Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PRADS African Night a Success!

The Peace River African Descendents Society (PRADS), which was started in 2009, held a dinner and cultural experience on Saturday, February 20th. Laura Gloor, of the Museum had been invited to talk about black pioneers in the area. The information from her wonderful presentation has been reproduced here in two parts!

Part 1: Dan Williams:(Source: Delayed Frontier by David Leonard, p. 124, 138-146)

Dan Williams was a prospector in the late 1800s and remained in the Peace Country after the gold rush dwindled. He was known, in the parlance of the times, as "Nigger" Dan and took up residence in Fort St. John, BC circa 1870s. His reputation was varied depending on who you spoke with. It ranged from a travelling author saying he was a "pioneer, cook, trapper, vagrant, idler or squatter..." to being known for his generosity to government surveyors. He continued prospecting with partners, but also traded across the river from the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) at Fort St. John.

He was also well known for his gardening skills. In a Dominion Land Surveyor's journal that first mentioned him as well as the botanist, John Macoun, speak of his flourishing garden of vegetables and grains.
In 1873, the Hudson's Bay Company told Dan Williams that the land on which he resided was theirs and he would have to move. Dan refused and even posted a sign dividing his property to read:

A Loyal British subject
Who objects to be trodden upon
By any man except
Her Gracious Magesty Queen Victoria

The dispute grew until 1879, when Dan Williams injured horses belonging to the HBC that had wandered onto his land. He was also reported to have issued death threats against HBC employees. The two employees he had threatened, captured him and tied him up but he escaped and fled to his cabin. When they approached, he fired gun shots at them and they retreated. Dan was eventually apprehended and brought to trial at Fort Saskatchewan on July 1880. The charges involved the shots fired at the HBC horses and employees.
No Hudson's Bay Company employees were allowed on the jury due to bias. Dan did not have a lawyer, but rather his companion in prospecting and a man, "Banjo Mike" McDavidson. In his final argument, McDavidson was reported to have said regarding Dan's intent to injure the Company's employees: "...Dan Williams at a distance of one hundred yards can take the eye out of a jack-rabbit at every pop. Gentlemen, if Dan Williams had the slightest intention of hariming Mr. McKinlay, he [McKinlay] would not have been here today to tell you the amusing little story whereby he gives you credit for some sense of humor without paying much compliment for intelligence."
It was thought the jury had sympathy for Dan Williams as a David against the Goliath of the HBC and he was acquitted of all charges. Dan returned to his life in the Peace Country.
It was reported he died in the middle of February 1887 in a cabin by the Finlay River.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Dan Kelly!
For now, here are some photos of the African Night taken by Natalya Verosovaya:
The first part of the evening was delicious dinner, afterwards, Laura Gloor gave her presentation.

After the dinner and presentation by the Museum, there was a drum circle.

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