Inducted: November 28, 1990
The Rev. William King was a man with a deep sense of mission who translated his compassion for slaves into an orderly settlement that made agricultural history in Kent County.
Posterity has called him "the friend of the slaves"; but many contemporaries branded him as a trouble-maker intent on destroying the fabric of society in this area of Canada where he made a home for himself, and for hundreds of men, women and children who had escaped from the United States to freedom.
Rev. King was born on the family farm near Londonderry, Ireland; and at the age of 15 came under the influence of the Rev. James Bryce, a man of high moral standards and convictions. The King family, like many others at that time, looked for brighter opportunities in a new land, and eventually settled in Ohio.
His first contact with what he called "the iniquitous institution of slavery" came when he moved south. His marriage, at 24, to Mary Phares put him in an ambivalent position. Hating slavery and all that it stood for, he became a slave-owner by marriage, the friend of other slave-owners and a teacher of their children.
The death of his wife and two young children was the catalyst for his renunciation of an abhorrent way of life, and his return to Edinburgh as a divinity student in the Free Church of Scotland, which was totally committed to freeing all slaves. His mission soon became clear, and he returned to the United States and arranged for passage north of 15 slaves he had freed.
Eventually, his search for land where these former slaves could lead a productive life brought him to Raleigh Township. This was at a time when the Kent Agricultural Society was asking the government to help drain the Raleigh plains which were "for the greater part of the year covered with water."
Rev. King experienced opposition and ostracism, but he persevered. A tract of 9,000 acres was divided into 50-acre farms, sold to the former slaves at $2.50 an acre, payable over 10 years. In addition, industries and businesses were established to make the community self-supporting. Schools were built, providing an education recognized for its excellence. At the end of 10 years, students from North Buxton, with the benefit of a sound educational foundation, attended Knox College in Toronto as fee-paying students.
To Rev. King also goes the credit for the first Kent County high school, a forerunner of the Chatham Collegiate Institute, the only qualified college preparatory school west of Toronto. He was acclaimed a hero by abolitionists in several countries; but his far-sighted program was opposed by some local citizens, who used spurious and hypocritical arguments to mask their prejudices.
It is a tribute to King's courage and convictions that he persevered, and developed an agricultural community recognized for its excellence across Canada.