Howard Estes

[ Howard Estes of Saltspring Island ]

Howard Estes of Saltspring Island, Unknown, 1860, BCA, F-01892

by Roxanne K. Ewing

Much of the information available regarding the life of Howard Estes comes from the notes made by his granddaughter, Marie Stark Wallace, of recollections from her mother, Sylvia Stark (ne้ Estes).1

Before arriving in British Columbia, Howard Estes and his family were black slaves originating from Missouri, U.S.A. There are no birth or death records available for Missouri prior to 1883 except for St. Louis City because the first provision for state-wide registration of births and deaths was not enacted until July 1, 1883, when the State Board of Health was created for the supervision of such registrations.2 Thus, the exact birthdate of Howard Estes is unknown. Howard was married to Hannah (ne้ Cooneys or Coones)3 and had three children, Agnes, Jackson, and Sylvia. However, prior to the U.S. Civil War, marriage records were not kept for slaves,4 so their marriage date is also unknown. Howard Estes, as a slave in Missouri, belonged to Tom Estes, who lived in Ray County, Missouri.5 Hannah Estes was owned by Charles Leopold and lived in Clay County. Because they had different owners who lived in different counties, Howard was often away from his family, and was lucky to be allowed to see them on weekends.

Howard worked as a labourer on Tom Estes' farm, and later drove a herd of cattle to California for his owner in 1849. While in California, Howard worked in the gold mines and was able to earn a large amount of money in order to purchase his freedom. According to the Wallace account, Howard sent $1000 to Tom in exchange for his freedom, but Tom did not relinquish his ownership of Howard. Howard sent another $1000 by means of Hannah's owner, Leopold. Tom, upon learning that Leopold received this money, claimed the money was his, stating that Howard was still his slave. Tom went on to sue Leopold, but in the end, Howard managed to obtain his freedom. However, another account claims that Tom took Howard to California, and, due to the difference in attitude in California towards slavery, he allowed Howard to purchase his freedom for $1500.6 Nevertheless, Howard went on to earn enough money to purchase his family's freedom (except by this time his daughter, Agnes, had died of scarlet fever). He returned to Missouri at the beginning of 1851 and the Estes family bought 40 acres of land for farming.

In April of 1851, the family decided to leave Missouri and move to California, travelling there as paid labourers on a cattle drive with Charles Leopold. They settled near Sacramento, in an area called Placerville, where they took up farming. The family stayed in Placerville for approximately seven years, and it was during this time that Howard's daughter, Sylvia, met and married Louis Stark.7 In 1858, the Estes family and the Starks decided to make their way north to Victoria in order to escape the racial persecution they encountered in California.

The families arrived in Victoria in 1859, and Howard, Hannah, and Jackson bought and settled on a farm in South Saanich. The Starks went on to pre-empt land on the north end of Salt Spring Island. One account states that Howard moved to Salt Spring in 1860,8 but Wallace's account has him arriving between 1867 and 1868. It is unclear as to which account is most accurate, since Howard Estes is listed as a farmer in South Saanich on E. Road in the 1868, 1871, and 1874 Victoria and B.C. Directories, but is not listed at all in the 1860 and 1863 directories. Nor is he listed as a resident on Salt Spring Island. By late 1868, however, Estes was living on the Stark farm, with his partner, Giles Curtis, who was murdered in early December of that year. It was Howard who would return from a church service to discover the body of his partner in their cabin. After Curtis' murder Estes returned to Saanich where he started his farm, now part of Mitchell Farms on the Pat Bay Highway (Highway 17).

At some point before August 1892, Howard returned to Salt Spring Island, where, according to Hamilton's account, he perished while fighting a forest fire.9 The Death Registration Index from the B.C. Archives shows that Howard died on August 2, 1892, on Salt Spring Island, at the age of 8310 (which would make 1809 his birth year).

1. Marie Stark Wallace, "Recollections of Sylvia Stark as told to her daughter Marie Albertina Stark," from Who Killed William Robinson, January 16, 1998, (January 20, 1998).
2. Missouri State Archives, Missouri Birth and Death records, June 1997, (February 6, 1998).
3. Victor E. Virgin, History of North and South Saanich Pioneers and District, (Victoria: Saanich Pioneer Society, 1959) p. 44.
4. Dr. Lorenzo J. Greene, Antonio F. Holland and Gary Kremer, "Slavery in Missouri," The Role Of The Negro In Missouri History, 1719-1970, n.d., (February 6, 1998).
5. Department of Commerce/Bureau of the Census, Free Inhabitants in District No. 75, in the County of Ray, State of Missouri. November 4, 1850. < ifetch?mo+1884212380+F> (February 6, 1998).
6. Bea Hamilton, Salt Spring Island, (Vancouver: Mitchell Press, 1969) p. 13.
7. Crawford Killian, Go Do Some Great Thing, (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1978) p. 105.
8. Richard M. Toynbee, Snapshots of Early Salt Spring and other Favoured Islands, (Victoria: Moriss Printing Company Ltd, n.d.) p. 8.
9. Hamilton, Salt Spring, p. 23.
10. British Columbia Archives, Vital Statistics-Death Registration Index, Reg. No: 1892-09-007455, Mflm B-13077, Record of Death for Howard Estes, 2 August, 1892.

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