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In 1791, John Graves Simcoe, first governor of Upper Canada, envisioned this location as a safe harbor and southern port, connecting Lake Erie to the Thames river. The townsite of Chatham was planned at the north terminus of the Communication Road, which would allow for transport between Lake Erie and the Thames River.

In 1792, Patrick McNiff was given an order to survey land along Lake Erie. Most of the land surrounding Rondeau Bay was inaccessible, except for some land, on the North West shore of Rondeau bay, where there was a convenient site for a small town.
In 1797, Surveyor, Abraham Iredell laid out the Communication Road and plotted the town.His young aide, Tomas Talbot asked that the settlement be named after the head of the Talbot clan, the Earl of Shrewsbury in England.Shrewsbury was plotted, partially in a marsh and possessed a beautiful surroundings, but little else.

Shipping Port

In 1792, Governor, Simcoe declared all of Rondeau as “ordinance land” which reserved the waters and peninsula for federal naval purposes. Shrewsbury was surveyed as a future naval base. A channel to the lake was dredged through the bay and through the sandy islands where the present village of Erieau stands. A long wharf was constructed along the Shrewsbury shoreline to accommodate large sailing vessels. In the 1850’s, the ice and currents of Rondeau Bay destroyed the Shrewsbury wharf. With the newly laid railroad, linking Erieau to Chatham, the cost of continually dredging the channel through the bay, proved to be far more than it was worth.

Shrewsbury Dock, 1926

Early Town Plan

Romantic Kent, More than three centuries of history, 1626-1952"
written by Victor Lauriston in 1952
Under authority of the County of Kent and the City of Chatham
Set up by Shephard Printing Co. Ltd Chatham
Bound at Bookshelf Bindery Ltd.,Ridgetown

Chapter 23, Rondeau and Shrewsbury

Rondeau Bay loomed large in Simcoe's ambitious plans for Upper Canada. In an era when waterways were chief, and almost the only means of communication, this, the best natural harbor on the North Shore of Lake Erie, was vital to his schemes of colonization and defense  For Shrewsbury, not merely the county town of Suffolk but a large lake port, Simcoe manifestly foresaw a greater future than for Chatham, the county town of Kent, with it's shipyards on the Thames. The area reserved for the Shrewsbury townsite was 600 acres; but the initial survey, apparently made by Iredell in 1797, was far more extensive than the "Old Survey" of Chatham, two years earlier.
In the registry office at Chatham is a copy of the original Shrewsbury Plan, certified "Crown Lands Department, Montreal, 1847, true copy, D. P. Papineau." It was based on a survey made by Richard Parr, P.L.S. bearing date, October 22, 1846, and covered the higher ground at a distance from Rondeau Bay.
A later survey, made by Stuart Malcolm, O.L.S. under date of January 22, 1896 includes a replica of the original town plan and also divides the marshy foreground between the townsite and the bay into 25 large blocks, lettered "A" to "Y" and varying in extent from 4 1/2 to 19 acres.
This marshy foreground was, however, part of the area originally reserved for the townsite; ans Simcoe doubtless had in mind plans more consistent with a future as a lake port. Docks and Piers and Wharves, with channels dredged for shipping; water-guarded fortifications such as were familiar to the governor from his soldiering in the "Low Countries"-such things, doubtless were part of the ambitious schemes he nursed for this far-reaching dream city.
An early plan shows on the south shore of Rondeau Bay, opposite Shrewsbury an area mark "Ordinance Lands", eventually meant to be fortified though it never was. Here, before the war of 1812, some shipbuilding seems to have been carried on, though there is no proof that any of Captain Barclay's ill-fated ships were built there.
That Shrewsbury was, like Chatham, intended for a county town, is shown by the reservations for a court house and a jail, a church square and a market site. But Shrewsbury, unlike Chatham had no river or creek to distort the plan. With ground practically level, though a trifle low, it was a surveyors dream. Except for Kent St., the Eastern boundary, which has a northeast-southwest slant, the townsite is square. The intervening streets of a uniform width of one chain, 66ft., run at right angles. The blocks, each containing two tiers of five half acre lots, are uniform; except on the western boundary where they run in single tier. The church, court house and market blocks are each the equivalent of ten half-acre lots. The lots are a uniform width, 104 1/2 ft. And a uniform depth, 208 1/2 ft. They all face approximately east-west; and at the rear of each tier of lots is a north-south alley, approximately 33ft wide. So far as streets went, Shrewsbury was well looked after.
When, about 1800, Suffolk was merged in other counties, a second county town on lake Erie was unnecessary. Shrewsbury might, even then, have come into greatness, had Simcoe been in office. But, with the end of his regime, came an era of lesser men; and though the survey was duly made, Shrewsbury remained a dream city on a map.
But, after patient decades, happenings south of the international boundary brought the place to life. American court decisions and the Fugitive Slave Law enabled southern planters to repossess their escaped slaves, even in free states, and started a movement of colored people across the boundary, into Canada. The famous Underground Railroad busied itself Spiriting refugees from the south, to freedom. Sympathizers found homes and established townsites for thee refugees. And here was a far reaching townsite, totally un-occupied.
Hence, doubtless, the re-surveying of Shrewsbury by Parr in 1846. Here, in time, a considerable number of colored people found homes. In the early days, hunting, fishing and farming-and working on the construction of docks at Rondeau Harbor- were their chief activities. The black muck land was rich and market gardening was carried on. In the latter era, wealthy colored people from Detroit established summer homes. There was talk of a community hall, and angling and hunting parties brought many visitors. A wharf of sorts had been built in the early days: about 1945 the Township of Harwich replaced it with a pier at the foot of Brock Street for the benefit of the fishermen. Municipally, Simcoe's dream city remained a part of Harwich township.
Gazing from the Eau Road which marked it's northern boundary, across the level land to the glistening expanse of Rondeau Bay, picking out the vaguely marked but far reaching streets, one could still catch, after more than 150 years, a glimpse of Simcoe's vision. Nor is it so ironic that the city he planned should be populated only by the decedents of escaped slaves. For it was his Parliament  at Newark which led the British world in decreeing that within the confines of Upper Canada, there should be none but free men.
Iredell mapped the streets on 1797, but it's doubtful if he named them. If he did, his names have passed into oblivion. On the later plan, the Eau Road, the northern boundary, became Cathcart street. This Eau Road, farther east, intersects the Harwich-Howard town line; and to the west, after a jog, cuts into the Fourth Concession Road, leading to Erieau.
Intersecting Cathcart street, the Communication Road, from the Thames, becomes, within the townsite, Victoria street. Simcoe's instructions were to run this road to Rondeau Bay; but it seems to have halted short. A dotted line on the 1846 plan indicates a projected extension. Brock street, farther west, ultimately was put through to the waters edge.
Entering Shrewsbury by the Communication Road, immediately southeast of the Victoria-Cathcart intersection is the Church Square. Apparently the Church, (the Established Church, of course) was to guard the entrance to the city. The jail and Court House Block is the second south of Cathcart and second east of Victoria, catercornered to the Church Square. The corresponding block, the second south of Cathcart and west of Victoria, is the Market Square.
The remainder of the townsite is divided into 495 half-acre lots, according to a geometrical plan that must have delighted Iredell after his bitter experiences trying to work out a plan of any kind for Chatham. True, there are a few irregularities. This Kent street, on the east limit, running Northeast and Southwest, results in a series of gore lots. Immediately west, Talbot street, running due south from Cathcart intersects Kent. But the remainder of the streets are east-west and north-south.
Four east-wast streets span the entire width of the townsite. They are Cathcart at the North limit; then Metcalfe; then Peel; and finally St. George. Further South, Prince street runs only as far west as Tecumseh; and still farther South, Scarboro Avenue runs only as far west as William street.
Returning to the eastern boundary, or Kent street, we find, first, Talbot street, running south from Cathcart into Kent to form a gore. After that the north-south streets are Wellington, Adelaide and William, all running as far as Scarboro Avenue; Victoria, Albert, Brock and Tecumseh, all running south to Prince; and Wolfe, Woods, St. Patrick, Princess, Russell and Nelson all of which stop short at St George. Brock, in the 1846 plan, continues south to Rondeau Bay, with a tier of lots on each side. 
Nelson street is the west boundary of the townsite. The map indicates stone monuments at the Northwest and Northeast corners of the townsite.
Indications are that the streets were not named till the 1846 re-survey. Oddly, most of the early Chatham street names belong to the same period. Victoria did not be come a popular name till the queen's accession in 1837, and Albert did not come into vogue till her marriage in 1840. William and Adelaide commemorate Queen Victoria's predecessor and his consort. Princess and Prince were manifestly named in honor of the Princess Royal, Victoria, and then Prince of Wales, Albert Edward. Brock and Tecumseh could date only from the war of 1812; Wellington and Nelson from the Nepolanic Wars; Metcalf and Nelson were governors before the resurvey, and Peel and Russell were British statesmen of the same era.
Simcoe dies, in fact, before any of these names became significant. St.George, St. Patrick and Wolfe were the only Shrewsbury names that could have been chosen by him, or by a contemporary.
Oddly, the post-office which, a century after the re-survey, stood on the south side of Cathcart street, itself mocked Simcoe's dream. It's name was, not Shrewsbury, but Rondeau.

1960's Town Plan

Underground Railroad

In her book, “Legacy to Buxton”, author Arlie C. Robbins from North Buxton, tells us that the history of Black settlement in North America began around 1619, a full year before the landing of the Mayflower. The 1619, Virginia census recorded 32 Africans. A Spanish cargo ship, bound for the West Indies, had, along with its cargo, 20 men from Africa, captured to pressed into slavery. The ship was hijacked by Dutch privateers, and landed at Jamestown Virginia on the 20th of August. These men suffered indentured servitude, marginally better than slavery, with the consolation of purchasing their freedom.
For a while, lines of inequality were drawn along economic, rather that racial lines, so that black, white and red peoples lived on both sides of the divide. Most however, were free.
With the advent of plantations of sugar cane, cotton and tobacco, many free people were forced into servitude and dependence. An insidious legacy was forged with laws making Africans, servants for life, stripping them of “all rights of his own person”.

In 1793, Simcoe’s newly formed government lead the British world in decreeing:“In Upper Canada, there should be none but free men” 
The second American Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, marked the beginning of a continuous northward migration to the beginning of the American civil War of 1861.
“Up that long unmarked road came the fleeing thousands of every age, size and color, compelled to freedom or to death”
Many died during their arduous journey, but the majority found their Canadian Havens. Shrewsbury, was the “Haven in South Harwich”


In the 1840’s the Communication road had been newly cut through the tall forests to deliver cargo provide a route to the Thames River and Chatham. Soft Carolinian soils couldn't withstand the heavy wagon traffic and people spent the most of their spring and fall travels, mired in muck.
Towards the mid 1800’s, the harbor at Erieau and dock at Shrewsbury had fallen into disrepair. The channel at Erieau, now choked with sand, isolated the Bay. Shrewsbury was left practically deserted. By 1857, the entrance to the bay had reverted to “dangerous waters” and in the following two years, the schooner “Texas” and brigs, “Beaver” and “John Hancock” were wrecked, with loss of lives, at the Bays entrance.
That same year, a grand plan was drawn to run a canal from Shrewsbury to the Thames River just below Chatham. This would bring commerce and reduce shipping times in Lake Erie and the Thames. After much bickering over the waterway route, the canal proposal was rejected!
During the 1860’s, most of the bay front lots were taken by settlers or absentee owners and speculators. After the infamous American Slave Act of 1850, people escaping slavery settled acre lots. That decade, the Communication Road to the Thames was hardened and gravelled. By 1876, private docks were built, several large farms were cleared and clusters of houses appeared at Shrewsbury and Raglan.
Dr. C.B. Langford compiled some records of the first settlers.
1840, E.L. Stoddard and Archie McKishney
1842, O.P. Handy
1850, Fife Hartford, Deacon Reynolds
1860, Charles Gerow, Samuel Hartford, and William Sterling
1862, William Ransom
1865, Cornelius Thompson
1867, Mark and Johnston Soper
1872, Joseph Buchanan
1876, John P. McDougall
1878, Franklin Hebblethwaite
1879, James Clendenning
As well, in the fall of 1876, George W. Fish and his father, Henry Welland Fish arrived at Rondeau Bay in a sixteen foot rowboat, equipped with a sail. They settled at Raglan.

The following, Crown Land, 1st Patients for Shrewsbury issued between 1848 and 1930, were offered by John Boswell.

Addison Smith

Story by:
Catherine Meehan Blount

The story of my great grand uncle Addison Smith (through marriage) always leaves me in awe.  Although he did not travel to Harpers Ferry, he was certainly the type of man John Brown would have recruited for his army.

Addison Smith was a remarkable man who touched our Meehan family. My great grandmother’s sister, Mary Anderson (Hester Freeman Meehan's aunt) married Addison Smith sometime around 1850. Addison Smith was born enslaved in Murfreesboro, Tennessee about 1797.  By 1849/50 he escaped those who held him captive and made his way to Canada. There he married his third wife, Mary. Mr. Smith fathered 29 (yes 29!!!) children, 8 while enslaved and 21 with my great grand aunt in Ontario, Canada.

Mr. Smith was said to have been “the militant and public spirited first colored citizen of the village” of Shrewsbury, Ontario, Canada. An 1855 article in the Provincial Freeman reported that when Addison Smith first moved to Shrewsbury his house on Brock Street was burned as a form of intimidation to blacks. Unmoved, Addison purchased the lot next door to his original house, giving him a beautiful, large corner lot to build on.

Along with Mary Anderson Smith’s cousin, Osborne Perry Anderson, Addison Smith was listed as a member of John Brown’s Chatham Convention in 1858 and a signer of Brown’s Provisional Constitution – precursor to the Harper’s Ferry raid.  Interestingly, Mr. Smith said in an 1896 newspaper interview that he “kept out of it” when John Brown was in Chatham. He goes on to say in that same article that John Brown’s son was “with him long after” in Shrewsbury trying to convince him to go to Haiti.  [The article isn’t clear if this refers to after the Convention or after the Harper’s Ferry Raid. The son’s name is not referenced.]

Addison Smith died on Christmas day 1908 at the age of 111, having lived in three centuries.

The Buxton Museum holds the 1896 newspaper interview with Mr. Smith, in which he shares details of his life in slavery, his escape and his life in Canada.

The picture of Addison Smith was taken from the 1896 article.

(extract from an article by Carol Pinkerton, in the Michigan Chronicle, Sept. 13, 2006)

Of our founding, the life of Addison Smith has been the most documented to date. In an interview with Gwen Robinson, Historian and author from Chatham-Kent, the former slave from Murfreesboro Tennessee, Addison Smith related his travels, life and experiences. Escaping from bondage, he traveled the Underground Railroad to the Detroit River where he came upon a man he asked to take him across. The man told Smith that he had to talk with someone first. Fearing that the man's statement may be a trap, Smith took the boat across the river himself and made his way to Chatham. He settled there and eventually opened a grocery store, thus becoming one of Chatham's and ultimately Shrewsbury's first "affluent" Blacks.
After some time, he met and married Mary Anderson, a cousin of Osborne Anderson of the Harpers Ferry fame. The couple stayed in Chatham only a short time before moving to Shrewsbury where they purchased 600 acres of property. Smith taught their 21 children to read the stars and constellations at an early age so that they could read the trail of the Underground Railroad.
Smith was a very outspoken and determined man who believed that education was the solution to the problems of the former slaves. As a result of his drive toward education, Addison Smith made getting a school house in the hamlet of Shrewsbury his primary goal. His efforts paid off when a decision was made to construct a school in Shrewsbury. During Construction, a largely attended "town hall" meeting was held where a heated discussion ensued regarding whether or not the school should be integrated. Addison Smith made an impassioned speech and subsequently, the majority voted for integration. In 1861 the school names SS No.13 Harwich was complete.


Shrewsbury SS13, 1910

Shrewsbury's first school, School Section #13, was built on the new Scotland Line in 1860-61, due in no small part, to the efforts of Mr. Addison Smith. It was an integrated school and it's first teacher was Mrs. Emeline Shadd. During the 1860's Raglan was a thriving harbor and community of its own.
Because a common school could be started where there were at least 20 students, the Raglan community petitioned for it's own schoolhouse, to be known as S.S. No. 13 1/2 Raglan. The original school was wood framed and built on School Street, (Hunter Sideroad). When the new school was built in 1895, on the corner of School Street and New Scotland Line, the original framed schoolhouse was moved across from the Methodist Cemetery on the Eau Road.

Fishing and Hunting Resort

Wilson’s Boat Livery, ca 1950
During the mid twentieth century, Shrewsbury and Raglan became a popular resort destination for black factory workers from Windsor, Detroit and Ohio. Most of the original cottages were built by young families with enough disposable income to afford a modest weekend resort. Channels were dug and hundreds of truckloads of clay fill were brought in to raise the land. Most of the existing waterfront cottages were built. during the 1940's, 50's and 60's.  The postcard above shows the dock at the end of Brock Street and predates the building of cottages at the end of Brock St. and Bayview Ave.  
In contrast to the drab grey concrete of factories, many cottages were painted with festive pastels. Along Brock street, in a single row, one would pass tiny cottages of yellow, pink, blue and green.  For decades, the character of Shrewsbury and Raglan was shaped by the influx of young black American and Canadian families, seeking the quiet beauty of Rondeau Bay.

Shrewsbury Dock, 1957


Because a common school could be started where there were at least 20 students, the Raglan community petitioned for its own schoolhouse, to be known as S.S. No. 13 1/2 Raglan. The original school was wood framed and built on School Street, (Hunter Sideroad). When the new school was built in 1895, on the corner of School Street and New Scotland Line, the original framed schoolhouse was moved across from the Methodist Cemetery on the Eau Road. The Community Centre building in Shrewsbury is the original school from 1860. It closed in 1967 and was remodeled. (This was S.S #13½ Raglan). The other school in Shrewsbury, S.S. #13 Harwich was founded by a former black slave Charles Ramsey. As noted above, it opened in 1861 with Emeline Shadd as teacher. For many years, SS #13½ Raglan was the "whites" school while S.S. #13 Harwich was the "blacks" school. Both schools closed when Harwich-Raleigh Public School opened in Blenheim in 1967. The Shadd family had escaped from the United States and established in the Buxton Settlement. Shrewsbury and Raglan are closely linked historically. Raglan may have been named in honor of Lord Raglan and his infamous role in the Charge of the Light Brigade. There is also a Raglan Castle in Wales.

Shrewsbury-Raglan Assembly

Through the 1960's the province of Ontario centralized and urbanized school districts and built a number of large schools to replace the numerous "One Room Schools" dotting the rural landscape. All of the small schoolhouses were sold. Many were purchased by incorporated villages and community groups. Here a small group of dedicated citizens, both Canadian and American, formed a corporation to purchase the surplussed SS13, Shrewsbury School.

On the 19th of August, 1965, the Shrewsbury Raglan Assembly, received a Charter of Incorporation without share capital, within the province of Ontario.

Founding members were:
Patricia Newton Roby- Detroit
Douglas Haig Lewis - Detroit
Grant Chappelle - Detroit
Sagasta Murphy- Harwich Township, Kent County
Wellington Hartford- Harwich Township, Kent County

This not-for-profit was formed with the following objectives:

(a) To cultivate co-operative and friendly relationship among the residents of Shrewsbury and Raglan community: and
(b) To provide facilities for the discussion of community projects and for the promotion of the general welfare of the Shrewsbury and Raglan community

The Assembly then pooled their resources and raised funds necessary to purchase the building and grounds that now serve as our community hall.

Some of the history of Shrewsbury with a phototour here
and here

From Gwen Robinson’s book, “Seek The Truth”,
“Black Heritage is equally important to the white community as it is to the black community”

Some passages , and information are borrowed from Victor Lauriston’s, “Romantic Kent” and Kate Clendenning’s, “Tracking Back”

More history of Shrewsbury from th Promised Land Project