Brothers standing hand-in-hand. Merle M. McCurdy (1912-1968) stands to the right of his older brother, Foster McCurdy (1910-1978). The first child, a girl, of the McCurdy family was still born (1909).
Life for Merle began on the shores of Lake Erie in the port city of Conneaut, Ohio. Situated in the northeast corner of Ashtabula County, the city of 11,000 residents that Merle grew up in, played a significant role in the transport of iron ore from dock to rail. Andrew Carnegie, the well-known industrialist, was instrumental in the development of this transportation hub. In 1898, he purchased over 5,000 acres of Conneaut’s harbor and made a significant financial investments in modernizing the ship yard equipment and infrastructure before selling it to J.P. Morgan who created U.S. Steel in 1901.
Bureau of the US Census. (1913). Thirteen Census of the United States, Table 1: Population-Ohio, Population of Minor Civil Divisions: 1910, 1900, 1890 (Vol. 3). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Treese, L. (2003). Railroads of Pennsylvania: Fragments of the Past in the Keystone Landscape. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.
Evelyn Gertrude (Foster) and LeRoy “Roy” Nelson McCurdy, Merle’s parents, were married in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada on July 20, 1907.
Both the Foster and McCurdy families had roots in the Ohio, before moving to Amherstburg. Prior to the Civil War, both families participated on the Underground Railroad by helping those leaving the bonds of slavery in the United States to Canada or otherwise offering assistance upon freedom seekers’ entry into a foreign land. Following the Civil War, both families had relatives who worked on ships carrying cargo into the United States. The marriage of Evelyn and Roy McCurdy would see a portion of these two families re-establish connections with Ohio, with Lake Erie being the common bond and connection with their cousins to the North.
Journal Entry and Affidavit: Marriage of Roy McCurdy and Evelyn Foster, No. 22310 (Ashtabula Court of Common Pleas 1926).
Serving on a Great Lakes ore freighter as a cook enticed Roy McCurdy, dressed in a bow tie, and Evelyn McCurdy to move from Amhertsburg, Ontario to the port city of Conneaut, Ohio around 1909.
The McCurdy story in the United States is one of fortitude and strength and captures the spirit of other so called 'fugitive slaves' following the same trail to freedom in the 1800s. Roy was the great grandson of Nasa McCurdy, who was released from slavery by Rachel Kennedy in Greene County, Pennsylvania in the 1790s.
Note: The early history of the McCurdy family and how they helped the freedom seekers create schools and establish African Methodist Episcopal churches throughout Western Ontario is well documented in the McCurdy collection found within the Archives of Ontario.
Franklin County Recorder. (1795, June 17). Franklin County PA Deed Book 3: Manumission of Nasa McCurdy by Rachel Kennedy. Chambersburg, PA: Franklin County
Frost, K. S., & Tucker, V. S. (Eds.). (2016). A Fluid Frontier : Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Greene County Recorder. (1797, March 23). Greene County PA Deed Book 1: Manumission of Nasa McCurdy by Rachel Kennedy. Waynsburg, PA: Greene County
Foster (top row, fourth student from left to right) and Merle (bottom right) McCurdy both attended the Dean Avenue School in Conneaut, Ohio.
An African American student who attended the Conneaut Schools described the high quality teachers who taught “a lot about real brotherhood long before civil rights began. [The teachers] were 50 years ahead of their time.”
Ruffin, R. (1989, April 5). Letter to Brenda (McCurdy) Rhodes [Letter]. Conneaut, Ohio.
Ike Ruffin Remembers Conneaut High Well. (1989, March 9). The HomeTown News.
In the autumn of 1921, the McCurdy family traveled to Amherstburg, Ontario to visit the birthplace of Merle’s mother, Evelyn (Foster) McCurdy. This photo, dated “September 3, 1921”, was taken during that journey when the McCurdy family stopped to visit relatives living in Cleveland, Ohio.
Evelyn (Foster) McCurdy’s grandfather, Levi Foster, was born on March 29, 1811 in Stark County, Ohio, before moving to Perrysburg, Ohio, a known stop on the Underground Railroad located south of Toledo. In 1838, Levi moved his family to Amhertsburg, Ontario where he opened a livery stable. Active in the anti-slavery debates, Levi helped to organize the True Band Society of Amherstburg to assist freedom seekers who fled slavery in the United States to Canada. Upon Levi’s death, in April of 1875, Levi’s sons, including Evelyn’s father, George H. Foster, continued to run the horse stable.
Levi Foster Obiturary. (1875, April). Amherstburg Echo. Retrieved from http://tubman.info.yorku.ca/educational-resources/breaking-the-chains/the-detroit-river-essex-county-and-the-underground-railroad/levi-foster/levi-foster-primary-documents/
Colored Celebration in Sandwich. (1867, August 5). Chicago Tribune, p. 2
Evelyn (Foster) McCurdy standing to the left at the Foster farm in Amherstburg.
By 1921, the Foster homestead was in a state of disrepair due to death and, in turn, loss of income. Evelyn’s mother, Sarah (Smith) Foster died in 1899, leaving her husband to raise his young family on his own on the farm. Prior to Sarah’s death, George H. Foster, was working as a porter on the Great Lakes fleet. In 1902, George passed away, leaving Evelyn and her younger sisters to live with their Aunt Gertrude “Gertie” Bush. The McCurdy Family’s journey to the Foster Farm in Amherstburg, Ontario in the autumn 1921 was to aid in the home’s restoration.
For more information on the life of George H. Foster review page one of the December 19, 1902 issue of the Amherstburg Echo.
Iron Steamship Onoko. (1882, May 1). Buffalo Morning Express, p. 2.
The Fosters (left to right): Evelyn (Mrs. Leroy McCurdy), Sarah (Mrs. James R. Lee), Philo Smith, Gertrude Bush (Mrs. William), George H. Jr, and Madeline (Mrs. John E. Murrell, DDS).
Following in their father’s footsteps, the male children of George H. and Sarah J. Foster worked as cooks in the shipping industry, one of the few jobs available to those of African descent within the Great Lakes Fleet. Eventually, members of the Foster Family would rise to the level of 1st Steward.
Miller, A. (1999). Tin stackers : the history of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.
Various articles found in the Amherstburg Echo and Echo Soundings.
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