While St. Catharines is well known as a destination for freedom seekers, escaping slavery in the United States through the Underground Railroad network, the role of African-Canadians in the city’s history goes far beyond one historic period. From United Empire Loyalists like Richard Pierpoint, to one of the first all-Black hockey teams and activists working to end discrimination well into the 20th century, Black history is an integral part of St. Catharines’ story.
In honour of Black History Month, we’ll highlight some of the notable people, places and events in St. Catharines’ history and the Black experience in our country on the blog. For those wishing to learn more or explore black history topics year round, we invite you to visit our award-winning Follow the North Star exhibition at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.
We will begin our series with Richard Pierpoint, one of the earliest Black residents of St. Catharines, who made an indelible mark on our community. The historical record gives us few clues about the early life of Richard Pierpoint; in a petition dating to 1821, a 75-year old Richard Pierpoint summarized his early life in one sentence:
“your excellency’s petitioner is a native of Bondu in Africa; at the age of sixteen years he was made a prisoner and sold as a slave; that he was conveyed to America about the year 1760, and sold to a British Officer…”
We know little of Pierpoint’s life experiences until the American Revolution. During the Revolution, slaves who fought for the British were promised freedom in exchange for their military service. This is likely how Richard Pierpoint came to fight with Butler’s Rangers.
Following his military service in the American Revolution, he received 200 acres of land in Grantham Township. Pierpoint also fought for the British in the War of 1812, and was instrumental in the creation of the first all-Black military unit, known locally as the “Runchey’s Corps of Coloured Men”.
In the years following the War of 1812, Pierpoint, self-described as “old and without property” petitioned the government to be allowed to return to his native Africa. His request was denied, although he was granted land in Garrafraxa township, along with other veterans of the Coloured Corps. Nonetheless, “Captain Dick” as he was known to his contemporaries, continued to spend some time in the Niagara area.
“Dick’s Creek,” which flows into Twelve Mile Creek St. Catharines, is reputed to be named for Richard Pierpoint, who at one time lived along its shores. Dick’s Creek became part of the first Welland Canal.
 Bondu, also called Bundu is present day Senegal, close to the Mali-Senegal border.
 The original petition is in the National Archives of Canada.
For more information about the life of Richard Pierpoint, consult David and Peter Meyler’s A Stolen Life: Searching for Richard Pierpoint
Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.