NOTE: After extensive research on James Mink was first entered to this site, others have deleted or altered it and replaced it with the fictional story from the CBS/HALLMARK movie, CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY, or from a news article found in the Ontario Archives, published in "The London Advertiser" on July 3, 1880. Many facts in this article were fabricated, perhaps based on hearsay. Please do not delete nor alter historical facts, as cited in the bibliography, below. Updated October 10, 2018 by the unpublished original researcher with added research from the Ontario Historical Society, Spring 2016.
JAMES MINK was a free Canadian Black man who became a wealthy and respected businessman in Toronto, Upper Canada – now Ontario – Canada, between the 1840s and 1860s when slavery was still rampant in the United States. Mink was the eldest of 11 children of a slave known only as MINK. His father and mother were owned by a United Empire Loyalist from the Mohawk Valley in upper New York State, JOHAN HERKIMER. However, the children were all born free and British laws under Governor Simcoe, required that all those living in Upper Canada who owned slaves had to treat them like family. James Mink's parents were beneficiaries in the Herkimer will and left property.
As a young man, JAMES, along with his brother GEORGE, opened hotels, liveries, and cab & coach services that transported the mail and travellers between Kingston, Montreal and Toronto.
To expand the business, JAMES settled in Toronto with his wife where they also established a hotel, livery, coach and cab services, and owned a significant estate along the Don and Danforth Road (now called Danforth Road) between Pape and Carlaw Streets, in Toronto, Ontario, which was predominantly farm country at that time.
Stories have it that he was married to a White Irish woman, named ELIZA or ELIZABETH, and they had a daughter, named MARY. He and his wife wanted Mary to marry a respectable White man and offered a significant dowry to the man who married her.
However, upon her marriage, the husband took her on a honeymoon to the United States where he sold her into slavery to a Virginian tobacco plantation owner.
This aspect of the story is what inspired the 1996 CBS/HALLMARK/Global Television movie, CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY, Executive Produced and starring LOUIS GOSSETT JR., and also starring KATE NELLIGAN and RUBY DEE.
What follows is the academic research of what facts are truly known about James Mink, his family and this story.
Before the start of the American Revolution in 1775, Johan Herkimer lived with his family and slaves in the Mohawk Valley of upper state New York – now known as Herkimer County. Once the war began, Johan took the side of the British, while his brother Nicholas took the side of the revolutionaries. THE MOHAWK VALLEY HERKIMERS AND ALLIED FAMILIES, by Hazel Patrick, Jane Spellman & William Watkins, Herkimer Country Historical Society, 1989, states that Herkimer and his slave, MINK, “suffered imprisonment in patriot jails at various times from 1775 to 1777.” Often Johan’s brother, Nicholas let them go. However, sometime around “October – November 1776 they were jailed in Albany New York, but escaped to Canada, leaving family behind.”
THE HALDIMAND PAPERS of 1781 show that Mink was being held with other slaves of United Empire Loyalists around Montreal.
In 1787 father MINK is on record, along with other Black slaves, for petitioning the British for their freedom and for land grants, as was due to White Loyalists, because they, too, “had escaped from the rebels in New York and had served the King, [but] he was kept as a slave.”
They were living around the Bay of Quinte, in Upper Canada at that time. Unfortunately, the request was not granted.
“Traditional” slavery was eventually abolished in Upper Canada by an Act of Parliament in July 1793, which forbade bringing any more slaves into the province [they were allowed to enter as free people] and gave freedom to all children of current slaves when they reached the age of 25. However, children born to current slaves in Upper Canada were born free. Slaves that entered Canada, like the Mink parents, were to remain as slaves, but had to be treated as family. They were freed upon the death of their master United Empire Loyalists, and could not be transferred to the United Empire Loyalist children.
Herkimer’s will states, “… I give intrust to my said wife … for her life my negro [named] MINK, who is so far to have his freedom at my said wife’s decease, to live with any of my children heretofore named he may please, and that with whom of them he may choose to live, thereto to maintain and cloath him decently when is [sic?] is infirm and too old to work.” (“Heirs, Devisees, and Assigns – Midland District,” Queen’s University Historical archives. No. 23, March 1975).
The Mink family’s children settled in different parts of Ontario. A brother is found in Napanee, and a small bridge outside of town has a plaque on it called MINK’S BRIDGE. (The family whose house is on the land removed the plaque). The only children who have been entered into the archives are brothers, GEORGE and JAMES Mink.
An 1830 a marriage certificate for the Parish of Ernest Town in the Anglican Diocese Archives in Kingston Ontario says a Black couple, James Mink and Eliza Dennis or Dormis, both of Fredericksburgh, were married there. While this contradicts that he was married to a White woman, it may be because there was a second marriage because 30 years late a census of 1861 shows that he is living with a White wife, daughter and a young male child at his home on the Don & Danforth Road – now Danforth Road – between Pape and Carlaw Streets. On May 31st, 1838 the Kingston Whig wrote that James Mink's brother, George, opened THE WHITE HORSE INN at the head of Brock Street in Kingston Ontario and in 1841 he became the first person to start a cab service in Kingston Ontario.
In order to expand their business, James moved to Toronto around 1842 and lived in a house owned by the Government on King Street, in St. Andrews Ward in Toronto. He gradually built up his business with several liveries about town.
In 1848 he was living at 21 Adelaide Street East - north side, and owned THE MANSION HOUSE INN & LIVERY STABLES, located at the head of Toronto Street near the St. Lawrence Market. He leased the land at first, but bought it at a later date. A well-known photo exists of the corner of Adelaide and Victoria Streets, taken from the rooftop of Mink’s MANSION HOUSE INN & LIVERY STABLES, where one can see a business called “Booth & Son, Painters & Glaziers.”
Farmers who lived just outside the city - many from Richmond Hill - would stay there while in town to sell their produce and goods at the nearby St. Lawrence Market at Church and Front Streets, just south of the Mansion House.
Local Toronto citizens would bring their horses, sleighs and wagons for repair at his adjacent livery. It is on record that the sheriff of Toronto stored confiscated carriages and horses there and the mayor hired James' coach service to take him to his inauguration. The Inn was frequently used as a polling station during local elections between 1848 and 1854.
By 1850 there were 1,000 Black residents in Toronto which had a total of 48,000 citizens.
A lot of political activity was going on around James Mink's Inn in 1851, which may have had an influence on him and many others in Toronto. The Society for the Abolition of Slavery invited American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, and others to address a crowd of 2,000 at the St. Lawrence Hall, a block south of his Inn, asking Canadian citizens to help overthrow slavery in America.
Mink could have also attended the convention of the North American Convention of Colored Freemen who also met in Toronto at the St. Lawrence Hall. They resolved to encourage American slaves to come to Canada as "it was the best place from which to direct anti-slavery activity." (Robin Winks, "BLACKS IN CANADA - A HISTORY")
The Mink brothers kept up their coach service and James and his drivers would carry passengers from Toronto to Kingston Ontario (along what is now called Kingston Road) before the railroad was built - often in the winter time when travel along Lake Ontario was stopped because it was frozen. It was also easier to travel by sleigh over the smooth snow-covered land and bundle the travellers up beneath warm buffalo skins.
Rather than make the long trip directly to Kingston, he and his brother, George, met halfway in Brighton Ontario where they rested and exchanged passengers. They also kept fresh horses there for their return ride. They also had White employees who may have also taken passengers for their companies.
Both brothers became millionaires and started the first public transit system in their respective cities; James from the Town of Yorkville, Toronto to the St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto, and George from his hotel in Kingston Ontario.
Contrary to the previous marriage certificate to a Black woman, other research claims that James was married to a White woman. Perhaps he and his first wife were separated by death or divorce. The census of the township of York (Toronto) of 1860 has him living with a White wife, 38 years old, and he was 65. He’s listed as a “farmer” but that is because this census is for his land and home on the Don & Danforth Road. They had a child attending school and speculation has it that he farmed and bred horses.
Inter-racial couples were not uncommon in Canada of the day – even though it was illegal in the United States until after the Civil War. Census of the day show that a number of both escaped and free Black men were married to immigrant Irish women and living around Queen and John Streets where there was an African Methodist Church nearby on John Street, just north of Queen Street, which stood there until the 1990s when it was sold.
Beginning in the 1830s many poor orphaned Irish girls arrived in Upper Canada, escaping the potato famine back home. Priests frequently made arranged marriages to help everyone get a start in life and the custom was common for many years.
James and brother George seemed to be well-respected men and admirable stories were published about them in the local newspapers for such things as helping to put out local fires, reliably transporting the mail, and even prisoners, between Kingston (Penitentiary) and Toronto or Kingston and Montreal.
In 1850 George was asked if he would run for city Alderman in Kingston – though he believed it was a ruse because he was Black. There are absolutely no documentation found that confirms George or James had political ambitions as the movie portrays James to have had. The movie took the fact that George was nominated involuntarily.
The Kingston Whig published the minutes of the meeting on December 14, 1850: “… Mr. Mink for many years, during which time he had always maintained the highest character in the community for honesty and integrity, and more especially on unflinching firmness. Such was the man they wanted; one who could stand the ricket with the best of them – and if it came to fist-cuffs, as it had done there before, could use striking, aye, knock down arguments if necessary to keep order.” … The Aristocratic Slaveholders of the City Council frown at the idea of sitting with a colored man; but we, gentlemen, stand up for the Higher Law – that law and that feeling which imbues the British Constitution, and which recognizes no difference of color in either public office or private society. (Cheers [from crowd])”.
Story has it that like most wealthy families of the day, Mr. Mink and his wife wanted an arranged marriage and offered their daughter's hand in marriage to any respectable White man, along with a dowry of $10,000 - which could purchase an entire city block in those days.
An advertisement in the New York Tribune newspaper was published on August 11, 1853, from a Mr. J, a white man from Scotland who had immigrated to New York, and had read an ad in "The New York Sun from a wealthy colored gentleman, in the year 1849 or 1850, who felt desirous to have his daughter wedded to a respectable white man." The ad goes on and this man, who is down on his luck, swears he's of abolitionist stripe and would like to hear from the wealthy Black father so he could marry the daughter.
"The London Advertiser" article of July 3, 1880 falsely claims she married a James Andrews, but her marriage certificate (at a Wesleyan Church) says she married a man named William Johnson. Perhaps he was a White man, but a research essay entitled, "THE MYTH OF MARY MINK", by Guylaine Petrin, in Volume CVIII No. 1, Spring 2016 of the Ontario Historical Society, claims he was a Black man. The author claims that the following story is false, and it was based on a rumour that began as far away as Scotland, which isn't cited. It seems just as preposterous as many other stories, but it does have significant research that should be considered.
At the end of her essay, Ms. Petrin summarizes her theme, which is the focus of "the male gaze" - a common academic theme when analyzing movies and literature authored by men, and certainly in context with the lascivious motivations of White slave holders and American bounty hunters of the day, who viewed Black women – and all Africans – as no more than chattel, to be enslaved, worked, whipped and raped at their desire.
As there are several references in newspapers and archives of the day, such as the Telegram Newspaper, whose publisher, John Ross Roberston, recounted many of the stories he published of the day in his book, LANDMARKS OF TORONTO, Vol. 1, page 50. 1894. Several points he makes in the article have proven true and rightly contradict the article of James Mink in the London and Chicago newspapers of 1860-61 and what is referenced in the book, THE FREEDOM SEEKERS – BLACKS IN EARLY CANADA (1981) by Dan Hill (Senior), who took the information from the same article.
Is it plausible that Mary Mink did marry a White man and after accepting the dowry, he then took her on a honeymoon to the United States where he sold her into slavery in Virginia? Her marriage licence states that on October 5th, 1852 William Johnson married Mary Mink at the Wesleyan Parsonage, 232 Yonge Street by Reverend H. Wilkinson. (United Church Archives, University of Toronto)
Black philosophy of the day varied. Newspaper publisher, Mary Ann Shadd's philosophy was that Blacks and Whites should intermarry – “a coming together of two races as common as two tributaries of a river meeting.”
However, there was also a view that Black Canadians not integrate in order to support and advance their mutual prosperity and culture.
American Congress had passed the "Fugitive Slave Act" on "September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers," because many escaped slaves from the southern states were living as free people in Canada and the northern American states, like New York and Philadelphia.
The slave-holders wanted “their property” back, so this act allowed them to hire bounty hunters to enter the free states of the North and Canada to return them.
Many bounty hunters did enter Canada and were known to have kidnapped black men and women - not just those that escaped the horrors of slavery – but also those who were born free and were legal citizens of Canada.
A similar incident is told in the 1853 memoir and slave narrative TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE by American Solomon Northup, as told to, and edited by, David Wilson. Northup was born free in New York state and the memoir details his being tricked to go to Washington D.C. where he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South.
It is worthy to note, too, that slave states were hungry for free labor. The greedy tobacco plantation owners of Virginia had used up all their fertile soil by failing to rotate their crops. With no other income to support their large plantations, they began to "breed their animals and slaves" for sale to the richer, more labor-intensive southern states.
There is a record in the Ontario Historical Archives of American bounty hunters attempting to kidnap some young black boys in Toronto. Fortunately, they were caught and run out of town, after a good beating.
Historical papers claim that once James Mink learned of his daughter being sold into slavery, he appealed to the British to help free her. After significant costs, Mary was returned home.
One newspaper article published in 1862 claims that she settle in Chicago where she lived and died in poverty, but further detailed research proved this and other facts in this article, like James Mink retired in Richmond Hill, to be false.
On June 28, 1854, the Daily British Whig quoting an unmentioned Toronto paper, wrote that someone had tried to set a fire in the rear of Mr. Mink’s livery stable. When witnesses saw him, they chased him and he was tried and jailed.
In 1855, Toronto city council paid James Mink for a four horse team to go to Kingston for Prisoners in January.
However, in 1858 a fired caused by an arsonist burned James Mink’s Inn and Livery down completely. It must have been a huge financial loss.
He relocated to a rented residence and livery on Terauley Street, now Bay Street north of Queen Street, where the new City Hall is located. He does have an employee named William Johnson, who is Black – which may very well be his daughter’s true husband, but it was also a common name. He lived there and a “poor house” until 1866. (Census for York East, 1861, from Microfilm District No. 1, C1090 & C 1091)
He still had his land and brick house on the Don & Danforth Road, where he farmed.
In 1866, he Directory of Toronto & York County Microfilm B70 D-5, Reel 84, says he hasd a livery stable at 42 King Street West, north corner of Bay & Melinda.
On September 14, 1868, a death notice was published in the GLOBE newspaper that on “Sunday, the 13th instant,, Mr. James Mink, aged 70 years and 10 months died. The funeral left his residence at 191 University Street.
James Mink was buried in the non-sectarian Necropolis Cemetery at 200 Winchester Street in Toronto’s Cabbagetown in an unmarked grave. In those days, they used headstones of limestone that were laid flat on the ground. Unfortunately, weather eroded them away and so the grave is unmarked. The records show that he bought a large plot many years prior, which we surmised was for burial of his entire family. However, he may be the only family member there and the others may have purchased the extra space, or they are indeed family members.
"THE BLACKS IN CANADA - A HISTORY" by Robin W. Winks, 2nd Edition, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997
LANDMARKS OF TORONTO Volume 1, - by John Ross Robertson Reprint Series No. 70, page 50,Mika Publishing Company, Belleville Ontario, 1976.
"Johan Jost Herkimer, U.E. and His Family" By W.D. Reid - Ontario Historical Society Papers & Records. Volume 30-31. 1934-36
"HALDIMAND PAPERS, B. 103-1. 1781. QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
"SLAVERY, THE LOYALISTS, AND ENGLISH CANADA". QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
"THE FREEDOM SEEKERS – BLACKS IN EARLY CANADA (1981) " by Dan Hill.
- Pearson, W. H. (1914). Recollections and Records of Toronto of Old, With References to Brantford, Kingston and Other Canadian Towns. Toronto. pp. 63–64.
"The Mohawk Valley Herkimers and Allied Families by Hazel Patrick, Jane Spellman & William Watkins, Herkimer County Historical Society 1989. THE UPPER MOHAWK VALLEY, Albany: J. Munsell. (1856)
Public Archives of Canada, Haldimand Collection and Ontario Historical Society book Johan jost Herkimer, U.E., and his Family
Census from microfilm C-1344 Ontario Archives.
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES – Kingston Ontario Canada
"THE MYTH OF MARKY MINK: REPRESENTATION OF BLACK WOMEN IN TORONTO IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, by Guylaine Petrin. Ontario Historical Society Vol. CVII No. 1, Spring 2016.
Research Paper Archives of Bryon L. White – Researcher, Screenwriter. (note: from 1988 to 1994, Bryon White did the original research to ensure accuracy of the story as was available. He sold his original screenplay to Global Television, who then transferred its rights to Hallmark Productions, who, in turn, hired the American screenwriters, Brian Bird and John Wierk, who took facts from his screenplay and re-worked them to create the movie version that was produced in 1995. The DVD is available through Amazon in Canada and the United States.