The Prince family of Canada were met by Baton Rouge genealogist Edna Jordan Smith, and her friend, Celestine Davis, in March for a trip to Jackson to visit the tombstone of John Ebenezer Phares.
Smith, who has been instrumental in studying and disseminating historical facts and figures concerning the Underground Railroad and its stretch through Jackson around 1850, first met the Princes — Earl, his son, Bryan, and daughter-in-law, Shannon — in 1982 when her studies led her from East Feliciana Parish to Ontario.
Bryan, an author of several books, has written his latest about Phares, titled “My Brother’s Keeper.”
According to Smith, Phares lived on a 640-acre plantation in East Feliciana on what is known today as Dawson Road in Jackson.
He reportedly had 30 slaves working on his plantation, and after his death and burial in Dawson Cemetery, Phares bequeathed all his slaves to his daughters, Mary and Martha.
Eventually, William King, a divinity student and avowed abolitionist, inherited the 14 slaves on the plantation, Bryan Prince wrote.
Reportedly, King went to New Orleans and hired a steamer to meet him at the Bayou Sara dock, calling all the slaves together, King told them to pack all their belongings because they were going to Canada, according to Bryan Prince’s book.
“They packed everything thinking they were heading to another plantation called ‘Canada,’” said Prince.
King spent all his money beforehand, purchasing land and forming the community of Buxton located in Ontario for his slaves and others.
Prince said the group traveled together up the Mississippi River, then the Ohio River and into Canada, where many on the Underground Railroad fled from the United States.
“It was so meaningful for us to visit the Phares homestead in Jackson and the cemetery where family members are buried. We have spent a great deal of our lives researching and sharing the stories of the enslaved and the enslavers, who were involved in many aspects of each others’ lives,” said Prince. “King and those who found freedom are central to the story of our museum, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum and to our home in Buxton, Ontario, Canada.”
Prince said thanks to East Feliciana’s Beth Dawson, Smith and Davis, three of the descendants of the Buxton slaves have been able to walk the grounds where they first lived in Jackson in an attempt to “feel the history.”
“We will carry this experience back to our museum and do our best to impart that knowledge and feeling to our visitors, our families and our fellow descendants,” says Prince.
Bryan and Shannon are the curators of the Buxton museum.