Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A "Man Without A Story" No More: Part I

Levi Carroll first shows up in the 1851 census for Berlin, ON. The listing shows Levi “Carrol”, his wife “Creasia” and his son, Charles. Further investigation has uncovered Creasia’s full name to be Lucretia Brooks Carroll. In the census, their ages are listed as follows: Levi ,30; Creasia, 50 and Charles, 16. Their religion is listed as “Episcopal”. It says that all originated from the United States—no state listing at this point although other records indicate that he was born in Maryland, USA., in 1805. His father's name is listed as Russ/Ross Carroll and his mother is listed as Mary M. Sims. But I digress....

Now, I do believe that Levi’s age here is a glaring mistake and I shall attempt to prove it—herein lies the frustrating pitfalls of research and historic truth sleuthing---and occasional trips down the rabbit hole. This endeavour is not for the faint of heart and requires great patience since 1+1 does not always add up to 2...

Nonetheless, here we go:

Later censuses record advancing ages for Levi : in the 1861 census, 54!—quite a jump from 30 ten years before; in 1871, his age has clearly been written over so it is either 48 or 68 (let’s go with 68—read on...); in 1881, Levi is listed as being 76 and finally in 1891, his age is 92! Whew!  

Not to be discouraged, I uncovered an interesting account that was printed in a local newspaper which might be of some help to us in determining at least an approximation of Levi’s real age. Either way, it illuminates the fact that although some records were clearly not always accurate, recounted memories of childhood trauma might sometimes be more helpful when trying to determine a timeline for events in peoples’ lives.

 In the late 1890’s-- July 22, 1897 to be exact-- following Levi’s death on July 15, 1897 a correction to his obituary was printed in the Weekly Record-News. In this correction, Mr. Henry Bachman, a mail carrier who knew Levi “Karl” quite well and was a neighbour who had lived beside him in Greenbush, claimed that the obituary incorrectly stated that Levi was a centenarian (was 100 years old) when he died. To prove his point, Mr. Bachman recounted a story that Levi had told to him:

...Though generally reputed to be a centenarian...the figures of history would hardly bear out this statement, according to narratives related by Karl, himself, about his boyhood days. He was born in slavery and stated he remembered quite distinctly when the British, under Rear Admiral Cockburn, worsted the Americans and advanced upon Washington. He relates (sic) the fact of being carried away by his master and hidden away in a large storehouse to escape from the British. As he was only 5 or 6 years old at the time, he could hardly have reached the century mark...

Historically, this is a traceable event. Rear Admiral George Cockburn was known to have advanced on Washington on August 24, 1814. If (and I do say if since it is a well known fact that many slaves did not know their exact year of birth, let alone their day of birth or month) Levi had been 5 or 6 during this time, this would have meant that he would have been born around 1808-09 (not too far off the 1805 date) and would have been closer to his late eighties or early nineties when he died. Hard to say for sure, I suppose.

What is more interesting to me, here, though was that Levi remembered that his master carried him away to somewhere safe during the invasion.  This indicates an arguably "fond" memory of a man who “owned” him—perhaps more “fatherly” than an "owner" or "master"?

Bachman does say that Levi came to the area about 60 years ago (from 1897--c. 1837 during a point which the Underground Railroad was active). Bachman says that when Levi  “first came into this vicinity he was engaged by (in the employ of) a Weaver family, who presented him with the land near the High School, on which he lived many years.”  Clearly this is the land (Greenbush) where the schoolhouse was relocated to in 1842.  Records indicate this "Weaver" was Abraham Weber whose Conestoga wagon is preserved today at The Region of Waterloo Museum in Doon (Kitchener).

Weber, having arrived here in 1807, along with Joseph Schneider of modern Joseph Schneider Haus fame, owned lot 16 of the German Company Tract just north of where the Via rail train tracks (Victoria Street in Kitchener) are today. 

The story is further corroborated. In 1937, William Valores Uttley or “Ben”, as he was more commonly known, wrote a book entitled, “A History of Kitchener, Ontario (Canada)”.  Uttley was a respected journalist and owned three local newspapers. In his book, he wrote about Levi on page 13:

The pioneer hired a Negro named Carroll. Once while working in the bush, the darkey (sic) broke an arm or leg. Mr. Weber then gave the injured man a piece of land for a cabin and a garden.”    
Clearly, Levi was accepted into his new community and was a contributing member. Several of the censuses listed refer to him as a labourer. One says he was a tile worker and other says he was a gardener.  No doubt he was all of these things. And perhaps, like many today, he changed jobs frequently to “get by” as best as he could.

Numerous written accounts say that he raised vegetables in his garden, referring most specifically to potatoes and corn. In “Reminiscences of Berlin (Now Kitchener)” there is mention by Jacob Stroh (the same guy who donated/lent the native grindstones to Waterloo Park that now sit in front of the schoolhouse. More about those in a future post). I just LOVE how these stories keep overlapping back onto each other!

Well, Stroh tells us that Levi was a “one legged ex-slave from the Southern States” who lived in the schoolhouse for a number of years. Stroh says that Carroll “owned several acres between his dwelling and Agnes Street.” He points out that the land was not plowed according to the Pennsylvania German fashion but rather was cultivated by Carroll with a long handled hoe only, planting corn year to year so that it looked like “a plantation field from the south.”  We also know that the land adjacent to Carroll's was a potato field.

Remember this photo? A closer look reveals cabbages growing, as well. Also, Levi's left leg is a wooden or "peg" leg prosthesis, providing credence to Stroh's story about him:

This picture has a lot to reveal to us about the schoolhouse, Levi and the surrounding area. I will be referring to it from time to time as I continue to discover more each and every time I really look at it.


  1. This is a fascinating photo and I was happy I could click on it and bring it up a little larger. Would it be possible to 'lift' out the section with Levi so this could be seen as a separate 'cut out'? Also I know you haven't nailed down locations but a map of 1850 Waterloo & 2012 Waterloo might be useful for the out of towners, or even the locals. I love the school house story and I think Levi's story is absolutely intriguing. Blog on! --Bette

    1. Interesting that you should ask about this photo. As a matter of fact, just this afternoon I was chatting with a visitor at work about this very thing. I said I am going to try to search out someone who can digitally enhance this photo so on this point, I will have to post about this at a future date. As for maps, I really like this suggestion and will at least post the two that I have for now--one for Waterloo in 1855 and one for Berlin in 1853. Thanks!

  2. I think I'm really going to like this blog as it progresses and expands on whats here. We learn so much about other things and places(if we even bother to do that) that we forget our own city has a fascinating history! Look forward to future articles!

    1. Thank you Shannon. How true your point is--our region has been the repository of so many stories over the past couple of centuries to be sure. I hope to continue to share at least some of these stories as time allows. History should be personal since many seem to not notice its many details.

      To quote Thoreau, a wise man, indeed:

      Most events recorded in history are more remarkable than important, like eclipses of the sun and moon, by which all are attracted, but whose effects no one takes the trouble to calculate.

      Henry David Thoreau. 1849. from "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers"

      Let's take the trouble to calculate and celebrate it!