The Queen’s Bush Settlement: Black Pioneers 1839-1865 is an excellent genealogical resource not only for black families but for any one interested in the role Methodist missionaries played in settling early North America. Alright, it sounds like this book would have a very limited readership, but it shouldn’t.
I live within the boundaries of what was once the Queen’s Bush Settlement, and if it wasn’t for this book I never would have known it existed. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking that Brown-Kubisch presents a narrow slice of early pioneer life in a relatively unknown part of Ontario, Canada. The book documents the lives of missionaries, black settlers from their life in the United States, Sierra Leone, and Ontario. The author gets bogged down occasionally with minute details which I feel would be more at home in the end notes or appenidix; that being said I did not feel cheated. There are no fragmental biographies nor sudden stops, and Brown-Kubisch meticulously lists names of settlers and follows their progeny to present day. Amazing to say the least. Not only does Brown-Kubisch present brief biographical accounts of the early settlers to Ontario, she also places their lives in context with the biography of the settlement.
The book begins in Canada in early 1839, when the countryside a mere two hours from the U.S. border was considered “wild and untamed.” The story of fugitive slaves and free blacks who cleared the land and lived in shanties and lean-tos for years in the bush is a testament to their resilience and determination. I know what winter is like in Ontario, and I cannot imagine wintering in a lean-to. Although people do this today - it’s called X-treme camping - this does not capture the harshness these settlers endured. Imagine raising a family in a nine-by-nine shanty and sharing it with another family. Sounds like an exercise in futility, and for some it was, but those hardy few who stayed and flourished created a community and some of their descendants presently live in Peel and Wellington County.
Brown-Kubisch includes relevant details from the Civil War and the laws that influenced Canadians, both black and white. She also gives an unbiased account of the attitude many missionaries had when coming into an “uncivilized” country. There were scandals, swindles and racism (subtle and blatant) that shed light onto the daily experiences of the settlers. It’s the “you are there” way of telling this history that makes this a very enjoyable read, even though at times, the author falls into academic mode and rambles a bit with secular and non-secular politics.
You must remember to read the appendix and end notes if you are reading this book for clues to your ancestors. Brown-Kubisch includes a listing of settlers, cross-referenced with census, property and biographical information. Yes, she even provides lot numbers and concessions when mentioning settlers’ farms. Did I mention that she also includes photographs of her subjects? Truly an invaluable source.