On a brisk Saturday morning in early February, Dr. Reid-Maroney and five students including myself embarked on a trip to Dresden, particularly, Christ Church- the church that Thomas Hughes founded in 1859. As I am from Elgin County, one mere county away from Chatham-Kent County, I felt as if I knew exactly what to expect that day. However, when we arrived, a few of the students from the city were completely in awe of the rural environment, as Dresden is presently home to only a few thousand inhabitants. Immediately upon entering the town, we all a gained a slightly more cohesive understanding of the area where Hughes carried out his ministry approximately a century and a half ago. Upon entering Christ Church, a small Anglican church now on the main street of town, we were happily greeted by Pat Highgate, and Rev'd Michelle Collins-Wongkee.
My interest in Hughes and the project was sparked even before the tour of the church. At the beginning of the trip, when we were all discussing the legacy of Thomas Hughes, I learned that despite the existence of many excellent documents such as the diary and oral tradition that has been passed down over generations, much information is still unknown about the minister. For example, as a result of oral tradition, some believe that Thomas Hughes himself was a graduate of Huron University College. To others, this idea is completely false, as Thomas Hughes allegedly completed his pastoral training before the founding of the college in 1863. However, I was not worried by this discussion, for I know that there are so many aspects of the project that cannot be fully understood. Also, by discussing such historical controversy, we are opening up the opportunity to encourage future research on the life of Thomas Hughes. As a result, hopefully some of these puzzling questions can be answered. Already, we have learned as a result of this project that sources such as oral interviews, censes, and minute books such as one kept by the Colonial Church and School Society, have aided our research.
After introducing ourselves to one another over coffee, we commenced upon our tour of the small but beautiful church. I found it absolutely amazing that the church still operates and possesses many documents and religiously symbolic objects that were utilized by Thomas Hughes himself, such as the chalice and a Bible given to Hughes. As a result, much of the history of Hughes`s life has been preserved. While I was absolutely in awe of the fact that these artefacts had survived, at the same time, I was slightly concerned as to whether or not they should be further commemorated, as many citizens of Dresden seem to know little about the legacy of Hughes. For the future, it is important to consider ways that HughesÕs legacy can be taught outside of a small church. Nevertheless, it is essential to ensure that by publicizing the legacy of Hughes, his life is not misinterpreted.
We then explored the town of Dresden and the surrounding countryside. We saw where Thomas Hughes was buried, noted that a Hughes Street commemorates Thomas Hughes, and drove past Uncle Tom`s Cabin. Also, throughout the town, there are small markers on the street commemorating historical locations. Visiting these landmarks was an extremely enlightening and enjoyable experience. However, again, more historical debates immediately came to mind. For example, when we went to the burial site of Thomas Hughes, we learned that Hughes was buried facing his congregants. More notably, we learned that the burial sites were moved. To some historians, this issue is extremely controversial, as it means to some that the legacy of this culture is preserved, but to others, the idea of disturbing a burial site is highly unethical. Another historical debate came to mind when we visited Uncle TomÕs Cabin. The attraction was closed when we arrived that Saturday, but we discussed the cabin and decided that it would be excellent if Thomas Hughes could be commemorated more through this venue. These historical questions, along with the tour of the church, should be present in our minds as we seek to commemorate the legacy of Hughes. However, I personally felt a small amount of confusion when I considered the commemoration of Hughes more thoroughly. I began wondering- did he want to be remembered through a museum? I think that this question needs to be further considered.
While it was great to see that the town commemorates its history, I do wonder whether or not most people living in Dresden are actually aware of Thomas Hughes as a minister, a moralist that detested racism, or even as a man. If not, the website will provide an excellent background for individuals living in both Dresden and around the world. However, again, the website can be used as only a starting point, as in reality, everything should be done to ensure that the legacy of Thomas Hughes is preserved.
At the end of the day, we did not know everything about Thomas Hughes. However, our historical minds were extremely enthralled with all of the research possibilities that this project entails, and we are also now considering how to present his life to the public in a respectful manner, so that all can learn about Hughes. However, despite all of the historical confusion, I think that we all left that day considering Hughes a dear friend, and we were able to learn a lot about how his life is still well-remembered in Dresden and still indirectly impacts the town today. Also, although many may argue that history is an unimportant study, because by teaching people about Hughes, they can learn about his racial tolerance, it can encourage everyone to follow his example and employ such practices today. After all, if it were not for many men like him, although it is hard to speculate, it is easy to imagine that segregation-based racism would continue today. In the end, this is what keeps the Historian's Craft class at Huron University College interested in history.
Although in the past I have learned about history, this has been my first experience as a true historian. The diary we looked at reveals the day to day life of a very important figure in Southwestern Ontario`s history and so uncovering information regarding something that occurred so close to where we are has been great and fascinating. This project has shown me, more than anything, the time and effort it take for historians to arrive at conclusions and truth about a topic. -Wesley
From this project, I have learned the effort required to properly understand the past. For a proper understanding, one must invest greatly in the information available, but do so with worry and scepticism of any bias that may cloud the truth. -Brad
This project has been an eye-opener to an everyday history of the past that you do not get to see in the broad historical narrative. This was a new opportunity to become invested in work that had more meaning beyond the class.-Iris and Megan
I learned that in the time of Hughes, things moved extremely slowly. At times we remember Canada as a totally tolerant society in the 1800`s. Hughes shows us that this was not the case. I also found the project thrilling in that I got to learn about someone who history has largely forgotten. I got to know Thomas Hughes from his love of God to his hatred of rain, to his inability to cross his cursive T`s. He is like a two hundred year old friend, and because of our efforts he is no longer perceived to be an imaginary friend. -Doug
The Internet is becoming a more acceptable tool in historical research. By putting the diary online, it has the potential to reach more individuals than it would hidden away in an archive. -Christine
With no previous knowledge on the subject, I did not know what to expect. I have since learned about Thomas Hughes, and how he affected the surrounding Dresden area. It is an interesting view into the topic of Canadian race relations, which is not often discussed. I feel the diary project has been important and enlightening since it has given me a glance into Black relations in Canada and has inspired me to delve more deeply into the topic and its implications. -Jake
It is essential for university students to reflect on the past and understand the important figures who made a difference in Canada. Examining the life of Thomas Hughes is quite interesting and paints a picture of a Canadian whose contributions changed Canada. -Stacy
What I have learned during the project is the different perspectives that we encounter of any one given narrator when we learn of the narrators' point of view in different settings. By this, I mean that a narrator will write differently depending on the audience he is writing for and will also write differently from one point in time to another due to the changes that the narrator undergoes from life experiences. What I found to be important in the compilation of this project is the importance of filling in the gaps to Hughes diary with another primary source which we have found in the Church Report i.e. the "Mission to Fugitive Slaves" and the "Mission to the Coloured People". I also believe that it is an important project because Canadians in an academic or non-academic setting need to know our Black Canadian history. -Celine
We had previously only read parts of Thomas Hughes diary which was typed up by a since-deceased parishioner who thought it would be prudent to censor some of it because some descendents were still living in our area. The idea of digitizing the diary was a wonderful way of preserving our history and making it available to anyone. We have also discovered descendents of Thomas Hughes that we didn't know existed. Our whole experience with Professor Reid-Maroney and the Huron College students has been very positive, interesting and informative. Keep up the good work! -Pat Highgate, Dresden community member
To be quite honest with you I have only just become aware of the significance of this great man, Thomas Hughes. As you probably know he was my Great Great Grandfather and I grew up hearing about him and the church founded in Dresden. I recently contacted Laurene through the Church web site as I was interested in finding out about my Canadian heritage and was amazed at the history surrounding this wonderful man. I am so grateful for all the information and kindness shown to me and I am so excited to be able to be able to visit Dresden in September this year. I can't wait to be able to access your web site and learn all about this very important part of Canadian history. I certainly do believe that this project will help preserve an important part of Canadian history and I can't wait to read the diary! I congratulate you all and I am sure that this web site will be of great interest not only to Canadians but to many people around the world who would never ever have heard about the Rev. Thomas Hughes. Best wishes to you all. -Lynne Messina, family member of Hughes.
I have long known the story of my ancestor, Rev. Thomas Hughes, and of his work with the escaped slaves living in Kent County. I have in my possession an early transcription of his diary. And I have been to Walsall, England, where Hughes was born and lived until middle age, where I consulted the records of the early 19th century in order to learn about his family life and employment there. As a historian myself, and one who has done a fair amount of transcribing and studying old diaries, letters, and manuscript theological works, I am interested to see what kind of results have been achieved by the project on this document. And as a Hughes family member, I am interested in and grateful for the work that is being done by this project to make the Thomas Hughes Diary available beyond the circle of my family. I know that I plan to consult the project site in order to gauge the accuracy and completeness of the transcript that I have. And I would like to be able to compare my experiences working on similar documents with those of the people who have worked on the Hughes Diary. I believe that documents such as the Diary are important building blocks of a new kind of history, written from the grassroots up, tracing the activities of heroic and significant women and men, previously neglected in historical studies.-Peter Hughes, family member of Hughes.