Norfolk County marked Black History Month in February with a re-telling of the remarkable history of the Brown family of Port Ryerse.
By a fluke, family patriarch Charles Brown wound up in old Norfolk County in the 1840s after his American slave owner brought him to Niagara-on-the-Lake as a prize fighter. Brown was put in the ring against various challengers while members of the crowd gambled on the outcome.
During the stop-over in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Norfolk resident Edward Ryerse happened to be there and took an interest in the event. When he learned Brown was in Upper Canada as a slave, he informed Brown that slavery had been abolished in these parts and the law regarded him as a free man.
Ryerse brought Brown back to Port Ryerse where he made a home for himself and his family. A four-minute video telling the story of the Brown family has been prepared by Norfolk’s heritage and culture division and posted on YouTube.
It chronicles the story of Charles Brown, his wife Annie, and several of their descendants and the impact they made on the local community. The Browns operated a farm and were integrated into the life of the hamlet, which then was a busy port along the north shore of Long Point Bay.
Records show the Browns contributed money to the construction of Memorial Church in Port Ryerse in 1869 along with an annual contribution to the wages of a minister.
The Browns had two children but only a son – Theodore – lived to have a family of his own. He and wife Theodora had nine children, one of whom was named Albert.
Albert Brown became a prominent business person in Simcoe and a well-regarded member of the town’s Masonic Lodge.
At age 15, Albert began a seven-year apprenticeship under the guidance of local blacksmith Robert Stalker. Albert Brown eventually struck out on his own and, in 1923, established a busy forge at the corner of Culver and Water streets.
“Albert’s business was successful, and he became the prime ferrier for race horses at the Norfolk County Fair,” James Christison, curator of the Waterford Heritage and Agriculture Museum and narrator of the video, said.
During his life, Albert Brown was involved in local sports and served as a crossing guard at South Public School. He died in 1972.
Charles and Annie Brown and some of their descendants are buried in the cemetery at Memorial Church.
Some grave markers back in the day were made of wood and did not last. The precise location of the Brown graves are unknown. Nearly 10 years ago, a dowser was brought to Memorial Church in an unsuccessful attempt to locate them.
In 2013, descendants of the Brown family attended a celebration-of-life in Port Ryerse. There, a large granite memorial inscribed with the names of ancestors buried at the church was unveiled.
The entire video is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tor9RnuvA6s .