By Angela Dempster
Recently I had the privilege of chatting with Brenda Lamkin from First Baptist Church Chatham, and Lana Talbot from Sandwich First Baptist Church. Here is some of what I learned from them and other historic documents:
In the mid 1800s many vibrant churches were formed by the communities that came to Canada to escape the US Fugitive Slave Laws. These churches served as places of refuge along The Underground Railroad for others who were searching for freedom. Some of these churches that are part of the CBOQ family include: Sandwich First Baptist, Amherstburg First Baptist, and First Baptist Church, Chatham, among others.
The Underground Railroad consisted of ‘a network of wilderness routes’ along which fugitives escaped from the South. In these stations they would find safe houses where they could shelter, rest, and receive much needed refreshment. Sandwich and Amherstburg were two of the first places these tired and weary travellers would stop after crossing the border. These churches received guests such as Fredrick Douglas, Henry and Mary Bibb, Mary Ann Shadd Carey and Harriet Tubman, and in more recent years Rosa Parks and Mamie Till-Mobley.
Chatham was also an important station on this route, some 85km down the line. Many American refugees were attracted to this town and settled here, a place that was an active centre for debate on issues of racism and the abolitionist commitment. First Baptist Church, Chatham (formerly The First Coloured Baptist Church), was organized in 1841 by former free and fugitive slaves. They purchased property and built a small wood frame structure in 1851 and have served their community faithfully for all these years. Historically, they are known for hosting a convention in May 1858, organized by abolitionist John Brown in his quest to see slaves freed, and to organize a free state for slave families within the US.
These churches were established by believers who were passionate to see freedom for their families and friends still caught in slavery. They were a determined and strong community, with a faith and hope in God’s sovereign will that slavery could be abolished, and all mankind treated with dignity. First Baptist Church Chatham, Amherstburg First Baptist Church and Sandwich First Baptist Church still stand as beacons of light in their communities today.
I want to sincerely thank Brenda Lambkin of FBC Chatham, and Lana Talbot of Sandwich FBC for graciously sharing their knowledge and stories with me.