagara, including where I'm standing today. On the banks of the Niagara River in Fort Erie, Ontario, just across the border from Buffalo, New York.

You know, we're talking prominent in that he came here with nothing. And by the time, it's about, you know, not that much longer, the mid eighteen thirties, late eighteen thirties into the forties, he's signing petitions that are written by the black community. There was a great gathering of colored people in Ancaster.

When I saw that, I was like, what the we're talking, you know, eighteen fifty, maybe. And I think there was another one in the thirties. And so there's this great gathering of colored people, because that's the term they use. And, we don't know where it was. I'm thinking it couldn't have been here because this house is too small. I mean, it's nice, but it's small. So where did this great gathering happen? Who was at it, he was part of that.

On one of the, in the newspaper article, it says that Anais Griffin They spell it wrong. They used to do that a lot in the in the day, but it's him. Anais Griffin presided, and his name is mentioned. So he was, you know, a pillar of the community.

These people went, and at that time, I would say it's mostly men that would have been at these meetings, you know, the gatherings and so on. And I think the women helped, but it's the men's names you always see. And I don't know the way, you know, we're still doing so much research.

So his name stands out. Other name stands out, Brown, these guys, they go to people like sir Allan MacNab, and they petition him, and say, well, you know, there's a case here of a guy called which guy was it? There was two of them that, they were very instrumental in trying to help. Jesse Happy was one, Nelson Hackett was another one. So these are black guys that in the forties, late thirties and forties, tried to they came to Canada. They run away. One guy was what's the name of you know, there was like an old bar on the corner of Bay and somewhere around Bay Street, maybe King - it's not there anymore. There's an old bar down there. A lot of black people used to hang out there. That's where Jesse Happy got caught.

So imagine, right? Like a bunch of slave catchers come riding up and they capture the guy, and they're, like, gonna drag them back to Kentucky, Arkansas.

And so people like Griffin, they they step up to to MacNab, and they say, you know, Sir Allan, like, you got the ear of the queen. You go to England sometime. We helped you, sir Allen. Like, we helped you in the upper Canada rebellion of eighteen thirty seven. You know, we helped you to put down the rebellion.

What are you gonna do for us? Like our guys are in danger of being dragged back into slavery, can you put in a good work for us? Him, MacNab, Sir Frances Bond Head, who was the the governor general of, Upper Canada at that time.

In eighteen forty two, one hundred and seventy eight Black men from the city, petitioned notable Hamilton politician, lawyer, and land speculator, Sir Allan Napier MacNab, to use his influence to intercede on behalf of their friend Nelson Hackett.

Hackett has been captured by American slave catchers and sent back to slavery in the United States.

MacNab, whose Hamilton home is now Dundurn National Historic site was a prominent figure in Canadian politics and business. And in the early eighteen forties, he had recently been knighted for his service in suppressing their rebellions of eighteen thirty seven.

The Black community hoped sir Allen would employ his power and his connections to help Hackett. Sir Allan advised the petitioners he would indeed take up their cause with the queen. Writing you may rely on my using every exertion in my power to procure a full measure of justice for the injured parties.

In February eighteen forty two, Hackett was sent back to Arkansas, and despite the best efforts of his friends and Sir Allan MacNab, his fate remains unknown.

Nelson Hackett was the first and only fugitive from slavery that Canada extradited to the United States.

I can't say enough about the Black church though. Like, I really feel. Like, you know, your dad being a Minister at Stuart Memorial. This is where Griffin went.

You've talking a place that's been this hub. And I mean, I don't know enough about it because I don't attend there, but you attend there. There's this hub. It's been there since eighteen thirty five.

Yes. That used to be on Rebecca Street beside, a coal an iron foundry. Which meant all the black soot would have been pouring up. This is where our people went to church.

Yeah. Until it moved around to where? It, now it's it's on John. Yeah. And I mean, like, what a hub!

Stewart Memorial Church is very near and dear to my heart. And, the fact that we're able to actually film in this space is okay, just gonna try to keep it together. Is, really significant for me.

My father was, Reverend George Horton, and, he was, one of the former reverends of Stewart Memorial church. And so even though I didn't attend as such when he was the pastor, you know, on a regular basis, because I do have, another home church but it was still very much, you know, a part of of my life and my, you know, my mom, as well. And so even when, you know, looking at, you know, his photo is just, you know, beyond sort of my eyesight so I can almost see him, you know, kind of, my periphery and just kinda say There's my girl, and, that's my jewel.

There's a little bit of a hum, you know, kind of as we sit here. But, normally when I'm here, there's there's there's vibrancy here. And, this is a very special place most times when people come here even for the first time, they just sort of feel a sense of, you know, peace and belonging.

I mean, I've been to weddings here. I've been to funerals here.

There were a number of Martin Luther King celebrations that took place here when, Obama was inaugurated, there was a celebration here. So they're, you know, they've been, you know, Christmas concerts. I've been part of the Stewart Memorial community choir on on occasion. And, they the choir is such, does have a a a legacy, of such from, you know, years past.

There've been some, you know, quite important dignitaries that were part of this church I guess probably more well known, more recent would be sort of, Lincoln Alexander and, Lester B. Pearson also has ties to this church from from many years ago.

Connections between Enerals Griffin and Stewart Memorial Church. I would say yes.

Certainly, this was, you know, very much at the center of, the black community. And, we have every reason to believe that Enerals Griffin was very much involved with the black community, the church, and, a real community organizer.

That's one of the things that I really admired about him. I think his his story to me is really a story of hope.

I really feel that he was a man that thought about the generations long past himself and and thinking about legacy.

And maybe that's why he was able to endure all that he did and and and more because he wasn't thinking about the here and now, but the, you know, the long into the future.

His children. Yes. You know, he was a fugitive and an immigrant, but, thinking about the the future for his kids.

Right. And, of course, not wanting them to have that life. I think I'm gonna cry.

I know. Right? Yeah.

I know. It's wonderful that this is this isn't we're living at, you know?

Yeah. No. It just feels like such a connection.

Yeah. It feels real all of a sudden.

Thread. Like, we are in the thread, the black community. This is the thread, you know.


I just feel like sometimes he's probably here.

Like, I I so believe that that the ancestors follow us.

They're with us. They'll never leave us. And, you know, I get strength out of that.

Enerals Griffin and his wife, Pricilla came to Ancaster from Virginia and Ohio during the early 1830s. Enerals had been enslaved in Virginia, then traveled to Ohio, from where he made the journey to Canada during the Underground Railroad era. While we don’t know where Enerals and Pricilla crossed into the country, they came to settle in Ancaster.

Griffin purchased the family’s 50 acre farm in 1834 for the equivalent of about $30,000 today. Here he, Pricilla, their son James and many descendants lived for more than 150 years. Part of this original farm is now Griffin House National Historic Site.

In an era marked by discrimination and prejudice for black populations north and south of the border, Enerals Griffin operated a prosperous farm, was an important community organizer and rose to prominence as an important and influential figure in Hamilton.

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