Two weeks ago this column carried the sad tale of Henry White, a black resident of Peel, who was hanged two days before Christmas 1875 for the murder of his wife. That was only one of several cases of violence involving the formerly thriving black community of Peel in the 1870s as it passed through its period of decline and disbursement.
Only some of the violence occurred between black residents. More often, white residents were involved, and in the majority of cases it was the whites who were the instigators. Perhaps the most publicized of those incidents involved Rev. George C. Moore, a Baptist minister resident at Moorefield.
In the early 1870s, Joseph Jackson, a black from the Peel settlement, moved with his wife Rosannah and their children to a farm near Moorefield, where they lived in a small one-room, log shanty. Their landlord was Rev. George Moore, who owned several pieces of property in the area.
Rev. Moore’s father had come to Canada as a Baptist missionary, and in the early 1850s the family moved to the new township of Maryborough. Another son, Richard C. Moore, was the founder of Moorefield. Both he and Rev. George were involved in various business ventures in the area.
On March 22, 1876 Joseph Jackson caught the morning train at Moorefield for Guelph. He expected to return the following day. About 10am, soon after Joseph departed, Rev. Moore appeared at the door, and Mrs. Jackson let him in. He immediately removed his overshoes, coat, and hat. He confirmed with Rosannah that Joseph was away for the day. He told her that was a good thing, because if Joseph had been home he would kill him. Apparently the minister and Joseph had some sort of dispute over some timber that Joseph was cutting and trimming on Moore’s farm.
Rev. Moore then sat down at the table, stating he was thirsty. Rosannah handed him a glass of water. He poured some out, then pulled out a flask and refilled the glass with whisky, which he drank quickly. He refilled the glass with water and whiskey, and handed it to Rosannah to drink. She declined, then stepped away to attend to her baby. Rev. Moore got up, grabbed her, and threw her across the bed. He lay down beside her and “attempted liberties,” as the phrase went in those days. What shocked Rosannah more than his wandering hands was the outpouring of vile and filthy suggestions – and from a Baptist minister no less.
Rosannah managed to squirm away, and fled to the Kirby residence, which was only about 100 feet away. She told Mrs. Kirby what had happened. A while later she returned home to attend to the children. Rev. Moore was still there. He repeated his indecent suggestions, and offered her a village lot in Moorefield. She told him to go home because she did not wish to have her name ruined. He now complained that he was sick and could not travel, and that people should mind their own business.
Around noon hour Rosannah returned to the Kirby residence. When she went back home Rev. Moore was still there. She eventually succeeded in getting him out of the house. Before leaving he asked her to come and stay with him for part of the night.
While Rev. Moore was at the Jackson residence, several men called at the house. One, David Cox, wanted Joseph to help unload a boxcar at the Moorefield station.
One of the Kirby boys wanted to know if she had sufficient firewood – Joseph had previously asked him to haul some from the bush. Last was another neighbour, Patrick Dissett. He and the Kirby boy left together.
Rosannah said nothing to any of them about the incident with the minster.
On March 23, Joseph returned home as scheduled. Rosannah told him about the ugly scene with the minister. The couple mulled it over, and a couple of days later she laid a complaint with one of the local magistrates.
A hearing took place in Moorefield on March 31. By then the affair had caused quite a sensation in the neighbourhood. Nine Justices of the Peace heard the case. That accounted for all the Justices in the township except Richard C. Moore, the defendant’s brother. At the conclusion of the day they voted by a five-to-four margin to acquit Rev. Moore.
Joseph Jackson was furious, as were many residents. The Rothsay correspondent of the Elora Observer saw the outcome as an example of the elite of the township conspiring to defend one of their own.
A few days later Joe Jackson hopped on a train to Guelph and discussed the matter with the county Crown Attorney, Henry Peterson. He agreed that the Moorefield trial had been a travesty, and agreed to take the matter before the county magistrate at once. Peterson prosecuted the case himself; Rev. Moore hired lawyers Donald Guthrie and J.F.C. Haldan to handle his defence.
A succession of witnesses offered accounts of what happened that day. Rev. Moore did not take the stand. Donald Guthrie made much of the fact that Rosannah took so long to lay charges, and that she said nothing to any of the callers at the house that day. He also suggested that Joseph had been paid to lay the charges by unnamed parties who wished to harm Rev. Moore.
The Guelph magistrate ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Rev. Moore for trial. He set bail at $1,000, of which $500 had to be supplied by Moore himself.
In an interview after the hearing, Margaret Kirby, the Jackson’s neighbour, testified that Rosannah seemed to be very embarrassed by the incident, and would not repeat the obscene language used by the minister.
Mrs. Kirby referred to the minister as “Old George Moore,” and inferred that he had a reputation for drinking and inappropriate behaviour.
Rev. Moore’s trial was the second on the docket when the Spring Assizes at Guelph began hearing cases on June 15, 1876. Henry Peterson prosecuted the case. Rev. Moore had a new lawyer, George Drew, of Elora. Little new came out of the testimony that had not been told at the preliminary hearing until the defence called a Mrs. Biggar, another neighbour of the Jacksons.
She claimed that Rosannah Jackson had been at her house three times on the day in question. Rosannah denied being there at all, and her claim was backed up by Mrs. Kirby.
After summations the jury retired, to return 90 minutes later with a verdict of guilty. Lawyer Drew asked that they be individually polled. One juror said “not guilty,” and the judge sent them away again. This time the verdict was unanimous.
Rev. Moore remained free on bail until his sentencing two days later. The judge announced a fine of $125 plus court costs. That would represent the earnings of a working man for three or four months in 1876, though it was perhaps less onerous on Rev. Moore, who was generally considered a man of some means.
The sentence was not out of line with those imposed in similar cases. Rev. Moore was to be held in custody until the fine was paid.
It was a substantial sentence, given that there had been little in the way of assault other than some struggling and shuffling.
Rev. Moore’s drunken and loutish behaviour shocked many residents, who considered it all the more outrageous as he was supposedly a clean-living Baptist.
The trial and its outcome show that black residents could get a fair deal from the justice system in the 1870s.