James Mink was a black man who became a respected millionaire businessman in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in the 1840s when slavery was 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 United Empire Loyalist, Johan Herkimer. Not much is known about his earlier years.
As a young man, Mink along with his brother, George opened hotels, liveries, and operated coach services in Kingston, Ontario. He later moved to Toronto in the 1840s, while his brother remained in Kingston. They transported travelers between Toronto and Kingston, the capital city of Upper Canada; a colony of Great Britain. The brothers transported passengers to the other’s base city, meeting at the halfway point in Brighton. They exchanged passengers, procured fresh horses, and returned home with the passengers.
Mink and his brother’s popularity gained them the trust of fellow Canadians. The brothers were soon assigned mail runs. George would take the mail from Kingston to Montreal, while James took the mail to Kingston and other towns surrounding Toronto. James’ hotel was used as a voting station in Toronto elections. The mayor hired his coach service for his inauguration in the 1850s. Farmers outside of Toronto would stay at his hotel when they came to town to sell their produce at the farmer’s market, St. Lawrence Market, not far from the hotel. Many Torontonians used his livery service, as did the Sheriff of the city. The first public transit systems was started by Mink and his brother in their home cities.
Mink married a white Irish immigrant, Elizabeth. Irish girls and women often arrived in Canada with no money or family. Priests arranged marriages with single men who were making a decent living. It is suspected this is how James and Elizabeth met, but cannot be confirmed. Black men in Canada were free to marry anyone they fell in love with and intermarriage was encouraged either for political, social or natural reasons.
Mink and Elizabeth had a daughter, Minnie. When Minnie was old enough to marry, Mink offered 10,000 dowries for the man who took her hand. t was not unusual for millionaires of the day to arrange marriages for their children. A man named William Johnson married their daughter and their wedding certificate is on record in Methodist Church archives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After taking the dowry, Johnson took Minnie on a honeymoon to the United States where he then sold her into slavery to a Virginian tobacco plantation owner. It is believed she was desired as a “breeder” since most tobacco plantations had used up their fertile soil and were no longer to produce crops.
When James Mink learned what happened to his daughter, he had to go through a lot of red tape to get the British to buy her back on his behalf. Some years after this incident, an arsonist set fire to Mink’s livery and hotel and they lost everything. Eventually, trains began transporting people into the cities and George and James Mink’s business became redundant. James Mink died in 1866.
Mink’s story is told in the loosely autobiographical made-for-TV movie Captive Heart: The James Mink Story, starring Lou Gossett, Jr. as James Mink and Kate Nelligan as his wife.
video Clip: Youtube
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