Thursday, July 1, 2010

Abraham Doras Shadd

Once in a while here, I plan on shifting gears a bit and writing a post not about a place or building, but about a person. I'm not usually a betting man, but I'd lay down good money that not many people know that the first black man to hold elected office in Canada was born and raised right here in Mill Creek Hundred. He even had a postage stamp issued in his honor in Canada in 2009. Not only is Abraham Shadd's story fascinating, but I think his entire family's contributions to history are greatly under appreciated. In my own attempt to rectify this, I'll focus in this post on Shadd's parents and grandparents, then in the next one on Abraham and his children. They have all made significant contributions to MCH, Wilmington, US, and Canadian history.

Abraham Shadd's grandfather, Hans Schad, was a Hessian (German) mercenary who came to North America in 1755 to fight with Gen Braddock's army in the French and Indian War. At some point that year, he was wounded and ended up in Chadds Ford. It's unclear whether he was wounded during the disastrous Battle at Ft. Duquesne (Pittsburgh) on July 9th or whether he was actually wounded near Chadds Ford. In either case, the army did pass through the area on its way to its winter quarters in Philadelphia, and the injured Hans Schad was left in the care of two free black women, Elizabeth Jackson and her daughter of the same name. Schad spent considerable time with the Jacksons, and became close to the younger Elizabeth. So close, in fact, that the two were married in January 1756. As Jane Rhodes wrote, "The marriage of Hans and Elizabeth may have occurred out of necessity as well as affection, as their first child, Hans, Jr., was born six months later." Another son, Jeremiah, was born in November 1758.

They continued to reside in Chester County until sometime in the 1770's, when Hans moved the family south to Mill Creek Hundred, where they would be based for the next 50 years or so. (I don't know exactly where in MCH they settled, but I'm continuing to research this, and if I come up with anything, I'll certainly post it.) Presumably they settled in eastern MCH, as Hans and Elizabeth (or Betty Jackson, as she was also known) both had businesses in Wilmington. Hans Schad owned a butcher shop, and Betty ran a tea shop. As best as I can tell, the butcher shop may have been near 4th and Orange, while the tea shop was on French St., somewhere near 7th. Elizabeth Montgomery, in her "Reminiscences of Wilmington", had this to say about Betty:
     Long before and succeeding the Revolution, an establishment just above was celebrated for its nice refreshments, where everything was the best of its kind. There were all sorts beverages, and every variety of cake and fruits. Tea parties were common here, for order and neatness presided over the domain of Betty Jackson, a colored woman of more than ordinary capability.
      As the queen of her class, she knew how to rule, and her subordinates were submissive and attentive. Those who came to purchase cakes walked up the alley. Her best parlor was fitted up for exclusives only. From the balcony on the east was a flight of steps that ascended into a noble willow. Here a platform seated twelve or more persons, where you had an extensive view of the Delaware for miles. Beneath was a tasteful flower garden, from which many a bouquet was selected. The scenery was very attractive.
     Betty died in old age, much respected, leaving valuable property; and it is creditable to say part of it still belongs to her descendants, who occupy the place. Her eldest son, Jeremiah Shad, was many years one of our principal butchers, famous for curing meat, and died respected as an industrious, useful man.
That son, Jeremiah, father of Abraham Shadd, was indeed a butcher, carrying on his father's business. At some point, though, he also began a second business as a shoemaker. Jeremiah and his wife, Amelia, produced twelve children over a twenty year period at their MCH homestead. After Amelia died in 1806, he married another Amelia, reportedly a refugee from the uprising in Santo Domingo (Haiti). This second Amelia became a known personality in Wilmington, too, operating a stand that sold sausages, coffee, and cakes. It's possible that she actually took over her husbands butcher shop after he started as a shoemaker. After Jeremiah's death in 1819, his son Abraham followed in his footsteps by becoming a shoemaker as well. More about Abraham Shadd and the rest of this remarkable African-American family in the next post.

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