The Ontario Heritage Trust has announced a name change for the the Negro Burial Ground on Mississagua Street.
A new plaque is expected to be erected later this month or early June, to proclaim the heritage site The Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground.
Niagara-on-the-Lake CAO Marnie Cluckie says the town has been in contact with the Ontario Heritage Trust, Ontario Black History Society, and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum regarding the provincial plaques commemorating Niagara Region’s Black history and the renaming of the Negro Burial Ground. A media release will be issued when the date of the plaque installation is known, she added.
James Russell, the man behind the project to uncover how many graves are in the cemetery and who is buried there, attended the Ontario Heritage Trust ceremony in Toronto on April 28. He said last Wednesday, as ground-penetrating radar was being used to determine where the graves are and how many, that he thought he knew the location of the Baptist church on the property, but should have that confirmed in a report expected this week.
The new plaque that will be installed on the property reads: “The Niagara Baptist Church congregation was established in 1829. A meeting house was erected at this site in 1831 through the efforts of John Oakley, a white former British soldier turned teacher and minister. Initially, the church congregation mainly consisted of colonists, with a small number of Black members. The Black population of the Town of Niagara grew to about 100 due to the influx of freedom seekers after Britain passed the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act and the United States enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. By the late 1840s, the church’s membership was predominantly Black and from 1849-56 was led by Black Baptist minister Francis Lacy. There are at least 15 burials in the churchyard, including Herbert Holmes and Jacob Green, who were killed in the
Solomon Moseby Affair that took place at the Niagara jail in 1837. Holmes and Green were among Niagara community members who prevented Moseby from being returned to slavery in the United States. After the 1860s, the population declined, and the church closed in 1878. The burial ground is a reminder of the church and the significant Black community in Niagara.”
On the same day, the Ontario Heritage Trust unveiled an updated provincial plaque in Toronto to commemorate The Solomon Moseby Affair, 1837. “Updating this plaque is part of the ongoing work of the Trust to tell Ontario’s stories in an honest, authentic and inclusive way,” the announcement said. The bilingual plaque reads as follows:
THE SOLOMON MOSE BY AFFAIR 1837
“The second courthouse and jail of the Niagara District was erected at this site in 1817. Several high-profile cases were tried here, including that of African-American freedom seeker Solomon Moseby. In the spring of 1837, Moseby stole his enslaver’s horse and escaped, settling in Niagara. A few weeks later, his new-found freedom was threatened when his enslaver arrived with an arrest warrant and extradition papers. Moseby was detained at this jail while awaiting an extradition decision. Over 200 Black community supporters mobilized and camped outside to protest Moseby’s possible return to slavery and harsh punishment in the United States. When the extradition order was given, the protestors obstructed Moseby’s removal. Two Black residents, Herbert Holmes and Jacob Green, were killed. Moseby escaped, fled to England, and later returned to live in Niagara. For African Canadians, this was not simply about justice for one man. If Moseby’s enslaver had succeeded, they could all be vulnerable to extradition and re-enslavement. This incident helped to establish Canadian extradition and refugee policies that are still used today.”
As historic background information to the update, the Ontario Heritage Trust explains, “the second Niagara courthouse and gaol (jail) complex was erected in 1817. It served the Niagara District that was created in 1798 from the Home District and consisted of two counties on the Niagara peninsula – Haldimand County on the north shore of Lake Erie and comprising part of the Grand River Tract granted to the Six Nations in 1784, and Lincoln County, which included most of the Niagara Peninsula and extended west as far as Ancaster Township.
“It replaced the first courthouse constructed in 1795 at King and Prideaux streets (present-day location of Bernard Gray Hall Bed and Breakfast).
The first courthouse was a simple blockhouse building. It was burned down by American troops in 1813 during the War of 1812 and resulted in the loss of 300 lives of prisoners held at the facility.
Built near Rye and Cottage streets, the second courthouse was considered to be one of the finest public buildings in the province at that time. It was constructed of red brick with a stylish woodwork interior. The Niagara Jail was the only place of incarceration for criminals in the district until the Kingston Penitentiary opened in 1835.