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In Pursuit of Freedom:
The Life of Joshua Glover

Image showing a park with bust of a man in a top hat on a pillar, a plaque on a post, and a sign reading Joshua Glover Park. Garden beds are visible with various plants and shrubs.

Canada served as a refuge for tens of thousands of enslaved peoples looking to escape persecution in the USA.

Joshua Glover’s escape from Missouri to Etobicoke shines a light on the hardships faced by many enslaved people seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad.

This story expands on the 2021 Heritage Toronto plaque about Joshua Glover located in Joshua Glover Park, Etobicoke, and is written by Emerging Historian Erin Verdon.  It was made possible through the support of our donors and Emerging Historian champions.

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July 30, 2021


Early Life


Joshua Glover (circa 1811-1888) was born into slavery in the United States of America during the early 19th century. Persevering through abuse, humiliation, and gruelling labour, Glover sought freedom from his enslavers.

Slavery existed in the United States from its founding in 1776, a continuation of the enslavement of African and Indigenous peoples from the early British colonies. Slavery in America persisted until emancipation in 1865, 31 years after the abolition of slavery across the British Empire, including Canada. 

Little is known of Glover’s time as an enslaved man prior to New Year’s Day in 1850, when he was purchased by Benammi Stone Garland at the St. Louis Courthouse Auction in Missouri. Slave auctions could permanently separate enslaved families when sold to different slave masters. At the auction, Glover was publicly stripped of his clothing to be examined for any health issues or signs of punishment and he likely had to verbalize his marketable skills to potential buyers.

After being purchased, Glover was transported to Garland’s farm. Along with five other slaves, Glover carried out a variety of work including animal care, wood splitting, land clearing, cultivation, harvesting, and driving wagons. Glover’s knowledge of the land likely contributed to his successful escape from Garland’s farm in the spring of 1852.


The St. Louis Courthouse under construction, St. Louis, Missouri, 1851. Image: Missouri Historical Society.
“

Why down at Boonville, woman and a baby was put up to be sold, and de buyer he want de woman, but he don't want de baby, so they separated ‘em ... She was sold down de river and nevar saw de baby again. Now dat was sad.

”

Joe Higgerson, Formerly Enslaved Person
Missouri, August 12, 1937.


Freedom-Seekers


A Freedom-Seeker is someone who risks their life to escape oppression and violence. Glover’s escape from enslavement, which was later aided by abolitionists, makes him the definition of this term.

During Glover’s escape he travelled approximately 550-650 kilometers to Racine, Wisconsin, arriving by the summer of 1852. Upon arrival, he chose the surname “Glover”, and was hired at the local sawmill owned by Duncan Sinclair, who provided him with a wage and living quarters. For two years, Glover lived and worked in Racine. 

On March 11, 1854, everything changed. Glover’s friend Nathan Turner betrayed his location to his former enslaver, Garland. Acting in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Garland travelled  to Racine to ambush Glover in his cabin with the help of an officer and marshall. The struggle that ensued resulted in Glover sustaining severe injuries and his imprisonment in the Milwaukee County Jail. 

News of Glover’s capture sparked outrage among local abolitionists who, despite the risks to themselves, demanded Glover receive an expedited and fair trial. With their demands unmet, the crowd of frenzied sympathizers broke through the jail walls and doors using pickaxes and a battering ram, freeing Glover. 

Glover was escorted to a horse-drawn wagon enabling him to quickly leave town and distance himself from slave catchers pursuing him. He was brought to Waukesha, Wisconsin, continuing his journey on the Underground Railroad. Glover, still healing from his wounds, was transported, hidden, and provided for by several abolitionist families in the area until a ship to Canada became available in Racine. Their efforts and protection helped to secure Glover a new life free from the threat of slavery.


A map of the Underground Railroad showing freedom seekers’ travel routes to Canada, 1896. Image: Toronto Public Library.
“

But just think of it, a man to have to flee from the land of the free, to the realms of Monarchical and Aristocratic Britain, to enjoy even personal freedom.

”

The Ozaukee Co. Times, printed in the Provincial Freeman
April 22, 1854

Thomas Montgomery (1790-1877) and his family were influential figures in 19th-century Etobicoke and employed Joshua Glover for over 30 years.

Glover likely arrived first in Collingwood or Owen Sound, Ontario, and further journeyed to Etobicoke. He first settled in the Islington community, joining Etobicoke’s 39 other Black residents in the population of 2,900. Soon after his arrival, Glover began working for Thomas Montgomery, a local landowner and savvy businessman. 

Thomas Montgomery is perhaps best known as the proprietor of Montgomery’s Inn, a large stone building built in 1830, located on the then-bustling Dundas Highway in Etobicoke. Montgomery’s Inn served as the centre of the community, providing both locals and travellers a place to eat, drink, and sleep, along with hosting social events and meetings.

In addition to his inn, Montgomery owned a 400-acre parcel of agricultural land located between Bloor and Dundas Streets. This is where Glover was employed. By the end of his life, Montgomery had amassed over two hundred pieces of property in Ontario and had an estate valued at $154,000. 

Glover worked as a general farm labourer for the Montgomery family for over thirty years, performing demanding tasks including cultivating land, harvesting crops, splitting wood, and fence building. He also grew his own crops on the acre and a half of land that came with the one-story home Grover rented from Montgomery in Lambton Mills around 1870. 


Glover and Montgomery



Montgomery’s Inn and tenant farmer, Mr. Henry Hill, Islington, Etobicoke, circa 1915. Image: Montgomery’s Inn Museum.

Life in Canada


The story of Joshua Glover’s new life in Canada is one of many successful accounts of the Underground Railroad, but was not without hardship and experiences of racism.

Glover was married twice, both times to women from Ireland. Glover’s family enjoyed a relatively standard 19th-century, rural, working-class lifestyle. Glover participated in recreational activities in his free time, such as attending the Annual Agricultural Association of Upper Canada fall fair in 1858. Although Glover was free to make his own choices, those choices were likely limited or impacted by discrimination due to both his race and his interracial marriages.

Black citizens were legally recognized as equals in Canada; however, social stigma and systemic racism were widespread, resulting in segregation and prejudice. The Ontario Common Schools Act of 1851 fostered a segregated school system with Black students banned from attending public schools. Segregation was also prominent in other social institutions including church services. Although there are no records of Glover’s specific experiences of racism, it undoubtedly impacted his life in Canada. 


Letter from Dennis Hill to Egerton Ryerson requesting his son be permitted to attend school, Camden County of Kent, 1852. Image: Archives of Ontario.
“

To find myself deprived of my right to enjoy the privilege of sending my child to school because of the sole crime of having skin a few tones darker than that of my neighbours is a situation that I consider unfair.

”

Dennis Hill, Letter to Egerton Ryerson
Camden County of Kent, 1852

Glover’s early life was filled with uncertainty; his later years followed a similar pattern with legal troubles and incarceration.

Glover continued to work with the Montgomerys until his early 60s. In 1884, Glover was accused of stabbing a white man and was charged with the crime of “wounding with intent.” William Montgomery came to Glover’s aid, providing him with new clothes for court and access to the family lawyer, who did not charge for the case. Throughout the trial, many notable members of the community defended Glover, and the charge against him was reduced to wounding without intent. He was sentenced to only three months in prison. 

In January 1888, Glover was admitted to the York County Industrial Home in Newmarket, a home for the impoverished and destitute. Commonly referred to as the county poor house, industrial homes served as a last resort shelter for those who were unable to care for themselves. Poverty was considered a moral failure of the individual and, due to this ideology, the conditions in these crowded homes left much to be desired. In his final days, Glover would have been required to work in the home’s vegetable gardens to earn his care and lodgings.

Glover died six months after being admitted to the York County Industrial Home. William Montgomery was notified of Glover’s death via telegram on June 4, 1888, which asked if he would take the body. The following day, Montgomery travelled to the home to collect Glover’s remains; however, due to an administrative error, his body had already been donated to the Toronto School of Medicine. Montgomery then travelled to Toronto’s medical schools in search of Glover, but despite his efforts, he never recovered the body. Glover is now buried at St. James Cemetery in the University of Toronto’s medical research memorial plot.


Later Years



The abolitionist newspaper "The Provincial Freeman" with an article detailing Joshua Glover’s capture and escape, Toronto, 1854. Image: Our Digital World.

Glover’s Legacy


The story of Joshua Glover’s escape significantly furthered the abolitionist movement. His resilience and determination inspired others to take action to end slavery across North America.

Glover lived in Etobicoke for more than 30 years after spending half his life enslaved in the United States. He was able to make the escape many Freedom Seekers could not due to their circumstances.

Glover’s story was featured in multiple abolitionist newspapers across both the United States and Canada. Articles shared his and other’s experiences of enslavement and journeys to freedom, bringing awareness to the abolitionist sentiments swelling across North America. The aftermath of his arrest and inhumane treatment in Racine and Milwaukee was a factor in the state of Wisconsin declaring the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional in 1854. 

A song sharing Glover’s fight for freedom was commissioned by Toronto History Museums and produced by Kardinall Offishall as part of the City of Toronto’s Awakenings project. Watch the Freedom Heights (A Song for Joshua Glover) lyric video that summarizes Glover’s adversity and resilience.

Sources

 “A Journey from Slavery to Freedom: A Brief Biography of Joshua Glover”. Wisconsin Historical Society. 

Joel Winters. “Joshua Glover: A Refugee of the 1850’s”. Etobicoke Historical Society. 

“Joshua Glover”. National Park Service. 

Matthew McRae. “The story of slavery in Canadian History”. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 

Randall Reid. “Montgomery’s Inn”. Etobicoke Historical Society. 

Ruby West Jackson and Walter T. McDonald. “Finding Freedom: The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave.” Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007.

“The Black Canadian Experience In Ontario 1834-1914: Flight, Freedom, Foundation”. Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. 

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