SIX NATIONS — Looking back at the history of residency on the Six Nations territory is complicated. It’s a common misconception that only Indigenous people, descendants of the Six Iroquois Nations, lived in the settlement villages along the Grand River.
Taking a closer look at the historical records about this is eye opening. Census records for Six Nations, Haldimand and Brant Counties in the 1850s show a number of Black and Mixed families who lived among the Haudenosaunee people.
Readers take note: all of the information was taken from original census documents from Tuscarora Township, Oneida Township and Onondaga Township from 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1901. It is important to remember that census records are not always entirely accurate and could contain assumptions made by enumerators. All historical documentation, when it comes to family ancestry, should be critically interpreted in combination with family stories and other historical records to confirm facts and dispel errors.
Upon settling at the Grand River, Six Nations families were spread across several townships in both Haldimand and Brant counties. Throughout the 1840s the government established an Indian Reservation, moving the Six Nations people to an area south of the Grand River called Tuscarora Township — with a few of Six Nations families still residing in Onondaga Township on the north side of the river between what are now called Onondaga and Middleport.
By the year 1851, the Six Nations people predominantly resided in those areas exclusively. The census records between 1851-1901 also show a number of Black and Mixed families lived at Six Nations.
In the 1851 census for example, the following Black and Mixed families were noted as living in Tuscarora Township, which was the main territory of the reserve at that time: Wilson, Whitby, Harris, Lewis, Mike, Carpenter, Thompson, Groat, Silver and Turkey families.
That same year, in Onondaga Township the Miller, Roberts, Thompson, Hamilton, Jones and Woods families are recorded as Black and living among the Six Nations.
Looking at Oneida Township there are Groat, Brown, Carter, Albert and Hunt families listed as Black — however at that time Oneida Township was not considered a part of Six Nations, but a neighbouring jurisdiction.
The records for Seneca Township from the 1851 census have been lost — but a study on the Black families in Haldimand County says that the Morris, Lewis, Johnson and Stewart families called it home.
The following census years show several of the Black families residing in Tuscarora Township remained, held property and intermarried with the Indigenous families on the territory.
For example — an 1875 map of Tuscarora Township shows lands that were farmed by the Groat and Whitby families on First Line near the old S.S. #7 School, also called Medina. At the same corner was the Medina Baptist Church, founded around the 1840s. Several of the Mixed and Black people listed as living on Six Nations in the 1800s were members of the baptist community.
Interestingly, there was a Black community along the Grand River, in part settled by slaves who travelled the Underground Railroad fleeing the United States.
In 1851, the village of Canfield – North Cayuga had 137 Black residents. In 1844, one of the larger Black families in Canfield, the Street family, began holding church services in their home. By 1853 a small log church was constructed on their property and became the North Cayuga Baptist Church.
Canfield’s history says that some of the Black families who settled in Haldimand outside of the village included the Morris, Lewis, Johnson and Stewart families in Seneca Township and the Taylor, Hunt, Shuler and Groat families who lived in Oneida Township. The Groat and Hunt families also owned land and farms on Six Nations.
Some Indigenous families lived in and near Canfield as well, including some members of the Curley family.
By the 1870s the Black families were leaving Canfield and moving on to different villages, some returning to the United States.
Later census years after the 1870s show additional Black and Mixed families moved to Six Nations.
In 1871, the census records a Black man named Royal Winn lived in Tuscarora Township. He was a shoemaker and lived between William Maracle and Seth Newhouse. The family of John Buck included a Black teenage boy named Prince Walker who lived with them at that time as well.
The Groat family was connected to several Black, Tuscarora and Delaware Mixed families surrounding their farm on First Line.
The Nash family, who were Tuscarora, intermarried with the Groats. A Black family and nearby neighbours, the Whitby’s, took in some of the Nash children. Their farm was on First Line, right next door to the school.
Abram and Emily Groat lived with Lydia Beeswax and her children, who appear to be Mixed — and Levina Nash who is also recored as a Black woman living at Six Nations with Mixed children. In the census, Abram is noted as Black, as well as his children. However his wife is recorded as Indigenous. However, in the obituary for one of Abram’s sons, Samson — both Abram and Emily are said to be members of the Six Nations.
Lydia Beeswax is also known as Lydia Groat and Lydia Longfish. Later documentation says that she is Indian.
By 1901, Black settlers at Six Nations included the Douglas, Walker, Johnston and Shuler families — and by this time, the families of Six Nations had a number of Mixed Indigenous and Black people who were not identified as Mixed in the census documentation, but were incorporated into the band list as Indians.
PIC OF BARBERSHOP — William A. Barnes was a black man and barber who fled from the United States, escaping slavery, and settled on Grand River territory. In the mid-1800s he owned a barbershop in the village of Canfield, where there was a settlement of black families who fled to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
PIC OF WOMEN – Lydia Beeswax (front row, seated, right), also noted as Lydia Longfish or Lydia Groat, is recorded in historical records as both Black and Indigenous. Her parents are Abram Groat and Sarah Williams, also noted as both Black and Indigenous. The Williams and Groats were some of the Black families settled at the village of Canfield along the Grand River territory. The first generation of Groat families at Grand River can trace it’s maternal ancestry to Emily Groat (Smith) and her mother Molly Turner, recorded as coming from South Carolina around the 1760s. The first recorded generation of the paternal ancestry for the Groat family is William Groat who was born in Ontario in the 1780s. His parents are listed as Henry and Ellen Groat. There is no other family data available, however there is record of the Groat family on the Six Nations band list as Tuscaroras in the 1830s. Lydia is shown here with Mabel Sherry (back row, left), Abigail Beeswax (back row, right) , and Sarah Ann Sherry (front row, seated, left).