A genealogist visited the archives last week, interested in finding out more about her ancestor, a man listed in the 1881 census as of African origin, who had been born in the United States. A closer look at the whole census for Mill Point, as Deseronto was then known, using the search interface at Library and Archives Canada, shows that there were five adults in the town at that date who are identified as being of African origin: two women and three men. The three men were all born in the United States and two of the three (John Jackson and James Butler) are described as barbers. They were, in fact, the only barbers in Mill Point at that time.1

Former archivist Kenneth M. Brown found the following advertisement for John Jackson’s business in the September 2, 1881 edition of the Napanee Express:

Advertisement for Jackson's Tonsorial Parlours

In light of this discovery, I  thought it might be interesting to have an overall look at the racial origins of Mill Point (Deseronto) citizens in 1881. There were 1,670 people in the town at that time (slightly fewer than today). Here is a table breaking down the population by their reported racial origins:

Racial origin Number
Irish 542
German 343
Scottish 253
French 177
Indian 121
English 112
Dutch 41
African 10

In this next table, the places of birth of the townspeople are listed:

Place of birth Number
Ontario 1,300
Quebec 106
Ireland 99
England 71
USA 52
Scotland 25
Germany 7
Nova Scotia 4
West Indies 4
Alberta 1

We can see that by 1881, nearly 100 years after this area was first settled in any great numbers, 85% of the town’s population had been born in Canada. This was a period of industrial expansion for the Rathbun Company, whose mills and factories were attracting working men to the town. A closer look at the ethnically Irish third of the population shows how youthful the people of the town were in 1881:

Age Number
1 to 10 170
11 to 20 110
21 to 30 118
31 to 40 48
41 to 50 44
51 to 60 23
60+ 22

If we compare this age profile with information taken from the 2001 census for the town, the difference is obvious:

Profile of age groups in Deseronto, 1881 and 2001

The gender profile was also quite different from today’s. Now there is an even split between men and women in Deseronto. A sampling of the 1881 data suggests that two thirds of the population were male and only a third female back then. Those American barbers would not have been short of customers!

1 Douglas Bristol’s article, “From Outposts to Enclaves: A Social History of Black Barbers from 1750 to 1915,” Enterprise & Society 5 (2004), gives a good overview of the entrepreneurial success of black barbers.