Monday, 9 July 2012

Levi Carroll-The Last Chapter

There are still pieces to be discovered of Levi’s life and I intend to continue the search. It has been a personal project for me to tell his story.  As demonstrated, more is known about this man who relocated to the Waterloo-Berlin region as an ex-slave than has previously been reported.

What we know, then:

What is clear is that this was a man who worked hard to earn a living and actively participated in his growing community. He interacted with other white pioneer settlers, being employed for an undetermined amount of time by Abraham Weber who came here in 1807 and settled on Lot 16, just north of the intersection of present day Victoria Street and King Street. It is clear by his marriage certificate to wife #2 that he was married by the well known “marrying preacher” Wilhelm Friedrich Bindeman who was a colourful 19th century minister. We know that Levi’s “cabin” was further north yet—somewhere between Agnes Street and Green Street (near Central Meat Market). Levi had a garden that he cultivated for food—we are told he grew corn, potatoes and the picture reveals a cabbage patch, as well. Census records tell us that he was married at least three times, each time outliving his wives, and that he was responsible for a number of children who appear to have disappeared from local records. Maybe they grew up and moved away— I am saddened that at this point in time, I have not yet found the answer. Levi’s obituary makes reference to a son who was lost at sea as a sailor, many years previous (to Levi’s death in 1897). The breadcrumbs to this mystery are scattered for now but in time I am sure that more information will be revealed. I will update and post anything that I find.

What is also clear is that Levi was visibly disabled by modern standards, having lost part of his left leg, but he continued to work and eke out an existence. He was not a rich man and in fact appears to have lived hand to mouth only to end his life in ill health at the House of Industry and Refuge (the Poor House). He may not have been rich but he outlived many who were:  his life was a long one and the fact that his obituary was posted several times tells me that he was well known (and, I believe, respected as no negative information was ever included in any of those newspaper announcements). Instead, he was referred to as "someone whom nearly every citizen in Berlin knows."

In a conversation recently with another historical truth sleuth, I was told that Levi reportedly had told a neighbour that he had a desire to go back to the US sometime before his death—he never got there. Sadly, where he was buried is not known since the pauper’s graves of the House of Refuge are now “lost” (one of two potential locations is located under buildings in downtown Kitchener and the other was purchased by the CN Railroad and although remains were scheduled to have been moved prior to construction, whether they were actually moved is not currently known. The graveyard area is under pavement near modern day Weston’s Foods located on Victoria Street and Edna Street).

 At this point, we also do not know for sure if Levi found his way to this area via the Underground Railroad—what is certain is that he arrived at time when the “Railroad” was actively guiding runaway slaves to freedom and hope (to this area and others throughout Southwestern Ontario). Regardless, I believe that Levi should take his place as a notable early black settler to the Waterloo Region. That he played a crucial contributing role to the “biography” of the 1820 log schoolhouse is evident. That he contributed to the growth of his community over time as a respected, disabled black man in a predominantly white settlement is noteworthy and in many respects inspiring to all. Rest peacefully, Levi.

Coming up next:

"Moving On: The Log Schoolhouse Relocates For The Last Time"

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