Records of the names and stories of enslaved persons in this area are rare. Remarkably, the first-hand account of Sophia Burthen Pooley has survived. Born to enslaved parents Oliver and Dinah Burthen in Fishkill, New York, Sophia was kidnapped with her sister as a child and sold to Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) of Burlington. After several years, Sophia was sold by Brant to Samuel Hatt of Ancaster Township. Samuel was the brother of Richard Hatt of Dundas and partner in his Dundas Milling operation. According to her own account, Sophia was enslaved by Hatt for seven years before being told that if she made her escape there would be no attempt to bring her back.
Sophia’s story exists today because she was able to escape and live past the age of ninety, at which time she had her account published in Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada. The existence of her story only serves to highlight how many others have been lost.
Before Governor Simcoe’s 1793 Act Against Slavery, the importation and sale of enslaved people was entirely legal in Upper Canada. After 1793, a series of legislation was put in place to limit and eventually abolish the slave trade, but some individuals remained legally enslaved in Canada until the Abolition Act was passed in 1833. This time span coincides with the earliest phases of colonial settlement in Dundas, and while evidence of enslaved people in the valley is scarce, it is important to remember that the culture existing here was one that still supported, condoned and benefited from the enslavement of human beings. It is likely that the Dundas area was home to many enslaved people whose stories have not survived in archival records.