Walter Hawkins

Short Name: Walter Hawkins
Full Name: Hawkins, Walter, 1809?-1894
Birth Year (est.): 1809
Death Year: 1894

Hawkins, Walter. (Georgetown, Maryland, 1809?--August 6, 1894, Toronto, Ontario). American/British Methodist Episcopal. Born a slave, he reckoned that he was converted in 1822, but had little chance to develop his faith until he escaped to Philadelphia about 1840. Moving to Buffalo, New York, he organized an AME congregation before settling (after a brief stay in New Bedford, Massachusetts) on a farm near Saratoga. The Fugitive Slave Act (1850) brought about his move to Toronto, whose few black Methodists were then worshipping with their white neighbors; both accepted his services as a lay preacher. In 1856, however, Ontario's blacks formed a British ME church, which accepted him as a full-time pastor for communities which many ex-slaves were reaching by the Underground Railroad: Brantford (1856-1858), St. Catharines (1858-1860), Dresden (1860-1862), Chatham (1862-1866), and Amherstburg (1866-1868). In 1868, just after his return to the largest BME congregation, at St. Catharines, three of his children died in quick succession. To help him recover from his grief, his people urged him to organize a travelling choir, whose earnings might bolster the denomination's shaky finances. His own fine voice and personality helped to make this choir's tours successful, as did the songs he wrote for it. Largely on his advice, BME declined invitations to united with Canada's other Methodist groups in 1874, or with the American AME in 1886. At that point they insisted, despite Hawkins' age, on electing him bishop for two four-year terms; he represented them ably at conferences of both Canadian and British Methodists, who invariably asked him to sing.

See: Edwards, S.J. Celestine. From slavery to a bishopric. London, Kensit, 1891.

--Hugh D. McKellar, DNAH Archives

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