U of W students turn detectives for St. John's Anglican Church history
Article and photo from the Windsor Star
You never know what you’ll discover when you don protective gloves and pore over documents dating back to the 1800s.
A future U.S. president who had a hand in destroying St. John’s Anglican Church in an 1813 fire set by invading American soldiers.
An early figure in the historic Sandwich church who fathered a son through an extramarital affair with a former nun.
For the first time at the University of Windsor, the history department offered a course called public history designed to help connect a community to its past. A handful of students in the course who delved into the records of St. John’s Anglican Church in Sandwich made some interesting discoveries as they researched and created an online exhibit at Public History 497.
“That was a huge eureka moment. That was really cool,” fourth-year history student Kyle Lariviere said Wednesday of learning the future U.S. president William Henry Harrison was one of the Kentucky Mounted Riflemen who set fire to the church in 1813.
The church started in a log cabin in 1796 and in 1803 parishioners built the church that was destroyed in the fire during the War of 1812.
The history students worked with the Leddy Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship to create the online exhibit where you can see pages from the church registries, learn about the jobs and cause of death for parishioners, and read more about two local families: the Fluett and the Jessop families.
Lariviere said the record of an 1842 birth of an illegitimate child of Louis Joseph Fluett, a former Catholic missionary who was married at St. John’s Anglican Church in 1831, shows people then were much like they are today only without iPhones.
History professor Adam Pole said the students were chasing down leads like detectives. The parish registers that listed baptisms, marriages and burials give great insight into life in the community, Pole said. Students went to the graveyard to try to find grave stones that matched the records and they talked to the local minister to gain more insight.
“For the students it’s a great opportunity for them to delve into what’s interesting in their own local community,” Pole said. “It doesn’t have to be so John A. Macdonald or Abraham Lincoln or doesn’t have to be a big world figure. Really interesting history happens next door, in your neighbourhood, in your community and it’s great to discover these things.”
Kayla Dettinger, a fourth-year honours history student who worked on the project’s website, said she liked providing historical information that will not only interest academics but the everyday public as well. “It was a really good opportunity to get practical application skills and to kind of understand how history can be taken out of the classroom and really have a meaningful impact on the community.”
Lariviere said one of the great parts of being a history student is putting on the white gloves and carefully checking out old documents. “It’s something indescribable to be able to hold those things.”
To see the online exhibit and other projects from the history department visit http://cdigs.uwindsor.ca/omeka/exhibits/show/publichistory497/stjohnsanglicanrecords.