James Hill was born in Kentucky around 1840. It is unknown when he came north; he is next found in 1870 living with Amelia Bow in Ypsilanti with three young children. It is possible that he made his way to Canada, where his future wife Amelia was living, around the Civil War. James and Lucy were probably married in Canada around 1866.
Amelia was born in Brusnwick, Maine to Christopher Egbert Bow and Lydia Huston around 1836. Her father and mother were born free and had a farm in Brunswick. Egbert was also a sailor, like many free blacks on the Eastern Seaboard. He joined the California Gold Rush in the 1840s, eventually returning to Maine before moving to Canada by 1861, where his family farmed near Chatha.
Together James and Amelia had seven children, four of whom lived into adulthood. They lived together at their rented 305 South Adams home from before 1900 until their deaths in 1914. James was listed as a day laborer.
When James and Amelia arrived in Ypsilanti from Canada in the late 1860s, it was with a number of others from the Bow clan. Amelia’s brothers, Solomon and Egbert were long-time Ypsilanti carpenters who built many of the homes of black Ypsilantians before 1900. Amelia died in February and James in November, 1914 after nearly fifty years of marriage. Their daughter, Ida, married Richard Morton in 1900 and lived at 416 South Adams.
Both of Amelia’s parents would also move to Ypsilanti, Lydia dying here in 1876. Their story is one of several of those who came to Ypsilanti, often through Canada, whose family’s history in bondage can be traced to those who were held in the north and freed in the decades after the American Revolution. The Bows continue to play a role in the Ypsilanti 150 years later.
An 1862 publication titled Brief accounts of the history of the town of Brunswick, Maine said this about Amelia’s father, Egbert:
Egbert Bow, born of slave parents, but never a slave, was probably the best endowed African with us: and he was often refered to as a proof that a negro was a man of ability, and none could say ought of him. He lived on a fine farm on the bank of the river below the Town Farm. He went to California at the first excitement, and returning engaged again in teaming, always keeping good horses. He finally sold his farm and went to Canada, and the best wishes of the whole community followed him, all declaring him an honest man. May God help him.
The Same publication had this to say about Amelia’s grandfather, her mother Lydia’s father, Francis Heuston.
Francis Hueston or Houston was a full blooded African, once a slave. He escaped from bondage, and located between Brunswick and Bath: he was a man of strong will, powerful in muscular system, and endowed with much good sense: his opinion was much respected by his neighbors: he had a large family of children, and acquired some property: he was for many years a voter, and none questioned but what he understood what he was voted for. There were attempts made several times to carry him South, but none succeeded, and he died full of years, respected by both white and black men.
When Francis Huestons died in 1868, his first obituary published had to be corrected by Lydia and a second one written. Both are below.
June 4, 1858
Obituary. Died in Brunswick, June 1st – Francis Husten, at the age of 94. Mr. Husten was in usual health, and was at work in the field planting. He came to the house for some more seed, and fell dead in the entry. Mr. Husten was a native of Africa, and came to this country as chattel. He was for very many years, a slave, in the State of Maryland, (we think). Not having been properly instructed in his constitutional obligations, and being totally unmindful of the safety of the Union, he took leg bail some 40 years ago, and came North. For some time he followed the sea. He was once in a vessel out of Portland, when the Gulf of Mex. was infested with Pirates. The vessel was spoken by a suspicious looking craft and a boat with 8 men came alongside. Mr. Husten advised the Captain not to let them come on board, saying, they are but 8, and our ship’s company are 7, which is one for each of you, and I will take two. Mr. Husten was a man of Herculean frame, and when in the prime of life was a very powerful man, and had the Pirates attempted to board her he would doubtless redeemed his promise to be responsible for any two.
Mr. Husten was well known in Bath and Brunswick, and always maintained the reputation of an upright and honest man. One of his neighbors who has lived by him for many years, assures us that he was a man of the strictest integrity – perfectly reliable and perfectly trustworthy. Many a white face conceals a blacker heart than ever he had.
Peace to his memory.
Francis Heuston (Corrected) Obituary #2
Mr. Francis Heuston. In the Telegraph of the 4th inst., was published a notice of the death of this aged colored man. The notice was written by a gentleman, long a resident of the town, and well acquainted with the deceased. The paragraph was handed to us on Thursday, 3d inst., only an hour or two before we went to press, and we published it, thinking the notice was correct in point of fact; indeed we had little reason to raise any doubts upon the matter, as we had heard the facts stated substantially the same as given in the notice.– But we fear the truth compels us to rob the biography of Mr. Heuston of a portion of its romance at all events. At least we shall be compelled to give a different version of his life from that recorded by our correspondent, and this up-on authority of his daughter, Mrs. Bowe, who resides upon the river below the Landing. According to her statement her father was born in Nantucket, Mass., in the year 1794 and was 94 years of age at the time of his death. While a boy he served in an armed vessel during the Revolutionary War, and after the war followed the sea for 20 years. He came to Brunswick between 50 and 60 years ago, and took up the place upon which he lived at the time of his death. He was occasionally employed in coasting vessels after becoming a resident of Brunswick. Mr. Heuston was twice married, having for his first wife Mehitable Griffin, of this town, and for his second Mary ______, a woman who was brought from the South, and left her master at Bath; he had 11 children by the two wives, and eight survive him; four of them by the second wife – the oldest being but six years of age, the youngest but eight months. Mr. Heuston was a man of great physical strength, and it used to be said of him by shipmasters with whom he served, that he could handle a hogshead of molasses as easily as most men could a barrel of the same article. We think he possessed one of the most wonderfully developed chests that we ever saw upon a human being.
Our correspondent spoke of the deceased as [a] man of the highest integrity, ever exhibiting a nice sense of honor; this is the general verdict of his fellow citizens. We may mention a fact which has come to our knowledge within a day or two, (we did not obtain the information from any of his family) which goes to show his goodness of heart. When Mr. Samuel Freeman died, the selectmen thought that the town would be compelled to bury him at the public expense, and to furnish some aid to his family. After an expense had been incurred by the selectmen to the amount of $7, Mr. Heuston called at the office, — enquired what sums had been incurred, and remarked he would pay the same (he did pay the $7) and see that the corpse was properly interred, and he would do it “as he was on of our color and he should not like to have it go on the town books that he was helped by the town.” Here was a very proper pride of race, and it was manifested in a very laudable manner. Pity it is that there are not more to be found to imitate his example.
[Transcriber’s note: 1794 – 1858 does not add up to 94 years. Mr. Heuston would have to have been born around 1764. Mr. Heuston’s second wife was Clara Battease, known as Mary locally, she was the former slave of David Turner of Beaufort, S.C. ]