Inducted: October 26, 2005
Unlike many of his associates in the struggle for emancipation, he was a free man, thanks to his background. His grandfather, Hans Schad, was a Hessian mercenary soldier, who fought for the British in the American colonies. Seriously wounded at Chad’s Ford, in Pennsylvania, Schad was cared for by a free black woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Jackson, who was promised compensation for that care by the British.
It was never paid because convalescence led to romance, and Schad married Mrs. Jackson’s daughter, Elizabeth. One of their two sons, Jeremiah and his wife, Amelia, founded the family which has produced Shadds who have excelled in many fields.
Abraham D. Shadd was the 10th of 12 children in Jeremiah’s family, and won his place in fame in the U.S.A. as an inspired abolitionist before he came to Canada to make history here. He was born free in Wilmington, Delaware; and after his marriage to Harriet Parnell, he moved five miles over the State line to Westchester, Pennsylvania, so his children could get an education at a Quaker School. Both the Wilmington and Westchester homes of this dedicated freedom fighter were stations on the Underground Railway.
His children took full advantage of their educational opportunities. Eventually, two of his children became lawyers, another two, Mary Ann and Isaac edited a newspaper that had a profound influence on abolitionist thinking, several were teachers, and a daughter, Eunice, was a doctor. The Shadds have continued to be leaders in the generations that followed.
Before he left his homeland, Abraham Shadd was one of five blacks on the Board of Managers of the American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in Philadelphia in 1830. He became its President at the Third Annual Convention of the Negro People June 3-13, 1833, a meeting that attracted 52 members from eight states.
He was an agent for The Emancipator, the Society’s official publication.
He may have received the inspiration to move to Canada from his daughter, Mary Ann Shadd, and her pamphlet “A Plea for Emigration, or Notes on Canada West in Its Moral, Social and Political Aspect”. Additional impetus to move north came with the 1850 enactment in the U.S. of the Fugitive Slave Act, iniquitous legislation that allowed Slave Takers and Bounty Hunters to capture escaped slaves and free men and return them to bondage.
Mary Ann Shadd, Abraham’s eldest child, came to Canada and taught school in Windsor before moving to Kent to establish a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. Her father followed in 1852 to investigate prospects and possibilities. Convinced of the opportunities, he returned to Canada with his family the following year.
He bought land in Raleigh Township, and soon established himself as a community leader. He was the first black man to be elected to Raleigh Township Council; and showed his continuing interest in education by building a school on the family farm. More than once he advanced the money to keep the school operating.
When the Railroad showed a reluctance to indemnify farmers for crops lost to fires resulting from sparks from a train, he led a losing campaign for compensation, and eventually paid the costs of that legal battle.
His farm tools and equipment were available on loan to farmers in the area, a wonderful resource at that time.
Abraham served as a Deputy Returning Officer in early Raleigh elections. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, and helped in its service work during the early years when former slaves and free men flocked to Southwestern Ontario seeking sure freedom.
He won the respect and admiration of early residents of Kent County, and this was reflected in his large funeral when he died February 11, 1882. He was buried in Maple Leaf Cemetery.
Through his daughter, Mary Ann, and subsequent descendants, the Shadd family had continued to demonstrate the leadership and ability of Abraham. A school in Toronto is named for Mary Ann Shadd, recognizing her impressive contributions to the cause of freedom.
Gwen Robinson, of Chatham, an author and Canadian authority on the Underground Railway, is a great-great granddaughter of Abraham Doras Shadd.