THE DAVENPORT BROTHERS
By Fred Blair, OMAH History Committee member and Family Historian
About 1810, 20-year-old Benjamin Davenport, his younger brother William, and William’s wife Sarah arrived in Upper Canada (Ontario) as former Black slaves. William was born in Virginia about 1792 and it was possible that the brothers’ surname originated there with slave owners named Davenport.
Gary E. French in his book, ‘Men of Colour’, wrote that the brothers worked in the Town of York (Toronto) “hauling oak timber by oxen from near what is now Davenport Station … across the Davenport Road to Yonge Street, and down Yonge Street to the Bay, where it was loaded to be shipped to England”.
As some former slaves sometimes lacked surnames when they arrived in Upper Canada, it was also possible that the brothers adopted their surname from the place they were living, Davenport Station.
Sometime between 1812 and 1814, William’s daughter Susannah was born in Amherstburg on the Detroit River in Essex County. The brothers would have been required to serve in their local county militia, but no record of the brothers’ involvement in the War of 1812 has been discovered yet. Sometime between 1818 and 1820, William’s son George was also born in Amherstburg.
In 1819, the brothers arrived in Flos Township in Simcoe County. They had a contract to supply venison and bear meat to the soldiers building the Penetanguishene Road. William also petitioned for a land grant that year as a “Man of Colour” and received Lot 51, Con. 1, on the west side of the Penetanguishene Road in Flos Township. Other Black families were receiving land grants nearby on Wilberforce Street in Oro Township.
In 1827, William’s son, William Jr., was born in Hillsdale. He was the last of eight known children. A number of William’s and Sarah’s children prospered in Simcoe County and contributed to their communities.
William Jr. became a carpenter, like his father, in Medonte Township. He built three surviving heritage buildings in the county, the O’Neil House Hotel in Springwater Township, the Davenport House and the Hillsdale Jail.
In 1828, William Sr. received a patent for 100 acres on Lot 2, Con. 2, Oro Township on Wilberforce Street. Sometime in the 1830s, the brothers built the Hamilton Inn on the Penetanguishene Road north of Hillsdale.
In 1833, William and his daughter Mary Ann were convicted of assaulting Mrs. Atkins and William was imprisoned for at least several months. His wife Sarah found work as a washerwoman to support their children.
William and Benjamin both served as privates in the Medonte Regiment of the Simcoe County Militia under Captain Alex Laing during the 1837 Rebellion.
Benjamin died before 1840. William died in Flos Township in 1853 and Sarah in 1862. They were both buried in Hillsdale Cemetery.
The Rev. Carl Wright is in the photo here with William’s and Sarah’s grave markers. Carl’s blog about the family is online at https://mysundayblog.com/2020/09/27/the-story-behind-a-familiar-community-name/ The photo of William is from ‘Medonte, a Township Remembered’.
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