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Reverand Thomas Hughes

Please Note The following information was taken directly from a page of Huron College. Every time I tried to reword the information to shorten it, it lost a great deal. So we have received their kind permission to reprint it DIRECTLY. Nina Reid-Maroney (Department of History, Huron University College), Biographical Sketch of the Reverend Thomas Hughes, available at ...
Please note that this cannot be reproduced in any way without THEIR permission.

Rev Thomas Hughes
With kind permission of Huron College

Thomas Hughes (1818-1876) was born in Staffordshire, England and died in Dresden, Ontario, serving as priest in the Anglican churches he had founded in the region. The story of Hughes’ work in Dresden, recorded in the diary that forms the core of this research site, is intimately connected to the broader history of anti-slavery work in Canada, the United States and Britain. It is also closely linked to the formation of the Diocese of Huron, and to the early history of Huron College.

In the winter of 1856, Thomas Hughes was a teacher at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, Staffordshire, when he applied for a position with the “Mission to Fugitive Slaves in Canada” established by the Colonial Church and School Society (CCSS) in 1854. With the recommendation of the Reverend Isaac Hellmuth, later second Bishop of Huron, Hughes was hired to teach in London, Canada West, at the CCSS’s racially-integrated school. By 1859, under the influence of the example set by the CCSS Mission School, common schools in London were beginning to open up to black students, and the local committee of the CCSS decided to close the mission school in London and open a new mission in the village of Dresden. The move was encouraged by black abolitionists and community leaders in the area, who had protested the imposition of segregated education permitted under the Common Schools Act of 1850. [Ann Tonks Hughes, courtesy of Mary Genge of Hughes Advertising Agency]

As he was preparing for his new post in Dresden, Hughes studied for holy orders under the guidance of then Archdeacon Hellmuth, and the Reverend Benjamin Cronyn, first Bishop of Huron. He was priested by Hellmuth in December, 1859. A few months before his ordination, accompanied by another teacher from the London school, Jemima Williams, Hughes, his wife Ann and their family moved to Dresden. Here Hughes established a school, presided over by Jemima Williams until her untimely death in the winter of 1860, and a flourishing congregation in Dresden. A second church congregation at Dawn Mills soon followed. [Gravestone of Reverend Thomas Hughes]

Throughout his ministry in Dresden, Hughes maintained a close friendship with members of the established black community who had made Dresden a flourishing place in the 1840s and 1850s. Through the years of the American Civil War and beyond, Hughes continued in his “Mission to Fugitive Slaves” even as the institution of American slavery crumbled. His diary reveals the long frustrations of confronting a deepening racial prejudice among his white congregants, and the persistence of that prejudice even in the “promised land” of Canada West. Hughes served as a trustee during the troubled later years of the British American Institute; one of the best-known tributes to his life in Dresden was written by his friend, the Reverend Josiah Henson, and was published in Henson’s 1876 version of his autobiography.

Hughes died on April 12, 1876, and was buried in the racially-integrated burial ground for the Christ Church, Dresden congregation in the Dresden cemetery. [Christ Church]

The following is by Heather Heybor, Elgin County, Student of Huron College. See introduction to the Howard Hughes area above. Please note that the beginning of her essay here as been removed as it is slightly off topic for our web site. It can be seen at the URL above


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 artifacts 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 Hughes's 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 Tom's 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.

-Heather Heyboer