Originally built in 1848, the Fugitive Slave Chapel was sold on May 15th, 1869 and
was used as a residence from that time until March of 2002 when the lot was
purchased by Aboutown Transportation. On May 16th, 1869 the congregation
held their dedication service at their new location , Beth Emanuel Church on
Grey Street, which is still being used by the congregation.
When Aboutown purchased the lot it was for the intention of eventually
expanding their parking area. It was only used for storage for about 10 years.
On March 13, 2013 an application was filed to have the building demolished.
Heritage activist Joseph O’Neil was not ready to let it go.
Heritage activist wants to save
building linked to the Underground
By Chip Martin, The London Free Press Thursday, March 14, 2013
A Savior is found when the current pastor of Beth Emanuel
Church, Delta McNeish, agrees to have the old chapel moved to a
location beside the congregation’s present church building.
Deal saves church built by former slaves from demolition
By Chip Martin, The London Free Press , Tuesday, March 19, 2013
March 22, 2013 saw the formation of the Fugitive Slave
Chapel Preservation Project when concerned citizens
representing 13 different organizations crowded into
the Basement at Beth Emanuel Church.
Heritage London Foundation
Congress of Black Women of Canada, London Chapter
Architectural Conservancy of Ontario
Beth Emmanuel Church
Diaspora Black Men's Group (at the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection)
African Canadian Federation of London and Area (its members include the Somali, North
Sudanese, South Sudanese, Darfurian, Kenyan, Eritrean, and Ethiopian community associations)
7. Hidden History of Hamilton Road
8. London and Middlesex Historic Society
9. SoHo Community Association
10. London Black History Coordinating Committee
11.The London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH)
12.The City of London
13.Aboutown Transportation Limited
off with a bang. We
had two $5,000
donations and a
on June 14th, 2013.
A quilt raffle
The draw was
The next big
fundraiser was a
concert with the
It was a huge
about 600 in
Road to Freedom
Another quilt has been donated. It is valued at $400
and fundraising ideas are being discussed. A silent
auction at future events will likely include this item.
On November 7th, 2013 the 2¢ worth
campaign was launched with a story in
the London Free Press.
This campaign saw $24,307 raised by the
end of November surpassing what had
been raised during all events from March
– October (7 months)
As of mid February
2014 we have raised
$61,708 and the City
of London has
promised a grant of
$60,000. This leaves
$43,292 still needed
to move and stabilize
the building. We have
a lot of support for
the project and
money is still pouring
Why is the Fugitive Slave Chapel important to so many
a. It is an important part of the History of London, Canada, North
America and the World.
b. It played a part in the American civil war and the shaping of American
c. It was an aid to fugitive slaves and was instrumental in the abolition of
d. It was a refuge to an oppressed people.
e. It played a role in the spiritual healing of those escaping the horrors of
f. It is an important part of Christian history and religious history in
On May 8th, 1926 the London Advertiser did a full page story
about the Fugitive Slave Chapel during their Landmarks of
Reporter Edmund J. Carty claimed
he had talked to a couple of
people a few years prior to
his 1926 report. They told
him that they remembered
abolitionist John Brown speaking
in the chapel in 1858. A password was
required to attend the gathering and the
purpose was to raise a London regiment for
his army who would be trained and then join others
to fight the war against slavery in the USA. John Brown led 22
men on a raid against the armories at Harpers Ferry and
held it for 30 hours in October 1859. He was executed by
hanging on December 2nd, that same year.
The American Civil War
Many regard this raid at Harpers Ferry to be
the incident that started the civil war. The civil
war resulted in an overhaul of the American
political system and the abolition of slavery.
John Brown passed a note to a guard on the day
of his execution. On it he had written, “I, John
Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of
this guilty land will never be purged away but
with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly
flattered myself that without very much
bloodshed it might be done.”
The civil war began 16 months later. This war
accounted for more American casualties than
all wars combined up until the Vietnam war.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret
routes and safe houses used by 19th-century black
slaves in the United States to escape to free states and
Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who
were sympathetic to their cause. The term is also
applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free
Fugitive Slaves ran
great risks to escape.
They had to contend
with alligators and
poisonous snakes in
the southern swamp
areas. They may have
had to travel on foot
through blizzards or
were trained to tear them apart were set on their trail. But
the most terrifying animal was the slave catcher. Many would
prefer death to returning to the horrors of slavery.
The Horrors of Slavery
One only needs to look at the laws of the
time to get a glimpse of the horrors of
slavery. Today we hear of horrible crimes
were children are raped and murdered.
Just imagine how much more often that
would happen if it were legal. Imagine
how you would feel if you had to stand by
while your owner was raping your little
girl. If you tried to stop him you would be
killed and your little girl would continue to
be raped and you would not be around to
In the Book, Twelve Years a Slave,
Solomon Northup describes the
flogging of Patsey. She is described
as the most productive worker on the
plantation. She is bright and quick
and everyone likes her. Her only
crime is that her master took a liking
to her and her mistress is jealous. For
a while her master protects her, but
when she is caught returning from a
neighboring plantation he becomes
jealous and has her flogged. She is
stripped naked and staked face
down on the earth. She is whipped
until pieces of her flesh fly off with
each lash and it continues until she
can no longer scream.
The free blacks were not much
better off. They could not testify
in a court of law and if a white
person claimed a black as his
slave, the law would force him
into slavery. Some states had
laws to allow for the retrieval of
a free person thus kidnapped,
but once in the South one had
little chance of escape. Solomon
Northup spend 12 years in
slavery before he could get a
letter off to let friends and
family know were he was. Then
the process of the law dragged
out a few more months until he
If his owner had known about it in
advance he would have hidden him were he would never have been found.
Fortunately the rescuers reached him before the owner knew they were coming.
When the “Fugitive Slave Law” was passed in 1850 it
gave greater power to the slave catchers and also put
many free backs in jeopardy. Slave catchers could
venture into the north and capture any black person
and claim him or her as a slave. The law not only
sanctioned their efforts but rewarded those who
helped and there were severe punishments for those
who aided runaways. Thus, with increased danger in
the northern states, many free blacks and fugitive
slaves came to Canada for safety.
Slave catchers would also venture into Canada. They
would grab fugitives and load them on to boats or drag
them across the border. Sometimes the fugitives would
be enticed to go with them by the promise of a high
paying job or some other reward. London, being
further from the borders and the lakes, was regarded
as a safer haven for the fugitive slave.
Now, if you could imagine for a
moment that you were a fugitive
escaped from slavery. How would
You had to run from the horrors you faced in slavery.
You avoided being caught by your owners bloodhounds.
You ran though swamps infested with poisonous snakes
and alligators. You had to walk for months while being
bitten by every kind of insect. You had been caught in a
blizzard with inadequate clothing. You had almost
starved to death while being afraid to approach anyone
for help for fear of them being slave catchers. But you
made it to London and you are now standing in front of
the little chapel built by fugitive slaves and free blacks
that came before you.
The Fugitive Slave Chapel was there to help such
people as these. The process of healing could begin,
but first they needed to learn how to survive. The
earlier fugitives would help them to find employment
and find housing. They were taught how to deal with
the prejudice of their new neighbors. When their
children were excluded from the white schools, they
fought for education. Against all odds, they created a
better life for themselves and many became among the
most affluent of London’s population.
The historic structure on Thames Street was plaqued by the London
Public Library's heritage sites committee in 1986, but this interpretive
heritage plaque inexplicably went missing about a decade ago after
Aboutown bought 275 Thames Street in 2002.
The building is not designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage
Act but is a "priority one" on the City's Inventory of Heritage Resources.
Reporter Edmund J. Carty has an article about the
Fugitive Slave Chapel published in the London
Advertiser on May 8th, 1926
London Public Library has the building plaqued on
August 11, 1986
A huge army of God’s angles arises to save the Chapel
on March 22, 2013
When the chapel was built in 1848, 2 cents represented
about 15 minutes of work for an unskilled labourer.
At today’s minimum wage that would be equal to
Is it worth 15 minutes of your time to save the Fugitive
to find out how.
Or mail a cheque to
Beth Emanuel BME Church
430 Grey St,
You are invited to participate. Our speaker will let you know other ways of helping.