MARCH 2, 1801 - FEBRUARY 11, 1882
Abraham Doras Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 2, 1802. The son of a free African-American shoemaker, Abraham was acquainted from a very young age with the prejudice and racism that would ultimately drive him from the land of his birth to Canada. Despite these challenges, his father was able to equip him with the education and skills necessary to be a successful tradesman. When his father died in 1819, Abraham took over his shoemaking business. By all accounts, he was relatively successful in this line of work and earned enough to own property. Nevertheless, because of his status as a “Free Negro,” Abraham was not allowed to vote or run for office. He married Harriett Parnell of North Carolina, and the couple would go on to have thirteen children.
Abraham was inspired by the abolitionist cause as a young man. He had long been bothered by the campaigning of the American Colonization Society, an organization dedicated to removing African Americans from the United States and resettling them in Africa. When a chapter of this organization opened up in his town in 1824, he found he could stay idle no longer. Abraham became actively involved in the abolition movement, and started attending and organizing speeches and meetings. As their children started growing, however, Abraham and Harriett began to have misgivings about remaining in Delaware. As a slave state, Delaware was an unsafe location for Abraham to continue his activism, and there were no schools for black children. So in 1833 the Shadds moved to West Chester in the free state of Pennsylvania. Their home in West Chester became an important stop on the Underground Railroad which ferried escaped black slaves out of the South and into Canada. However, as racial tensions began to build going into the 1850s, the Shadds began to consider making the journey themselves.
In 1850 two of Abraham’s children moved to Canada West (modern-day Ontario) to settle at North Buxton in Kent county, a community founded by and for African-American expatriates. In 1852, Abraham and the rest of his family joined them, leaving the United States forever. Abraham purchased 200 acres of land by North Buxton, and he and his family took up agriculture. Half of that land he gave to his son Garrison, who would go on to be a wealthy farmer in his own right. Abraham practiced mixed farming on his remaining 100 acres, raising livestock and growing wheat, oats, barley, peas, corn, potatoes, and beets. The Shadd farm was quite successful, and was worth $2,500 in 1861, a sizeable amount at the time. Abraham remained involved in politics, and in 1859 he was elected to the Raleigh Town Council, making him the first person of African descent to hold elected office in Canada West prior to the Civil War.
Many of the Shadd children became extremely successful, and several of them returned to the United States become lawyers, journalists, politicians, and professors. Abraham’s son Garrison remained a farmer in Kent and had a family of his own. His children went frequently to their grandfather’s place to help him on the farm, which he kept until the day he died. Abraham Doras Shadd passed away at 5:55 in the evening on February 11, 1882, at the venerable age of 81. In 1994, the main road in North Buxton was renamed A.D. Shadd Road in his honour, and in 2009 his legacy was preserved in a commemorative stamp issued by Canada Post.