…and Still I Rise Exhibit: Families of Oxford County
Robinson/Dorsey Families– Eastwood, 1861 - 1974
John Robinson was a pageboy for a southerner plantation owner. While travelling with his master near Niagara Falls, he was whipped for a minor offence. As he sat crying in the street, someone suggested he cross the river to freedom in Canada. Robinson took up the suggestion and came to Canada.
A man named McGuinn took Robinson in and taught him the sill of blacksmith. Robinson settled in Eastwood around 1861 where he opened a blacksmith shop which he had for 50 years. Both his sons, William Henry and Samuel helped in the family business. John Robinson died on May 6, 1891.
William Henry Robinson married Hannah Lightfoot and had three children, Mary, Elizabeth and Joseph. Elizabeth worked as a seamstress in Eastwood and saved her money to train as a nurse in Chicago. She worked with Dr. Daniel Hale Williams who was the first doctor to perform open heart surgery.
Elizabeth married Samuel Dorsey in 1902 in Omaha Nebraska. They had three children, Jeanne, Grace, and Joseph. Joseph Dorsey was born in 1906, when he was 10 years old his parents sent to live with his grandmother in Eastwood and to attend school. Joseph resided with his grandparents until they eventually moved to Omaha to live with his parents. Joseph became a medical doctor; he studied in France then practiced psychiatry in New York City. Dr. Joseph Dorsey died in 1974.
Evens, Mary “Black History of Ingersoll”
Pettigrew, Joyce A. A Safe Haven The Story of the Black Settlers of Oxford County, The South Norwich Historical Society 2006, pp. 155-156.
The Williams Family – Milldale & Norwich, 1853-1945
Robert Williams –1819-1899
A free Black born in Virginia in 1819, Robert settled in New York where he met Harriet Cooley. Harriet was also born free in New York State on February 8, 1818. The two were married in 1840 and resided in Rochester where five of their nine children were born. Due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Robert had concerns. While attending a Society of Friend’s Yearly Meeting in New York State, Williams was encouraged to escape to Canada by William Baker and Jesse Stover whom he met there. Robert purchased land Lot 6 Concession 7 in Milldale.
After settling Robert Williams brought over his wife Harriet and their five children from New York State. William Baker owned a mill in the area where Robert worked when he was not farming. He was a successful farmer who owned 100 cares by the time of his death. The remaining four Williams children were born in Milldale: Elizabeth, Martha, Isaac and John Williams.
The Williams family illustrates how affluent some of the Black families were in this area. On loan from the Norwich Archives is one of their many treasures. A wine coloured velvet photo album contains studio portraits of the Williams family. The album is quite unique as it has a music box. The family photo album was given to Mabel (Stover) McVittie by Martha and Isaac who remembers visiting the family with her mother to hear them sing.
The Williams were a musical family who entertained at garden parties and church socials. They also travelled neighbouring towns and villages to sing. Martha played the organ while Isaac and John sang. As members of the Milldale United Church, Robert and Harriet are buried in Milldale Cemetery. Robert died at the age of 83 in 1899 and Harriett in 1913 at the age of 95. When Isaac Williams died in 1945, the ear of the Williams family also ended.
Norwich Archives. “Norwich played part in Black heritage” Norwich Gazette, February 27, 2002.
Pettigrew, Joyce A. A Safe Haven The Story of the Black Settlers of Oxford County, The South Norwich Historical Society 2006, p. 111; pp. 142-145.
Quote: “No family is perfect.. we argue, we fight. We even stop talking to each other at times, but in the end, family is family.. The love will always be there.” ~ Unknown