by Irena Lewycka
Irena Lewycka joined the House of Industry project as a volunteer transcriber in 2018, and recently switched to the role of proof reader. While reviewing the pages of Volume 1, 1855-1859, one entry in January of 1859 caught her attention.
1859 page 249 Case 65 (January 7, 1859)
Ann Jackson. 8 Terauly [Bay] St. Widow. colored. 40 years of age, about five Weeks out of Slavery. M. [Methodist] Ch. 6 children. girl 17. Boy 15. boy 13. girl 11. Boy 5 & Boy 2 years of age, expects to get the elder children into Service. Mr. Hobson recomd. 8 [pounds] Bread Wood & Soup.
As I read this entry, I came to the words “about five weeks out of Slavery” and they stopped me in my tracks. That phrase seemed to encapsulate an entire family saga and I was eager to investigate further. I searched available records in FamilySearch and Ancestry for the name ‘Ann Jackson’ with her calculated birth date, 1819, and was able to identify the aid recipient as Ann Maria Jackson (1820-1880).
Illustration of Ann Maria Jackson and her seven children from William Still’s The Underground Rail Road, page 512
The Harriet Tubman Institute at York University has recorded her story on a section of their website titled Breaking the Chains (see links below), which documents how Ann Maria Jackson and her children escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad, and how her youngest child Albert Jackson eventually became the first Black letter carrier in Canada.
The family crossed into Canada, briefly stopping in St. Catharines, and a letter was sent, dated November 30, 1858, from Hiram Wilson to William Still in Philadelphia, informing him that the family had arrived safely.
Finding an entry for the Jackson family in the House of Industry minute book mere weeks later seems altogether extraordinary!
William Still wrote an account of his involvement with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in 1872, which has been digitized by The Internet Archive.
The underground rail road : a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, as related by themselves and others or witnessed by the author : together with sketches of some of the largest stockholders and most liberal aiders and advisers of the road
Still’s book was re-published in 2019, with an introduction by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Copies are available to borrow from Toronto Public Library.
In the final pages of the 1859 minute book, I discovered another entry for the Jackson family. Ann Maria and her children were settling in to their new life in Toronto, but would require some additional assistance from the House of Industry as they prepared for their second winter in Canada.
1859 page 334 Case 952 (December 20, 1859)
Ann Maria Jackson, No. 88 Edward St. colered. Methodist. 10 Children. 8 in Toronto and two in Toronto Slavery. She has 4 at home, 2 boys 3 and 5. and two girls 9 and 11 years of age, four in Service 2 girls 13 and 18. and 2 boys 14 and 16 years of age. the Visitor thinks her very industrious but she will require some relief.
Ann Maria Jackson’s story also appears in the 2007 award-winning book by Karolyn Smardz Frost, I’ve got a home in Glory Land which relates the story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, and Ann is interred in the Blackburn family plot in the Toronto Necropolis.
The City of Toronto named a lane in memory of Albert Jackson in April 2013.
In 2017, an historical plaque was erected about Albert Jackson on Lombard Street (the site of the Toronto General Post Office.)
And in 2019, an Albert Jackson stamp was released by Canada Post.
The transcribed House of Industry minute books are available on The Internet Archive as searchable PDF or plain text (TXT) documents. Just think how many more stories from Toronto’s past are waiting to be explored. If you find an interesting story in the minute books that you would like to add to our blog, please email our Project Coordinator at email@example.com
York University—Harriet Tubman Institute—Breaking the Chains—links
Breaking the Chains—Toronto
Breaking the Chains—Ann Maria Jackson
Breaking the Chains—Ann Maria Jackson—primary documents
Breaking the Chains—Albert Jackson
Breaking the Chains—Albert Jackson—primary documents
Canadian Encyclopedia—online article