“The church is really a very neat and chaste building,” Hughes wrote of his newly-completed church.
Hughes’ detailed description of the building, the interior and the manner in which it
was built appears in the “Mission to the Coloured Population in Canada” Annual Report for 1869.
First Regular Baptist Church, Dresden
It was the Rev’d William Newman, black abolitionist, editor and agent for the Provincial Freeman,
and one of the founders of Dresden’s First Regular Baptist Church, who invited the
Colonial Church and School Society to open a school in Dresden as part of the Society’s
“Mission to Fugitive Slaves in Canada.”
11th concession schoolhouse (later S.S. 18, Chatham Township)
The school was built in 1855, and served the rural families of Chatham Township. It was the focal point
for black community life in the region. Hughes held evening services at the school in addition to his
services in Dresden and Dawn Mills. He described his first service at the schoolhouse in an 1859 letter
to the CCSS in London: “When I arrived at the room, I was surprised to find so large a party, and fully one
half of them whites. I was truly glad that I went, as many of these people had evidently come several miles;
and it afforded the first opportunity I ever had of addressing a thoroughly mixed congregation. Black and white
were intermingled without distinction or apparent dislike. All children of one common Father, why should we not
worship together at all times. May this unexpected meeting
in this humble log school house be the beginning of a better state of things in this district!”
Hughes bought the land for his family home from William Newman.
An engaging portrait of the Hughes family is found in a letter written by the black abolitionist
and Philadelphian, Parker T. Smith, who attended the mission school’s year-end celebrations in 1861.
The school examinations ended with a parade from Dresden and “a picnic of no mean order” held at Hughes’ farm:
“An examination of the pupils took place in the morning, and as they were all colored, I felt anxious to know
how they would acquit themselves; but that anxiety subsided when the examination took place, and in its stead
I felt surprised at the ready answers which they gave to many of the questions put to them, especially in history.
Mr. Alfred P. Whipper is the teacher of this school, and his scholars show how efficient he is in his vocation;
nevertheless, Mr. Hughes is the father and guardian of the school, and bestows unceasing labors upon it. Satisfied
with the exercises of the morning, all repaired to the grove to finish the day’s enjoyments. In front of the
school-house, both adults and children gathered around the British flag, and sang “God save the Queen,” and proceeded
with it flung to the breeze, from Dresden to the grove.” (Hughes account of the day is found in the diary entry for
August 6, 1861.)
Dawn Mills Episcopal Church
Hughes’ diary and letters note the establishing of a congregation and church at the thriving community of Dawn Mills.
The first diary entry begins: “July 7th, 1861—A very close and sultry day. The attendance this morning at Dawn Mills,
fair, but not so good as usual.”
Thomas Hughes became one of the trustees of the British American Institute, founded by Josiah Henson and the Reverend
Hiram Wilson in 1842. In the version of Henson’s autobiography published in 1876, the year of Hughes’ death, Henson
wrote: “We have had great assistance from the late Rev. Mr. Hughes, the Secretary of the Colonial and Continental
Missionary Church Society in Canada (who died April 11th, 1876). For sixteen or seventeen years he worked most
zealously as a missionary in Canada; he was always my devoted friend; he knew all my troubles with regard to the
school, that my finances had been crippled by my mortgaging my property to pay the expenses of that lawsuit during
seven years, and he proposed that I should again visit London in my old age, and he assured me that my old friends
would rally to my assistance. It was a sad day to me when, only three months before I left Canada, I was summoned to
his dying bedside. His last moments were peaceful, and his faith to the last was triumphant. He died as he had lived,
a genuine Christian.”
Hughes opened a mission station at Kent Bridge and added Sunday evening services there to his regular travels, as
noted in this entry from the late winter of 1869: “Sunday March 7—Good congregation today at three places, Dawn Mills,
Dresden and Kent Bridge. A sharp cold day. Preached morning and afternoon from Gal. III: 13. Even’. Gen. 41:56.”
Thomas Hughes’ Grave
Hughes died suddenly in the spring of 1876. He was buried in the interracial Christ Church burial ground of the Dresden cemetery.
The “Upper Room” School House and Meeting House
Room for the mission school was provided by the black abolitionist Mary Smith, who offered Hughes the use of the room
above the grocery store that she owned and operated in the village. Until a building site for the church was procured
and the church completed in 1868, Hughes held Sunday services in the same “upper room.” As the first mission school
teacher, Jemima Williams, noted in an 1859 letter to the mission’s English supporters, Hughes had initially “applied
to the white school house to hold public worship. The trustees informed him that he might have the use of it, but
that coloured persons would not be permitted to attend, so he had to use the room above a grocery store where the
mission school was held.”